To celebrate the upcoming release of THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 at your local cinema, we take a peek into the future and look at what we’ll all be watching and betting on in the not too distant future...
“Are you not entertained?” asked Russell Crowe’s Maximus in Gladiator. Well frankly, no, my dear Mr Crowe, we’re not. The general populace are losing faith in their sports heroes due to any number of criminal activities that they find themselves linked to, on top of the media over saturation and frankly ludicrous pots of money that is paid to these supposed role models. You could say that reality television was society’s first furtive step towards changing the entertainment that we’ll see in the next few decades. We can sit safely at home and toy with these fame-hungry fools via our interactive buttons and mobiles; watching them squirm for our viewing pleasure. Who’s to say how far we’ll go as an autonomous target audience? Can we honestly say that it is that much of a leap from voting to keep our favourite Z-list celebrity in a cut-off house to voting for who gets to die next in an extreme sports arena?
We may not live in the dystopian society that many of these films convey, but socially, due to the recession, terrorism, and an increasing distrust in those that are supposed to lead us (amongst a myriad other things), are we that far away? We don’t think so. So, bring on the death and destruction as we guide you through the future sports subgenre.
Probably the earliest example of this kind of film was The 10th Victim (above), a 1965 cheesy curio about a group of people who enjoy violence so much that they form a club and take it in turns to be hunters or prey, and try to capture the kills on camera in order to make adverts out of the footage. Although this is probably the first film of its kind, it’s not until the ‘70s, when America was crashing down from their hedonistic ‘60s highs, that the real future sports started to crop up with more regularity.
1975 saw the release of both Rollerball and Death Race 2000. The James Caan starring Rollerball is set in 2018, in a world without war, poverty or violence and the general public work out any frustrations they have cathartically via the ultra-violent sport of the title. A mixture of a roller derby and the arcade game Speedball, the most famous player, Jonathan E. is told that he has to retire - a request which he ignores. This culminates in the bosses of the sport making it even more violent than before, but this only galvanises the hero and his team. The big question is, why hasn’t this been turned into a real sport yet? Death Race 2000 boasts a cast of Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine and is set – yes, you guessed it - in the year 2000, when the USA has been destroyed by a combination of a financial crisis and a military coup. As a result, entertainment has been really dumbed down, and culminates in the Annual Transcontinental Road Race, where competitors spend the three-day duration gaining points for both speed and knocking down and killing innocent pedestrians. It’s kind of a sadistic Wacky Races, and takes road rage to a whole new level!
Richard Bachman – actually Stephen King under a pseudonym – penned a short story which was brought to life on the screen with another muscle-bound actor taking the main role. Arnold Schwarzenegger starred as Ben Richards, framed for a crime he did not commit, and was thrust into The Running Man game show, having to try and survive the attacks of numerous killers, including the incredibly campy Dynamo and Buzzsaw, among others. It was pure ‘80s Arnold in all his pomp. This was predated by about four years by a little known film with a very similar premise, The Prize of Peril, which is very hard to track down these days.
The manic Robot Jox (1989) was set in a post-World War III society, where war is outlawed and countries who are disputing any territories have to battle with huge robots. So imagine Rocky IV or a game of ‘Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots’ to decide the owner of landmass on a huge scale. The effects may look really bad these days, but hey, we wonder where del Toro got his idea for Pacific Rim from…? Arena came out the same year, showcasing an intergalactic fighting competition between champions of various worlds, and starred a pre-Babylon 5 Claudia Christian.
We were also treated to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome - although perhaps it’s best if we forget that one (how did it go so wrong after Road Warrior?) – and The Salute of the Jugger which has Rutger Hauer trying to fight his way back into a sport that can only be described as a brutal version of hurling.
The ‘90s were quite sparse for the subgenre, which was surprising considering the number of techno-babble movies that were released in the decade. The only notable entry was Futuresport starring TV’s Superman himself, Dean Cain. It was basically a cheap rip-off of Rollerball that also featured Wesley Snipes with an embarrassing Jamaican accent. Fortunately, the sports of tomorrow would make a big comeback at the turn of the century.
With reality television starting to become part of the daily zeitgeist in real life, film-makers began to notice the opportunities to create some new ideas, with some more violent than others. With Hollywood seemingly happy to remake anything, there’s one title that appears to be too hot to handle for the studios. Thankfully.
Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale takes the idea of extreme sports to a whole new level. Set in a future where the authorities are trying to keep the unruly youth in line via the Battle Royale act and subsequent annual last man standing death match, a class of school children is randomly chosen and sent to an island. Once there, they get to take a backpack which has provisions and could hold any weapon, from a saucepan to a submachine gun, it’s pure luck what they get. Then they have three days to kill everyone else in their class, friends or otherwise. It’s brutal, and so un-PC it’s scary. But this is surely the film on which all others are marked in this subgenre. There’s more than a little similarity to The Hunger Games, to say the least.
Series 7: The Contenders has a similar synopsis, but it’s adults who are randomly chosen to kill each other. It really is like Big Brother, but with authorised death and destruction. It may be low budget, but you should definitely seek this one out.
Most films on this list are more action orientated, but My Little Eye takes the Big Brother template and mixes it with a horror model. Five young people apply to live in an isolated house together, with no access to the outside world while they are continuously watched by numerous cameras and broadcast over the internet. The rules state that if anyone leaves, everyone loses the right to try and win the jackpot of $1 million. Featuring an early role for Bradley Cooper, it’s certainly a creepy film.
The remake of Death Race, transplanted the action inside a prison, where the races are run using convicts with the promise of freedom if they win five races. Of course, it’s all unfairly balanced, so there’s no real chance to win five, so the convicts begin to team up to plot their escape. It’s fun, it’s brash, and there are some smart inclusions that you’ll be familiar with from console games of a similar ilk. The two sequels to date fall foul of the law of diminishing returns. Another remake was the frankly awful Rollerball with Chris Klein and LL Cool J, but as with Beyond Thunderdome, let’s not dwell on that for too long.
Perhaps the natural successor to Robot Jox is Real Steel, based on a story by Richard Matheson. It features Hugh Jackman as a father who’s a former boxer, but can now live vicariously by entering a robot into machine versus machine boxing competition. Sure, it’s so family friendly you can almost see the saccharine seeping off of the screen, but it’s harmless enough.
The Condemned has ten convicts dropped onto and island to fight to the death (sounding familiar?) and Gamer, which at least tries to be original in that death row convicts are used in an online computer game in which they must win thirty sessions (which sounds like a mammoth session on Call of Duty to us) to claim freedom. The Tournament has an interesting premise in that every seven years, an unsuspecting town is chosen and the world’s thirty greatest assassins will convene and have twenty four hours to kill or be killed. The only problem is that Robert Carlyle’s priest is mistaken as one of the assassins.
Of course, not every future sport is about violence. Starship Troopers has Jumpball, which appears to be a softer version of American Football, with lots of cushioning and very bright kits. Star Trek has Spock’s favourite game, tri-dimensional chess and even the Star Wars universe has a strange mixture of games and sports – Holochess is relaxing enough, as long as you don’t beat a Wookie, and the Pod Race is the Roman pastime of chariot racing brought screaming into a new technological age.
Of course, it’s not just on celluloid that future sports have been immortalised. Check out the ten-issue run of Dragon’s Claws from Marvel UK in the early ‘90s – imagine an uber-violent game of British Bulldog where one team has to make it to a certain point in a futuristic city, whilst their opponents can do anything in order to stop them. Set in 8162, it’s a really brutal comic that takes a load of pointers from films on this list and is well worth reading, if only for the introduction of Death’s Head!We all like to be entertained and it’s only natural for mankind to enjoy a little schadenfreude – Formula 1 hasn’t been the same since they made it safer and cut out most of the crashes – but maybe the only thing stopping our society from finally accepting these kinds of extreme entertainment is the health and safety brigade. Honestly, let’s just get rid of them and get our phones out. That minor celebrity that keeps hogging the front page needs to be taught a lesson!
THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 hits the multiplexes on November 20th.