This won't qualify as a news flash to regular readers of this column, but the MPAA's movie rating system isn't working very well.
I've harped on this more often than I care to admit, but there seem to be an abnormal number of new movies in town right now that illustrate the point.The Classification and Ratings Administration, which operates under the auspices of the Motion Picture Association of America, has been giving out PG, PG-13 and R ratings in such a cavalier manner lately, seemingly without much regard for what those ratings imply for the films, that it's time once again to complain about the discrepancies.
But first, some background:
To understand the rating system itself, know first that six anonymous people, the CARA board members, sit in a darkened room and pass judgment on each film, often disagreeing among themselves about what a picture should be rated.
The only hard-and-fast rules are about drugs, casual drug abuse is supposed to get at least a PG-13; full frontal nudity, which automatically gives the film an R; and a particular profanity, the "Eddie Murphy Word" if you will, works like this: The word used once in a non-sexual context gives the movie a PG-13; used once in a sexual context or more in any context and it receives an R. But there are exceptions to those rules. Often producers appeal to the board and receive a reduced rating without cutting anything from their films.
All other potentially offensive content in movies is arbitrarily debated among the board members before they label them with the ratings letters.
Further, the stated purpose of the ratings system is to act as a guideline for parents, not to point out whether a movie is good, bad or indifferent. The rating acts as a warning that the film may contain certain material parents don't want their children exposed to.
The interpretation has become much more broad in the minds of moviegoers over the years, however. PG and PG-13 are usually interpreted by parents as meaning their kids can see a movie, and the offensive material will probably just be a cuss word or two. And R is often interpreted as meaning graphic sex and violence, nudity, extensive profanity or any combination thereof will be on display. But those interpretations are often very wrong.
It has been seven years since the Deseret News began accepting R-rated movie ads, a decision that was made because it was recognized that there is often material in PG-rated movies that is just as offensive as material in films rated R. The decision was not an endorsement of R-rated movies, but rather an acknowledgment that just because movies with that rating are likely to contain something offensive does not mean movies without that rating will be more acceptable.
As we look at films playing in local theaters right now, remember that the assessments below have nothing to do with the quality of the film. The ratings board says its ratings are given purely on the basis of a film's content, with no regard to its quality. I have done the same.
Some current examples of PG-rated movies that deserve to be at least PG-13's, if not R's:
"Overboard," the very raunchy Goldie Hawn screwball comedy. Despite the fact that most of the movie is about rich Hawn learning the values of down-to-earth family life, there is a lot of implied sex (including adultery), partial nudity, vulgarity and profanity in the film.
"Baby Boom," the Diane Keaton screwball comedy, also about a woman who learns the value of having a family, features implied sex (outside of marriage), a scene with a partially nude babysitter and profanity.
"Police Academy 5" has some vulgarity and profanity, and shows men (and children) ogling bikini-clad or big-breasted women.
"Beetlejuice" features quite a bit of vulgarity from the Michael Keaton title character, and he also uses the "Eddie Murphy
Word," which is supposed to get an automatic PG-13.
"18 Again!" the new George Burns comedy that opens Friday, has several vulgar gags and some profanity, but the big surprise is a nude scene, a model in an art class.
Some current examples of PG-13-rated movies that perhaps deserve to be R's: _ "Biloxi Blues," the Matthew Broderick comedy-drama, has a very graphic sex scene (albeit played for laughs) as he loses his virginity to a prostitute, quite a bit of profanity and vulgarity (basic training-style).
_ "Johnny Be Good" has a lot of casual sex, vulgarity and profanity among promiscuous teenagers, and is a film aimed at the teen market.
_ "For Keeps," despite an intended positive message about teen pregnancy and parent-teenager relationships, also offers casual sex among teens, profanityand vulgarity.
_ "A New Life," Alan Alda's film, intended for adults, features casual sex, vulgarity, profanity and partial nudity.
_ "Hope and Glory," the Oscar-nominated British film, has graphic sex scenes with the teenage sister and quite a bit of vulgarity and profanity. Though the focus is a young boy, this is aimed at adults.
Interestingly enough, the prime example of an R-rated movie seven years ago that really deserved a PG was "Ordinary People," directed by Robert Redford, and the prime example today is "The Milagro Beanfield War," also directed by Redford.
Some current examples of R-rated movies that would certainly be PG's, except that they use the "Eddie Murphy Word" more than once: _ "Milagro" is a lyrical Frank Capra-type comedy-drama with an ensemble cast. Aside from a few occasional profanities there is some PG-style violence.
_ "Moving," the Richard Pryor comedy, is essentially a family film about an uprooted New Jersey family, with profanity and some comic violence.
_ "Orphans" is a drama with Albert Finney that has some violence, but the rating is clearly for profanity.
_ "Planes, Trains & Automobiles" is a farce with Steve Martin and John Candy, and aside from a few scattered vulgarities the only offensive material iscontained in one scene where Martin confronts a car-rental agent, dressing her down with the "Eddie Murphy Word."
_ "The Seventh Sign" has some violence and profanity, all within PG perimeters, but it also contains a gratuitous bathing scene with frontal nudity.
Consider that those films carry the same rating as the very violent "Shoot to Kill" and "D.O.A."; "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" with a great many graphic sex scenes with nudity; "Masquerade," with graphic violence and sex, along with nudity and profanity; etc.
So with all of this, how do you use the rating system?
That answer isn't actually as flip as it sounds. Don't let the rating be youronly guide. Use movie critics in newspapers and magazines, use friends who haveseen the film that interests you and use your own best judgment.
In the end no one can dictate your taste or standards for you.
Especially the MPAA.
SPRING BREAK AROUND the country brought the youngsters into the movie theaters and made big hits of "Biloxi Blues" and "Johnny Be Good," which topped the nation's box office winners.
"The Fox and the Hound," a Disney animated re-issue, also brought out the kids and family trade.
And the only other new picture, Alan Alda's "A New Life," which opened on only 796 screens earned a very respectable $2 1/2 million.
Here's the latest national "top 10" countdown, according to Variety, the show business trade paper:
1. Biloxi Blues, $7 million (first week).
2. Johnny Be Good, $5 million (first week).
3. The Fox and the Hound, $5 million (first week).
4. Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach, $31/2 million ($11 million, 2 weeks).
5. Good Morning, Vietnam, $31/2 million ($101 million, 14 weeks).
6. D.O.A., $21/2 million ($71/2 million, 2 weeks).
7. A New Life, $21/2 million (first week).
8. Masquerade, $2 million ($101/2 million, 3 weeks).
9. Vice Versa, $2 million ($101/2 million, 3 weeks).
10. Moonstruck, $11/2 million ($55 million, 15 weeks).