Friday, 10 January 2014

Ratings for a Reason


Remember when these meant something other than "street cred"?



I understand the stigma some have around the rating system, especially as an indicator of so-called “quality”. There are plenty of people who won’t see a film with less than a M15+ rating, as though a PG rated film is somehow going to be awful. But these ratings actually mean a lot more- they’re indicators of content that is appropriate or inappropriate for certain ages.

One of my favourite blog posts on IGN comes from  a writer named Tassie Codriver, entitled Rated R for a Reason. Tassie talks about the effectiveness of the recent R18+ rating given to video games in Australia. Tassie makes specific reference to Grand Theft Auto V and asks why parents seem to be ignoring the rating system and getting games like this for gamers who are too young to play it.

It’s a symptom of a greater disease, I think. It’s not just video games where the rating system is ignored. Movies based on comic and cartoon franchises are also subject to this kind of flippant regard for the rating system. If you want examples, just look at the multitude of M15+ (PG13, if you’re in the states) movies that seem directly marketed toward 8 year olds.

My favourite (for lack of a better word) example of this is the Transformers film series directed by Michael Bay. The Transformers on television have always been about one thing: allowing Hasbro to sell Transformers toys to kids. And that’s fine- company’s gotta make a buck. But let’s have a look at movies like Revenge of the Fallen, the second film in the franchise. You only have to get halfway through the film before two dogs have had sex on screen and a small robot has humped the leg of Megan Fox. It's hardly the kind of things you want your kids to watch. And that wouldn’t be an issue were it any other movie. Let’s face it, the American Pie series have all that and more. But we’re not selling American Pie toys at Kmart, whereas toys based on the Transformers movies line the shelves of every toy outlet in the western world.

Because every parent thinks their kids re-enacting
the "leg-humping" scene is so cute!
Most comic book movies aren’t absolved from blame either. I never quite understand why when I go to see The Avengers or The Dark Knight, movies that are not rated for children to watch, and see parents waiting in line with their 7-10 year-old kids. Now, I first saw M15+ movie around age ten- it was Dragonheart. But there is a difference between that and a superhero/comic film.

Firstly, too many adults in the world have this belief that comics are only made for little kids. Their knowledge of comics comes from a 90s episode of The Simpsons where Bart walks out of a comic shop. What they don’t realise is that only a small margin of comics are actually written for children. Most are made for the teenage/adult market. But parents seem to neither be aware of, or even accept that as a fact. Comics were for kids when they were young and nothing has changed since the early 90s.

But that’s not even the biggest problem. This major problem is that many of these M15+ movies are actually marketed towards kids. These movies have toys to sell. The companies need to make a profit and selling toy Batmobiles from Batman Begins with associated action figures. These companies seem to think they can have it both ways- catch the teen and adult audiences who have the most disposable income, and still snag the littlies who they can sell playsets and costumes to.

But these movies are rated M15+ for a reason. They are not movies to be shown to kids, otherwise they would get a PG rating at most. And let’s be honest, plenty of great movies that adults could enjoy have been made without a higher rating (the original Star Wars trilogy comes to mind). M15+ movies are usually too violent, contain themes to mature, or are too vulgar to show to most kids. But M15+ is the new PG it seems, and G, apparently, should never be considered.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that all comic book movies should tone it down, or that they should only go for a PG rating. Certainly, many great movies have come out based on cartoons and comics and have had mature ratings. What I am saying is that movie studios need to make up their minds; are these movies for kids or adults? If they’re made for kids, let’s not give it an M15+ rating or higher. If they’re made for adults, let’s not release the toys, let’s keep Lego out of it and lets not release a cartoon at the same time as the movie.

As much as they would like to think so, movie studios can’t have it both ways. Every other medium understands this, and it’s time for Hollywood to follow suit.