When the announcement came that the MPAA had made an important change in the rating system, I must confess that my immediate self-centered, glass-half-empty response was, “Oh great. My book is out of date before it’s even officially published.”
But upon closer examination, it appears that the change isn’t really much of a change at all, and that this latest move in fact reinforces the thesis of “Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind?”
Which is, in part, that movie ratings are so confusing even board members aren’t sure what they mean.
Ahh, the rating board. It never disappoints. Or, sarcasm removed, it always disappoints.
Here’s the change, according to the Classification and Rating Administration website (www.filmratings.com): “We have updated some of our most famous marks – our rating block and the trailer tag to further our education purpose. The rating block has a new look and makes the descriptor box more prominent. The trailer tag gets to the point and tells audiences that the trailer they are watching is approved to play with the feature they came to see.”
And this is the new “trailer tag”:
There is one aspect of this that does date my book, unfortunately. A few pages in Chapter 7 are devoted to a change made on that green-band label that precedes theatrical previews back in 2009.
Before that, it read: “The following PREVIEW has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America.”
Since 2009 it has read this way: “The following PREVIEW has been approved for APPROPRIATE AUDIENCES …”
Now, as you see, it reads: “The following preview has been APPROVED to ACCOMPANY THIS FEATURE by the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.”
Well, at least it’s factual, if overly obvious. If it’s accompanying the feature you’ve paid to see, it’s probably been approved to accompany it.
But the real change here, the one that the MPAA is beating its chest over, is that the rating box is bigger with a larger-type explanation of the rating. It’s a change in size but not content. (And how big it will be on movie posters remains to be seen.)
The example says some unidentified film is rated PG-13 for “An intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage, brief strong language.”
In the current political climate the references to violence are obviously intended to appease those concerned about violence in movies, especially in the wake of current real-life violence, i.e. the Boston Marathon bombing.
“War violence,” “images of carnage,” “brief strong language.” The implication is that this is a wartime movie, so that kind of content is to be expected.
If the example had been a PG-13 rating description reading, “Sex, nudity, language, drugs, all involving teens,” it might have given parents pause as they asked themselves, “What is teenage sex, nudity, foul language and drug abuse doing in a PG-13 movie aimed at 13-17 year olds?”
There’s also a cutesy 30-second film on the CARA website home page that has people in costumes sitting on a city bus, each representing a different rating. “NC-17” is represented by a sexy woman, “R” is a soldier in fatigues with a rifle, “PG-13” is a superhero with a lightning bolt on his chest, PG is a couple of cute children and “G” is a princess, and there are a few others.
I might feel better about this if another “G” representation wasn’t someone in a giant teddy bear costume that looks for all the world like title character from last year’s R-rated “Ted.”
Chris Hicks is the author of Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind: A Parent's Guide to Movie Ratings and has been reviewing films for more than thirty years.