Note: This article is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America.
So we’re watching Fast5, right? Like any normal mid-30s couple should do on a beautiful, 80-degree Saturday morning in August. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sun and frolicking in summer as much as the next Oregonian, but sometimes I need me some fast cars, big explosions, and skin… lots of skin (you know, the whole reason Michael Bay is making movies that rake in billions). Anyway, it’s two-thirds of the way through this cinematic pièce de résistance when I blurt out the following:
“You know honey,” as I so often state, “It seems like they can get away with killing as many people as they want in a PG-13 movie, as long as there’s no wounds.”
Flashes of all the R-Rated movies I was raised jogged through my mind. Movies like Robocop, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger, all movies with one thing in common- the squib.
A squib is a very specific piece of equipment that’s used by special effects guys to simulate one thing, and that’s a gunshot wound. It’s usually a tube, or a miniature explosive attached to the outside of a vest, or anything that can create a nice spray of red mist from a person’s body. You’ve seen them a million times… Ever catch Die Hard on cable? Like, the real cable, the kind that doesn’t censor Bruce Willis shouting “Yippie-Kay-Yay-Motherfucker!” It’s the fine art of action movies from an era that has now quickly faded out. In fact the only action movies that use anything close to Robocop-gore are zombie flicks these days… and then? It’s not even real effects. It’s CGI. I don’t think they even use squibs anymore. Somewhere on a mountaintop, Renny Harlin is crying.
I digress. Fast5. So there’s this big shoot-out toward the end of the movie where literally dozens of men are violently gunned-down, grenaded (a new word?), or blown apart by rocket launchers, and all the while not a drop of blood is spilled. There are no squibs, no CGI sprays, just a shitload of guns blazing, and dudes falling down. That’s when my inner child started crying as well (I’m just saying, Cliffhanger is a great movie alright?).
I remember when action movies weren’t safe. I remember when movie studios made movies that didn’t have to be dumbed-down (intentionally) in order to attract a younger audience… but more and more it seems like anything goes in a PG-13 movie as long as there’s no blood, nudity, or sexual dialogue. You can have truly terrifying images, things that would scar a child for many sleepless nights, in movies like Insidious, The Grudge, or even the Harry Potter finale, and still net a wider audience with a PG-13 rating… but if you talk about sex or even say a certain phrase? You get an R. I guess the movie studios are just like every other corporation out there now- obsessed with the bottom line. Maybe that’s the way it’s always been… What do I know, I’m just a mid-30s gangsta from the streets of South Central Salem.
It made me think of our old friend John McClane, from Die Hard, and how this whole thing started with him. The very R-Rated franchise put out three profanity-laced, bullet-riddled, bloody-good action classics (another nod to our sobbing Finnish director) in the 80s and 90s, and then the fourth one was announced in 2005. In 2007, when the movie came out, it was rated PG-13 , for demographic reasons. So despite the fact that Live Free or Die Hard is a completely badass action flick that is just as good as any of the other sequels, it still felt sanitized. They even cut the signature line, “Yippie-Kay-Yay-Mother-Fu-“GUNSHOT.
Other than the pervasive profanity that is missing, this movie still racks up a body count and blows up more parts of Washington DC than I could count. I mean, Bruce Willis kills a helicopter with a damn police car. So when the DVD came out in two versions, the theatrical PG-13, or the “unrated” cut, I of course bought the unrated one. It was exactly the same movie, just with all of the original, unedited dialogue, and all of the digital blood-sprays. It was the first time I remembered seeing such a fine line of difference between what was acceptable for a PG-13 movie nowadays.
There’s no guidelines for any of this rating stuff by the way. Anything you’ve heard about how a movie can only say “fuck” twice or it’ll get an automatic R… yeah’s that’s all bullshit. Well, except when it comes to nudity. If you have nudity, basically of any kind, there’s your R. Maybe you can get away with a boob-shot if you don’t have any violence in your film… but if you spend an hour shooting bad guys by the truck-full and then try to sneak in a bare chest, well there’s your R. It all comes down to a group of men and women who call themselves the Motion Picture Association of America. They got the movie studios to agree to submit every movie they made to them, where they watch it in secret, discuss it, and vote on it. Studios and directors can re-cut movies to get a lower rating, or they can argue their case… which one do you think works?
Seriously, this group is so creepily affected by sex, and at the same time, have a blind eye to the endless slaughter of minions. Millions of minions have died in the name of action-movie glory, only the kid-movies used to get PG-13… and now that’s all gone.
I blame Peter Jackson. He must have killed a hundred thousand disgusting, blood-covered “orcs” in the Lord of the Rings movies… and you know how he got away with it? Well orc blood is black of course. It fit seamlessly into the fantasy aspect of the films, and allowed him to brutally kill by arrow, sword, impaling, stomping, biting, lava-ing, hundreds of digital bad-guys… and get a PG-13 rating. You know how else he did it? No elf boobies.
Lastly Michael Bay. Bless his blonde little heart. I’ve been a Bay-addict since Bad Boys I, since The Rock (one of the best action movies ever put on film by the way), since Playboy Video Centerfold: Kerri Kendall… I’m talkin’ way back. Michael Bay gets a lot of crap, and whatever, I’m sick of it. Bay, I’m in your corner buddy. The man squeezes more style into every single frame of a movie than most movies have in the whole 90 minutes. Yes, his movies are cartoons, that’s what they’re supposed to be. It’s not like he’s doing this shit accidentally… but I have an issue.
My 4-year-old son is obsessed with Transformers. The robots in disguise are all he talks about, morning, noon, and night. Now, I’ve let him watch parts of the first two Michael Bay Transformers movies, and in retrospect… probably a bad decision. Either I’m getting older and fuddy-duddier, or these aren’t the kid-friendly die-cast toys I used to play with for hours on end. Michael Bay does the same thing with giant, transforming robots as Peter Jackson did with orcs. He gets away with suspenseful, violent, and awe-inspiring fight scenes and shoot-outs where, again, literally hundreds of innocent people are vaporized. Or he gets away with ripping your kids’ favorite Transformer to pieces, oil, hydraulic fluid, and parts flying everywhere like blood-splatter… Try explaining what just happened to Jazz to a 4-year-old (disregarding the deeper, more philosophical music question that comes to mind). Perfect exploitation of the rating system. Damn it Bay.
So I’m sitting there, growing bored and fascinated by the Fast and the Furious, and what it means for America. Because the simple fact is, even when movies were rated R, as 11 year old kids we got to see them all the time. Either we had horrible parents, or theaters and video stores were way more lax with their enforcement… However there was still a feeling of getting away with something. Now we’re straight up telling youngsters it’s ok to watch this stuff. Impressionable minds who think “Wow, that’s so cool!” and don’t think there’s anything wrong with what they’re seeing. When Steven Spielberg suggested to the MPAA they should implement an “in-between” rating to bridge PG and R, do you think he had these two in mind?
Well thanks, MPAA, you weird, secret cult you. Thank you for making a cookie-cutter process for judging artistic expression that allows movies like Fast5 and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, both clearly R-Rated flicks, to sneak past with a few edits… And to let movies like The King’s Speech get slapped with an R because of the word fuck. I mean seriously. We will let our kids watch movies where dozens are violently killed, blown up, run-through, smashed by cars, blown up again (and then have some girls in tight-clothes run around of course)… but when it comes to hearing a word in the English language, or seeing something that they too have on their chest or between their legs and deal with every day… well that’s taboo.
I say, we, the people, need to get rid of these guys. They’re not a government body. They’re not associated with anyone but themselves. They are a secret gang of overlords who control what we see with their own values and opinions.
That’s fucked up.