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Saturday, 16 February 2013

Some Things Are Just Not Meant For Children

The blockbuster action film A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013, John Moore) has just been released into UK and US cinemas this week. In the USA, it has garnered an uncut R-rating. Here in the UK, it was pre-cut by the UK-arm of 20th Century Fox, to gain the more commercially-viable 12A rating.

Simultaneously, on the website "Den Of Geek", Simon Brew wrote an article  here  asking if Britain needed a new certificate along the lines of the Irish 15A or US PG-13, so that it would be up to the parents to decide whether their under-15's were mature enough to cope with seeing A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD uncut or not. For those who don't know, the British Classification System predominantly has five cinema ratings, which are as follows:

U - Universal: Suitable for anyone

PG - Parental Guidance: Parental Guidance suggested. A film with this rating should not disturb or upset children over the age of 8.

12A - No one under the age of 12 can see this film, unless accompanied by an adult/guardian over the age of 18. Parents are strongly cautioned that a 12A-certificate film may contain material or themes that are unsuited for audiences under the age of 12 years.

15 - No one under the age of 15 can see this film.

18 - Adults only. No one under the age of 18 can see this film.

Back in 1989, when BATMAN (Tim Burton) came to be classified by the BBFC, it was decided that because the film was predominantly unsuitable to be classified at PG without significant cuts, but a 15 certificate was too restrictive, the BBFC introduced the (then) new 12 certificate - similar in nature to the MPAA PG-13 classification. Its aim was to acknowledge that there were films that younger teens could see, whilst simulatanousely acknowledging that a 15 would be unfairly restrictive, but also, to inform those parents of youngsters below this age that they may find the film's content or themes totally unsuitable.

Since then, the BBFC have downgraded the 12, to a 12A rating, meaning that the film is technically unsuitable for under 12's, but if parents feel that their offspring can cope with the film's content and subject matter, then parents are free to accompany them should they so wish. A 15 or 18 certificate is deliberately restrictive, to warn audiences that films with these ratings are (for the most part) not suitable for anyone under those ages.

In recent years, there's been a problem where films that would have received a 15 certificate, have been cut by the BBFC or pre-cut by the film's distributors themselves to gain the more cash-friendly 12A rating. As a 12A pretty much means anyone can see the film, providing an adult or guardian is accompanying minors, then you can understand why a distributor actively targets this classification. The 12-to-18 year old demographic is one that will spend a fair amount of thier own (or parents) cash, going to the cinema; going to the cinema regularly, and more importantly, often going in large numbers (groups). Therefore, when films can live or die by the number of bums-on-seats, and in an age when many younger film fans catch films not at cinemas but via internet downloads (of the legal or illegal kind), then distributors will do almost anything to get this significant portion of the populace into the cinema, even if it means bastardising a director's original intention.

In the past few years, blockbusters such as THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012, James Watkins), TAKEN 2 (2012, Olivier Megaton), and THE HUNGER GAMES (2012, Gary Ross) have all been cut or pre-cut in order to gain the more financially-viable 12A rating, instead of the uncut 15 rating they would have garnered. In some cases, once these films reach Blu-Ray, the distributors then re-insert the contentious material, get it reclassified as an uncut 15 certificate, and release it for people to buy to view in their own homes (presumably with under-15's in tow)! To add further insult, they slap the words "Extreme Version" or "Uncensored Director's Cut" across the top of the Blu-Ray packaging, to rub salt into the wound, that you are now getting to see the film untainted. Such material may only amount to a few seconds, if that, so the strapline is a little bit of a farce, in comparison to a true "Director's Cut" or "Special Edition" of a film, which may feature 20, 30 or 60 minutes of extra material in it.

In Britain, many film fans get annoyed at these 15-rated films being cut. What many fail to understand and accept, is that - in the majority of cases - the films are shown to the BBFC in an unfinished form, and the studios, distributors or directors say to the BBFC "We want to get a 12A rating. Is the current form suitable for it?"

More often than not, the BBFC come back after viewing the rough-cut and explain that "no", the film is not suitable for that rating. The BBFC then advise the film's creators/backers that they can do one of two things:
- make X, Y or Z alterations/cuts/edits to gain the 12A rating, or
- accept the more commercially-restrictive 15 classification, but your film will remain uncut and uncensored.

Sadly, as I have already mentioned, nine times out of ten, the film gets cut.

People have argued about whether the BBFC should be advising on films, whilst in-production, at all. To be fair, the BBFC are only offering such a service as a courtesy. As far as I am aware, the studios and directors don't pay for the BBFC to preview their works, so - if anything - the service is being performed for free, ergo the BBFC don't care either way what the result is. It's all down to the studios themselves. It is they who make the final decision to cut or not.

In the USA, the MPAA would charge you for this kind of service. In fact, they do. You can submit a film as many times as you wish through their hallowed halls, but all you'll get is a list saying that your film will be given a specific rating. If you wish your work to receive a less-restrictive classification, then you'll need to tone down, edit, adjust, censor or modify some of the content. What the MPAA emphatically will not do, is tell you what to cut, or what are the offending or troubling moments. They are simply there to advise you.

Anyone who has watched Kirby Dick's superb documentary about the MPAA - THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (2006), will know just how cloak-and-daggerish the MPAA are. In fact, it's one of the many things film distributors and directors hate about the MPAA. They simply will not help you at all. They merely offer you tokenary advise, along the lines of "We think this bit was too violent (or too sexual in tone)" or "Well, overall, the film's theme was very adult in nature", but that's as far as they'll go. Worse still, you won't be told who viewed the film, nor anything about how they came to their decision on whichever rating they choose to assign your film.

So, to be fair, I think that the BBFC advising a studio or director, is actually rather generous of them. It could be argued that they are going way beyond their intended roles - namely just to classify and rate films, and nothing more - but I think the BBFC actually want to help studios and directors, rather than hinder them (whilst the MPAA definitely do hinder)! They see cinema as an artform, not just a commercial entity, and will often go to painstaking levels to help people out, wherever and whenever possible. You can't say that about many other film classification boards around the globe.

Going back to the original "Den Of Geek" suggestion about whether or not Britain should have a new 15A or PG-15 rating, I personally think the idea is terrible. For many adult cinemagoers in the UK, one of their pet-peeves is younger cinemagoers ruining their enjoyment when viewing a film. I've seen and heard many stories of adults going to an evening showing of a 12A-rated film, only to have their enjoyment harmed because of youngsters not being mature enough to handle the theme or content, or simply because of pre-teens chatting, kicking seats, and/or using mobile phones during the film. Now, I'm not suggesting all youngsters are like this. I'm sure many aren't. But there are plenty that are. In this day and age, many youngsters can't (or don't want to) sit and stare at a screen for two hours. They'd much rather watch the film, whilst also texting and talking to their mates. That may be fine to do in your own front room, but at a cinema, it's something that gets right on my (proverbial) tits! In fact, anyone - child, teen or adult - who thinks that it is acceptable to talk loudly or use a mobile during a cinema film, is likely to incur my wrath. If you can't stay off of your phone, then get the hell out of this cinema, and wait until the film comes to DVD/Blu-Ray. Then you can rent it, and check your phone as much as you want, in the comfort of your own home, and not annoy the hell out of me, and other cinemagoers as well.*

I digress...

The other reason a 15A or PG-15 certificate would not be good for adult cinemagoers, is that there are sometimes things that are simply not aimed at, or intended for children. Sometimes films are made, that are made by adults, for adults, and only for adults.

Why should I have to accept a cut-down or censored version of a film, because society feels that we have to "think about the kids"?!

Why should we adults have to put-up with watered-down films because you parents can't be bothered keeping a better eye on what your kids consume at home?

Why should us adult film fans, have to tolerate your offspring ruining our enjoyment of a film, simply because you don't want to pay for a babysitter?

These are all perfectly reasonable questions.

How many times do we see news articles in the press or on TV, that a minor has seen something they shouldn't have, and how society should have done more to protect said minor from seeing something as allegedly despicable as THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2009, Tom Six) or has played CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 round their mates house, when they are only age 11, and then been disturbed by the "No Russian" level?

If you have kids, they are your responsibility, not the rest of society's! Don't dump them on the rest of us, because you can't be arsed to do your job as a parent properly. It's not fair on us adult non-breeders, who have deliberately chosen not to clutter-up the planet, with noisier, smellier, junior carbon-copy versions of ourselves.

On this blog, there's a warning you have to click through, to accept that some of the content on my blog may not be suitable for younger audiences, or may contain material you may find offensive or distasteful. I have put that there to notify all of my readers. It's a warning. A polite notice to say, "Look, there may be some stuff you don't like. Are you cool with that?" If you are under the age of 18, and click through onto my blog, and then see or read something you find offensive or distressing, then I'm not going to censor my blog just to accommodate your immaturity and stupidity. Likewise, if your parents catch you, or you view this blog in an establishment that may have strict regulations on the sites you can visit, I gave you the chance to not come here. If you choose to come visit - which I do appreciate, by the way - then I am not going to be held responsible for your mistakes.

And I think that's the main crux of the issue here. Takling responsibility. Do we really need a 15A or PG-15 rating? Absolutely and resolutely not! Adults and kids are not the same.

Parents, if your child(ren) want to see or read or play something that is not suitable for them, because it has a classification rating on it, then please, adhere to the rating. It's there for a reason. Speak to them. Explain why they can't or shouldn't see SALO or A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Tell them why FARCRY 3 isn't intended for them, even if their friends are all playing it. Demonstrate that sexting one another with pictures of their genitalia, isn't cool or clever - it's very, very dumb, and very, very dangerous for their future. (There's nothing to stop that image circulating on the world wide web forever more, and it'll also remain online long after your life has finished on this planet, my son.)

Film Distributors/Studios, if you want to cut or edit your films to gain the 12A/PG-13 demographic, then don't get angry when adult cinemagoers decide that they're not going to go see your work, and instead, wait three or four months for the uncut, original version of your film to come out on home viewing formats - which it almost ineveitabley does. Also, if you are going to consistantly chase the Dollar, the Pound or the Euro, then you may lose cash from other sections of your audience. Let kids be kids. TAKEN 2 has themes that really aren't intended or suitable for pre-teens. So don't sanitise it, to make it palatable for them. Don't try and knock-up a version of your film, that means a film about assassinations, kidnapping, and torture becomes acceptable subject matters for under-12's. By doing this, you are sending out the wrong message to adults and kids alike. You are conditioning younger audience-members that anything can be made safe for them to view or play, without them understanding that those subjects or issues may have adult consequences that they have no idea about, let alone can possibly comprehend.

Kids, don't be so eager to grow-up all of the time.

An occasional bite of the adult-world, may seem fun, exciting and daring at the time, but trust me - being an adult isn't always that great or fun in reality. Yes, you have the freedom to smoke, to drink, to watch porn, to (ab)use drugs if you so wish. And yes, you get to see whatever you want or play all those 18-rated games your parents warned you against. But as an adult, you also have to worry about things like keeping a job, putting food on the table, paying your household bills, politics, crime, relationships and fitting-in with everyone else around you, whilst simultaneously being unique at the same time. Enjoy being young and carefree. You'll soon have unrestricted access to the world at large, and then you'll be free to corrode your body and your brain as much as you wish too... with no one else to blame for it, when things go wrong, but yourself.

Thank You for listening!

* = This happened the other night, when I went to see HITCHCOCK (2012, Sacha Gervasi). The adult sitting next to me, decided to try and check his answerphone messages on his iPhone, half-way through the film. When I asked him to kindly turn his mobile off, he exclaimed that he was. No,you weren't! The halfwit was checking his answerphone messages. I own an iPhone also. I know what an iPhone screen looks like when you try and perform certain functions on it, such as checking your messages! Unless you have a family member or relative at death's door in hospital, or are a member of the ambulance or police services, then you should be able to not need to check your phone in a cinema during a film. If you can't, then please, do everyone a favour, and don't go to the cinema! Don't like that concept? Tough! Do Not Use Your Mobile In Cinemas! It really pisses people off!


  1. Aside from the parental diatribe mid-article, I enjoyed your post.

    A 15A is a ridiculous idea. Much like the R rating in the States, it would take very little for a person aged 18 to accompany a minor to a cinema screening of said film - where the content will inevitably be more pervasive.

    I've never liked the R rating - the US suffers because of the massive gulf between the PG-13 (our 12A) and their R rating. There is just no inbetween like our 15 rating.

    Hence - their adult rating system is inconsistent and often confusing. A film rated NC-17 is looked upon as pornographic or deviant - leading to many major chains never showing them and/or advertising being severely restricted.

    Therefore the R rating has a huge amount of lee-way, something of a 'catch-all' category for teens and adults.

    We don't need our rating system changing. It's perfectly clear and descriptive. The BBFC do a marvellous job nowadays of informing and advising the public on what a film may or may not contain. We've never had it better.

    One thing that could be considered by UK distributors is releasing TWO versions of a film. Much like when a 3D and 2D print is released for certain films - a two-tier version of a film would be preferable to all parties.

    As for the child problem - I've noticed that Vue cinemas have started to do 18-only screenings for mainstream films to negate these issues with immaturity.

    1. Hi Neil,

      Thank You for taking the time to comment. In regards to the two-tier version of a film you mooted, is something the BBFC have tried on home-viewing, and then quickly pulled. Back at the tail-end of the 1990's, early 2000's, when THE MUMMY (1999, Stephen Sommers) was released onto DVD, Universal wanted to release the cut cinema version (rated 12) and the uncut version (rated 15) at the same time. This was briefly tried, but caused many problems and complaints, that the idea was quickly abandoned. At the time, the main issues were that parents were unaware of the two different versions being available, and some mistakenly rented the 15-rated edition and let their 12-years olds view it. The BBFC also tried this with a couple of other films, with a 15-rated version and an 18-rated edition. Again, problems stemmed from shops and rental outlets mixing-up the wrong discs, and selling or renting them unaware, which was a breach of the law.

      Nowadays, distributors tend to do the same kind of thing, but release the cut/child-friendly version onto DVD, and the uncut, unaltered original version onto Blu-Ray. That way, adults can still see the uncut version, as more adults will own a Blu-Ray player, and families and kids can still rent/buy the cut, child-friendly version on DVD. This seems to be the commonly-accepted way to deal with the issue. With that said, I know some adults don't like the fact that their choice is restricted, especially if they don't own a Blu-Ray player, and can only buy/rent the cut version on DVD.

      The other problem, would be for distributors having to create two editions of the film, (either digitally or on physical 35mm prints) and making sure that cinemas were able to show the right version for the right aged audience, at the right times. As projectionists are also being cut from their roles in many cinemas, and the roles being taken-up by managers instead, the chance of someone playing the wrong film to the wrong audience could be very dangerous.

      This additional cost would simply not be worth it, and in some larger multiplexes, where a blockbuster such as A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD may be being programmed once an hour, every hour from Midday to 10pm, could prove problematic with 12 year olds buying tickets for the 12A-rated version, and then sneaking in to the 15-rated version. As you rightly point out, some cinema chains are now starting to do over-18's or over-21's only screenings, but these can also be restrictive to adults, if, say, you happen to want to see a film during the daytime (rather than in the evening), because of your job or family commitments. These adult-only screenings are often restricted to evening showings only, and in some cases, patrons have to pay extra to access them, which I think is a despicable way of treating your customers! (I won't mention any particular cinema chains here, but they know who they are!)

      If you've worked in the cinema industry in the past ten years or so, you'll know that staffing levels have been significantly cut down, and many cinemas now no longer employ ushers/audience control staff at all, which would simply exacerbate the problem. Ultimately, having two different editions of a film to show theatrically, is not practical.

      As an adult, I would prefer that not all films were pre-cut by distributors and studios, constantly chasing the dollar or the pound, if a film's theme or content really isn't aimed at pre-teens. The film may be interesting to pre-teens, but that doesn't mean it makes it suitable for them. As the title of my article says, some things are just not meant for children, and pre-teen children need to accept that they are not entitled to see, read, play or listen to everything they want too, in life!