‘Hunger Games’ altered in the UK for a teen-friendly rating

If it wasn’t obvious, Gary Ross”s adaptation of Suzanne Collins”s dystopic young adult fantasy novel “The Hunger Games” opens worldwide beginning next Wednesday March 21. The book tells the story of an imagined future in which a series of wars and natural disasters have drastically reduced the size of North America, which has become the country of Panem, a polarized collection of 12 “districts” that have very limited contact with one another, each with a specialized trade.

An opulent “Capital,” which is largely hidden and isolated by a mountain range, presides over the districts and their resources. As a reminder of the consequences of a long-ago rebellion, the Capital demands that each district conduct a yearly lottery wherein a boy and a girl will be selected to participate in a televised fight to the death in a manufactured “arena.”

The novel is a YA-palatable political allegory that does not shy away from violence. Indeed, it is, among other things, about violence — not the romanticized violence that so many films depict, however. “The Hunger Games,” the film, represents one of the few true YA phenomena franchises that actually has something to say to the youth that it is reaching, something germane to the world that exists around them, relevant and critical to their present as well as their future.

There is nothing of the gratuitous or gleefully, indulgently brutal in the film. Rather, it is a simple rendering and, in some ways, all the more evocative in its restraint. Why, then, have the distributors been asked to adjust the film in order to receive the 12A classification that would make it available to the very audience for which the source material was created?

To be fair, as the BBC reports, the cuts have been relatively minor, seven seconds including the “digital removal of blood splash.” Having seen the film, I am fairly certain of which scene the The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) took issue with.

According to the organization’s report:

“A number of cuts were made in one scene to reduce an emphasis on blood and injury. An uncut 15 classification was available. These cuts were made in addition to reductions already made following an earlier ‘advice’ viewing of an incomplete version.”

While I doubt that the adjustments have dramatically shifted the overall trajectory of the story, it does seem odd that the request was made. “Reducing the emphasis on blood and injury” in a film about a government-enforced fight to the death seems somewhat counter-intuitive given that, as mentioned, the film is already sparing. I”d love to see which seven seconds were found to be objectionable and how, and if, the shifts softened the impact of said scenes.

The material in “The Hunger Games” is in some ways challenging, to be sure, and I would certainly understand parents of much younger children wanting to vet it a bit. But it is, as always, fascinating to me that cinematic offersings which glorify violence or treat it with a cartoonish disregard for consequence are acceptable and those that treat it with (as in this case) a controlled and subtle sense of realism are deemed threatening.

This, in my opinion, is not a film that needed editing in order to make it appropriate for teens. It is, in fact, one of the few films I have seen that treats said audience with a sense of dignity while still allowing them a measure of protection. The film invites them into a conversation that has far-reaching implications in a way that is both entertaining and digestible.

“The Hunger Games” has a PG-13 rating in the US for “intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.” In this particular instance, the MPAA (which is so often arbitrary) seems to have gotten it right.

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