While perusing the latest issue of the show-biz trade magazine Variety, I came across this comment from Terry Press, the marketing chief for DreamWorks (Steven Spielberg's movie company):

"These days, you can't get an 8-year-old to go to a G-rated movie."That's a ridiculous statement, of course, as proven by boffo box-office bucks ($100 million or more in this country alone) for "Babe" and any number of Disney animated features. Any entertainment analyst will tell you that without repeat business from moviegoers who are 8 years old and up, a film simply doesn't earn that kind of money.

But as ridiculous as Press' statement may seem, it's also typical of the Hollywood view. Despite an obvious lack of evidence to support it.

Setting aside Disney's animated features for the moment, let's consider "Babe." Here's a live-action effort from 1995 (with a sequel scheduled for this fall) that more or less set the standard for contemporary "family" films.

At first glance, "Babe" would seem to be a picture that is strictly for children - a live-action comedy about barnyard animals that talk. And it's rated G.

But because "Babe" was a such big hit, it obviously drew on an audience that went far beyond the toddler set. It's easy to credit Universal Pictures' smart marketing strategy, which included a slew of TV ad spots featuring the title character singing "La-la-LA!" Remember those? They were funny, they were memorable - and they sparked an interest in the movie.

What really made "Babe" a hit, however, was word of mouth. "Babe" so utterly charmed audiences that people were telling their friends, "You've got to see this movie." I'm pretty sure no one ever said, "I'd recommend this movie to you if only it wasn't rated G."

But because several other family movies failed over the next few years, Hollywood forgot the lesson taught by "Babe" and began looking for excuses. Subsequent family films were ignored by audiences because they were bad movies, not because they were rated G.

So what do moviemakers do? Instead of making better pictures, they add wildly inappropriate material to ensure a PG - or, even better, a PG-13 rating.

DreamWorks' July offering, "Small Soldiers," a part-live, part-animated action-comedy (with "Toy Story" overtones), throws in extra violence to try for a PG-13.

And Fox's "Dr. Dolittle," which opens next month, takes a beloved children's book and adds vulgar jokes. It has already been rated PG-13.

The Variety article also quotes Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Domestic Motion Picture Group (Fox), as saying:

"Unfortunately, `family' has a bad connotation, implying it's just for little kids. One thing you don't want to do is turn off teens."

Give me a break. If you don't want to turn off teens - or parents, for that matter - just make better movies.

If "Small Soldiers" and "Dr. Dolittle" are good - if they are funny and exciting and capture the hearts of audience-members - the rating won't matter.

In fact, most kids probably don't pay any attention to the ratings - except to make sure a film isn't rated R. And that's just so Mom and Dad won't object.

- EXTRACURRICULAR: According to news accounts, the Utah Jazz guys are getting some rest before launching into the NBA Finals next week.

Karl Malone's going fishing, John Stockton is spending time with his family, Jeff Hornacek is massaging his Achilles tendon - and Jerry Sloan says he might go to a movie.

Might go to a movie?

Well, let's see what's out there that we can recommend:

"Bulworth" - Too much profanity. It would just remind him of the workplace.

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" - Dangerous. Could induce images of Dennis Rodman sneaking off during the finals.

"Mr. Nice Guy" - Jackie Chan kicks butt. Sloan already did that for real. It was called the Jazz-Lakers series.

"Hope Floats" - Nah. Chick flick.

"City of Angels" - See "Mr. Nice Guy."

"The Horse Whisperer" - He's hoarse. But he wasn't whispering.

"Godzilla" - A giant lizard stomping on New York City? Boring.

If it was stomping on Chicago . . .