Hunger Games 05
Credit: Murray Close

With so much breathless anticipation awaiting the release of The Hunger Games this Friday, lost in the shuffle may be whether the film, based on Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular young-adult novel, is actually appropriate for young adults. The core story, after all, is 24 teenage kids literally killing each other as a brutal national television spectacle. In the wake of the controversy swirling around the MPAA’s decision to give an R rating to Bully solely for a handful of four-letter words — whereas The Hunger Games merited a PG-13 — how can parents decide whether to bring their young kids to see the film those kids have been talking about for months on end?

Enter Common Sense Media. The independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan group has been rating films’ appropriateness since 2003 on a far more rigorous scale than the MPAA’s one-size-fits all system. And EW can reveal exclusively that the group rates The Hunger Games a “Pause 13+.”

What does that mean? “When we rate something ‘pause,’ it’s really a know-your-kids situation,” managing editor Betsy Bozdech tells EW. “It’s iffy for the age, but some 13-year-olds may be able to handle it, and some may not. You need to know your kid and your family and take it from there.” It’s no surprise that the biggest issue is the depiction of the violence in the film. (SPOILER ALERT ahead.) “We all have vivid imaginations, that’s for sure, but it’s very different to see a kid spearing another one, breaking another one’s neck, smashing their head in, than it is to read about it,” says Bozdech. “It’s just a more visceral experience.”

But Common Sense’s review doesn’t stop there. It also singles out each film’s positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking/drugs/smoking on a 0-to-5 scale. Not surprisingly, the film’s violence rates a “4,” especially for the cornucopia scene when the Games themselves first officially get underway. “It really is kind of a bloodbath,” says Bozdech. “It’s really quickly edited so nothing really lingers. But it’s pretty brutal.” On the flip side, the film also merits a “4” for how strong a role model Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is for young children, though it’s bumped down to a “3” for the positive messages, since Katniss and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) occasionally use “deception and manipulation” to achieve their goals. The sex, language, and consumerism only earn a “1”; the drinking of Katniss’ mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) gives the film a “2” for drinking/drugs/smoking use.

Most importantly, though, Bozdech sees the film as a fabulous conversation starter for families. “We’re all about teaching kids and families to be really savvy about the media they consume,” she says. “‘The Hunger Games’ is a television show, and what commentary is that making about the media in our society and the way we consume reality TV. Obviously Survivor isn’t [killing people] with arrows and spears, but you can see the progression of this idea. What does that teach us about the role reality TV plays in our society?”

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