Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ain't nuthin' but a G rating

Warning: The following post contains spoilers about the movie Silent Running. 

Nuclear explosions. Murder. Suicide. The end of all plant life on Earth.

Just what your average six-year-old seeks out when they go to the movies.

The last thing I noticed as Silent Running finished playing on my Netflix last night was that screen they used to devote to displaying the film's rating, back in the old days. And I was surprised -- nay, shocked -- to note that the film had been rated G.

Not G for Grown-Up or G for Geriatric. G for General Audiences. You know, the rating that almost doesn't even exist anymore because it's so lame. The rating that has been almost entirely supplanted by PG, even in the case of animated movies.

In 1972, apparently, things were different. In 1972, General Audiences could go see a movie set in a dystopian future, in which our planet has been totally deforested, and the only remaining plants exist inside geodesic domes affixed to large space vessels. General Audiences could go see a movie where an order comes down from high command to launch these domes a safe distance from the space vessels, and then detonate them via nuclear blast, so the vessels could return to commercial use. General Audiences could go see a movie where a devoted botanist who's been caring for these plants kills the other three crew members on his ship, one by crushing his windpipe with a shovel, the other two by trapping them inside one of the other domes before it detonates. General Audiences could go see a movie where this devoted botanist eventually takes his own life by destroying the space vessel, before first launching the one remaining dome into space where it will be tended for the rest of eternity by a little worker robot named Dewey.

In other words, a really good movie with an astonishing performance by Bruce Dern, but a movie that is nonetheless not appropriate for a six-year-old.

Just to be clear, the MPAA's official explanation for the G rating is: "Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children." Um, as a parent, I'll have to get back to you on Silent Running.

Those were simpler times, of course, and to be fair, nothing in Silent Running is truly graphic. The shovel strangulation scene, for example, is staged so awkwardly -- though I can't tell if it's poor technique or a specific attempt to avoid the appearance of graphic violence -- that it appears to be missing frames. The most graphic thing in the movie, in fact, is a nasty knee injury the devoted botanist gets, which bleeds all over the place. The blood is such a fake bright red, though, that it too is a few degrees removed from realism.

Still, I can hardly imagine the current MPAA board sitting there and deciding that no ratings restrictions whatsoever should be placed on this movie. The simple phrase "adult content" would be enough for this movie to get a PG, and likely a PG-13, in this day and age.

The fact that this movie is the inspiration for a mocking post should not be misconstrued. After it started slowly with an undeniable dose of dated cheese (the Joan Baez songs probably did that all by themselves), the movie became one of the more interesting science fiction films I've seen in a while, delivering excellently on sci-fi's first promise to use otherworldly elements to comment on very real problems in our present world. The nascent environmental movement certainly had a friend in Silent Running, I can tell you that.

I was also interested to see how many newer movies owe a debt to this movie, everything from A.I.: Artificial Intelligence to The Fountain to Sunshine to Moon. With 2001: A Space Odyssey effects guru Douglas Trumbull at the helm, the film also looks damn good for something made in the early 1970s.

I suppose if I had been a six-year-old in 1972, I would have wanted to see it -- though I should probably immediately revoke that contention and acknowledge that the same six-year-old who was bored by 2001 and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as has recently been discussed, probably would have been bored by this as well.

And that gets at the other function, hinted at above, of a rating: It's not only protecting children from things they shouldn't see, it's advising parents of what they'll actually want to see.

Then again, it's called the movie "business" for a reason. If you can squeeze a few extra bucks out of parents for a movie that will bore their children, and their children aren't disturbed by scenes of implied windpipe-crushing, then go for it.


1001: A Film Odyssey is produced, directed and written by Chris, a librarian. said...

Still a favorite of mine, though perhaps a bit dated in some ways as you say.

I think its safe to say George Lucas got the R2D2 inspiration from the robots here, as many others have pointed out.

Also interesting to see the younger Bruce Dern here after seeing him recently in Nebraska.

Vancetastic said...

R2-D2, of course. It's so funny that I looked at the adorable little lurching steps of the drones and didn't immediately think of R2. I wonder if that's because R2 is more defined by his beeps and boops than his appearance.

I thought the same thing about Bruce Dern. Emphasis on the -er in younger -- he doesn't actually seem that young, even in 1972 at age 35.

Great to hear from you, Chris!