a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


So the Motion Picture Association of America will now e-mail you the ratings of new movies every week, so that you know what to steer your kids (or yourself) toward or away from.

The problem, of course, is that actual ratings have become nearly pointless. Because unless it's a kids movie or a violent action movie/horror movie, pretty much every movie is rated PG-13, no matter what the wide range of audiences it might actually appear to have.

I like the whole idea of ratings, in theory. I think it's important to know what is in a movie, and the little descriptive boxes that they have under them help immensely.

But let's face it. The studios know that PG-13 is going to mean their maximum audience, so they are skewing everything toward it. So movies that should be R are now softer, and movies that should be PG are now harder.

I'm not sure who is really winning in that scenario.

Don't believe me? Let's look at what is in theaters now (or opening on Friday), and what the little box on the ad warns parents about.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST should logically be PG, because it's based on a Disney ride, it's being marketed to kids, and because there's really no reason that it needs the gory moments that are in the film now, which just feel awkward. But sure enough, the ad warns "Intense Sequences of Adventure Violence, Including Frightening Images". Adventure violence? Sounds like someone's really bad defense at an assault trial. But anyway, the movie is rated PG-13.

SUPERMAN RETURNS. Another movie that would logically be PG, particularly since again, it is being marketed to kids, and Superman is so goody-goody he probably wouldn't go see a PG-13 movie himself. But thanks to "Some Intense Action Violence" (it's nice that they can break the violence down for us), it too is PG-13.

THE BREAK-UP is about as grown-up as a movie gets; do 12-year olds really want to see this? Do 16-year-olds? The ad warns "Sexual Content, Some Nudity and Language". Films like this should be R; might as well actually make a grown-up movie for grown-ups. Nope. Somehow, despite the sex and the nudity, it's PG-13.

YOU, ME AND DUPREE. "Sexual Content, Brief Nudity, Crude Humor, Language and a Drug Reference". Now we're talking. R, right? Nope. PG-13.

CLICK. "Language, Crude and Sex-Related Humor and Some Drug References". Still PG-13.

LADY IN THE WATER. Despite it being sold on TV as a horror movie, and the ad warning of "Some Frightening Sequences" (that's it? Just Some?) it is PG-13. Truly scary horror movies are not rated PG-13; it's usually the first tip-off that it's not really that kind of movie. ("The Sixth Sense" -- and all of Shyamalan's other movies -- were also PG-13, as is "The Others", though if you make a good supernatural thriller, you can pull off the rating).

MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND. "Sexual Content, Crude Humor, Language and Brief Nudity". I guess throwing a shark through the side of a building doesn't even get a mention. PG-13.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. "Some Sensuality". Whatever that means. Apparently enough to get it a PG-13.

SCOOP. The new Woody Allen movie, opening Friday. It has Scarlett Johansson it in, which should be enough to get an R on its own, and sure enough it has "Some Sexual Content". But, still, PG-13.

LITTLE MAN. "Crude and Sexual Humor Throughout, Language and Brief Drug References". Finally, a movie so dedicated to the funny that it can have "crude and sexual humor throughout"... But WTF? It can't be that funny, because it's still only PG-13.

THE DA VINCI CODE. "Disturbing Images, Violence, Some Nudity, Thematic Material, Brief Drug References and Sexual Content". All of that, and yes, still PG-13.

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION. I know, you thought it was G. But it has "Risque Humor". PG-13.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS 3: TOKYO DRIFT. "Reckless and Illegal Behavior Involving Teens, Violence, Language, and Sexual Content". PG-13.

See a trend here?

And clearly, though PG-13 was meant to bridge the gap between PG and R, obviously it is really just making movies that previously would have been rated R seem more family-friendly, or enabling filmmakers to goose the violence and crudity in PG movies to shoot it up to PG-13.

There are some non PG-13 movies. Miami Vice is R. A Scanner Darkly is R. Clerks II is R, thank God. Some movies just should be R, otherwise what's the point of making them?

Monster House is PG (despite "Scary Images and Sequences, Thematic Elements, Some Crude Humor and Brief Language"). Nacho Libre is PG (despite "Some Rough Action, Crude Humor Including Dialogue"). The Lake House is PG, despite the potential damage to children of seeing Keanu Reeves try to act.

And Cars is rated G, bless its heart.

Somehow, the non-PG-13 ratings feel more honest than the fake-middle-ground ones.


At 12:12 PM, Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

I think you've nailed it dead right ... PG-13 is just a catch-all for all the filth they can cram into .. it's easily where R was 20 years or so ago

At 12:40 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Well, time for a PG-16 then. Ugh.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Webs said...

I don't remember the rating, but my wife and I cracked up when we started watching "Duma" and saw the warning for "Mild adventure peril".

At 1:17 PM, Blogger jefe said...

The ratings system is a joke.

The thing about Pirates, too -- a PG-13 movie shouldn't be allowed to have mcDonald's happy meal tie-ins. But it does. So where are my Fast and Furious matchbox cars? My home waxing kit from "the Break-up?" My Scarlett Johansson blow-up doll from Scoop?

Okay, that last one would move some McBurgers.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Having dealt with them on ratings issues and artwork (which has to be approved as well you know), the MPAA is a messy institution. No hard and fast rules, just a lot of 'talking around' the subjects of edits.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Dave said...

MPAA sounds like all the management structures I've ever seen... in the trendy words of our youth - they're a bunch of "empty suits".

Basically worthless.

I agree completely, Scott. They're just cramming them all into PG-13 so more kids can get in to see them w/out their parents.

I wonder if the trend is heavier during the summer when so many kids are out and about while their parents are at work?

A rather sobering trend indeed.

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

You have to apply some kid logic here. At some point kids stop watching Sesame Street because the are too mature for it. Same goes for "G" movies. Now "PG" is the new "G" and kids want to graduate to "PG-13" and leave those stupid "PG" movies for the baby to watch.

Then you have the "R" movies that the kiddies get a kick out of sneaking into under age.

It's no wonder why the studios target "PG-13." Seems like just yesterday I was 12 trying to fake my way into a matinee of Dreamscape.

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why has this country given the Motion Picture Industry's lobbying organization the jurisdiction to rate it's own product?

Imagine the American Pork Lobby grading Pork. Or the US Beef Lobby grading hamburger.

All of the above products are similar in that they act as nourishment if they are of a high quality - and poison if they are of a low quality.

Would you want Hormel to grade their own franks?

The Motion Picture Industry has been lowering it's standards for a long time.

It also feeds it's own lobbying coffers to promote the studio system agenda, at the same time that it hassles the competing product of independent film makers and new technology.

Hollywood should dismantle the MPAA and let someone else grade their product. It's too much of a conflict of interest.

I was at former MPAA pres Jack Vilenti's holiday retiremnent speech to studio execs at a hotel ballroom near the Chinese theater. He summed up his lobbying career by waxing nostalgicly about how his first task in Washington was to get the current MPAA headquarters in DC built - by bulldozing a grand Victorian mansion that was in the process of being given historic landmark status.

It appears that his message was simply that an unrelenting stream of bad movies can destroy the hard earned history of a culture.


At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Chris Soth said...

BUT --

R rated comedies are BACK! We may even see some of them TRYING to get an R in the future. Thank you Wedding Crashers!

If it means anything, I rooted for my own movie to get a PG-13 and away from R, but thanks to actors and an exec who believed the way to intensify any line was to add the word "fuck" we got an R. They simultaneously took out any action that would attract an older, more sophisticated, kids can't go, adults won't. It's a problem we had that a lot of the studios want to get around.

At 5:57 AM, Anonymous annabel said...

My daughter is 14 and I am now knee deep in PG-13 movies. I never paid attention before, because my kids were all in the PG stage. I quickly discovered that PG-13 is meaningless and that I have to preview the bulk of them to determine which are truely appropriate for a 13 year old. UGH!


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