Monday, August 24, 2009

Whose definition of appropriate?

Saw District 9 on Friday, and I'm not going to discuss that here, but I did want to mention the trailers I saw beforehand. They were hardcore.

Whether they were "appropriate" or not is another question.

District 9 being an R-rated movie, they were allowed to show us some pretty intense trailers. The first of the ones I want to discuss here was for The Fourth Kind, a movie about a really scary owl, and abductions occurring in Nome, Alaska as a result of said creature. The second was for Legion, a movie about angels sent to earth to exterminate the human race, which looks to be in the Constantine family, and has the inauspicious release date of next January 22nd. The third was for Zombieland, a jokingly violent comedy about a post-apocalyptic earth populated almost entirely by zombies. The last was basically just a teaser for Saw VI.

What I noticed about each of these trailers was the banner beforehand:

THE FOLLOWING PREVIEW HAS BEEN APPROVED FOR APPROPRIATE AUDIENCES BY THE MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA

Maybe it's been awhile since I've seen a good juicy R movie in the theater, but this one was new to me.

It seemed to me that "appropriate audiences" must be the new name for what they used to refer to as "mature audiences." "Mature" is clear. "Appropriate" is ambiguous at best.

So ambiguous, in fact, that I was genuinely confused about what it meant before the Legion trailer came on.

I'd just survived the Fourth Kind trailer, and I was somewhat relieved to see that the next trailer was for "appropriate audiences." (I guess I didn't catch the banner for The Fourth Kind). I must have read that as "appropriate for all audiences," because I thought, "Okay, this will be pretty tame relative to what I just saw." (And what did I just see? It definitely got my scare juices flowing -- a number of subjects from supposedly real video recordings being scared absolutely batshit by this freaky owl that they're all seeing in their dreams. And seeing someone scared batshit can be pretty scary if it's done well. In fact, I searched for the poster for The Fourth Kind to accompany this post, but apparently it doesn't exist yet, even though the movie is coming out on November 9th. Anyway, it wasn't anywhere on the internet).

So the Legion trailer began, and I saw a windmill, a desert fence, a couple other things that could go either way. Then there's a cafe, and an old lady in the cafe. Someone approaches the old lady and asks her a question. Upon which her face morphs into that of a demon, she screams that everyone's going to die, and she scurries up to the ceiling of the diner. Pretty freaky.

Appropriate for all audiences? I don't think so.

Clearly, I realized, I just read it wrong. But what really does "appropriate audiences" mean? Appropriate for what? And what was so wrong with "mature audiences"?

I haven't been able to find an explanation on the internet, but I have been able to find a number of other bloggers curious about the same wording. But these bloggers aren't commenting on the trailers they saw before District 9. One of them was talking about the trailer for New Moon, the sequel to Twilight. Another for the trailers they saw before Harry Potter.

Both of those movies -- the one being advertised, and the one people paid to see -- are suitable for teens. So, wait, what?

But here's where it gets even more interesting. Another blogger talked about seeing this "appropriate audiences" banner before seeing Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. A movie that has a PG rating, as we know from this post.

Okay, so I'm changing my analysis here. "Appropriate audiences" is not a synonym for "mature audiences." Maybe it just means "age-appropriate." But then again, are you going to tell me that a trailer you'll see before Ice Age is not appropriate for the adults in the audience?

It seems to be a bit of a tautology, actually: "This trailer is appropriate for anyone who is already watching it anyway." (Is that a tautology? Upon looking it up to confirm my definition, my answer is "sort of," so I will leave it.)

I guess you could conclude that it's the ultimate example of insider baseball. Whoever makes the decisions about which trailers play before which movies has already determined that the trailers you are going to see are appropriate. They've done the vetting so you don't need to even worry. Just sit back and enjoy.

Hmm.

Good old MPAA. The notoriously secretive ratings body does it again -- comes forth with a system that makes sense only to them.

In the old system, trailers themselves had ratings -- not letter ratings, but wording that told you whether you needed to proceed with caution. While this only gave you about a two-second window to cover your kids' eyes, at least that was something. Plus, if you were finding it on the internet, and you were not of the appropriate age to view it, you could theoretically police yourself and stop watching, if you didn't want to have bad dreams or something. (Yeah, like anyone looking up hardcore trailers on the internet is actually going to do that).

But now? Some kid could be looking up The Fourth Kind -- oblivious to its subject matter, because the title doesn't really tell you anything -- and say "Ah! I see it's approved for appropriate audiences. I guess I qualify . . . ?"

Then ... bam! Some dude sitting straight up in bed, his mouth so far open in a brink-of-insanity scream that his face might peel apart, like the Nazis at the end of Raiders.

And yeah, that theoretical innocent self-policing internet surfer is going to be shit out of luck. Bad dreams aplenty to follow.

I'll be monitoring this thing for you, dear readers. Next time I'm in the theater, I'll be watching those trailers like a hawk. Or a really disturbing owl.

You can count on me. I'll always do what's appropriate.

Because hey, if I'm the one defining what's appropriate, that could be just about anything, right?

3 comments:

Daddy Geek Boy said...

You raise a good point. I took the Bean to see G-Force the other day (yes I know, but he's 3 1/2, wanted to see a movie and there wasn't anything else playing). They showed trailers for the Jim Carrey Christmas Carol and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland--in 3-D. Freaky trailers for a little guy.

But in relation to your post, the approved for all audiences isn't about tone, it's about graphic depictions of sex or violence. However you should not worry about these being in front of PG or PG-13 movies. When Hollywood was called in front of Congress in the early Aughts, accused of corrupting our nation's children, they made guidelines where they promised that trailers for R rated movies would not be shown in front of PG or PG 13 movies.

I'm fairly confident that rule is somewhat enforced.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks for the comment DGB. I'm not actually worried about a trailer that's too violent being shown before movies with considerably less violent content, because on the most basic level, a trailer exists to speak to a particular audience. If you're showing trailers for The Fourth Kind in front of Julie & Julia, you're really striking out. I guess I'm most interested in their definition of "appropriate audiences," even if it's just for semantic reasons. If every trailer is going to be approved for "appropriate audiences," that just seems like laziness to me -- like they're saying they can't be bothered to actually rate the contents of trailers anymore.

And actually what I meant when I said I'd be watching like a hawk, well -- that was mostly so I could get in an owl reference again. I really meant I'll be watching to see if this is applied on every trailer, this "appropriate audiences" tag, because that would truly render it completely meaningless. Does a rating really mean anything if there is only one?

Vancetastic said...

I just realized, also, that the "watching like a hawk" comment makes me sound like a member of the Moral Majority or something. Egads, I didn't mean that at all. Curse blogging and all its off-the-cuff word choices ...