Part of my job at the GUIDON is to enter the weekly movie listings for Abrams Theater, and as an amateur film buff, it’s usually a lot of fun.
However, as a writer and editor, one of my pet peeves is the needlessly nonsensical warnings issued by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Take the recent rating for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:” “Rated PG for frenetic sequences of animated action violence, thematic elements and mild language.”
Woah there, MPAA. You could’ve just said “violence and language” and given parents the same information.
It’s no secret that MPAA ratings can be notoriously wordy, subjective, inconsistent and, at times, even contradict themselves.
Part of the problem with the ratings system is that the MPAA’s membership is made up primarily of film and television industry representatives. In other words, much like America’s professional sports leagues, our movie industry regulates itself, which has given us some arbitrary — and sometimes amusing — ratings results.
One of the organization’s most infamous gaffes occurred in 2002 with the animated movie “Ice Age.” It was rated PG for “mild peril.” That’s like having a case of nearly safe danger.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the ratings gurus have several favorite buzzwords, which often make little or no sense to me.
For example, most offending violence takes place during “sequences” of this or that. “Aquaman” and “Ready: Player One” were both rated PG-13 in part for “sequences of sci-fi action and violence.”
As a viewer, I’m not sure why it’s important for the MPAA to tell me that the violence is contained in sequences.
When I’m watching a film for the first time, I don’t have any advance warning that a sequence is about to begin. It’s not like I can take my young nieces and nephews to the movies and tell them, “enjoy the film, kids, but watch out for the sequences! They’re violent and actiony!”
Another of my favorite MPAA descriptors is “thematic elements,” which, if you think about it, can mean anything.
The recent Queen bioflick, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” was rated PG-13 primarily for “thematic elements,” (this tells me nothing) along with “suggestive material,” (again, this could mean a wide range of subjects) and “drug content and language.” At least the last two reasons were specific.
Why didn’t they lead with that?
Although it was founded to be a guide for parents, it often seems like the current ratings system is busy promoting movies rather than giving parents the straightforward answers they need to determine whether a particular movie is right for them and their family.
That’s too bad, because the ratings system should be informative and useful, first and foremost.
So, what’s a responsible parent to do?
Doing your own research — various websites offer in-depth reports — and relying on word of mouth are some ways.
Ultimately, you have to trust your own judgment as a parent when considering whether to see a particular movie or not. After all, you know your tastes, your family’s values and your children better than anyone.
At some point, however, you may run into a situation where something on the big screen that you or your children find scary or objectionable gets through. This may present some challenges, but it’s also a good time to practice and teach resilience.
As my grandmother used to tell me, “nearly everything that happens in the movies only happens in the movies.”