Most specifically surrounding their increased use of the 12A certificate.
Now don’t get me wrong I’ve liked the way that the BBFC has progressed over the last few years in allowing adults to make up their own minds whilst ensuring that certain trends don’t become too prevalent (especially their stance with regards sexual violence which has always been strong). However, this trickiest of certificates now seems to be stuck between two extremes and drifting towards the MPAA’s model.
First a bit of history. The current 12A certificate is not the same as the previous 12 certificate. The previous one was no admittance to under twelves and was developed in response to Batman which had teen appeal but was felt to be a little too strong for PG audiences (which required that anyone under the age of twelve be accompanied by a parent or guardian). It lagged a little behind the MPAA’s PG-13 which had been brought in a few years before in response to Indianna Jones & The Temple of Doom.
Fast forward about ten years and Spiderman was released. Afraid that local cinema’s would lose revenue many local councils – as is their power with any film (most famously Crash) – altered the certificate to a PG in order to allow kids to see it. The BBFC responded with 12A (since abbreviated back to 12) which stated that anyone under the age of 12 needed to be accompanied by a parent or guardian – that is, legally it has no difference between it and PG other than it denotes caution. The first film to recieve this certificate was The Bourne Identity, Spiderman was re-submitted and awarded the same certificate.
Now the guidelines for a film seeking a 12 certificate are as follows;
The film can have an adult theme.
Swearing is allowed, but sexualised swearing is discouraged (otherwise known as the “one fuck” rule, studios will write a single use in to a film to automatically raise the certificate to increase teen appeal).
Violence is allowed, but should not focus on pain, blood or be of an imitable technique.
Nudity is allowed, but should be of a none sexual nature.
Sexual situations are allowed, but should be mild in nature.
Drug use is allowed, but should not focus on technique nor glamorise the use.
Interestingly the only differences between a 12 and a 15 regard the use of swearing and nudity / sex.
Lets look at three recent examples. Casino Royale and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix were both rated 12. Die Hard 4.0 was rated 15.
Potter is the immediately odd one out in that its fantasy setting means that the violence it contained was of a none imitable nature. Similarly the swearing was limited to what could be called BBC swearing – bloody, bugger et al.
However having watched the other two I can find little difference between them in terms of content except for one “Yippee-kayee motherfucker”. Indeed, Casino was by far the harder film in terms of violence and was far more imitable – few will be able to pick up a gun and use it to shoot intruders, but tying someone to a chair and taking a carpet beater to their wedding tackle is far easier for the average twelve year old. Both showed their heroes becoming gradually more bloodied, but one gets a 12 certificate and the other 15.
All I’m asking for is a little clarity in their decisions. The 12 certificate does have a place but is becoming a little bit of a joke. Many of my colleagues will now ask me whether I’ve seen something and think its appropriate for a ten year old because they can’t trust the warnings, and I’m not at all qualified to do that, which means they aren’t being taken seriously any more.