Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Friday, 6 April 2012

To Cut or Not to Cut?

So far this year, there have been two major hits at the UK Box Office. The Woman in Black and The Hunger Games have been huge commercial successes, cashing in on the wide audience allowed by the 12A certificate, which has now been with us for 10 years.

However, both films were originally rated at 15, and the distributors accepted minor cuts to the films in order to get the 15 certificate. These instances have highlighted a few issues surrounding our classifications system, the artistic integrity of filmmakers and alleged “censorship”.

Let us start with the claim that the BBFC are essentially censors in disguise. This concern is always present and it is essentially a legitimate concern. We should be wary of any body which has the power to affect the content of films and even whether or not films can be seen. Indeed, these issues came to the fore with the farrago over The Human Centipede sequel last year. However, the concern can often be raised for the wrong reasons.

The fact of the matter is that we all accept the need for a classifications system. There are some films which are not suitable for children, or are only really suitable for adults. We can argue about what certificates should exist and what the criteria for them should be, but we accept that aforementioned basic fact of suitability and thus the need for certificates.

The difficulty arises when the BBFC is perceived as interfering with the films. In the instance of The Hunger Games, the film was cut to achieve the 12A rating, a move which some have seen as “censorship”. Such claims are false and deeply unfair on the BBFC.

The original book of The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, is a deeply violent novel. The film adaptation clearly had to be weakened in order to achieve the PG-13 rating in the US. The MPAA (the US equivalent of the BBFC) did indeed give the film a PG-13, but the situation in the UK was not so simple.

The distributor of the film, Lions Gate, submitted an unfinished version of the film for advice before it was formally submitted. The BBFC advised that the film was slightly too strong for a 12A and said that that version would achieve a 15. Cuts were made on this advice, but at the formal submission the BBFC said that further cuts were required in one scene to achieve a 12A. This resulted in the distributor removing about 7 seconds of the film

In all of this, the BBFC did not censor. It was ready to pass the film for exhibition as a 15. It was the distributor who decided to cut. The same was the case with The Woman In Black, which the distributor, Momentum, chose to cut by 6 seconds.

Both films were passed as PG-13 in the States, but that is the MPAA’s affair. The BBFC is in constant consultation with the public to review its standards, and that consultation is the primary basis of its criteria. Certainly, anyone who’s seen the films can see why they were close to a 15 certificate. The BBFC was just doing its job, which is indeed a necessary and important one.

If you are looking for somebody to blame for the cuts it is the distributors. After all, their preferred version of the film exists in the States. Should they not have stuck to their artistic guns and taken the 15 rating?

Well, there are two sides in this. One thing we must accept is that to decision to take on the cuts was certainly the correct one from a commercial perspective for both films. They have made shedloads of money, and who can blame the distributors for that. However, this also implies that it was also the right decision for audiences. More people who wanted to see the films were able to and did. In the end, everyone has benefited.

Some may still feel disenfranchised, particularly those of us who are over 18 and have no children to worry about. We can legitimately feel that we have been robbed of our chance to see the proper version of the film. I certainly felt that The Hunger Games, whilst effective, was not as powerful as it might have been with a bit more bite. One can only hope that an uncut version of the film will be available on DVD (a move which could end up earning the distributors more money through extra sales), or that, like BrĂ¼no, a few years ago, two versions of the film for two certificates are released (though, notably, the release of the softer 15 version did nothing to stop the film’s slide down the box office standings). However, both of those seem unlikely, and it could be that we simply lose out in this compromise.

The system cannot satisfy everyone. There are too many groups and too many demographics to keep happy. Some people will lose in the unfortunate but necessary compromise between artistic integrity and the need for commercial success. Indeed, that compromise was at the heart of the film’s production, from the fast draft of the script to the final released version of the film.

All that can be asked for is a constant effort to make the system better and more satisfactory. This is an issue which Reel 6 will look at in the next post through the prism of the first decade of the 12A certificate.

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