We think that’s a bad idea. Here’s why.
Sony has launched a so-called “Clean Version” initiative that essentially cuts down the theatrical versions of their movies and creates a more kid-friendly alternative. This initiative allows viewers access to the broadcast or airline cuts of select films, without any profanity, violence, or sexuality.
Previously, edits like this came from third-party services who had no authority to impose changes on copyrighted work, frustrating big movie studios. In this case, it is Sony itself that has decided to release these edited movies. Studios providing edited versions of films for broadcast and airline viewing is nothing new, but Sony’s decision to release these versions at no additional charge with the purchase of the film on Blu-ray, iTunes, VUDO, and FandangoNOW is not something any major studio has done before.
One of the most infamous examples of the third-party services is a failed company known as CleanFlicks. Fifteen years ago, CleanFlicks was sued by the Director’s Guild of America for selling their edited versions of movies to customers who sought out versions more suitable for children and families. This practice obviously violated some copyright laws, leading to their shutdown (and inspiring the 2009 documentary Cleanflix). Later, the company ClearPlay got around the copyright issue by simply being a filtering tool.
Sony, by comparison, offers their own censored version as a bonus feature alongside the theatrical cut instead of by itself. But even if it’s legal, it’s crazy. Out of the 24 movies Sony has chosen (so far) to edit for a “wider audience,” only two — Elysium and Step Brothers — are rated R. Every other title, including Ghostbusters, Spider-Man, Captain Phillips, and even Hancock, is rated either PG or PG-13, and editing those films, which are already deemed appropriate for younger viewers, seems redundant.
As for the R-rated films, there isn’t really any point in a child seeing them anyway. Either we let them wait to reach the appropriate age to see the movie or we allow them to secretly view it on their own terms. This isn’t really Sony’s choice to make in the end, because there is no guarantee kids still won’t see movies too mature for them. Dedicating the time and effort to creating censored versions seems like a waste.
It’s not that kids should be seeing movies above their maturity level, it’s just extreme to take mature movies and create kid-friendly versions of them. The initiative is directed at the idea of having a family movie night, but there are plenty of family movies to choose from already. There is no point in editing a movie — the teen sex comedy Easy A, for example — that was clearly never intended to be family-friendly. It defeats the whole purpose.
There is a whole lot that goes into the process of making a film. Every line of dialogue, shot, and scene is an active, and sometimes crucial, decision made by the screenwriter, the director, the cinematographer, the editors, and many others involved. To mess with this meticulous and deeply thoughtful process is to mess with the movie as a collective whole. Cutting certain lines or scenes takes away from the proper movie-viewing experience. Of course, this doesn’t really matter a whole lot to a child, but it’s unfair and disrespectful to the creators to mess with their hard work for the sake of censorship.
In terms of broadcast or airline versions of movies, there is a certain legal aspect that comes into play. You can only show so much on commercial television and flights, and if the studio plans to release a film on either of these platforms, it’s their obligation to abide. When it comes to releasing a movie on DVD or on streaming services, they don’t have to have the alternative. And they shouldn’t be allowed to mess with it there. If the movie is too mature for a kid to see, don’t buy the DVD. It’s a smart business move on Sony’s part to increase revenue, yes, but there should be some sort of limit on the censorship of someone’s artwork.
Censorship is such a futile concept, anyway. Regardless of what lengths studios like Sony decide to go to in order to make their movies accessible to young children, there’s no surefire way to keep them from seeing movies that are inappropriate for their age anyway — whether on purpose or accidentally. This ultimately lies in the hands of the parents. However, extreme over-protectiveness isn’t exactly something to aspire to, and could do more harm to a child’s development than seeing a violent or vulgar movie ever could.
It’s important that today’s youth grow up adequately aware of and prepared for the world they will eventually enter. Movies work as vignettes of the world we live in, giving a variety of perspectives as to what we should aspire to and what we should look out for, and censoring them takes away the whole point of this young and developing art form, and even stumps its growth.
If we continue to head in this direction, movies will no longer have the same weight and cultural importance as they do now and will be reduced to nothing but entertainment for everyone. But it is and has always been so much more than that, and should stay that way.