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Heath Ledger stars as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."

Chris Hicks, a longtime film critic at the Deseret News, once suggested in a newspaper column that movies might be very different if filmmakers had their children — or their mothers or grandmothers — sitting next to them as they sat in the director's chair.

"Then maybe they would do it differently," Hicks said in an interview with the Deseret News. "When we're watching something with people we care about, in particular those who are young with impressionable, still-forming minds, a censoring response kicks in that is quite different than when we watch things alone. That response should give us a clue about the kinds of things children are seeing all the time.

"The rating system is designed for parents, to help them guide their children, but it's imperfect."

Because filmmakers don't make movies with their mothers watching, and because he believes the rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America is flawed, Hicks has written a new book titled, "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind?" The book's goal is to help parents make more informed entertainment decisions specifically related to movies.

"All parents know that there are hiccups along the way, and sometimes there are earthquakes," Hicks writes in the book's foreword. "Now that some of my kids have kids of their own ... they have come to understand the importance of trying to guide them toward responsible choices.

"As a watchful, caretaker parent all those years, I had many crocodile-infested waters to navigate. When I started paying attention to movie ratings, both professionally and as a parent, I learned pretty quickly that Hollywood movers and shakers like to 'push the envelope,' as they put it, and it doesn't seem to matter whether it's a children's film or an adult movie. It's not just R-rated movies that are troubling. PG-13s are often more troubling. And even PGs can be problematic — sometimes worse than problematic. Simply put, relying on the Motion Picture Association of America to make choices for you or your children is a mistake."

Drawing on 30 years of experience, observation and material he produced for the Deseret News, Hicks has compiled a guide with suggestions to help parents navigate through "some of the perils of the movie-watching swamp."

In the book, Hicks gives a history of the MPAA ratings and explores whether movie ratings are always deserved. He discusses the reasons why the PG-13 rating was recommended by Steven Spielberg and then created, why the PG rating is an endangered species, and why the G rating is on the verge of extinction.

Spielberg pushed PG to the limits with the Indiana Jones series that started with "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and was followed by the much darker "Temple of Doom," Hicks said. "Gremlins" had a similar impact.

"And so it wasn't long after the implementation of PG-13 that moviemakers began to see it as the go-to rating for 'adult' movies that the studios, the movie writers and directors, did not want to see with the more restrictive 'R' — that is, restrictive in terms of keeping out the biggest moviegoing demographic, teenagers, and more important, lowering the odds for box-office success," Hicks writes.

Throughout the book, Hicks has created various lists of movies that he recommends for different audiences. One list is titled, "PG Films that are Cleaner Than Average," and includes films such as "The Hunt for Red October" (1990), "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993) and "Remember the Titans" (2000).

Another list is titled, "Films Rated PG with Adult Content." It includes movies such as "Out of Africa" (1985), "Top Gun" (1986), "Dead Poets Society" (1989) and "Runaway Bride" (1999).

More PG/PG-13 films from 1990 that "push the limits," according to Hicks, include "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," "The Rocketeer," "Problem Child 2" and "Drop Dead Fred."

A list of movies from the 2000s for families includes "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" (2102), "We Bought a Zoo" (2011), "Hugo" (2011), "Ella Enchanted" (2004) and "The School of Rock" (2003).

Hicks also notes the films such as "The Dark Knight" (2008) and "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012) received PG-13 ratings and were described in vague terms, but very easily could have received an R-rating.

The book also includes a vast index of films, an insightful resource for any film-buff.

"Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind?" was published by Familius, a company started in 2012 by Christopher and Michele Robbins with the purpose of "helping families be happy," according to its website, familius.com.

Hicks appreciated the chance to write the book and hopes it can help parents feel more informed when it comes to family movie night.

"It was fun to write. I’m really glad Christopher approached me about this, I'm really glad I did it, even if no one sees it but my family," he said. "I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I also tried to make it entertaining. I hope it makes for a fun read as well as providing information."

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone