Film - Why Are We All Considered 12?

12 certificate

Steve Taylor-Bryant remembers how a friend’s tweet sparked the subject of film ratings in his messed up head...

I love Twitter. It makes me angry, happy, sad, and soppy in equal measure on a daily basis. I use it a lot for the DreamCage Media Group as the networking tool for which it was first designed, we at /G-f use it to peddle our wares as well as to interact with you groovy folk and I use my personal Twitter feed to catch up with distant friends, argue with you groovy lot and basically have public meltdowns. I follow some very intelligent people and like to think that we all help improve ourselves as we learn our way through the world via technology. I remember when a good friend of mine and an author of some repute, Dom Conlon sent a tweet commenting on how he enjoyed watching The Empire Strikes Back with his son and how he wished Marvel would take note that you can make a great film at the U rating, it doesn't have to be a 12. This of course sparked insanity in my warped mind and the following is, hopefully, that insanity written in an understandable way.

When I was a child the 12 rating didn't exist in the way we know it now, by which I mean it wasn't in massive circulation like it is today. The film industry survived, in fact it was thriving. The world wasn't ending, even though we were living in a Cold War environment with heightened terrorist alerts and trouble brewing the Middle East (some things never change) so I started to look at where the fascination with having to be 12 to enjoy films began as, like Dom, I don't understand it. The first mainstream 12 rating I remember was in 1989 with the release of Tim Burton's Batman film. This, for me, is also where the problem started but I'll get to that later. The 12 rating was quite strict. It wasn’t an advisory age limit, it carried the same weight as the older more familiar 15 and 18 ratings always did. No one under the age of 12 permitted. Unfortunately the waters were to get muddied further a few years later as up until 1994 the cinematic 12 rating didn’t carry over to video rental, where the films were still 15. It was confused further after over a decade later than Batman when the BBFC introduced the 12A rating which meant that no one under the age of 12 could watch a film in a cinema without the company of an adult. When Spider-Man came out there was uproar as it wasn’t understood why children couldn’t watch a superhero film. The BBFC, to their credit, were in the process of implementing the 12A at the time and so Spider-Man was eventually reclassified. The Bourne Identity was the first 12A classification and, trust me, that is coming up in a moment as well.

The reasoning behind the 12 rating originally was to allow younger audiences to view things that their American counterparts could under the PG-13 advisory rating Stateside. But this is where my problems begin. Even at the time it seemed a little bit like the rating was introduced due to pressure from Big Studio types, like we were supposed to placate them in some way. It felt like the reason we were being giving about the children (Oh, won’t somebody think of the children) was just an excuse for studios to do what they wanted. In 1989 the 12 was new and there wasn't much outrage about young children not being able to watch a superhero film but, by the time Spider-Man came out, everyone was up in the faces of the BBFC demanding to know why little Tommy or Jessica couldn’t watch their favourite web slinger, but when accompanied by an adult they could watch Matt Damon beat the shit out of just about everyone. Further on in the timeline and it is now all superhero films. They are all 12/12A, and on the flipside of the coin films that were for adults are now being watered down to reach the 12A rating.

This is my issue. Why should Marvel and DC with the money and power of Disney, Fox, Sony and Warner Brothers behind them get to dictate who watches their films? Of course they have spent a lot of money on the budget/star/director/merchandise/marketing but the toys are aimed at 8 year olds and yet, because they want to include the odd expletive, or maybe have the odd character show a bit of cleavage to get Dad interested in taking his brood to the cinema, they force the 12 rating upon us. Robocop was an 18, a classic film that, whilst full of violence, the gore and bloodshed was warranted as part of the story. Why water down a reboot to "Introduce" a new audience? I don’t want my 13 year old son watching the new version which he legally can and then seeking out the original.

The original Superman films were a PG, the Star Wars films were all child friendly, horror films were horror and everyone knew where the boundaries were. If studios want to sell an Iron-Man doll or a Bat-Mobile to an 8 year old then scrap the 12 rating and tell the studio to make a film suitable for an 8 year old. If a studio wants to show skin, or maybe go over the top with the violence then make them have a 15 rating and design and market a better toy for an older viewer. Let's stop giving the big executives the power and make them concentrate on what they should be getting right which is the film. I don’t want a Blade or Punisher film that I could watch with my children any more than they want to have to me around when Spider-Man is on. Discovering film, characters and stories as you mature through life should be a personal right of passage, not a reason to be policed by your parents.

Yes, I know that may mean the kids will try and sneak a 12 upstairs to their own television, but whose to say they aren’t also taking your 15's and your Nightmare on Elm Street collection whilst you're not looking as well. Maybe we should stop them having TV's in their room? I never had one when I was a kid, but that's a whole different column.

Thank you Dom Conlon Sir! you were right. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back is a brilliant family movie, and a great use of both story and rating system. Although you also spawned this article so you are about to be as hated as I am on Twitter so here's a tin hat.