Movie Matt-ers #5: The MPAA And Movies That Endure
By: Matthew Kaiser
Movie Matt-ers is the column you need, but don’t know you want. The great and powerful Matthew will answer any and all of your movie related questions. Just be careful what you ask, he doesn’t always play nice with others. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Movie Matt-ers: The MPAA And Movies That Endure
How does a movie get an “R” rating? Is it just language? Violence? Or a combo of both? — Dorothy (Lillyann)
“R” means: “Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.” That pesky “R” rating was the bane of my youth. At the young age of sixteen, those words made a night out with friends to see the latest Hellraiser movie a complete no-go.
The MPAA’s (Motion Picture Association of America) rating system considers many factors in giving the film its designation. Language is first up and it really boils down to the utterance of one word, commonly known as the “F word.” It can be said in “PG-13” movies once, but if the usage is constant or sexual in nature, then the film’s most likely getting slapped with an “R.” There are a few other choice words that can get the big “R,” but they’re used less often (if I said them here, this article would surely get a “mature content” rating).
The next thing they consider is drugs—more specifically, the use of drugs. You can get away with some drug references or paraphernalia lying around, but if you show full on drug use in any form, you’re getting the big “R.”
For violence it can be a bit trickier. You can have a decent amount of fighting, gun use, and even some blood. But if limbs start flying and you see guts, expect the “R.” They also factor in the amount of gore and whether the violence is geared toward women and/or children.
Sex is another consideration that can be ambiguous. You can show some bare chests and even a flash below the waist, but full-frontal female or male nudity will get the “R” every time. Brief sex scenes can get by the rating board’s watchful eye, but gratuitous intercourse just won’t fly (rhyming not intended, but it sounded cool).
There has been a lot of criticism involving the MPAA and how the ratings they hand down seem bias. Bloody, gory murder scenes can get away with as low as “PG-13,” but sex scenes push the envelope to almost “NC-17.” However, the MPAA is not a government agency and carries no legal power. They are just a group of analysts giving suggestions on what they find indecent. A lot of studios and directors have to fight for the rating they want, since an “R” rating can really hurt their financial bottom line. The system is in place to deter kids from seeing questionable content, but most kids (myself included back in the day), find creative ways around the dreaded “R.”
What makes a good movie that speaks for generations? — Anonymous
In the movie industry, withstanding the test of time is no small feat. Since technology continues to advance and pop culture continues to change, movies tend to get dated pretty quickly, especially those from the ‘80s. How can you not laugh at the Day-Glo jewelry, teased out hair, and cell phones the size of cinder blocks? Every decade will have examples of this, but the trick is how do you overlook these distractions and see a movie for its story? Let’s take two movies that are years apart and look at the formula that makes them echo across generations.
First is The Wizard of Oz (I realize I use Wizard of Oz often, but that’s because the movie is good and deserves to be mentioned frequently. If you have a problem with that, get over it). This 1939 family classic is still shown on cable every year. Over time, it’s been cleaned up and altered to make it look crisper and more vibrant, but the movie and story itself is left intact. The movie has interesting and relatable characters, good triumphing over evil, and a childhood innocence that relates to something deep inside us. The basic elements are there for everyone to enjoy. And ninety percent of the movie takes place in a fantasy land, so there’s a certain timelessness attached to the film so it can transcend generations.
My second example is The Usual Suspects (I bet you were expecting Star Wars or a horror movie, weren’t you? Ha! Fooled you). The Usual Suspects doesn’t quite have the timeless aspect of The Wizard of Oz since the movie has a ‘90s backdrop, but the setting is less important against the story and acting. The characters draw you in and the suspense crime drama keeps you focused on guessing, “Who is Keyser Söze?”
One very important similarity between these two films is that you could take either, plop them into the current year, and they would still work. The narrative of a good movie is what resonates for generations. Whether society is using a horse and buggy or flying cars to get around, great movies will always remain great.
Matthew Kaiser is a (self-described) highly opinionated movie geek who lives in Clearwater, Florida with his wife and cat.
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