Why unrated cuts on DVD do no service to cinema

Feature Simon Brew 19 Sep 2012 - 07:00

With Taken 2 edited for a 12A rating in UK cinemas, Simon asks, are unrated DVD releases part of the problem?

At the back end of last week, the BBFC classified Taken 2 as a 12A in the UK. That’s our equivalent of a PG-13, and it was a surprising classification for a film whose predecessor was rated 15 in cinemas.

Furthermore, the original Taken got an “extended harder cut” on DVD, which took it to an 18. The decision to go for a family-friendlier rating for the cinematic release of Taken 2 was, to put a mildly, a bit baffling. You can read all about that in a bit more detail here, and our review of the new film itself here.

The problem, it seems, is we have an inversion of the situation that existed in the 80s and 90s. Back then, the full cut of a film would be in cinemas. It would be rated whatever was appropriate, with the eventual video release the more likely to be chopped. Now, things seem to be the other way around. The message to those of us who like action cinema in particular without the edges knocked off to get a broader certificate is this: go and watch the PG-13/12A rated version at the cinema, and we’ll give you an unrated/uncut version on DVD and Blu-ray.

Can I be the latest to call bullshit on this?

Cinema admissions over the summer, as has been widely reported, have dropped year on year. That’s in spite of the massive grosses for the likes of The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Ice Age: Continental Drift. The price premium of a cinema ticket, particularly in the 3D era, means that people are increasingly being forced to justify a night out to watch a film properly, on the big screen. 

At a point, then, where cinema is looking for as many incentives to get people through the door as possible, the Terminator-like focus on the broadest possible certificate is now doing, I’d argue, more damage than good.

Taken 2 is an obvious example. There are a lot of people who like old-fashioned action films, and they like them with their violence, swearing and excesses in tact. They will go to the cinema to see a film such as this, because action films of this ilk are getting harder to find. Dredd topped the UK box office charts just the other week – admittedly on a slow weekend – and it was a firm, hard 18 certificate film. It stuck to its convictions, and rightly so.

Taken 2, I’d suggest, has already isolated a good chunk of the audience who were interested in seeing it in the first place, simply by chopping three scenes back for a softer certificate. That’s, surely, not what Taken was about, but it’s the latest in a slowly growing trend.

Perhaps the most insulting was Die Hard 4.0. I don’t mind the movie anywhere near as much as some, but the tacit agreement we were presented with was that it’d be PG-13 in cinemas, and we could have the ‘proper’ Die Hard sequel on DVD and Blu-ray. We didn’t, of course. We got a little bit of added swearing, and a drop of blood. The truth was that the film had long since been neutered and compromised. Tellingly, it seemed as though most of the McClane-esque language was put back in using ADR.

As many have noted, it’s a decent movie, but it’s not a Die Hard movie as a result.

We shouldn’t be standing for this. When did we start allowing an ‘unrated’ or ‘uncut’ version on disc to be dished out as if it’s some kind of favour for fans of action cinema or the franchises affected (furthermore, if my understanding is correct, the way to get an ‘unrated’ badge in the US is not to submit that cut of the film to be rated in the first place: nothing more than that). As if they're doing something for us here? It's a fob off, and we all know it.

Instead, then, how about we get back to the idea that a film gets its organic rating. If an action movie gets a 12A because that’s what it genuinely deserves, then few will argue with that. If it’s been targeted as such, knowing that fans can be shut up with an unrated version later on, that’s surely where we should be drawing the line.

Sadly, you can already see the press release for Taken 2, championing the version “never before seen in cinemas”. Well here’s the thing: that’s the version that should have been put in cinemas. Save the watered down version for the home release if you must, but treat a cinema screen as where the best and proper version of your film should be presented. 

It’s a by-product, of course, of the short-termism in movie finance, where the cinema run and opening weekend are seen to define the fortunes of a film. To a point, they do. But whether you liked The Expendables or not, do you really think it would have been as big a hit had it gone for the PG-13 market, too? It stuck to its literal and proverbial guns, and earned lots of money for doing so (perhaps that's why the extended cut of that movie made it arguably worse: it just wasn't necessary).

There are enough problems with franchises such as Alien, Die Hard and Terminator being deemed as family friendly to varying degrees without the final insult to fans, of a few swear words and bits of blood being re-inserted as if that’s what we were grumbling about in the first place. It’s not. Instead, it’s a frustration that a film is being compromised in tone, feel and execution from the off, with the audience who supported the franchise in the first place being fobbed off with something extra to watch at home later.

The unrated cut on disc isn’t part of the answer. It’s part of the problem.

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