Books are one of the last unrated media. It’s probably that old maxim, “Well, at least they’re reading,” that has kept the Tipper Gores and the Joe Liebermans of the world from slapping a parental warning on the cover of YA novels (“Warning: Graphic paragraphs ahead”). But once these books are turned into movies, all such bets are off. The MPAA gets to rub their hands together, purr “Exceeellent,” and slap on a rating that may or may not be complete nonsense.
The Hunger Games poses a particularly interesting problem. The book is designed for readers 13-and-up, the same group covered by a PG-13 rating, but this is no Harry Potter. As dark as the later books and films in J.K. Rowling’s series got, and as malicious and evil as Voldemort was, they in no way match the violence and horror of 24 individuals battling to the death as televised bloodsport. Arrows through the throat, spears in the side, faces chewed off by wolves. Add to that the fact that it’s children, as young as 12, on the receiving and giving ends of these attacks, and you can begin to understand how there will probably be some issues translating this story from the page to the screen. It’s important to note that all this killing serves a very distinct purpose in the books. The Hunger Games is a war novel, and Collins means it to reflect the horror and destruction that accompanies human conflict. No deaths are portrayed glibly, not even those of the villains. But it may be too much to ask the organization that cites “slime,” “quirky situations,” and “intense depiction of very bad weather” as reasons for giving a movie a harsher rating to recognize that distinction. So how will The Hunger Games movie pull off a PG-13?
I imagine it will end up being a tightrope-walk. There’s no way the studio is going to let it get stamped with a scarlet “R,” as that would shut out huge swaths of its target audience, not to mention frustrate millions of fans of the books who will be required to drag along their parents in order to see the film. So violence that was front-and-center in the book will probably happen a little off to the side. When someone gets hit by an arrow, you’ll hear the thunk, but the camera will hold steady on the face of the victim. In short: There will be blood, but not too much. Even with these tricks, though, there’s still the possibility that the bare premise alone of kid-versus-kid violence will prove too potent for the Hays Code-lite folks at the MPAA. The only thing that’s clear is that the filmmakers have a pretty daunting task ahead of them. Rue’s death, a visually and emotionally difficult scene, will be the real test: Will they be able to make it as much of a punch to the solar plexus as it needs to be? We can only hope so.
What do you think? Can The Hunger Games be turned into a PG-13 movie without losing its power? Would you rather an R-rating if it meant the movie was more faithful to the book?