PG-13. Really? In What Universe?

August 11, 2011

Before 1984, there were only 4 film ratings: G, PG, R, and X. Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Stephen Spielberg’s Raiders of The Lost Ark sequel, changed all that. Parents were beyond irate at the graphic violence in the supposedly PG-rated film, most particularly a scene in which a still-beating human heart was literally ripped out of a man’s chest. There was such an outcry that the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) created a new PG-13 rating to act as a buffer between PG and R.

Over the last several years, however, I have been horrified to see scores of films with PG-13 ratings that were more violent than some of the older R films. Then, a couple of days ago, I read the article by Fred Schruers below on, (my favorite site for current Hollywood news and articles). Mr. Schruers frames the issue beautifully:

“From ‘Potter’ to ‘Apes’: How Much More Violent Can PG-13 Movies Get?

by Fred Schruers. August 9, 2010.

After nearly three decades, the PG-13 rating seems to have outlived its usefulness.

Make no mistake, the PG-13 rated movies are getting edgier and rougher — including, notably, the final “Harry Potter” installments, and the even more brutal “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” that debuted last weekend.

Especially at “Apes,” unsuspecting child-accompanied parents may have found themselves wondering just how much more ape-thwacking, electrocuting, cop-pummeling onscreen action it would take to push the simian origin story a notch deeper into marketing no-no land.

Meanwhile, a genial Oscar-bait historical film that features a four-letter word in just one scene got clobbered with the dreaded R rating — as do any number of films with milder sex than you’d see on HBO in primetime.

Indeed, the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s rating system garnered a lot of attention late last year, when it not only slapped “The King’s Speech” with an R but also delivered the entirely restrictive NC-17 mark to another Weinstein Co. film, Ryan Gosling drama “Blue Valentine” (above), largely on the pungency of a single sex scene.

Also read: Harvey Wins! MPAA Overturns ‘Blue Valentine’s NC-17

Weinstein successfully appealed the rating for “Blue Valentine” (below), bringing it down to the much more accessible R. After the R-rated “King’s Speech” won Best Picture at the Oscars, the studio released an f-word-less version to try and reach an even bigger audience.

Studio co-chair Harvey Weinstein noted the tendency of the MPAA to hammer movies for including sex and coarse language, but not violence.

“While we respect the MPAA, I think we can all agree that we are living with an outdated ratings system that gives torture porn, horror and ultraviolent films the same rating as films with so-called inappropriate language,” Weinstein said in a November statement.

Also read: MPAA Appeals Board: ‘Dream House’ Deserves R Rating

To his point, within the broad framework of PG-13, pre-teen moviegoers this summer got to see not just “Apes” and the darkest “Potter” of all, but Vin Diesel and the Rock brutally pummel each other in Universal’s “Fast Five.” They also got to see a subterranean alien eat and dismember human prey in the Steven Spielberg-produced, J.J. Abrams-directed “Super 8.”

And upcoming: the adaptation of the popular “Hunger Games” novel, in which youths must battle each other to the death, the winner providing enough food for his or her village to survive for a year.

So, at what point of roughness — necessary or unnecessary — does the MPAA move a film from PG-13 to R?

First, a bit of history.

It’s seldom remembered now how the MPAA instituted, in 1984, the PG-13 rating to bridge the gap in the deep divide between PG and R.

Given the somewhat mysterious — but certainly studio-friendly — workings of the MPAA, it’s no surprise which Hollywood mandarin asked for the change.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Asha Hawkesworth August 11, 2011 at 10:21 am

You know, I don’t even notice film ratings any more. It’s become white noise, without meaning. If I’m interested in a film, I go see it.

Now, for my kids, I’m a bit more careful. It’s usually a safe bet to take them to the kid animation films, though some parents complain about those (a friend objected to the use of the word “ass” (as in donkey) in the Shrek films). Anything beyond that I’d probably have to check out first.

As for Harry Potter, I adore the books and movies, but they have clearly gotten darker over time (it is the battle of light and dark, after all). That being said, I won’t even let them start reading the books until a certain age, and they may have to wait a few years in between some of them. The first two aren’t too bad, but starting with the third, it gets pretty intense.

So really, I guess the audience is just on its own. I would never trust a rating. I would probably let my kids watch “The King’s Speech” before I would let them watch the Indiana Jones films. The use of the “f” word there is appropriate, and we would have a discussion. I like films that make you think.


Ryan August 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm

A very interesting topic. We used to (and probably still do) have a 15 rating in the UK which I always felt was a good idea. I guess there’s a lot of money to be made from the young teen audience, though, and this has become a decision based on finance rather than actual age suitability.


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