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.*
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!