Saturday, January 26, 2013

No restrictions

Earlier this week I wrote about a movie (Mama) I was surprise to see get a PG-13 rating. Now I'm writing about one I'm surprised to see get an R.

Who would have thought that any studio desperate to capitalize on the dying embers of the Twilight phenomenon would slap a restrictive R rating on the same type of movie?

You could argue that Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is not going for the same audience, but I think you'd be fooling yourself. It may be one extra degree removed, but the relationship is pretty explicit. Hansel & Gretel reminds a person of Red Riding Hood, which reminds a person of Twilight. Not that far to go.

In fact, so sure was I that it would be PG-13 that when someone posted the red band trailer on Facebook and speculated that this meant the movie would be R, I did everything short of calling him a fool. Yet he was right.

The curious decision to include enough violence and/or nudity to earn the R shows that studios are no longer shying away from the R the way they once were. They clearly recognize that an R rating does not stop determined teenagers, and may in fact may give them greater encouragement to see the movie in question. Which basically means that studios think theaters don't really police the selling of tickets, and they're probably right. After all, there isn't the same kind of penalty for selling movie tickets to an underage person as there is for selling cigarettes or alcohol to that same underage person. There actually may be no penalty at all. Or perhaps there's a theoretical penalty that never gets practically enforced. Can you imagine someone engaging in this kind of sting, sending a 14-year-old to buy tickets to an R movie the way they sometimes send 14-year-olds to buy cigarettes? I didn't think so.

And by placing greater "restrictions" on the audience, they're actually removing the restrictions they place on their filmmakers. My guess is that however good Hansel & Gretel ends up being, a couple of bloody witch beheadings and perhaps an errant tit or two will make it that much better.

And it's not just the latest potential Jeremy Renner franchise (seriously, doesn't this guy have better things to do than this movie?) that shows studios are noticing the box office power of R-rated films like Ted and The Hangover. In three weeks A Good Day to Die Hard will drop, also with the same R rating that the original three Die Hards carried, the same R rating that was abandoned for Live Free or Die Hard. As though to welcome the return of the R rating with open arms, Fox has been running with the tagline "Yippee Ki Yay Mother Russia," as though promising to complete John McClane's trademark phrase -- which was famously clipped before it could finish in Live Free. (Which is kind of the opposite of "living free," when you think about it.)

Hansel & Gretel is a bit different, though. We all know that R-rated action movies can succeed, but R-rated fantasy? It's been a much more untested realm. I think of movies like Excalibur, The Sword and the Sorcerer and Conan the Barbarian from my childhood, and I remember even then being confused about why I wasn't allowed to watch them. How could a movie with men carrying swords be rated R? It just didn't compute. Excalibur in particular took on a huge fascination for me, though not enough to have sought it out as an adult, I guess. In fact, I've seen none of those three.

In recent years there have been a couple other fantasy movies that have scored Rs, specifically, two movies from 2011: Immortals, probably a bloodier 300 (I didn't see it) and Your Highness, a stoner comedy that happens to be set in a fantasy world, and includes some boobs and a prosthetic monster penis. But neither of those movies seemed to expect their audiences to cross over with the Twilight audience.

You could say that even more than Ted and The Hangover, there's another recent successful entertainment commodity that gave MGM and Paramount the courage for this particular R: Game of Thrones, in which bare-chested women and gushing blood are so commonplace, they are almost gratuitous. Yet that has been one of the great critical and popular successes of the past couple years, its content not the least impediment to reaching a wide audience.

Lest you be worried that the next Pixar movie is going to be rated R, let me assure you that there are plenty of movies still content to go the "old-fashioned" route. On the very same day that A Good Day to Die Hard releases, a more traditional Valentine's Day movie also hits theaters: Beautiful Creatures, which is as naked a capitalization on Twilight as anything that's come out since Twilight first hit the scene.

Quaintly, it's rated "only" PG-13. 

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