Home > Features, News, Plaza Blog > The fuzzy borders between the 12A and 15 certificates

The fuzzy borders between the 12A and 15 certificates

clip_image002The fuzzy borders between the 12a and 15 certificates

by James Clark

“BBFC classification symbols are valued by consumers […] as a trusted source of guidance for content of films, videos/DVDs and some video games. As a result, our industry customers recognise the value inherent in the BBFC symbol being attached to their product.”

The above citation from the BBFC’s annual report for 2010/11 and its further deconstruction of the importance of film classification has presented problems for many members of the film going public over the years. Films in recent years like Kick Ass, the parody of comic book superheroes, came under thunder from critics and members of the public who simultaneously felt that the profane language spoken by young star Chloe Moretz and the depictions of violence in the film should have automatically warranted an 18 certificate. The film was rated 15 by the BBFC on the grounds that the film’s “fantastical and tongue-in-cheek nature […] would be self-evident to most audiences [and] overall, there was a lack of focus on injuries and suffering, and an absence of any sadistic or […] sexualised violence.”

clip_image004The Plaza has received complaints from members of the public for films as diverse as Peter Jackson’s controversial adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, the latest instalment in the Twilight saga: Breaking Dawn Part I, and the most successful film at last year’s box office: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. All three of the above films were awarded 12a certificates by the BBFC and have all been justified by the BBFC yet this ultimately does not satisfy discerning members of the public who may object to the adult nature of the themes prevalent in these films.

There are parameters for each certification awarded by the BBFC and 12a and 15 are the most commonly assigned certifications for releases in a year. 27% of the total number of films submitted to the BBFC during 2010 were awarded a 12a. Guidelines indicate that sexual references are mild and infrequent and the use of strong language must additionally be infrequent. Although they have gotten increasingly darker as the films have progressed, the emphasis is still firmly rooted in fantasy in the case of Harry Potter. The material in the final two parts of the Deathly Hallows was often criticised due to its intense nature. Ron sees Harry and Hermione in what appears to be a short, naked embrace in one of his visions that is exacerbated by Lord Voldemort and this has prompted some complaints to the BBFC for their passing of this at 12a. The BBFC vehemently argue that the final two Harry Potters fall “well short of the 15 level.”

clip_image006In the case of The Lovely Bones, although there are moments in the narrative that could stretch to a 15 rating, the film arguably “lacked any explicit detail of the murder and any sexual elements were downplayed. The audience’s sympathies remain entirely with the family and the film had many positive messages about life.” As a “valuable precautionary warning to the 12-14 age group”, The Lovely Bones could additionally be satisfactorily passed as 12a.

A number of complaints were made regarding the material in the latest Twilight film, Breaking Dawn Part I. In allowing the film to reach its highest available audience, the film was released as a 12a despite some viewers’ incomprehension due to a semi-graphic birth scene, a sex scene between the protagonists and the emaciation of one of the central characters leading up to the birth. Due once again to the fantastical notion of vampires and werewolves being outside of our human world and that there are sufficient cut aways in the aforementioned scenes, the BBFC were able to rate the film 12a as it didn’t exceed the guidelines necessary to rate the film as 15.

The Hole 3D was one of the most complained about films of 2010, in accordance with the BBFC and also the Plaza. The film was, for many, falsely marketed as a family adventure film when it is actually more synonymous with the teenage horror genre. Says the BBFC: “While the film contains some scary moments and occasional gory images, […] these were felt to be alleviated by the comic banter between the teenage characters and the fantasy element throughout.” Moreover, the film stressed the importance of confronting your fears, “taking responsibility for your actions and valuing family and friendship which were considered important for young teenagers.” The BBFC do however stress that the film contains “sustained moderate horror” in order to give parents and guardians an indication, however brief, of what to expect.

The latest release to receive a 12a rating, notably after six seconds of cuts, is the Daniel Radcliffe-led remake of The Woman in Black. The film, best described as a supernatural horror, once again does not emphasise injury or real physical threat but some elements of supernatural forces and the idea of children being under threat by a pervasive force exemplifies the most recent example of a film that borders on both 12a and 15.

In 2012 the BBFC reaches its centenary. In their report their ethics are plain. “Over our first hundred years, we have built up a deep understanding of child protection; of what the public wants and needs; of what the film and home entertainment industries expect; and of our responsibilities to Parliament […]. This trend will continue as we prepare to enter our second Century.”

Ultimately a rigid set of laws can only be a positive approach to classifying film material. Films are classified as a warning for adults and children of what to expect from the film that they are about to watch. Guidelines should be adhered to for public admission to films and it is essentially up to the individual to discern whether certain films should be watched in the home.

Management at the Plaza Cinema have issued the following statement: “If a customer complains about the content of a 12a, firstly I would enquire as to how old they are and then explain that it isn’t suitable for anyone under the age of 12 and that just because they are allowed to see it accompanied by an over 18 year old, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be affected by what’s on the screen. I would also point them towards the BBFC website and explain how their ‘extended classification’ system is great as it informs parents to the nitty gritty reasons why it’s a 12a and not a 15. It’s not up to us as an exhibitor to warn people about content when there is a perfectly good, structured, nationwide, law entrenched system already in place.”

If you would like more information about the BBFC and its grounds on certification you can visit their website at www.bbfc.co.uk. You can also download a PDF of their annual report for 2010/11 from their website for further reading and examples of films that have received complaints and the BBFC’s justification for particular ratings. If you have an iPhone or android you can also install the BBFC’s free app from the app store which enables you to find out ratings for the latest cinema and DVD releases. Just search for ‘BBFC.’

Categories: Features, News, Plaza Blog
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