Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bleeping airplane movies

One of only two times I've ever flown first class -- both times by lucky upgrade, I can assure you -- was travelling to my cousin's wedding in Atlanta in 1999. This was probably also the first time I privately watched a movie on my own seatback entertainment system. I still remember today that the movie was Croupier, one of Clive Owen's earliest films, and sort of a breakout for him -- though I personally didn't dig it. I remember it because I wasn't sure whether we'd get to see the full, unedited version of the movie on the plane. Once Alex Kingston, erstwhile of ER, disrobed part of the way through, I had my answer, and was thrilled by the possibilities of private airplane entertainment.

Well, that was then, this is now.

I certainly understand that particular images must be edited out of movies on planes, because there's no way to control which content is randomly witnessed by which small children wandering which aisles. What I don't understand, though, is why the dialogue must be edited on a movie that you have chosen to watch privately, through headphones only.

Yet that was predominantly the case on the five flights I took during my recent trip to the U.S., a trip whose jet lag is still affecting me a full four days after I returned.

I first noticed it during Begin Again, John Carney's better-than-expected follow-up to Once. One "No freaking way" might have been written into the script, but when it was followed up quickly by a "bullcrap," I knew that I was, indeed, involved in a very bullcrap situation. My viewing of the movie was not necessarily tainted, as I still really enjoyed it. But I wondered whether the full, unfiltered version would have satisfied me all the more. I imagined Mark Ruffalo dropping real f-bombs, rather than these little f-bellyflops, and knew that I had missed out on something.

I followed that up with The Fault in Our Stars, figuring that a movie intended for teenage girls would probably have a pre-approved, profanity-free dialogue track. Nope. This one was edited too, even with probably fewer than ten instances of naughty language overall.

Seeking to move toward greater certainty of a clean and unedited product, I selected period pieces as my next two movies on the flight: Belle and Magic in the Moonlight. These two also carried warnings about editing for content, though I did not notice anyone calling anything "bullcrap" in turn of 19th century England.

And though I liked all of these films quite a bit, dolling out three four-star ratings and considering a fourth such rating (Fault just ran on too long after hitting its sublime stride midway through), I did feel a bit cheated by Qantas Airlines for giving me a neutered and sanitized version of these movies. Aren't Australians supposed to be less prudish about language? You'd think so -- people swear on regular TV here.

I suppose the thinking is that a really savvy kid -- okay, even a halfway savvy kid -- could easily watch something verboten when his/her parent or parents are asleep. On a flight as long as the one from Australia to the U.S., there are ample opportunities to sneak in some forbidden viewing. I guess the airline thinks it's its responsibility to minimize that potential.

So, figuring I needed to head toward even more kiddie material the next day on my United flight from Los Angeles to Boston, I watched a Disney movie (Maleficent) and a Dreamworks movie (How to Train Your Dragon 2). Both appear to have been unmolested.

What really got my goat was when I was flying the fourth flight, from Denver to Los Angeles (the third, from Boston to Denver, had no video screens to speak of), and I paid good money for DirecTV in order to watch the inferior comedy Tammy. Even this was bleeped, though I suppose only a hint of Melissa McCarthy's grotesque shtick goes a long way. (Making matters more annoying, I was supposed to get $2 off per DirecTV rental if I bought at least three with the same card -- but my credit card statement did not show the discount.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when the first movie on my return trip to Australia -- Wish I Was Here -- included an f-bomb in the very first scene, as well as Zach Braff's bare ass in a masturbation scene just a few minutes later.


So some movies are edited for language/content, but not all of them? Or did Qantas randomly loosen its standards in the two weeks between my first trip across the Pacific and my second one?

The next movie was Earth to Echo, a kids movie anyway, but then I got little bursts or profanity in both What We Do in the Shadows and These Final Hours, to finish out the trip. These Final Hours even included an orgy scene with a bunch of naked boobs, bringing us full circle to Croupier.

My ultimate conclusion is that if there was a dubbed version of the movie, they chose that one, but if there wasn't, they chose the full, unedited, R-rated version -- and didn't give it a second thought.


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