The Hunger Games swoop victoriously into theatres this weekend, and as such everyone is thinking the same thing: did Suzanne Collins rip off Battle Royale? And the truth of the matter is, there’s a proud and long standing tradition, both literary and cinematic, where contestants battle to the death for the amusement of the viewing audiences. Usually it’s either some sort of totalitarian regime instituting a lottery to cull the herd or “criminals” trying to earn parole. They are set up in some sort of amped-up bloodsport combat arena where they are forced to bloodily dispatch each other until THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE. You’ll probably be seeing a list of the very same films that I’ve compiled below on several much better and more professional websites. Amateurs. What they lack is a hero. What they lack is my father.
The Most Dangerous Jim.
I’ve told this story many times, but it’s awesome, so fuck you. When my father first saw the game show “Survivor,” where boring spring breakers vie for attention on a tropical island by playing out rejected “Double Dare” challenges tarted-up like “Gilligan’s Island’s” merch, he scoffed. His strategy would be to disappear into the jungle and sharpen spears with rocks and then one by one pick off his competition. Let’s see Boston Rob mouth his way out of a faceful of jagged bamboo. Which explains why my father is no longer welcome to audition for Jeff Probst or to attend pack meeting for Cub Scout Troop 185.
I pondered how my father would fare against some stiffer competition. So I called him up to get his take on how he would handle some of Hollywood’s Shirley Jacksoning. To fully appreciate this, you need to know a bit about the man, the myth, the murder machine.
(pictured at actual size)
My dad looks kinda like me. By that I mean, he’s a shortish, portly fellow with a great big bald head. Except where I am 77% fast food detritus, my father is a sleek walrus layer of arctic storage over sheer unyielding muscle. He’s been in the construction industry most of his life, from lugging lumber and swinging a hammer to vice president of construction management. While everyone else was Platooning in Vietnam, Dad was in Cambodia and Laos as a sniper in the Airborne Rangers. There, he trained in Aikido, narrowly failing his 3rd Dan Black Belt test because after taking out the three other swordsmen, the fourth managed to tap him on the lower back before he got knocked the fuck out. And while I like to paint him as a ninja, he’s honestly one of the sweetest and most generous guys you’ll ever get the pleasure of meeting. Unless you cross his family or threaten his life. Then pray to whatever you believe in to make reservations at a good table, because you’re about to join them for dinner in half a heartbeat.
1. Rollerball (1975)
Synopsis: Corporations control our future. For amusement, each city has set up a “rollerball” team, a pseudo rugby meets roller derby. Sweaty guys on motorcycles and roller skates skate around a rink trying to score while refs award points or penalties. For the sake of argument, we’re going to assume we’re in the final game, where penalties and time periods are removed, for maximum bloodsport.
The Jimdown: My father’s not really built for rollerskating. And the only way you’d get him on a motorcycle would be if he were leaping to freedom over the fence of a concentration camp. And even then he’d probably MacGyver an explosive or chew through the fence first. Strong jaws our fam. So he’s at a distinct disadvantage. However, his strategy was pretty sound: “I’d take off the skates and stand in my bare feet and knock the shit out of everyone as they rolled by. Then I’d take their skates and beat them to death with them.” While undoubtedly great footage, it’s really not in the spirit of the game, so I’d have to give Dad a low likelihood of Caan-ing it up. However, I’m still certain he could have murder-death-killed Chris Evans.
2. The Running Man (1987)
Synopsis: Who loves you and who do you love?! In the future, prisoners are selected to compete in a televised gladiatorial-style arena combat against fan-favorites like Buzzsaw and Subzero, psychotic pro-wrestlers armed with supreme weapons. A totalitarian government can arrange to herd competitors to whichever murderator the audience member chooses.
The Jimdown: “Everything that Schwarzenegger did I would have did.” Except for falling in love with Maria-Conchita Alonzo. Especially nowadays. Yikes. Dad would have used their weapons against them similar to Arnie, but without resorting to painful catch phrasery. Jim Brown would have still been extra crispy, and “that light-up guy” would have still “gotten fried in a puddle.” Except I’d like to think that Dad wouldn’t have been so stupid as to leave behind perfectly good weapons like a razorsharp hockey stick. Unfortunately, this is mostly hand-to-hand combat against roidmonkeys, and Dad’s forte is guerilla warfare. So while his aikido would get him pretty far, he’s still dealing with the likes of the glorious Professor Toru Tanaka. But as Agnes would tell you, Dad’s a mean motherfucker, so he’s bound to open a few positions in the Justice Department, Entertainment Division before he goes. He probably would have actually done far better in the original story as written by Richard Bachman aka Stephen King. Minus the flying an airplane into a building to finish off Richard Dawson.
3. Death Race 2000 (1975)/ Death Race (2008)
Synopsis: Prisoners again, this time racing for the warden’s amusement on a race track. It’s Twisted Metal meets “Oz,” where instead of pursuing each other for transanal ultrasounds, they pursue each other in machinegunned up junkers, trying to earn parole. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m going to avoid the “video-game powerup” bullshit of the remake and focus instead on good ol’ fashioned killmachines.
The Jimdown: Jimmy warn’t no racecar driver and he don’t drive so goddamned fast. But he has travelled frequently on the Schuylkill Expressway, so that does prepare him for combat driving. His strategy would involve feinting at walls and getting people to smash into each other. Less turtle shell, more careening into a fiery death against the junkyard concourse. And while that would probably win him a lap here or there, I don’t think he’d be earning that parole from Frankenstein or Machine Gun Joe.
4. Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
Synopsis: A reality television show where normal citizens are picked by lottery to compete on a game show. Everyone is given a handgun and told to hunt through the suburban landscape as a camera crew follows them around. These aren’t hardened guttersnipes, these are elderly nurses, cancer patients, cheerleaders, out-of-work asbestos cleaners. And the winner lives on…to compete in the next series of “The Contenders.” Which has got to be the shittiest fucking prize in the history of competitive annihilation. You win! Until you no win! Even “Deal or No Deal” at least gives you a fucking penny.
The Jimdown: Now we’re getting into Dad’s wheelhouse. Guerilla warfare. And while he’d be better off in some sort of jungle environment, urban warfare may work. He’s no Jeremy Piven - he’d have handed Denis Leary his dick to smoke in Judgment Night. He’s well versed in basic layouts of buildings, and while I don’t see him “TV dinnering” ala Die Hard, I think he’d still do well. Instead of hiding out, his strategy is to go after each other competitors and take them out, strongest first. Pregnant woman, teen girl, elderly vet - crow food. Now my concern was how do you stay hidden with a goddamn lit-up camera crew stalking you to get the shot. Dad’s thoughts: human shields. TMZ, you don’t see me, 9mm all up in your viewing pleasure, bitches. He’d have been a series regular, and Brooke Smith would have been putting lotion on her skin in a shallow grave.
5. Battle Royale (2000)
Synopsis: The totalitarian government in this film basically selects a ninth grade class at random and knocks them out to wake up on an island where they are required to kill each other until there’s only one left standing. It’s kind of like Lord of the Flies; you know, if they left the Ninja Turtles arsenal lying around. For the sake of argument, I’m going to assume my father is allowed to compete against the Japanese schoolchildren.
The Jimdown: Dad. On a jungle island. Filled with ninja weapons. Give him a fucking pina colada and a grill with bratwursts because you just set him in his backyard. As I explained how the layout worked, Dad went off on a litany where he was gathering weapons, making rope and bungees out of vines, setting pungi stick and sharpened stick traps. Meanwhile, the schoolkids spend the first few days crying and committing suicide. Turns out Dad’s a Katniss at heart, as he wanted a crossbow immediately, which he would take up into a tree to snipe out kiddos as they came tearing by. I’m giving these kids about five periods before they’re all danging from trees, spiked at the bottom of tiger pits, or sitting in neatly stacked piles while Dad sits on the beach and waits for Lindelof and Cuse to tell him this was all a dream and he’s really dead.
6. The Most Dangerous Game (1932)/Surviving the Game (1994)
Synopsis: There’s been a thousand million billion variations on this ultimate 99% vs. 1%. Poor people wash up on an island or end up drugged and awakening in an isolated forest compound while rich guys hunt them for sport. Or as I explained it to Dad, “It’s pretty much like Battle Royale except you have no weapons at all, and those guys have high-powered machine guns and rifles with night scopes and infrared and heat vision and shit.” His response? “Yeah, that’s okay.”
The Jimdown: My concern was that they all had weapons and he was unarmed. Dad’s response was simply: “They have weapons until I take them.” And then he told me one of my favorite dad stories.
As a vice president, he had to go on team building exercises and shit. And one of them was to a paintball retreat. They were split into two teams and basically told to play paintball. Dad’s tactic was that while there was no “I” in “team” there’s a motherfucking JIM in “el-jim-inate”. He handed his gun off to his teammates and disappeared into the woods, painting up his face and blended Predator style into the foliage. As each of the other team walked past him, he stepped out from behind them, got them in full-nelson locks and told them to drop their weapons. They did, and he sent them back to their base camp. So instead of splattered with Glidden, these dudes stood around while Dad returned carrying six paintball guns.
They said, “You can’t do that.”
Dad said, “Maybe YOU can’t. I just did.”
They said, “You’re not supposed to grab us. You’re supposed to use your gun.”
Dad said, “You’re lucky I didn’t have a knife or you might not have come back at all.”
Sub-Zero. Now just plain zero.
I asked Dad, “Yeah, but in this you’re up against a bunch of rich guys. Like billionaires and shit.”
Dad said, “That’s who was at the challenge. These were all CEOs and executives. And I had all their guns.”