Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Still not a review:The case for overhauling the cinema classifcation system

Once again this isn't a review.

This time it isn't even a review of a review. What it is, is an attempt to make the case so singularly missed in the Telegraph article that prompted my earlier musings about The Dark Knight.

I want to consider three films all of which received the same classification from the BBFC: Casino Royale, Batman: The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Each of these films was passed at 12A which, for overseas readers means that anyone over 12 can see them unaccompanied and anyone under 12 can see them if accompanied by an adult.

The Telegraph article tried to make the point that the Batman film was full of hideous on-screen violence and that it was corrupting the minds and morals of the children who could see it. It did so by listing a number of scenes from the movie which, described as they were, did indeed seem to support the contention. The problem was that the scenes, as described, weren't in the movie. For example it described a scene in which a man's face was allegedly "filleted". The scene is there and what we see on screen is the Joker holding is knife to the man's mouth and talking about what he is going to do. At the moment when he appears to be about to carry out his threat there is a camera angle change to show the henchmen and their reaction before the Joker walks back into shot. We do not see the actual act, we cannot be sure it even took place. Certainly it is very strongly implied, but it isn't shown. The other examples in the article were all the same. They described scenes that would have been hideous, if they had been in the movie, but which weren't, in fact, in the movie.

Let me begin my argument by saying what is in the movie. There are sustained levels of extreme menace and a great deal of psychological violence. There is the constant threat of sadistic action which, it is implied, has been carried out, though off screen. The frequent scenes of this nature are disturbing in their implications and the Joker is portrayed as a sociopath with absolutely no concern about consequences and no kind of morality restraining him. This does warrant giving that certification a second look but essentially the moral of the movie is that no matter what you do to them you cannot take the fundamental goodness out of people. Only the Joker fails to show any goodness with all of the other characters, however flawed, showing their essential humanity. A 12a may well have opened the doors to allow children who could be disturbed by what they see to view the movie. But that's because young children may not as readily differentiate between what is seen and what is implied. However as we now lack a straightforward 12 Certificate, it's hard to see what else could have been given.

Now let's turn to a remark made in passing in the article about the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. This is an entirely different thing. Overall the movie is an action adventure with a rather low level of sustained threat but the scenes that are brutal are very brutal indeed. In particular there is the torture scene in which Bond has his genitals beaten with a knotted rope. This scene is long and very graphic. Though the overall movie is relatively innocuous it does contain enough sufficiently nasty material to merit concern. With the levels of occasional on screen violence the film almost certainly merits a 15 certificate, although in its defence it is an accurate portrayal of the brutality of the book in a way which previous Bond films have never managed.

What about Hellboy II: The Golden Army? This is an action fantasy, with the emphasis very much on the fantasy. The fight scenes almost always involve clearly CGId bad guys and are always almost cartoonish in their execution. There are a couple of swearwords used but they could have been dealt with, with about five seconds of cuts. And that's it. The movie resembles nothing as much as it resembles "The Never Ending Story", and that's a kids' film. There is absolutely nothing in the movie that I wouldn't be happy to let a five year old watch. The grimmest it gets is the scene, near the start, with the tooth fairies, a hoard of ravenous little beasties that like to eat people, starting with the teeth and bones. It's quite graphic but also quite humorous. Personally I found the movie rather too childish for my taste and the overblown CGI effects rather too unconvincing in anything more than a simplistic fairy tale style. I could see no reason to give it such a high certificate when it seemed much more likely to appeal to young children.

I have no problem with any of these movies. My problem is with the fact that they share a classification. This fact alone is enough to indicate that an overhaul of the system is needed. Hellboy could, in my opinion, be given a U. Batman would probably be fine with a 12 (if such a thing still existed) though the 12A may be unwarranted. Casino Royale should have had a 15.

There is a basic inconsistency here. I cannot conceive of any sensible ratings system that would put these three films in one category, yet that is precisely the situation we have.

As I said all along, there is a case to be made for changing the system, and that case has sufficient merit on the actual facts without attempting to support it by making things up.

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