Top list: 'Hunger Games' not the only dark movie made especially for kids

SALT LAKE CITY — Fans of Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" series will get their first look of the violent dystopian world of Panem when the movie opens in local theaters at midnight Thursday.

Marissa Schiffman, a 16-year-old and junior at Riverton High School, will be one of those fans sacrificing sleep — on a school night — Thursday. She first read "The Hunger Games" two years ago and said she didn't love the violence, but loved the book.

"It was a little bit disturbing but you get over it because the rest of the book is so good," she said.

She said she is worried about how the violence will be portrayed on screen but not enough to keep her away, especially since it will be her first midnight premiere.

"I'm good at closing my eyes," she said.

Schiffman will be among thousands expected to see the film over the weekend. Online ticket-selling website Fandango announced Tuesday that the first movie in the presumed franchise has sold more advance tickets than any other non-sequel ever. Entertainment Weekly reported that Fandango expects "The Hunger Games" to crack the site's top-5 advance ticket sales list before the lights dim Thursday at midnight showings across the country. The young adult novel-turned-blockbuster will feel right at home on that list, which is currently made up of the last three "Twilight" films and parts one and two of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

The book enjoys juggernaut-sized popularity, but its violent content — where teenage children are forced to fight to the death — has often raised eyebrows and speculation has surrounded the content of the film adaptation since it was announced.

The movie received a rating of PG-13 from the Motion Picture Association of America for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images, all involving teens. In the United Kingdom, seven seconds were cut from the film to secure a 12A rating, the British equivalent of a PG-13.

Kids-in-Mind.com, which partners with the Deseret News for a detailed break down of movie content, will release its description and rating of the "Hunger Games" content.

Marissa Schiffman's mother, Lois Schiffman, also read the books and said that while the story is dark, she does not find it objectionable. She said that teenagers are often exposed to needlessly inappropriate content in books, movies and television but the violence in "The Hunger Games" is used to start a conversation about society.

"It gets people talking and it gets people reading," Schiffman said. "That's my proudest mommie moment, that my kids are readers."

The independent, non-profit group Common Sense Media rated the film as appropriate for ages 13 and older, but also adds a "pause" to their review, which encourages parents to consider the effect the content will have on their children as individuals instead of an age group. Betsy Bozdech, managing editor for Common Sense Media, said that children respond uniquely to tense and scary situations but added that the movie is a faithful adaptation of the book, without any Hollywood "sucker punches" thrown in.

"It's not gratuitous, it for the purpose of telling a story," she said. "There's no joy in the killing."

Bozdech said that watching film depictions of violence is inherently a more visceral experience than reading a book. In the case of "The Hunger Games," she said director Gary Ross cuts away from the deaths quickly without lingering or focusing on gore.

Common Sense Media also points out in their review that beyond the violence there is valuable content for teenagers in the movie, which they gave a 5-star rating. In the book, the games themselves are an extreme reality television spectacle and Bozdech said the movie offers families a chance to talk about what role the media plays in society.

Bozdech also said that the film's protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, provides a healthy representation of a resourceful and capable female character.

"Katniss is a really strong, female role model, especially compared to a character like Bella in 'Twilight,'" she said. "I think she is a good example for teenage girls to see if they can handle the rest of the movie."

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Utahns seem to agree and are expected to turn out in droves when the film opens in theaters this weekend. Blake Anderson, senior vice president for Megaplex Theaters, said via email that advance ticket sales have been "outstanding." He said that all 90 screens operated by Megaplex Theaters — at six locations — will be showing midnight screenings of "The Hunger Games" and several theaters have added 3 a.m. showings to accommodate demand.

Anderson said he expects the crowds to rival those of the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises. Industry data, he said, suggests that excitement for "The Hunger Games" is three times that of the first Twilight film. He added, however, that parents should carefully consider the appropriateness of the film for their children.

"Megaplex Theatres always encourages parents to take into consideration the content and rating of a film," he said. "In addition to the MPAA rating system, there are some wonderful resources for parents to use, including the movie reviews in various local media outlets, that will help families decide what works best for them."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com