The Hunger Games, and the Bambi effect

News Simon Brew 27 Mar 2012 - 10:29
The Hunger Games

Did the cut required to get a teen-friendly rating for The Hunger Games manage to make the film just a little more shocking as a result?

After the monster box office numbers, inevitably the backlash begins. Last weekend, The Hunger Games stormed to a $155m opening weekend in the US, the third biggest of all time, and the best opening weekend for a non-sequel of all time. Outside of the US, the film still fared well (although, interestingly, it took in less money than John Carter did on its non-US opening), and Lionsgate has comfortably won its substantive gamble to all but bet the house on making the film.

A lot of the reason for the film’s box office success is the way that it’s successfully targeted the teen market, that had helped fuel the Twilight movies to such spectacular numbers. The general reaction to Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games film is that it’s a far better movie than any of the Twilights to date (although feel free to argue that in the comments), which makes it a more satisfying success. But, predictably, there’s been a bit of a sting in the tail.

In the UK, it’s well known that Lionsgate chopped seven seconds of material to get the 12A certificate the film needed (our equivalent of PG-13), and before that, it had taken advice from the BBFC before it had locked its final cut. I’m not sure what action it took in the US to ensure the PG-13 rating, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it followed a similar approach.

The result, either way, is that pretty much any vestige of blood is absent from the movie. Knives going into bodies? You don’t see those. Basically, instead of focusing on the kills themselves, the film ends up being more focused on what happens before, and what happens afterwards. I’d argue it makes it all the more shocking for that.

I can’t help but think that there’s a little dose of Bambi medicine here. That is, people in posh meeting rooms, so concerned with getting an appropriate rating, have taken out what they think are the elements that make a film too disturbing for a younger audience, and instead they concentrate the parts that really get into the mind. We’re left with human reactions, with shock, with tension, and a feeling that the world is a lot more brutal than it may have come across if everything had been shown.

The shooting of Bambi’s mother, infamously, was in the original plan for the Bambi film, but was removed because it was considered too much. As a result, the sequences in and around it became all the more shocking as a consequence.

I don’t think The Hunger Games is on the same level, but I do think the same rules hold true. Remember the outrage over the violence of Reservoir Dogs? And then contrast the loudness of the complaints against what you actually saw? There’s a parallel there, too.

Predictably, the Daily Mail has wheeled out a story, about how parents are massively concerned about The Hunger Games, deeming it inappropriate for 12 year olds. The headline? It’s “too gory” for young teens. My question: what gore was there? What did you actually see?

The article also notes “some parents have complained the film scenes of murder and bloodshed were too graphic to be appropriate for children, and suggested it should have been rated 15”.

Maybe it should have been. But again: what particular scenes? What exact moments of bloodshed do you see on screen? We’re also back to the old argument: isn’t it right that people see the consequences of violence, rather than focusing on the violence itself?

A friend of mine, with a young child, argues passionately that he’d far rather his infant son saw the real damage that a bullet, or a weapon, can do, than have it trivialised or diluted in any way. I really see his point.

I’m not arguing that The Hunger Games should be a 12A or a 15, nor am I suggesting that it’s right for every teenager to go and see it. I just find it slightly ironic that, in the clamour to tone the film down to hit a target rating or certificate, the impact of it may just have become more haunting.

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