Suzanne Collins' hugely successful novel The Hunger Games was brought to cinematic life in 2012, following three years of co-production between distributors Lions Gate Entertainment and the independent production company Color Force.
Collins co-wrote the screenplay, as well as serving as the film's co-producer. The film went on to receive the commercially-lucrative PG-13 rating in the US (a move that Collins herself anticipated), but the film's release in the UK ran into some
difficulties; in part due to the film's bloody violence and scenes of injury detail. In this episode of Cutting Edge , we'll be taking an in-depth look at the story behind the alterations that were made for The Hunger Games' in order to appease
the examiners at the BBFC in the UK.
US vs. UK
Although the novel of The Hunger Games is intended for older children and young adults, it contains its fair share of rather violent details, which are more explicitly described than anything contained within the film version. Crucially, however, the
violence in both Collins' novel and the film is examined within a moral framework which encompasses a variety of themes, including the desensitizing effects of the media's coverage of real-life tragedies and war. Indeed, the writers and filmmakers made a
conscious effort during production to ensure that the film they were making did not stray too far into the realms of lingering and graphic violence.
But despite the filmmakers' careful construction of the film's most violent scenes, the BBFC felt
that the film was too strong for the 12A rating that the film company had requested for the film's British release. Although the 12A is broadly equivalent to the American PG-13, the BBFC are stricter on violence at this level than the MPAA in America, as
BBFC Director David Cooke remarked in an interview with The Telegraph in the May of 2012:
In the States, they are far more squeamish about sex than they are about violence.
Cuts for a BBFC 12A cinema rating
The Hunger Games first came before the BBFC several months before its British theatrical release for an advice viewing.
This is a fairly common occurrence in Britain, which involves a film company presenting an incomplete or 'rough cut' version of a film to the BBFC to see if any changes need to be made in order to attain a particular rating. This is an informal process,
and an official classification is not awarded at this time. However, the BBFC will give the filmmakers an idea of what rating a film will likely be granted upon a formal submission, and point out any troublesome scenes that may need addressing if the
filmmakers are seeking to obtain a particular rating. In the case of The Hunger Games, the BBFC cited a handful of problematic scenes following a screening of a rough cut, which the BBFC explained thus:
When the film was
seen for advice, in an incomplete version, the BBFC informed the company that certain sequences placed an emphasis on blood and injuries that was unlikely to be acceptable at '12A'. Accordingly, four scenes of violence and one scene showing injuries were
reduced by cuts and by the darkening of certain shots.
Following this informal advice, Lions Gate made some cuts and alterations during the post-production period on the film. Around 14 seconds' worth of material was altered by
removing blood digitally and adding artificial shadows to shots, and between six and eight seconds of visual cuts were made. Some, but not all, of these changes were also implemented into the final PG-13 version of the film. These cuts included the
removal of some bloodletting during the initial Cornucopia scene and a scene where one character is killed by the wolf mutts. Since the BBFC are not always able to provide details of advice viewing cuts, the latter change is unclear. It could refer to
the death of Thresh, whose death is only heard occurring off-screen in the final cut of the film, but it is perhaps more likely to assume that the scene affected was the death of Cato, where the use of carefully-placed shadows appears to suggest a
conscious obscuring of the gorier details of his demise.
The Hunger Games was later submitted for a formal BBFC certificate in February 2012 with a request for a 12A rating, in a version containing around 20 seconds of changes that had been made following BBFC advice. However, the Board informed the
filmmakers that the reductions to violence in the Cornucopia scene had not gone far enough, and the BBFC insisted on an additional seven seconds of changes before a 12A rating could be granted, commenting:
finished version of the film was submitted for formal classification, four further cuts were required to remove some remaining sight of blood and injuries that breached the terms of the '12A'/'12' Guidelines. The violence that remains in the classified
version of the film is generally undetailed and there is no dwelling on detail.
Let's take a look at all of the affected scenes in the 12A UK cinema version that differ from the PG-13 version of the film.
Cut Scenes: Bricked
The first alteration that was made occurs around 25 minutes into the film, and was made following BBFC advice. It concerns a brief shot showing blood on a brick after a boy is beaten to death. For
the 12A version, the sight of blood was removed through the addition of an artificial shadow cast onto the brick:
Cut Scenes: Cornucopia
The majority of cuts made for the BBFC concern the sight of blood during the Cornucopia scene. For this scene, the BBFC demanded three formal cuts, the first of which stated:
When the Hunger Games begins, as the tributes rush to the Cornucopia and begin fighting, reduce the focus on a heavily bloodied knife which is held up following a stabbing.
This cut was achieved through the use of
digital manipulation. No footage was removed, but the blood on the knife blade was painted out in order to satisfy the censors:
The next change concerned the brief sight of a male Tribute being slashed across the chest. Like the previous cuts, this was achieved by digitally removing both the sight of blood splattering from his wounds and the sight of blood on his
torso as he falls to the ground:
Both the second and third of the formally-issued BBFC cuts are identical, both of which stated:
When the Hunger Games begins, after the tributes rush to the Cornucopia and begin fighting, remove the
clear splash of blood that results from blow with bladed weapon.
These cuts would appear to be referring to the sight of a blonde girl stabbing a male participant and an occurrence a few seconds later that shows a machete slicing into
another boy's leg. Once again, for these two scenes, no footage was cut, with the sight of splattering blood simply being digitally painted out for the 12A version, and the blood on the machete blade being digitally repainted black to lessen the impact
of the scene:
Another change occurs a few moments later, when a Tribute slashes a fellow player across the neck. This was removed following the advice viewing, and once again involves the digital removal of blood. The very brief sight of a blood
splash on a wall and the subsequent splashing of blood onto a briefcase was painted out for the UK cinema version:
The fourth formal BBFC cut concerned two shots of the male Tribute's corpse who was seen earlier being slashed across the chest. He is seen lying with visible bloody wounds in the PG-13 version, but for the 12A version the BBFC issued
the following to the filmmakers:
When the Hunger Games begins, after the tributes have fought beside the Cornucopia, reduce the focus on a bloody wound to a young male's chest as he lies on his back in the aftermath of
As with the previous changes, no footage was removed outright, with the sight of his injuries being digitally reduced to attain a 12A rating:
Cut Scenes: Katniss Wounded
Three more changes were made to the film for a 12A rating, and these were all undertaken after the initial BBFC advice viewing. Two of these changes concerned the burn wound that Katniss
receives on her leg. For the 12A version, the close-up of Katniss washing her wound was slightly shortened, with the reverse angle of her tending to her leg extended to reduce the length of the following close-up. Furthermore, the 12A version also lacks
all clear sight of Katniss pressing on her wound with her hand, instead showing a close-up of Katniss writhing in pain as she tends to her leg off-screen.
Cut Scenes: Knife Threats
The last change made for the 12A version occurs when Clove threatens Katniss with a knife. Knives have always been a concern for the BBFC, particularly in junior categories, and the Board
noted this cut in a comment on their website in 2012, stating:
[The Hunger Games] features scenes in which characters practice with, and later use, a variety of weapons, including bladed weapons. In the version of the
film seen for advice, there was a sequence in which a blade is sadistically held to a character's face. This shot has been removed from the classified version of the film.
Strangely, the prolonged (and arguably more dangerous) sight
of Clove holding a larger blade to Katniss' throat was considered perfectly acceptable, with the BBFC objecting only to the subsequent -- and extremely brief shot -- of Clove placing a second, smaller knife against Katniss' face. Focus on the knife was
removed by having the film cut to a close-up of Clove's face in its place:
After all of the necessary cuts had been made, The Hunger Games was classified 12A for a UK theatrical release on March 12th 2012, with the BBFC noting that the film:
Contains intense threat, moderate
violence and occasional gory moments.
In total, almost 30 seconds of cuts had been made to the film following the BBFC's advice viewing, with some of the cuts made during post production making their way into the international version
of the film. But despite the BBFC making cuts, the UK release of The Hunger Games generated over 40 complaints from British cinemagoers, with some arguing that the film was too violent and others complaining about the cutting of the film. As the BBFC
commented in their annual report for 2012:
[The film] generated 43 complaints about its violence and theme. The violence is generally restrained and undetailed. It is a moral film, critiquing violence rather than
glorifying it. The lead characters do not relish killing and survive and defeat the unfair and evil adult 'system' through bravery, teamwork and resourcefulness. There were a small number of complaints criticising the decision to cut the film for 12A.
These were mostly from young fans of the books who believed the film should remain intact and that any cuts to the violence would sanitise its impact.
In the July of 2012, the Advisory Panel on Children's Viewing (APCV) met to discuss
the BBFC's 12A classification of The Hunger Games. In the BBFC's own words, the APCV:
...provides the BBFC with access to a wide range of skills and expertise connected with child welfare and development. The views of
the Panel feed into the creation of BBFC policy.
The Panel viewed the cut 12A version of the film, in addition to the material that had been censored in order for the film to achieve that rating. As the BBFC again commented in their
[The Panel] unanimously found it to be a 'classic fairy tale' with clear moral messages. The 12A certificate was appropriate and useful. The Panel was asked whether the cuts made to some of the stronger
and more violent scenes 'sanitised' the film's violence, as some criticisms of the edits had claimed. The Panel felt that what remained in the film was sufficiently aversive to convey the horror of the situation.
BBFC 12 and 15 rated versions on home video
For home video, the cut 12A version of The Hunger Games was submitted for a DVD classification, and was passed without any additional cuts on May 24th 2012 with a
12 rating. However, on that same day, the PG-13 version of the film (which was submitted as the "International Cut") was also passed by the BBFC. Since this version of the film contained material previously cut for a 12A rating, it was upgraded
to a 15 rating. This version was released in the UK on Blu-ray, with the cover stating that the film:
Contains strong violence and threat.
12 rated UK Version
15 rated International Version
All UK DVD releases contain the censored 12A cinema version and carry a 12 rating, and should be avoided by fans seeking the more violent international version.
In closing, a final point worth mentioning is a quote from BBFC Head of Policy David Austin in an interview with Kermode and Mayo's Film Review on BBC Radio 5 Live. In the spring of 2012, Austin spoke of The Hunger Games, remarking:
We didn't cut any of this film... it was purely a choice by the distributor. When we saw the film we told [the distributor] that although much of the film was appropriate according to the BBFC's guidelines, there were certain
sequences which went beyond what's acceptable at 12A. We did suggest some changes that they might like to consider if they wanted to achieve the 12A.
So who cut The Hunger Games? Join the discussion on our
Facebook page and let us know what you think.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Two, Episode 32: The Hunger Games