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Interesting Insight Into UK Film Classifications

October 3, 2002 at 11:18 am by xoanon  - 

Ben writes:

Why Lord of the Rings was a ‘PG’ and Spiderman was rated ’12’ in the UK

A few weeks ago I sent along a small email to the BBFC asking why Spiderman was rated ’12’ and Rings was rated ‘PG’. The Latter (in the opinions of most being tamer). Below is the BBFC’s responce and reading it kinda makes some sense.

Dear Ben

Thank you for your correspondence regarding the classification of the film Spider-Man. As one of the BBFC examiners responsible for the classification of this film I have been asked to reply to you.

In classifying any work BBFC examiners are required to be mindful both of government legislation and of BBFC guidelines for the various classification categories. These guidelines refer to the various issues that are considered before a classification is awarded to any film, video or digital media work and classification issues include language, sex/sexual references, violence, drugs use and horror. Examiners also take into account elements such as the general tone of each work. Spider-Man was found to contain scenes of personalised violence with elements of detail which are not containable at the PG classification according to current classification guidelines.

The current classification guidelines were launched in September 2000 after a considerable period of consultation and research (which featured a major national opinion poll, extended focus groups and public road shows). The Board therefore has considerable confidence that its classification decisions comply with public expectations of what may be included at the various classifications.

The key classification issue for Spider-Man is violence and current guidelines for the ‘PG’ classification indicate that “Moderate violence, without detail, may be allowed – if justified by its setting (e.g. historic, comedy or fantasy)”. The violence in Spider-Man is strong and highly personalised and there was never any question that the film would be given a ‘PG’ classification without cuts. In fact some of the violence borders on the sort which is usually only containable at a ’15’ classification.

The Lord Of The Rings was not the first time that the BBFC passed a scary film at PG with a warning to parents. Both ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park II’ were dealt with in the same way. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, the dinosaur films placed modern day human children in mortal peril, although the fantasy context was similarly clear. Other fantasy adventures passed PG over many years, such as ‘Willow’ and ‘Legend’, although different in many respects, have also included comparable sequences of violence and horror.

For classification purposes, fantasy settings are specifically cited as a mitigating factor for prolonged or intense frightening sequences. Our judgement in respect to The Lord Of The Rings was that most children aged 8 and above would find it an exciting and exhilarating experience and would understand that the scary and violent sequences were fantasy rather than real. Although the violence is impactful at times, no individual act is dwelt on and there is little or no sight of blood. Most children enjoy intense feelings of excitement as anyone who has been to a theme park is aware, and most are very well aware of the possibilities of special effects in films.

Spider-Man uses imitable street violence in a modern, urban setting. Much of the violence in Spider-Man is personalised one-on-one violence when Peter Parker is himself, not Spider-Man. He uses his new found strength to wreak retribution against people who have hurt him and his family sending the message that violence is the way to solve problems. Even the final showdown with the Green Goblin is too strong for a ‘PG’. The Board did not consider that this level and type of violence was suitable for very young children.

It is unfortunate that the marketing for Spider-man has been aimed at young children when the film itself is not (from a BBFC point of view) suitable for them. The BBFC is not alone in Europe in being concerned enough about the violence in the film to give it a classification that prevents very young children from seeing it. The classification in Germany, for example, prevents children under 12 from seeing the film. The ‘PG’ classification in the UK would allow unaccompanied children of any age to see the film. It would be completely inappropriate for the BBFC to classify films based on commercial pressures.

The ’12’ cinema classification only restricted children under 12 from seeing a ’12’ classification film at a cinema. Obviously in the home the decision to allow children to see a film lies with the parents. The ’12’ classification (and now, the 12A) informs parents that the BBFC has concerns about young children seeing this film.

At the end of August 2002 the BBFC launched a new classification. The 12A is an advisory classification which allows younger children to view a film if accompanied by an adult and provided there is Consumer Advice available on publicity and advertising for the film, including listings in local newspapers. This classification was launched following evaluation of the results of a national survey, talking to the distributors and exhibitors about the provision of consumer advice and piloting of the classification in Norwich. A new orange ’12A’ symbol has been introduced for cinema films, with the old ’12’ symbol remaining for video. There will continue to be films in the cinema with the old ’12’ certificate, which were classified before today’s announcement. But all ’12’ films, as well as newly-rated ’12A’ films, will be open to children under 12 accompanied by an adult. The Board will use the same Guidelines to classify ’12A’ films as have been used to classify ’12’ films and videos.

As a parent of a six year old son who was extremely keen to see Spider-Man and greatly miffed that his dad was one of the people responsible for the ’12’ classification I more than understand parents, carers and children who are upset about the fact that the decision as to whether or not children view this film has been taken out of their hands and anticipate that the 12A classification will be a be a welcome response to their concerns. On the other hand I wish to point out that each new film is released into a context of viewing habits and expectations which are also shaped by existing classification categories and the BBFC recognises that viewers expect consistent guidance as to the content of a film and the suitability of that film for young cinema viewers.

Yours sincerely

Rana Johal
Film and Video Examiner

Posted in Old Special Reports on October 3, 2002 by

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