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Who Needs PG-13 Anymore?

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Both Thor and the just-released Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movies are rated PG-13, but who are they kidding? They are also both marketed heavily to the kiddies. At our local multiplex, there was a special Pirates promotion going on this opening weekend with face painting, balloon animals, Renaissance Fair-style role-players and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane) impersonators.

Clearly plenty of parents were taking under-13 age children to the movie (myself included.) So why did the film have a PG-13 rating? Wasn’t PG enough? A parent has to decide either way whether to take their kid to the movies. That’s the parental guidance part. On any website today you can get an itemized list of content that might offend (violence, sex, drugs, drinking, language). So why bother with trying to (over) specify the rating?

After seeing Pirates, which did include some (not graphic) deaths and scary creatures (mermaids) I don’t think that it had anything too scary for my seven-year old daughter. I told her as we went in that if anything was too frightening for her, she could cover her eyes, hide behind me, or we could duck out for a few minutes, but that was never really necessary. She did grab me for some of the fight scenes, but overall she enjoyed it. And sometimes being scared and cuddling with mom or dad is part of the fun. If there was anything that did bother her about the movie, it was that a few of the plot points were left dangling and open for the next movie. But that’s just how movies are today, which I explained to her — they want you to come back and see what happens to Captain Jack Sparrow next time.

I used to watch scary movies on TV all the time when I was probably “too young” for them — that is, her age. I distinctly remember being allowed to stay up and watch a vampire movie with my dad and going to bed scared that night, wearing my bathrobe over my nightgown, convinced that if my neck was covered up a vampire couldn’t get me. And these weren’t sparkly teen vamps, this was a B&W creepy Count Dracula. Most fairy tales are full of scary things — witches and wolves that eat little pigs and little girls that favor the color red.

I don’t think parents should be irresponsible. My daughter has seen the first three Harry Potter movies and that’s it. She loves the kids and other characters and is rightly frightened by Voldemort — we usually skip those scenes on the DVD. The same goes for another film she adores, the first Lord of the Rings. She is in love with Frodo, but wants to skip the Orcs. Frankly, I feel the same way about the Orcs — they are unnecessarily gross make-up wise. Director Peter Jackson could have scaled them back visually a bit and they still would have been scary. But back to Potter — I haven’t let her see the fourth Potter film and beyond because the emotional content gets more mature. Characters start dying, and not just the Cowboys and Indians sorts of deaths that kids role-play and are familiar with, as in this latest Pirates movie, but deaths of people that they have grown to love — I still find Cedric’s death in Goblet of Fire very upsetting. Movies with tear-jerking moments can be cathartic — for adults, but kids don’t really need that level of sadness from a movie.

Apparently we have filmmaker Steven Spielberg to blame for the ridiculous distinction between PG and PG-13. In 1984, “Spielberg … advocated the creation of the new rating. The proposed change, however, has been opposed by MPAA President Jack Valenti. He argues that the current system is working well enough and that adding more classifications would cause more confusion. ‘Who is smart enough to say what is permissible for a 13-year-old and not for a twelve-year-old?’ Valenti asks. ‘Who can draw that line?'” Valenti either changed his mind or caved in, as the rating began to be applied to films that year and ever since.

But does the PG-13 rating really apply to the latest Pirates movie? From the MPAA’s definition of PG-13,:

Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. (None)

More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented.  (The mermaids are topless, but no nipples are shown, their long hair or the water covers them, so, none)

There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. (Pirates has lots of sword fights and some deaths, but none too graphic. There are sword wounds with a little blood, as in an old Errol Flynn pirate flick.)

A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous. (There were no curse words that I recall. There was some mildly sexy banter between Captain Jack and Angelica (Penélope Cruz) referencing their prior relationship, but nothing explicit.)

I think that Hollywood should just drop the silly PG-13 rating. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a family movie. I know, that’s a bad word for some, but too bad. Sometimes I wonder if films now use PG-13 as a ratings opportunity to attract the adult audience. Do the studios think a plain PG will turn off grown-ups who don’t want to go to a kiddie film? Does PG-13 make it just a tad cooler or less, well, PG? As the line-up of Pirates toys and related merchandise in Target and other stores attest, the film’s rating, in this case is beyond meaningless.

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  • Matt

    i know right. Everything is on TV nowdays.