Thursday, July 31, 2008

Taking the law into their own hands

{warning - spoilers ahead}

At a time when we are struggling with the limits to government power, it is interesting to look at our heroes.

First there was Iron Man. When he discovered that his weapons systems were being used by terrorists he built a suit of armor and took them out personally.

Then there is Hellboy. If someone refuses to answer a question then Hellboy beats on him until the subject talks.

This question is asked again and again in Dark Knight. Batman tries to beat information out of the Joker and the police let him. District Attorney Harvey Dent puts a gun to someone's head and flips a coin to see if he should shoot (this is a bluff since it is a double-headed coin). At one point a criminal tells Batman straight out that he isn't scary enough to compete with the Joker. Eventually Batman lets the world think that he is merciless in order to uphold Dent's reputation.

Out here in the real world, none of this would be tolerated. We want results from our heroes but we also want their hands to be clean. Funny how we allow our fictional heroes more latitude than real-life law enforcement authorities.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Movie Ratings

Coming home from dinner tonight we were talking about movie ratings. We remembered 1984, the year that created PG-13. Steven Spielberg was the person responsible with two movies - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which he directed and Gremlins which he produced.

Later my wife stumbled on this list of movies that shouldn't have been rated PG.

Which led to this post on rating inflation.

Originally movies were suitable for all audiences. In the 1960s this changed slightly. Some movies were rated "M" for Mature Audiences Only. They weren't kidding about this rating.

The next step was a five-tiered system, "G", "PG", "R", and "X". The "G" rating was not meant to specify children's movies. It was meant to designate the type of movie that had been made for decades. PG meant some violence, blood, or possibly a flash of nudity. R meant either gory violence, nudity, or soft-core sex. X usually meant explicit sex.

During the 1970s, a movie rated PG was at least equivalent to the modern PG-13. That's how most of the movies on the list got a PG rating.

A few trends converged over time. Porn movies started using the designation "XXX" which tarred all X-rated movies as soft-core porn. The fact that several early X-rated movies had strong sexual content cemented this association. Decency groups began protesting and theaters stopped booking X-rated movies. If a movie was rated X the studio would either appeal the rating or cut enough footage to lower the rating.

At the same time, studios started requesting a PG rating for movies that should have been rated G in order to imply that they were not kid's movies. Soon, Disney was the only studio releasing G-rated movies.

By the early 1980s movies were either rated PG or R. In the two notorious releases in 1984, both needed a wider audience than an R rating would get them so Spielberg managed to get them released as PG. When the complaints came he was the first one to say that there should be a stronger rating (which shifted blame from his movies). Make no mistake though, he was to blame. He had already sold the toy rights for Gremlins. He had to appeal to kids.