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Wednesday, 17 July 2013

We Want More Violence! The BBFC Annual Report 2012

Hi All,

Nope, that title isn't a spelling error. The latest BBFC Annual Report, came out last week, and it covers films and DVD's released in 2012. You can download the PDF version, legally and for free, from this link  here  and you can also download the last 10 years worth of Reports from this link  here.  All make excellent reading, and certainly give credence to the fact that the BBFC is now the most accountable and public classification body in the World! Whether you agree with censorship or not, in any form, at least the BBFC give you their reasons for it. Not something that can be said for many other censorship bodies around the globe.

So, what is in the 2012 Report, and why am I writing about it on my blog? Well, as many of you may know, the BBFC often sees films in an unfinished form, with the director, producer and/or studio seeking a particular certificate - usually a 12A rating for the UK. The 12A is the most financially viable rating, as it allows all ages to see the film, providing under-12's are accompanied by a parent. As such, just like the PG-13 in the USA, or the M in Australia, this is the rating that is the one that will make your film reach the widest possible audience, and make you the most money at the Box Office! So, most studios demand their films reach the 12A, PG-13, or M audience wherever possible.

Which is fair enough.

However, as you will see from this year's Report, cinemagoers don't like this for several understandable reasons. Firstly, it should be made clear that more often than not, the BBFC do NOT cut the films for a 12A rating. More often than not, the studios are told "You can have an uncut 15, or you can cut this, this and this, and you'll get the 12A rating you wanted". In almost every single case, the studios opt to cut the material, to render the film family-friendly, not the BBFC!

Sadly, whilst in the past, the BBFC have been praised for this, a backlash seems to be growing, and most fans are now writing in and demanding films to remain uncut but with the same 12A certificate. Last year's commercially successful adaptation of Suzanne Collins' trilogy THE HUNGER GAMES was given an uncut 15 or a cut 12A. The studio, Lionsgate Home Entertainment, opted for the cut 12A choice. But as this year's Report states...

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.

The flipside to this desire from youngsters, was marked out by adults and parents who wrote in, with the BBFC noting that:
The film generated 43 complaints about its violence and theme.
The concept of kids killing other kids has been covered before - from BATTLE ROYALE (2000, Kinji Fukasaku) through to LORD OF THE FLIES (1963, Peter Brook, and adaptations made in 1990 and 2008) - so it's not a subject that is new to the worlds of movie-making, but parents still don't like the concept at all. Possibly the fact that in recent weeks, the issue of James Bulger's murderer Jon Venables was being prepared for parole did the film no favours. (A crime in which a toddler, Bulger, was murdered by two 10-year-old Liverpudlian boys. See  here  for a detailed account of this heinous crime.)

Yet, THE HUNGER GAMES was not the only 12A rated film to receive complaints. In fact, the most complained about film was Hammer Horror's new adaptation of the classic theatrical production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012, James Watkins). As it starred Daniel Radcliffe, more famous to millions of youngsters the world over, as boy wizard Harry Potter, the BBFC received 134 complaints about the dark and unsettling themes, despite the film being pre-cut by the Studio once again, to gain the 12A rating. (Both films were released onto Blu-Ray in uncut versions, with the higher 15 certificate classification.)

Alas, despite numerous campaigns and information available on the BBFC's own site that goes into great detail to advise parents that - despite what you may think, a 12A is a warning to inform you that 12 is really the minimum age for seeing such a classified film - too many parents seem to think that a film with a 12A rating is going to be completely suitable for their kids to see. Ever since BATMAN was given a 12 rating back in 1989, and the first 12A being awarded to THE BOURNE IDENTITY in 2002, the 12 and 12A ratings have been extremely contentious.

Striving to meet the balance between a PG film and a 15 film, throughout the 1980's and early 1990's, too many films were being viewed by the BBFC that were too strong for the lower category, but placing them in the upper category was unfair and implied a film to be far more adult than it actually was. So, there were several bizarre occurrences of films being given a PG rating like THE GOLDEN CHILD (1986, Michael Ritchie) and a fairly innocuous movie like CROCODILE DUNDEE (1986, Peter Faiman) being given a 15. (Both films caused censorship issues, here in the UK, and as it is legal for local councils to increase or reduce certificates to any film they wish to do so, many reversed the certificates around, making THE GOLDEN CHILD restricted to teenagers, but allowing younger children to view CROCODILE DUNDEE, in spite of the comedic drug usage and fairly extensive mature humour, in the latter.)

We've also had instances in the world of anime, where films were "fifteened": dubbed to make them ruder and cruder than the original Japanese dialogue actually was, just so they would be rated at 15 rather than PG, to make them seem cooler and edgier than they really were.

These days, the problem is not much different: films that really should be a 15, are routinely being pre-cut or altered by the Studios and Distributors, just to gain the more financially-viable 12A classification. (See my blog article  here  for further discussion on this issue.) TAKEN 2 (2012, Olivier Megaton) being a prime example. A film that really is not thematically intended for, nor aimed at under-15's in any way, shape or form!

I know there will be many who disagree with me on this, but for the most part, I think the BBFC get it right... Most of the time. Certainly more often than the populist press would love to have you believe. Here in the UK, any film that is cut or banned, is still able to be imported - within certain limitations (such as hardcore pornography, for example) - thus UK film fans don't tend to have to worry too much if a favourite film of theirs is not available uncut. Of course, in an ideal world, no film should be cut, and film fans shouldn't have to import, just to see what the State Censors have removed.

But with that all said, at least we have that freedom to import. I've collected a lot of banned and contentious material over the past 18-odd years of importing DVD's and films. I've never yet been stung by HM Customs, nor have I ever had anything confiscated - touch wood. Yet, for some, all films should be available in the UK, as the director wishes them to be seen, with all certificates being nothing more than advisory notices.

I don't think that that system works very well. Certainly, in the USA, I would hate going into a cinema to see an R-rated horror movie, and be surrounded by people who have been accompanied by kids or young teenagers. In fact, this is one of the most common complaints in the UK cinema industry, for 12A films: adults complaining that their enjoyment of a film is being reduced, due to youngsters who can't, won't or simply don't want to watch the film, and so start messing about, using their phones, or chatting.

But I digress. For the most part, I think the BBFC gets things right.

With that said, this year's Report also demonstrates that - once again - the Christopher Nolan BATMAN franchise still attracts large numbers of complaints. When 2012 saw the release of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, again with a 12A rating for "Moderate violence", the BBFC's postbag was full of complaints from young and old, saying that the film was too intense and too violent for such a low rating. This year, it was Bane - the lead villain - who was seen as being far too menacing for youngsters to cope with, and the endless scenes of crunchy action violence that caused the most problems. Admittedly, with a 164 minute running time, this was never really a film for youngsters. The problem, like Tim Burton's 1989 version, really stems from the campy 1960's TV series, where Batman was shown in a very family-friendly form. In fact, anyone who knows about the history of this much-loved comic-book character will already be aware, Batman was never a nice, homely superhero. Batman's creator Bob Kane always wanted Batman to be a hero of the night: a foreboding warrior who took on villains and criminals at their own game, and used whatever methods and means he felt necessary, even if those same methods and means were illegal, immoral or against the better interests of society as a whole.

When David Nolan write and co-produced the Nolan trilogy of Batman films, this was what he wanted to take the comic-book veteran back to: his origins of a troubled, anti-hero, who stalks the streets of Gotham. Thus, the new trilogy was never going to be aimed at or intended for younger kids, but older teens and adults.

Still, violence is violence, and the DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY is very, very dark and mature in theme and content, but I do wish parents would not simply kowtow to their kids, and would investigate the films they take them to see. The certificates and advisory information on the posters is there for a reason, not just for show! However, with that all said, maybe the BBFC has got it wrong, and if the films had all been given 15's, maybe there would have been less of an issue? I suspect not. Knowing the public, I would suspect that the BBFC would be getting complaints that these films are not violent enough to warrant the 15 classification. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Anyway, I hope you are all enjoying the recent hot weather, and I'll be back again soon, with another article on something, of some sort, for you to have an intellectual tussle over! Keep cool, and I'll see you around!


  1. Howdy! An interesting post, as always. I understand why distributors/producers make the economic decision to cut a film for a lower classification, thus increasing the potential audience, and in certain cases I can see that it's the right thing to do, but the prevalence with which it now happens does bug me. I don't like paying to see a movie that I feel is a cynically compromised, sanitized, toned-down, blandified version of what it should be. Likewise, I also dislike the practice of throwing some gratuitous, wholly unnecessary swearing into a film in order to avoid a
    PG or U certificate and get it a 12 rating (or PG13 in the US, I assume). When an utterly gratuitous, anomalous 'fuck' pops up in a film where it clearly doesn't belong, it can jar me out of the film, break my immersion. I guess I'm an idealist - I want a film to be what it SHOULD be - but I know I'm being economically naive and I do understand why producers want their films to reach as wide an audience as possible. I do worry that the practice has gone too far though, and our cinemas could become clogged up with a 12A mush, films that are neither for adults or children but instead represent a state of stunted growth somewhere inbetween.

    As for the BBFC, yes they're much, much, much better than they used to be, far more transparent and accountable and, overall, less censorial, but I remember the dark days of heavy-handed, seemingly arbitrary, inconsistent censorship, when it was very difficult to see the films I wanted to see. I have a fundamental problem with a private company having the power to determine what people in a free country can or cannot see. We wouldn't accept this situation with books, and I don't see why film is any different. I'm not a fan of the American system where all ratings (excluding NC-17) are advisory, but I would like a system in this country whereby films could be released unclassified by the BBFC - which would help the small, independent filmmaker, for whom
    classification costs are often prohibitively expensive.

    Also, when it comes to the BBFC offering an uncut 15 or a cut 12, or an uncut 18 or a cut 15, that's fair enough and it becomes a decision for the film's distributor to make. But at the higher end, where sexual content is involved, for the BBFC to offer an uncut R-18 or a cut 18 is in effect a demand for cuts. Given the restrictions on the distribution and sale of R-18s, to refuse an 18 certificate is in effect a ban, giving the film's distributor no choice but to comply with the BBFC's requested cuts. When Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs was released on DVD it was, quite rightly, given an 18 certificate. But there was a 'making of' documentary included on the disk for which the BBFC would only issue an R-18 certificate, a position from which they would not budge, which left the distributor no choice but to remove the documentary and release the DVD without it. So here in the UK we got the film without the 'making of' documentary, which I'm sure viewers around the rest of Europe did get on their DVD purchase. It's nonsense like this that bugs the hell out of me. (And I know this was several years ago and BBFC guidelines may have loosened up since then, but it seems to me that even when the BBFC gets things right - as in awarding 9 Songs an 18 certificate - they still manage to get things so very, very wrong by, to all intents and purposes, 'banning' a DVD extra.)

    Sorry this comment is a bit long. I get carried away. I'll shut up now! Glad I found your blog (which was via the link on melonfarmers), I'm enjoying it.

    1. Welcome back, Mr Barb!

      Never apologise for writing long comments! I enjoy reading them!

      I can understand where you are coming from. In an ideal world, we'd have a form of classification that is advisory, but which allows adults the freedom to watch what they want, without restriction. The problem comes with how big a freedom you give to those adults. What one person finds acceptable, someone else will find abominable and demand an immediate ban on. There are already too many films, that the BBFC have given uncut classifications too (at 12, 15 and 18 levels) which have received complaints from members of the public and a request for them to be banned. THE HUNGER GAMES and THE DARK KNIGHT both received letters from the public, to have them banned. Not cut, but actually banned from being viewed by anyone of any age.

      Unfortunately, there will never be an ideal form of classification/censorship, because it would mean having a system that pleases everyone, all of the time. Clearly, that's a physical impossibility. Thankfully, for adults in the UK, any film that is cut or banned means we simply import the title from elsewhere in the world. We're quite lucky in having the ability and luxury to be able to do that. It's not the best solution, but it is a solution. As I think I mentioned, some adults and children don't care if a film has been cut, and that's fair enough. At least for those of us who do care, we do have the ability to still buy the films elsewhere uncut and uncensored, even if it is a bit of a hassle (and requires a lot of patience) to do so.

      There will always be anomalys, like that of 9 SONGS, where an extra on the disc increases the rating over the highest rating that is financially viable. Unfortunately, if the BBFC did operate a sliding-scale system, you would invariably find the major film companies suddenly creating thousands of micro-organisations, and demanding that their films be charged the minimum amount of money, because they will claim they aren't a big distributor. Essentially, film companies will be actively looking for ways to evade paying money to the BBFC, and I'm not sure that is right. A solution, though, might be for the major distributors (Fox, Universal, etc) to pay towards a scheme that helps lower the certification costs for genuine independent labels (like Third Window Films). However, I know the big companies won't want to do that, and would probably try to find some way of getting out of such a financial contribution.

      Which leaves-us, where we are right now: with everyone paying the same fee.

      Still, I appreciate you commenting. Please continue to do so, irrespective of whether you agree or disagree with what I write. I do enjoy reading what my readers think. Cheers!

    2. I think we're more in agreement than disagreement. The basic point I wanted to make was how distributors cutting a film for a lower classification can actually have the effect of putting some people off seeing it - it certainly puts me off. But then I started banging on about the BBFC for some reason! And I've since seen that you've covered this issue in a separate post (where you discuss Taken 2).

      Incidentally, as you're an Argento fan, if you look at my currently hibernating blog you'll see a post there about The Card Player & The Mother of Tears. I'll warn you that I wasn't very complimentary, particularly about Card Player, but it may be of interest.