The upside of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire being a 12A

Feature Simon Brew 3 Dec 2013 - 07:04

Getting a 12A rating might've been about maximising profits for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but there are some benefits to it...

To be on the safe side, it's probably best to give this article a miss if you've not seen The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This weekend, I finally caught up with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I went to my local multiplex on a Sunday afternoon, and was surprised at the number of under 10s that had been hauled along too. But then I remembered: Catching Fire is a 12A.

By the end of the movie, I was wondering if it should have been. There seems an ongoing slight relaxation of what's allowed in a 12A/PG-13 movie, as more and more studios target their big movies at exactly that sweet spot. In the Venn diagram of movie making, it's the crossover between a film being deemed too young, and one too inappropriate for a family audience. As such, you get a 12A or PG-13, and nobody feels left out. In short, it allows you to play to the broadest possible audience.

But while Catching Fire's promotion, rating and wildly inappropriate Subway tie-in all courts that audience, the film itself is a very different beast. The first hour and a half in particular is a very dark, very melancholy piece of blockbuster cinema, that makes Man Of Steel seem positively chipper. If you missed the first film or haven't read the books, it doesn't pander to you at all - there's no recap here - and the film expects you to cling along for the ride, no matter how unsettling the subject matter.

And that's before we get to the brutality and violence. A face being smashed up against a see-through wall. The brutally of the Hunger Games themselves. Elderly citizens being led to their execution. Surprisingly, Catching Fire doesn't flinch in the face of all of that, and not for the first time, in cutting away at key moments to just about get its rating, the impact of such moments is only heightened. Several times throughout the film I found myself thinking it beggared belief that this didn't get a harder rating. But then, in the UK, Taken and Die Hard sequels are seemingly for 12 year olds now. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.

I've always been a bit wary of family friendly ratings on films, and how they seem to give the green light for some parents to leave the cinema as a surrogate babysitter for their children while they pop off to the shops or something. I distinctly remember seeing Apollo 13 on a Saturday afternoon, complete with its PG rating, and the screening being ruined by uncontrolled children running round and round, with nobody there to say stop.

Thus, when I looked around just before the Kevin Bacon advert started at who I'd be sharing a screening of Catching Fire with, my heart sank. This is why 12A is all wrong, I thought. That it's now seen as a family-friendly greenlight.

Yet it was one of the best multiplex audiences I'd shared a film with in some time. For the vast bulk of the film, there was silence, and a sense that people were watching, and being engrossed by, the movie. That's in part due to the strength of the film itself, certainly, but it also planted a thought in my head: that maybe this was one of those cases where there was an advantage in a young audience getting to see something of this ilk.

Because, as derivative as elements of the story clearly are, The Hunger Games books and films have an awful lot to say. Crucially, they have an awful lot to say to an audience demographic that rarely gets so firmly targeted with material this ambitious. Especially in blockbuster movie clothing.

The clue is in the title, after all. The foundation of the Hunger Games themselves is a celebration of a government crushing a rebellion against it. By the time we get to Catching Fire, the 75th anniversary of said rebellion being crushed is something that's celebrated by those in charge. So that's 75 years of a lavish, opulent government keeping its people segregated, keeping them poor, keeping them hungry, and keeping them under control.

And control is what the games themselves are all about. That the citizens of the assorted districts in the films offer up their young to be sacrificed. They then become complicit in it by watching the interviews, watching the coverage, and witnessing the slaughtering of young, innocent lives. There's no spinning of this either.

On whatever level a young audience takes the Hunger Games films, there's something to be gleamed from them. Ideally, it's the political subtext that will resonate, and the science fiction themes (at one stage in the movie, the very rich offer a drink that allows you to be sick, so you can eat even more food, even while others elsewhere are starving). So much of the best science fiction takes segments of life as we know them now and extends them to possible eventualities. It's not hard to see that The Hunger Games may unlock an interest in the genre from people not usually exposed to such material.

Furthermore, the inherent seriousness, mixed into an accessible, non-condescending blockbuster, that assumes a degree of intelligence, is also welcome. You can hardly say this is a film that handholds you through the opening act, and there's no raft of exposition to bring you up to date. There's story to tell, and Catching Fire assumes you've done your homework. The audience I had the pleasure of sitting with clearly had, and I'd wager that the film is rattling around the brains of the younger members of it in particular, and will be for some time. So whilst I still think the 12A/PG-13 system is troublesome, there is arguably an upside in this case (even if it's more the exception than the rule).

I can't lose the fact that it's baffling that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire emerged from the BBFC with a 12A though, but then presumably it obeys the exact letter of the law of the ratings. It still feels quite harsh to me, but then I wouldn't necessarily suggest that The Wolverine and The Lone Ranger deserved that rating this year too. They seemed to stray into 15 territory.

But still: there are positives from Catching Fire being seen and absorbed by 12 year olds, and it's not as if they're legally allowed to see Battle Royale yet, which otherwise should be next on their shopping list. Don't be tempted to show 12 year olds A Good Day To Die Hard, though. 12A or not, no child deserves a trauma such as that...

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This might well be the exception, but too many inappropriate films get the 12A because of cuts in language and blood, there seems to be no regard for tone or subject matter. I mean what did the lack of blood hide in Wolverine? it was still plainly obvious what people were doing such as the samurais at the start of the film and you still seen Wolverine repeatedly stab people but it's ok there's no blood so it's ok for a 7 year old to see?

And that's what they need to remember, people are taking the 12A as a green light for kids, I know people who are happy to show their 4 year old kids the Harry Potter films..forget if they even have the comprehension to follow the story (some adults don't) but the content is not for anyone under 10, especially the later films.

at the very least the 12A needs accompanied by a strict 12 or something to tidy up a rating that has become too broad and too abused by studios to have any effect in guiding parents as to what is appropriate. At least with PG and 15s you knew where you stood.

The MPAA is painfully obsolete. People are perfectly capable of determining what their kids are allowed to see. If they can't see it in the cinema, they'll simply wait and get the DVD. The censorship doesn't result in any significant difference.

We had a series of film nights at our church where all the films were family oriented adventures from when the thirty something parents were growing up (so mid 70s to early 90s) - and we watched stuff like The Goonies, Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Explorers etc.

It seemed, even back then studios were pushing the boundaries of the PG rating. For example there is a shocking amount of smoking done by the heroes in Ghostbusters, not to mention very thinly veiled sex references (and some not veiled at all) and Raiders is quite violent and then there's the rape scene in Robin Hood, a whole routine about a statue's penis in The Goonies etc. We got the feeling, while watching them with today's kids, that one more innuendo, cigarette or punch would have gained it a 15.

So on the plus side the 12A does give the parents forewarning about things like this cropping up, but it does blur the lines a lot more between adult and children's films. I wholeheartedly disagree with cutting stuff from the likes of Die Hard and Taken to get a 12. And I miss the days of the 18 rated blockbuster - I spent many an evening at my local cinema enjoying (albeit under age because I was very tall by the time I was 15) the likes of Total Recall, Robocop 2, Basic Instinct, Brain Dead etc.

Back then there was a culture of making the film and seeing what rating they got. A 15 was regarded as a film which had 'adult content but not as graphic as an 18' - but now it seems like 'they tried to get a 12 but just couldn't quite make the cuts'.

It has led to a dumbing down of blockbusters.

I saw Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Robocop and Aliens at home on VHS with my parents when I was about 14. It actually led to my love of film now so I don't see it as a bad thing.

it's funny as I think the Goonies has been re classified as a 12, my blu ray is definitely a 12 and Robin Hood definitely pushed the PG, in fact one of the bits of trivia on it's IMDB page (so it must be true) is the director of the BBFC at the time regrets allowing it to pass as PG.

The problem is there is such a wide range in 12A now that it is meaningless. The comic book violence of spiderman is one thing but the violence and threat in Wolverine and even the Dark Knight was skewed much older. 12 year old probably fine with that but the 9 year olds that see it are a bit young but spider man probably ok.

given the cost of cinema tickets and time, it's unlikely that parents can see a film before they take the kids so they rely on the certificate and 12A is just far to vague.

yep but parents can't always see a film to decide if their kids should see it, especially if it is in the cinema, so ratings are important as it's our only guide.

I was surprised Dark Knight got a 12. Reservoir Dogs got an 18, mostly on the scene were they cut away during the torture of a police officer yet Joker was shown pushing a pencil into an eye (albeit with no gore) and lighting a bonfire with a man on top. I would have given the last 2 Batman films a 15 personally.

I always liked the Steven Spielberg route if he didn't like a rating (ie Jurassic Park). Give the film a PG, then add a tiny warning to the poster to say that the film wasn't suitable for under 12's. And assume that most multiplex audiences can actually read.

I think most parents either don't know (or don't care) that a 12A film is basically saying 'We don't recommend that children under 12 see this, but its up to you'. My mother never really cared about age ratings in movies and games. I remember watching horror movies as young as 10 or 11, it never had a negative effect one me, but it does depend on the child and what the parents preference is, I think they should just do away with the 'A' part.

To be fair, I think how upset kids are likely to be depends on the child - parents need to know their own children and what upsets them (I had a housemate who said as a child she was terrified of The Little Mermaid). And there is a (written) description in one of the Narnia books of a main, child, character chopping off someone's legs at the knee then swinging his sword round to chop off the guy's head. I have to say, I don't think I entirely followed that when I was 5, but it's there! Kids can take more than we think they can sometimes.

When the BBFC first introduced the 12 rating in the 90s it was exactly that - 12 or older. They added the A sometime around 2001/2. I remember there being a big fuss at the time because parents were taking their children to see Spider-man, which was a hard 12.

I agree that it depends on the child in question. I remember seeing Fellowship of the Ring in the cinema and there was a group of children down the front (think it might have been a birthday party of something) and the bit at the end where Aragorn chops off Lurtz's head off they all cheered.

I think they're perfectly ok using those ratings as guidelines for the parents to make a decision based on.
In 1993 when Jurassic Park came out I saw it with my father - I was just shy of 8-years old at the time, and the movie had a PG-13 rating. I can safely say that I was not scarred by the movie, in fact it's one of my all-time favourites and I still watch it a couple times a year. It's the same thing with Star Wars and TMNT (which I watched nearly every day as a little kid).
Not all children are the same, so I think it should remain to be up to the parent - not that there aren't parents who take advantage of that as mentioned in the article - but the rest of us shouldn't be punished because of a minority IMHO.

Well said sir.

There is no way they can make the third book a 12A surely? It was absolutely brutal in places. Whilst they didn't back down from certain scenes in this film, I cannot see how they can remain true to the source material and also get a 12A for the two remaining films. I image that, as always, money will talk and it will be the film that suffers rather than risking box office taking by making it a 15.

I'm an educator and a father and i think you are too conservative.

Mark, believe me I'm anything but conservative, I would rather see 15a than a straight 15. But I want better guides for parents so it is easier to make decisions. Only parents can make the choice for their child, but right now it's hard to do 12A is utterly meaningless it is so broad. but there are many adult films getting their swearing and blood count clipped and slipping in as 12As. utterly pointless.

I also want to see some real adult hollywood films rather than this pit that films all gravitate too

Because in the end the parents are responsible, not the UK rating system. Because when the DVDs and Blu-rays are out, nobody can be held responsible anymore, but the parents. That is exactly my opinion. I saw The good, the bad and the ugly at the age of 10 although our German rating system said 18 years and older. I saw Le professionnel with Jean-Paul Belmondo at that age. Alien and Aliens. And I love these films now at 35 as I did with 10. For other reasons, but still. And just because my father didn't hide his VHS good enough for me. It didn't harm me and it was not the fault of the rating system. If a fault altogether.
Well said, Sir.

Jeez, DoG. You've been bitching about the 12A/PG-13 rating for years now. Please move on and post some original content.


So you give the responsibility for your children to somebody, who doesn't know them? Whom you don't know either? Right. Good choice. Trust in the system. Wow..............

They are geeks. What should they bitch about? You don't want them to be Jason Statham fans either? You might be on the wrong website, mate.

How can a parent make a decision about a film in cinema if they haven't seen it.

Toby Mcguires first Spider man film 12a i reckon most 7 or 8 year olds could handle it now I've seen it.

The Wolverine 12a my opinion it's a film not much under 12 or 11 again depends on the child.

these films are the same rating what hope have you got of deciding what's suitable for your kids. I just want ratings that are useful and give you some info as to the content.

I am responsible for what my kids see but if ratings are as useless as the 12a then what's the point in having them


No one should take any rating system made by people, who don't know your kid's state of mind, serious.

You can't decide if your neighbour's child is emotionally strong or intelligent enough to "get" a certain movie. Why should you trust your neighbour?

No, but if i'm going to the cinema with them is it not reasonable to expect films with a 12a to fall within a smaller range than they do. The point of ratings is to guide parents not control their decisions and the 12a is useless at that.

If i decide to let my 14 year old watch an 18 I know what I'm letting them watch the problem is there is such a huge range between PG and 15 that a something clearer than 12A is needed

I think we are getting wires crossed here, I am not wanting more censorship hampering parents, but I'm truing to be realistic, how many parents would go to a cinema to see a film before deciding if it was suitable for their kid. not many.

yeah that is my fault but all i'm hoping for is movies more clearly marked so that it isn't so a film that is probably suitable for most 8 year olds isn't in the same rating as one that really isn't suitable for many kids under 12. It's why I'd move 15 and 18 to 15a and 18a let the parents decide but at least they're a bit more armed with info.

Mr. Italiano, I'm not judging you, and I'm not making a blanket statement about all "educators." But being an educator does not automatically give one a superior discernment for what

movies should be rated. I certainly would not trust most teachers in the U.S. public school system to align themselves with anything conservative.

You should seek out for a website that might tell you how appropiate a movie really is instead of believing what the rating system tells you. It is at least a bit random in these times. Don't trust them.

Although I might add: I watched "The Last Unicorn" at the age of 6 and that was exactly what it was rated for here in Germany. But it still haunts me. At the age of 35.

I watched "Gremlins" at the appropiate age of 12, but it still haunts me at the age of 35. Sometimes.

I watched "The Excorcist" at 14 or 15 and it is still one of my most beloved Horrorfilms of all time, although it doesn't haunt me at the age of 35.

I watched "Jaws" at the age of 16 or 17, and consider it one of the best Horrorfilms ever, but it doesn't haunt me now at all.

"Bambi" still haunts me (death of the mother), "Dumbo" from time to time (the whole drunken sequence with the f***ing pink elephants). Not actually now, but still.

"The Omen" kills me at every age; bless me that I haven't seen it until I was 32.

What I want to say is that every situation is special. At every age. And nearly nobody rated it really appropiatly to my age. Nearly never.

Why should they be right for everyone (and his/her kids)????????

Hmm, not sure about Spiderman. The beating he takes from the Green Goblin at the end is one of the most brutal superhero beatdowns you'll ever see. It just looks so painful.

As a regular reader, I can tell you that the majority of 12A/PG-13 movies discussed on here, over the past few years, have included a line or more, about the "broad appeal" of said rating(s). And how the rating(s) is dumbing down the industry, and so on... There have even been articles EXCLUSIVELY devoted to the topic, detailing exactly what filmmakers can and can't get away with. We get it! Move on already! How many times must the same ground be covered? Seriously!

Let them have their agenda until it is finally changed, okay? Because you have to repeat yourself from time to time to reach a lot of people. Look at the comments. You don't have to read every article, you know...

Or, and here's a novel idea, perhaps they could focus on posting new and original content. Is that really too much to ask?

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