After posting the news here on Cinematical, we got tons of angry responses, one of which going as far as to say, "This book is not appropriate for twelve year olds, but unfortunately, too many parents lack the spine to say so," and another posting, "This book is nothing without its brutality. Unless the slaughter of those ten innocent kids is shown in the movie, the audience won't understand why a revolution is needed." However, we also got quite a few readers defending the PG-13 ruling: "The books are already PG-13. They're totally innocuous and lacking in much action and certainly any adult themes. The books seem tailored to a PG-13." Another pointed out, "I grew up on G movies that killed more horribly."
The film's director, Gary Ross, has heard our calls and stepped out to address the issue himself. As reported by EW, Ross explained, "It's not going to be an R-rated movie because I want the 12- and 13- and 14-year-old-fans to be able to go see it." He added, "It's their story and they deserve to be able to access it completely. And I don't think it needs to be more extreme than that," and topped it off with, "I don't need to have a huge prosthetic budget or make this movie incredibly bloody in order for it to be just as compelling, just as scary, and just as riveting." Ross even spoke to one the book's most horrific moments, the Tracker Jacker attack. "Even things like the Tracker Jacker sequence, while horrific, it's the ideas that Suzanne has created that are so harrowing."
As tough as it is to imagine a PG-13 'Hunger Games' packing as much of a punch as the book, Ross does have a point. Some of the most disturbing and terrifying parts of the book are more about the concepts, not the imagery. In fact, in the aforementioned Tracker Jacker sequence, nothing particularly brutal happens. It's certainly unpleasant but not that gruesome.
(Possible spoilers ahead.)
On the other hand, even recalling that fan-made 'Hunger Games' clip, there are simple actions that could cross the ratings line that won't have the same effect if not shown, like when Katniss plunges an arrow through another competitor's neck. As much as I don't want to bring up the issue of the 'Battle Royale' likeness, if you think back to that film, part of what made it so horrifying was actually witnessing the brutality. Okay, there are deaths in the 'Harry Potter' films, but seeing a character writhing on the floor during a spell attack is just not the same as seeing another character mauled. We're not talking 'Saw' blood and guts here, but the film will need a degree of violence that will be tough to achieve with a PG-13 rating – albeit not impossible.
Films like 'The Twilight Saga' have the power to make a viewer react, but there's a very specific sensation that 'The Hunger Games' causes that is unachievable without blatant brutality. The first 'Twilight' film teeters on that sensation during its climax, but that's partly because the rest of the film is so tame. Producer Nina Jacobson said it herself when comparing the 'Hunger Games' books to 'The Twilight Saga', "I think anybody who's read the two books knows that they are as different as night and day, with very little in common other than the youthfulness of their protagonists." Well, part of that difference is the brutality. It's part of the story and is necessary.
Mr. Ross makes a good point: it really would be a travesty for some younger fans of the book to not have the opportunity to see the film. Then again, an R rating wouldn't bar teens from the film completely; they'd just need to explain the movie to a parent.