R-Rating, Impenetrable Shield or Leaky Bucket?

The recent furor over who was in control of the Hitman project and what rating it was going to get brought to light the lengths a studio will go to in order to ensure profitability of a movie. Whoever is in control of Hitman currently it is clear who can get the blame should it come out and be disappointing, either De Toth or Gens depending on what is wrong with it. Just the idea that this movie could attempt to sneak past the MPAA as a PG-13 is insulting but not altogether unexpected in today’s climate. Paramount faced it with Norbit, which was given an R rating twice before going through the ringer and making just under $100 million as a PG-13. Fox tackled it with AvP (more on that later) and Titanic and were rewarded in both situations. Should they do it here?

Hitman, if rolled out as a PG-13 will be a crime not only against fans but against anyone prepared to shell out money to go and see it. I’m no mathematician but by my count if the first game came out in 2000 then by lowering the rating to include 13-17 year olds they are drawing in a potential audience that was 6 -10 upon the release of the original Hitman. Now if we also consider that all the games released had mature ratings which would exclude 13 year olds from buying andor even being aware of the game. What is Fox shooting for here? Didn’t they learn anything from the travesty that was AvP? I don’t care if it made over $100 million. Next we will be hearing that they have canceled all advanced screenings of the film and that lead actors are distancing themselves from the project. Both sure fire indications that the film is going to reek like week old fish.

I feel obliged to point out Fox irresponsible behavior towards the rating system. The gaming industry has inherited an unfortunate mantle from movies, who got it from Rock and Roll, that of whipping boy of all government watchdogs trying to protect our children from material that might send them spiraling into an unquenchable bloodlust. God forbid ACTUAL violence (rather than perceived) drugs or bad parenting could have anything to do with it. Indeed the crime rate has actually dropped in the last 5 years despite an increase in gaming violence. But if you believe the papers and Jack Thompson you could literally open your door and be brutally murdered by someone just coming down from the dizzying high of playing Spyro the Dragon or watching the Basketball Diaries.

The MPAA may also find themselves at fault here by not taking the film in context and judging it on it’s own merits they exposed young teenagers to a product they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to view. AvP had virtually all its material drawn from other movies, comics and games with ratings that would prevent a 13 year from buying them and yet was brought out relating to all of it! How is this responsible behaviour? Well it isn’t, it’s corporate behaviour. Freddy versus Jason (the most comparable contemporary film) was given an R rating and made just over $80 million, receiving positive reviews if no awards or major plaudits. AvP was roundly chastised for being bullshit and yet it made just over $170 million. Currently an R-rated movie can expect profits of anywhere between $100 million and just over $200 million (excluding the Passion of the Christ, for obvious reasons). A PG-13 can and has gone anywhere as high as $600 million so the maths is simple, but is the choice of which to go for? Titanic wasn’t an R-rated movie, even with the additional nude scene that was removed to allow it to pass for PG-13. The MPAA has a responsibility to protect our children from scenes that they will not be able to contextualize or will do them harm, how would giving Titanic an R rating do that? For god sake between 13 and 17 all I wanted to do was look at naked girls, it remains one of my favorite hobbies. Live Free or Die Hard made over $130 million despite seeming light on plot and heavy on action. So by watering down their product, Fox can actually make at least $50 million more than if they shot for something to gain some credibility (Which Fox already lacks, Firefly, The Tick, Family Guy twice. Fox News, the Bush Campaign, the list goes on). My disgust with this sort of behaviour knows no limits and I fear for the future or modern cinema.

So is the R-rating serving a purpose? Yes it stops all of Eli Roths work reaching the youth of today, and I continue to pray for the day that a rating comes out that will keep me safe from his work too. There is no proof that a market has opened up more or that the revenue for such movies has gone up. There is evidence that MORE movies of this type are making substantial amounts money, which isn’t a bad thing. Primarily it’s purpose seems to be as a rotating limbo bar, show so many bodies or so much nudity and you get under, otherwise go back and try again. This endless lives system paired with studios profit targets can only lead to weaker projects ultimately conforming to a certain standard not because it is morally right but because it is more profitable. Remember when movie making used to be considered an art form? Those were the days.

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