Tuesday, April 28, 2009

... Terminator Salvation's PG-13 Rating

Why Terminator Salvation probably won't suffer from a PG-13 Rating

A few years back there was a massive public outcry (in fanboy terms at least) when the fourth Die Hard movie was given a PG-13 rating. Yet with the latest Terminator movie getting a PG-13 rating as well, the public seems relatively indifferent. So why do fanboys feel let down by one R-rated franchise going family friendly but not care about another one?

1. "Yippie Kay-yay Motherfucker"
These three words pretty much define the reason why people loved the Die Hard movies. They were brash, violent and over the top. The franchise's main draw may have been that it allowed viewers to vicariously live out the fantasy of being an average joe turned action hero, but just as much of a draw was the violence and the language. The best moments of the series were always when somebody got killed in an unnecessary manner or when characters snapped clever lines of dialogue back and forth that were littered with f-bombs. 

When word got out about Live Free or Die Hard's PG-13 rating, viewers automatically knew what to expect: considerably less violence and pretty much no swearing. In fact, most of my friends were strangely fixated on whether or not McClane would even get to say his catch phrase, since the MPAA only occasionally lets the word "fuck" be uttered when kids are present in the audience, and in those cases the movie gets away with it once. 

Predictably, the result was what everybody expected. We all ended up paying ten bucks to see what felt like the "edited for cable" version on the silver screen. While they did manage to get the catch-phrase in as something other than, "Yippie kay-yay Mr. Falcon," (watch it on cable and you'll know what I mean,) it still felt neutered. 

But the violence and swearing was never really a defining aspect of the Terminator Movies. People were drawn more by the fighting robots, constant explosions and endless supply of ammunition being spent. Sure, when you put all of those things together in a movie its inevitably going to result in lots of violent onscreen deaths, but depicting those deaths in an over-the-top manner was never something that enhanced or hindered the movie. No, what really makes a Terminator movie is a big scary robot holding a machine gun while an ominous drum beats in the background. Based on the trailers, it looks like we'll see plenty of that, so that's one thing to not worry about.

2. Its a different movie anyway
Salvation has a drastically different premise from the three previous Terminator movies. Instead of the astonishingly well executed B-movie premise of people being stalked by a killer robot, it's a tale of all of humanity fighting for its survival. Salvation is almost a spin-off movie in the way other franchises such as X-Men have been spun off with Wolverine, except instead of showing a character's origin, we see his ending. More importantly the focus in this film is entirely on John Connor instead of Schwarzenegger's Terminator.

Since the story is going in a new direction, its foreseeable that if more sequels get made, the movies featuring the Older John Connor could have a fan base independent of the Schwarzenegger movies. This would be like how some people love the original Star Wars Trilogy but hate the prequels because the story shifted from being an episodic pulp space-western to a character study of Anakin Skywalker. With a new focus to the story, it seems more acceptable to change the tone of it as well. A viewer seems less likely to compare it to the previous movies and will instead judge it on its own merits simply because all the changes make it seem like a brand new franchise.

On the other hand, Live Free or Die Hard was supposed to be entirely along the same lines as its predecessors. Granted, it did maintain the same level of outrageousness in some aspects as the first three movies. For example, there was the scene where McClane takes out a helicopter  in the air using a car. Unfortunately, by taking out all the language and violence, it ended up feeling like a much tamer movie than the other Die Hards, which it should rightfully be compared to.

3. It faces some stiff competition this summer
Okay, clearly this was the main reason why Die Hard 4 and Terminator 4 got the PG-13 rating, and on this one I'll let Die Hard slide. Since video piracy is running a bit rampant these days, and people are leaning more toward waiting until movies come out on video to see them, filmmakers have an incentive to draw as many potential viewers as they can to the theaters. By taking away the restriction that one have a parent or legal guardian present with them in the theatre, scores of bored teenagers can see the movie whenever they want with their friends, instead of waiting for their parents to take them... or trying to sneak past the ushers.

Considering that there are at least three other eagerly awaited big budget sci-fi movies this summer, (Wolverine, Star Trek and Transformers,) one of which also features big-ass killer robots, its understandable that producers wouldn't want to bet the farm entirely on the over-17 demographic.

Hopefully Terminator Salvation ends up meeting expectations and doesn't leave us feeling like something was missing because the violence was toned down. But in the event that it does end up feeling a little weak, at least we have the promise of an unrated director's cut when it gets released on video.

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