This weekend, I went to see the new version of The Magnificent. While it is true as many critics say that the film is unnecessary, it offers nothing new to the story or the genre, it is an entertaining couple of hours. However, one thing struck me about the film, the violence. Not the amount or severity of it, the nature. I grew up in the 80’s watching action and horror films on video. I was about 13 when Die Hard and Lethal Weapon came out, I loved them and still do. Around this time, I was also catching up on classics like The Terminator and Mad Max as well as the classics from the golden age of Hollywood. I was also watching contemporary Horror alongside Universal monster movies and Hammer Horror, I remember loving Hellraiser and the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. I was possibly a little too young when I saw Don’t Look Now, and it really got under my skin. Many of these films have since been reclassified as 15 not 18, that is a whole different conversation that I have discussed before, and will again. I am more concerned with 12A or its closest American counterpart PG13. They both have the same basic premise as I understand it, a viewer must be the prescribed age or older to watch the film or accompanied by an adult whose responsibility it is to ascertain if the film is suitable for them. I have no issue with the mechanics of it. I think it is correct that a parent should be able to decide if their child has the emotional maturity to watch a film, after all all kids (all people) are different. My issue is with the films it is spawning.
Back in the days of The Motion Picture Production Code (often (erroneously) refereed to as The Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, then president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA)), there were huge restrictions placed on filmmakers, this often led to great creativity, especially in genre movies. The 80’s VHS rental market had a different effect, knowing films would have a second life on home video let studios produce 15 and 18 certificate films. But things have changed. Since the introduction of the 12A in 2002 there has been a move to make most mainstream films 12A. Roughly speaking if a film gets PG13 in America it will most likely get 12A in the UK and vice-versa. The two systems have very similar guidelines *see my not below for more information. An R or 15 rating can be problematic at the box office, NC-17 or 18 can be seen as box-office suicide. There are exceptions to this rule, some horror movies or broad comedies market themselves on the hard hitting higher rating, this is the exception not the rule. So this brings us back to The Magnificent Seven.
The new version of the Magnificent Seven is a very violent film, but it is a certain type of violence, a largely bloodless violence that we see in comic book movies. This is purely to keep the certificate down and get the family marked and teenage kids into see a big blockbuster. But what message does this send to the younger viewers, both the 12/13 year olds and the even younger children who will watch the film. Is making violence and death more palatable a good thing? Or is the brutal, bloody and visceral violence of Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino, a better and a more honest approach to violence? Viewers, especially young impressionable ones need to know that violence and death are serious issues not to be taken lightly. My argument isn’t a morel one, I am over 18 and can watch what I like providing my local multiplex chooses to screen it, I am concerned with the heart, soul and substance of the film industry. When we see lots of blood, the violence is often called gratuitous, however, the violence of Peckinpah and Tarantino has been earned, it is integral to the stories, surely it is more gratuitous when it is throw away, disposable violence. Are we becoming an age of mindless middle of the road consumers? Would we not rather watch something with more edge, something that takes us out of our comfort zone and shows us things that we don’t want to see. Is it not these painful, difficult moments that elevates the good times and make us enjoy them more? Think of a classic example of this, blood splatter was removed with CGI from a key scene in The Hunger Games to keep the certificate down. Despite the story of the film and the body count, there never seemed any real sense of threat as a viewer. Had the stakes been higher, out connection to the characters and our involvement would have been higher. Now think of 18s films like The Terminator, Aliens, Platoon or Predator. All 18 films in their day, all now revered as classics a few years on. Are we denying a generation their classic genre movies by hamstringing them with a family friendly certificate?
But there is another angle, there has been a big shift in recent years from movies to television. Where in the past to be a successful TV show you needed to be prime time and family friendly. In recent years we have had extremely violent television programs like Spartacus, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Are these taking the place of certain types of films? To an extent, I think they are, but I don’t care. As much as I have enjoyed them, at the end of the decade, I want to be able to look back on more than Comic Book and YA adaptations, I want this generations Terminator, Aliens, Platoon or Predator, I want this generations The Wild Bunch, I even want this generations Young Guns (R in US, 18 in UK). Most of all, I want to be treated like an adult when I sit down to watch a movie. But there is something else I want, I want to be shocked and surprised from time to time.
*Film rating systems
- G General Audiences “Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.”
- PG Parental Guidance Suggested “Parents urged to give ‘parental guidance.’ May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.”
- PG-13 Parents Strongly Cautioned “Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.”
- R Restricted “Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.”
- NC-17 Adults Only “Clearly adult. Children are not admitted.”
- U – Universal. Suitable for all
- PG – Parental Guidance – general viewing but some scenes may be unsuitable for young
- 12A no-one younger than 12 may see a ’12A’ film in a cinema unless accompanied by an adult.
- 15 – no person under the age of 15 to be admitted.
- 18 – no person under the age of 18 to be admitted.