Should producer convert R-rated 'The King's Speech' into family fare?
'The King's Speech' was given an R rating solely for the use of profanity in some key scenes. As the producer reportedly considers re-editing the Oscar-nominated movie, the idea is getting poor reviews.
Laurie Sparham/The Weinstein Company/AP
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt think I wanted to see an historical drama about a king who stutters,‚ÄĚ says Imogene Bartha, the mother of a 13-year-old boy, as she flips through the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times in a local coffee shop. ‚ÄúBut now here‚Äôs this ad telling me it got more Oscar nominations than any other movie, so I‚Äôm inclined to check it out.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIt‚ÄĚ is the highly acclaimed movie ‚ÄúThe King‚Äôs Speech,‚ÄĚ starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush, all of whom were nominated for acting honors. Mr. Firth plays Queen Elizabeth II‚Äôs stuttering father, King George VI, who seeks the assistance of speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Mr. Rush, on the eve of World War II. The film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Ms. Bartha‚Äôs one dilemma, she says, is presented by her son. Can she see the movie with him? The movie is rated R, which means, says the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), it ‚Äúmay include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.‚ÄĚ
Now, in an apparent attempt to avoid such dilemmas by potential moviegoers and reach a wider audience, ‚ÄúSpeech‚ÄĚ producer Harvey Weinstein is reported to be planning to re-edit the film. The movie received an R rating due to two or three short but important scenes in which the king swears repeatedly in an effort to correct his stammer.
‚ÄúThe British numbers are huge because the rating lets families see the movie together,‚ÄĚ Weinstein is quoted as saying in the British newspaper The Guardian. Director ‚ÄúTom [Hooper] and I are trying to find a unique way to do this that keeps his vision of the movie.‚ÄĚ
Weinstein, whose ‚ÄúShakespeare in Love‚ÄĚ won Best Picture in 1998, is considered to have top-tier marketing and movie instincts. But several critics say the idea of altering this movie is ill-advised. Some are criticizing the MPAA‚Äôs rating system for not being nuanced enough. The MPAA responds that its system is merely a guide for parents, nothing more.
New focus on friendship?
‚ÄúThis is a very bad idea indeed. The movie is perfect the way it is,‚ÄĚ says Wheeler Winston Dixon, editor of the Quarterly Review of Film and Video at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. ‚ÄúWhen you try to recut the best film of 2010, the reason better be for artistic reasons or more enhancement. But this scene is the heart of the movie and is not gratuitous or for shock value. But the simple reason of trying to make more money is unconscionable and is a move that should not be countenanced.‚ÄĚ
[Editor's note: The above quote has been corrected.]
The Guardian also reports that Weinstein, to attract wider crowds, plans to refocus attention on the friendship between the king and his therapist, with new advertisements.
The original descriptive line was ‚ÄúIt takes leadership to confront a nation‚Äôs fear. It takes friendship to conquer your own.‚ÄĚ Besides touting the film‚Äôs 12 Oscar nominations, new taglines will read, ‚ÄúSome things never go out of style: Friendship; Courage; Loyalty.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThis seems like an odd tactic to me,‚ÄĚ says Robert Elder, film columnist and author of ‚ÄúThe Film That Changed My Life.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not like it hasn‚Äôt found its audience. I don‚Äôt know any 14-year-olds who are clamoring for an historical drama about a king with a stammer. When I go to an R-rated movie, I personally look forward to an audience not filled with teenagers.‚ÄĚ
Dixon, Elder, and others point to the fact that many filmmakers manipulate their films prior to release to get a different rating or to deal with criticism. Responding to charges of anti-Semitism, Mel Gibson famously decided to not translate a particular line in 2004‚Äôs ‚ÄúThe Passion of the Christ.‚ÄĚ Todd Solonz‚Äôs 2001 ‚ÄúStorytelling‚ÄĚ put red boxes over explicit sex scenes.
'Archaic rating system'
‚ÄúI guess they could just bleep out the profanity like they do on cable TV for instance, and it wouldn't be too terrible,‚ÄĚ says Picktainment.com‚Äôs Phil Wallace. ‚ÄúMaybe they can do that in some theaters, but not in others.‚ÄĚ
But ‚Äúthe real issue is the MPAA and its archaic rating system,‚ÄĚ he says. The profanity is ‚Äúsomewhat essential to the story as it‚Äôs an honest depiction of individuals with stuttering problems. The swearing is used in the least offensive way of any movie I've seen and hardly deserving of an R-rating. Yet the MPAA continues to give PG-13 ratings to raunchy teen sex comedies which are far more offensive.‚ÄĚ
The MPAA is going out of its way to remind moviegoers that the entire purpose of the rating system is to inform parents about content.
‚ÄúThis is not for critics or filmmakers or marketers,‚ÄĚ says Elizabeth Kaltman, Los Angeles spokeswoman for the MPAA. ‚ÄúThe criticism we hear about this system is generated by clever marketing executives who are trying to get buzz for their movies. It‚Äôs important to note that we rarely, if ever, get told by parents that our rating has been too restrictive and the movie should be more accessible to children. The R rating doesn‚Äôt ever mean that parents can‚Äôt take children to see a movie. All it says is ‚Äėyou parents should educated about this before you take children to the theater.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
No one at the MPAA, says Ms. Kaltman, can ever remember a time when a filmmaker has tried to resubmit a film for a different rating after it has already been released. But occasionally, she says, that happens when a film is about to be sold on DVD.
Movie benefits from Oscar buzz
Oscar buzz has already improved the fortunes of ‚ÄúThe King‚Äôs Speech," says Harry Medved, spokesman for movie ticketing service Fandango.
‚ÄúFor several weeks in a row, ‚ÄėThe King's Speech‚Äô has been slowly but surely appearing among our top five ticket-sellers,‚ÄĚ Mr. Medved says. ‚ÄúBut on Tuesday it moved up to the top spot as Fandango's top ticket-seller of the day. You wouldn't expect any film with the words ‚ÄėKing‚Äô or ‚ÄėSpeech‚Äô in the title to be a true crowd-pleaser, but this little movie continues to pack select theaters across the country, and shows no signs of slowing down.‚ÄĚ
Medved notes that according to historical accounts, the king really used the profanity as part of his therapy, and that in the movie ‚Äúit makes for an amusing sequence.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúMost informed and discriminating parents will know there‚Äôs just a tiny spot of profanity in the movie,‚ÄĚ he says, ‚Äúand they‚Äôll take their older kids to see it regardless of the rating.‚ÄĚ
The Weinstein Co. did not respond to several attempts for comment.