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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I also don't want to go to a cinema and watch an adult film sitting next to 10 year old and his mum

I honestly could not agree more!

Agreed. I also don't want them talking through the entire movie so I can't hear a word said. I broke my personal promise to give up on cinema due to this happening in every movie but 18s and it happened again during Dark Knight Rises. I would rather wait for the DVD/BLU RAY and enjoy it on my big screen tv in the comfort of my own home with the next being the Avengers.

I totally agree with everything said here. I won't be seeing Taken 2 when it hits theatres in a few weeks and it's because of this narrow minded thinking by the films distributors as detailed above. Same with the upcoming Die Hard 5 or whatever they're calling it. It's time we started speaking out to the studios with the only power that we have; our wallets.

For big action films (like Die Hard sequels), you could have both cuts in cinemas. That way, adults can enjoy the proper 18-rated version, and little kids who have an unaccountable fascination with Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson can go and see the 12A edit.

Agreed! It is part of the problem. With some movies I just know that there will be an extended/director's/unrated cut, and therefore I don't go to the cinema for them, but wait until they come out on DVD/BluRay. Just because I have the feeling I won't be shown the whole movie in the cinema.

I don't know why they aren't doing that already. With the use of hard drives instead of celluloid film, it should be more easy than ever before.

For Hollywood it really is all about the money, especially in these times. If you want movies that reflect that harder edge then you need to be looking outside Hollywood at some of the smaller indy distributors or foreign imports.

For me I find that when I check out the action movies on Lovefilm I tend to view more of the Korean imports than the Hollywood fare. But then I'll also pass over typical Big Studio comedies in favour of the Bollywood section too.

if it only needs a few cuts then the movie isn't really an18 or 15 anyway. it's tone should be different and that can't change with small edits. if they did two cuts in the cinema then all you'd get is an 18 with more blood, not worth the effort. I want a movie that is written for adults. think trainspottting, if you cut out all the swearing, sex etc it would still be an 18 because the story demands it. that's what i want to see more of

While I agree with the thrust of the piece I was apalled at the comment 'Save the watered down version for the home release if you must'. As someone who is housebound & hasn't been able to go the cinema for years, I don't want cut down DVD or BD releases either. I am truly fed up with the attitude that everything should be reduced to the level of the average 12 year old. I'm an adult & wish to be treated as such.

Clumsily phrased, perhaps, but I didn't mean to the exclusion of the original cut. It's easier to give people the choice in home formats.

I remember going to see Tango and Cash at the cinema and then buying on VHS a year later (that's right - films took a whole year to buy after cinema release back in the day) and being horrified that the electrocution scene had been edited out (and badly at that).

I think it probably has roots in piracy. Once a film has left a cinema, potential profits to be made from the DVD release are an unknown quantity. The cinema is about an 'experience' - you can't pirate a cinema experience - any more than you can sell the experience of swimming underwater - you simply have to do it to experience it. Once on DVD, it reverts to being about the film and not the experience and any film can be copied and reproduced, and piracy is becoming more and more prevelant as technology advances.
Being as this makes DVD sales income an unpredictable affair, it makes perfect business sense to open up the film to as many people as possible - and if that requires a few cuts then that's what you need to do.
Obviously this does totally destroy the integrity and art of the piece - but then it's a business!

What's more irritating, for me at least, is when they cut a film for the cinema and then don't release the uncut version on Blu or DVD. Seems to be a massive missed opportunity, and the main reason I haven't bought Lady in Black and Immortals on blu yet. Also a massive invitation to pirates I would think!
On the broader point, I completely agree. I don't really agree with the idea that the rating should be determined solely by the number of f-bombs, blood and punches in a scene, or the sound of those punches. It seems to much like a tick box exercise. A film like Taken 2, which is a direct sequel to a very violent first film that most people saw uncut at home or on Sky, whose themes are all about revenge and murder and torture, should not be able to be rated 12A just because you soften some blows and edit some swearing. The whole feel of the film is more adult than that, and it shouldn't be suitable for kids not matter what the actual 'tick box' content is.
Conversely, some films just aren't for kids, yet get PG or 12 ratings simply because they do not contain enough swearing and bloodshed for a higher rating. I know the BBFC do bring the general mood or intention of a piece into play, but only marginally, and only with very sensitive subjects. Seems like themes of violence and revenge do sit comfortably at 12A, in BBFC parlance. Not sure I agree with them.

There could be an argument to say that distressing scenes aren't as distressing if you're watching them in your own home on a small screen with the lights on, after not having to pay £8.10 for a bun and a pop.

you hit the nail on the head tbh with your first comment "price of a ticket"
£7.00 per tick say on average (it is around where I am) you can by the DVD for keep when it comes out for £3.00 more
Throw in the fact you might wanna take your partner/friend then that £14.00 in total which is nearly the price of Blu Ray.
Take a family to the cinema and the children tickets are £5.00 each and say you have 2 thats £24.00 just to go to the cinema for approx 1hr 30 mins
people dont go to the cinema as much in the current econmic climate due to cost, which has made hollywood scared when it comes to harder rated films as they think they wont get their money back.
Whether this is tru or not has resulted in the fact they want to make a profit and the more people have access to these films the greater chance it will break even and make a profit.
I genrally dont go to the cinema now unless its a film I really want to see due to the cost of a cinema ticket, and a small fact that all they are doing is remakes, reboots and sequels to films that dont need it.
I can stay at home and watch them when they come on sky 6 months later or buy the DVD if im bothered which would be cheaper in my house hold on the budget we have plus we can rewatch as many times as we like.

Why they can't release both cuts in the cinema if they're hungry for money is beyond me. I just want to see the PROPER versions of films PROPERLY on a PROPER big screen. Is that so much to ask?

Actually folks I can almost exactly pinpoint where this is coming from.

It's almost a given in the USA (not so much in the UK, can't speak for the rest of the world) that if there was a hard-R or NC-17 rated action/sex flick in the cinema years ago, that the kids without adults or under 17 would pay for a ticket to Bambi, then sneak into the showing of Die Hard for example.

After many years of this, the studios cottoned on to it and decided (in their usual, broadminded business way) that you should neuter these films so they get put down to a PG-13 so the kids would actually pay to see their film so improving ticket sales ------ missing the fact by a freaking mile that the kids snuck into the damn film because it was an adult-rated movie in the first place!

Obviously this attitude still abides.

It's bad enough now that theatres have to have separate screenings of films in both 3D and 2D... it would be an even bigger burden on theatres to squeeze in 'more adult' cuts of films. Already taking up twice as much space on the marquee because of all the 3D BS.

I mostly agree with what's been written here, but there's a definite element of 'damned if they do, damned if they don't' to this problem. The closest thing to a perfect solution is to offer both versions at the cinema, and this just isn't feasible in a lot of cinemas without getting rid of a few fringe films. Needless to say, this would lead to more complaints. If they didn't take this sort of action, then they risk their profits going down due to losing the teenager market. If they do, well, they face complaints from the adult market. It's an unfortunate situation, but there's not really an easy way to fix it sadly. :/

Yes its stupid. I have given up on the Cinema. When I was 18 right up to that age of 32 I used to go EVERY weekend, on a Friday night with my girlfriend , then wife. The ticket price for me then in the Uk was £4.15, so we could drive to the big multiplex, as petrol was only 72p a litre back then, and buy a Mcdonalds or piza etc and if I was paying for said girl, it only cost about £25 - £30 for tickets, popcorn, Mcdonalds and petrol etc. Now its just stupid. Petrol is £1.50 a litre almost, ticket prices are £8 and for adults at "Peak" times.Which means basically, any time you will be free to go to the Cinema...eg Friday night / weekends...and then its £10 a ticket for 3D. So if I did the same thing as I used to do, it would now cost me £20 for the tickets £15 for the petrol to get there, £6 for popcorn and lastly about £8 for a Mcdonalds...thats £49 for two hours of entertainment. Its too expensive. Now add in the fact that most modern films are pretty crap, bar the odd Dark Knight / Hobbit etc..and buying it on Blueray would only cost you £12 - £20 OR the torrent blueray rip costs NOTHING at all... Then you can watch it at home on your big tv, in PEACE without annoying twats, people on phones, prats wandering about endlessly in front of the screen, kids screaming along with 20 minutes of crappy adverts then trailers at the start and its a no brainer. I gave up years ago. The last film I saw at the Cinema was LOTOR Return of the King. I might be tempted back by the Hobbit, but I will probably wait for the Blueray. I bought a 50 inch screen when I stopped going to the Cinema and I have never looked back. I get DTS sound from my Yamaha amp and sub etc, its great...my living room is my Cinema , complete with framed film posters and dimmer lights....There is a recession in the Uk, people have a lot less money and are in fear of losing their jobs. Throw in stupid petrol prices, cost of living going up etc and its a wonder anyone goes tot he Cinema at all these days.

Speaking of cutting films on DVD, I'm surprised you guys haven't said anything about The Avengers being cut on DVD/Blu-Ray in the UK, Germany and a few other places.

Isnt it just because they are greedy ***** who have no care about the viewing public only their bottom line. To those suited ******** I dont matter and you dont matter only money matters. Its the reason the world is going to hell.

Cinemas do 'adult only' sessions at about 9 or 10pm. Why not use that as a chance to put on the 15- or 18-rated edit??

Its not just the entrance price, I can just about justify £8 for a ticket it is the price of the extras. In the World of Cine in my town a tray of Natchos is ludicrous price, about £7 IIRC, and much the same kind of price for popcorn, coke and ice cream.

I went there of wed last week and they had a special offer, coke & Popcorn for £2.80. I gave in and got it, the Coke was no bigger than a 330ml can and the popcorn little bigger than a small pack of crisps and this was meant to be a special offer!

When was the last time there was a major blockbuster costing say $100m or more that was above a PG13 rating? I would imagine there are very few because it would be commercial suicide to spend that much money when a huge slice of the potential market cannot come and it makes it difficult for parents to watch films because they have to get babysitters.

There will always be 18 certificate films, they will just be low budget ones - this article is inspired by Taken 2 but according to IMDB Taken's budget was only $25m hence they could afford to make a hardcore film - with the increase of budget to $80m for the second they have to hedge their bets and widen the potential audience.

It's people like you that deter me from going to the cinema. Have you ever considered how ANNOYING and DISTRACTING it is for the people around you who are trying to concentrate on the film without listening to your incessant mastication!!! Seriously, popcorn and nachos should be banned out right. Too many fat people in the cinema anyway.

One would also assume that they also lost "the bambi sale", meaning that they lost actually 2 sales...

Ah but the the 'bambi sale' would still go to Disney, whilst Fox would not gain the 'Die Hard sale'. And that's what bent them out of shape.

I don't go to the cinema that often so doesn't really bother me what they release there - I would much prefer an older version on DVD, and maybe a choice of a softer version for the youngsters. Gone are the days when films are made specifically for adults, as money talks and the more people that can see it, the more money it could make with the content of the movie taking a backseat. Im lucky enough to have a good home cinema setup so much prefer a blu-ray version that I can choose whether to watch myself or with kids.

P.S. Quote: "That’s our equivalent of a PG-13" Our? Last time I checked "we" weren't American on this British website. :)

And the media industry wonders why the modern generation downloads rips of their material without fail. Bit by bit the world is passing the dinosaurs of business and they are scrambling to somehow maintain exact control of their profit margin without ever accepting that the cinema and commercial medium are growing irrelevant every year.

I think it's a bit unfair to say cinema tickets are overpriced. When compared to other forms of entertainment like the theatre, or live gig, or nightclubs, it is extremely good value. Even some museums are £15 entry, that is just crazy.
I find it hard to think of anything that you can do for cheaper nowaday's that gives you 2 hours of entertainment.

Most cinemas also have deals or discounts at non-peak times.I go to Vue cinema on a Sunday using cheap day sunday ticket.If you use a voucher on top of that, you can get into the cinema for about £3, now this is no way extortion.
In the UK min. wage is around £6.20, the average cinema ticket is about £6.06.So 1 hours work pays for 2 hours of entertainment, I would say that is good value.

They should maybe experiment with a 15A rating for cinemas, films like this would still get through uncut.

The truth of the matter is that a movie has a targeted rating during production to coordinate with marketing efforts. Movie franchises that have moved from R to PG13 (and their other market equivalents) are generally those that have become mass market successes, and to fully exploit this they have to be marketed to a larger audience than an R rating can provide. This is not necessarily a new phenomenom (compare later Police Academy and Revenge of the Nerds movie to their originals). I don't think a desire to market an "unrated" version on the home market is a major factor in these cuts.

A couple brought a young kid into our screening of the Dark Knight, the kid looked under five. Now I'm not sure it was an appropiate film, putting that aside, the little brat wouldn't shutup for the entire movie. His parents didn't do a thing about this, and as for the cinema staff, non insight. Frankly it ruined the film, not worth paying nearly a tenner for.


If you look at the history of movie theaters you will find out that snack sales have always been vital to the business model. Popcorn was first introduced to make people more thirsty so that they would buy more soda. Theaters don't make enough of a percentage of ticket sales to survive without food sales.

I agree, I pay for the most honest version of the film. Save the family edition for the DVD. I have this problem with Horror films. Ever since twilight made a kings ransom in cash all horror movies ever since have been PG13. This is criminal, I don't pay to see teen actors who cant act, and I don't want to see off screen kill shot.

Like most of the audience I am not a monkey and I am actually capable of eating whilst not disturbing other moviegoers, the big problem is talking and light pollution IMHO.

there is making a profit and there is completely outragous - World of Cine is most definatly the latter.

Oh, I totally agree that the cost of going to the movies and buying popcorn, candy, and drinks is insane - I could eat out at a decent restaurant with the money I'd save by not taking my kid and a friend to 3-D movie that gives me a headache. I have been known to sneak in a bottle of water and some twizzlers... My local theatre won't even put "butter" on my $10 popcorn anymore (I've been asking them to "layer the popcorn and the butter" since I was a kid). Now I have to squirt it on myself at the straw and napkin holder. It's outrageous! ;> I was pointing out why snacks are such a big part of going to the movies, not saying that I like it. (I totally agree with you about noise and light being more bothersome than people eating - I think he's just being a troll. Anyone who uses the phrase "too many fat people" is just trolling to upset someone. Ignore it.) I used to dream up how I would design the perfect movie theatre... one major part of my plan was to have lift-up armrests like on airplanes. (This has nothing to do with unrated cuts on DVD's, btw.)

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