Saturday, 20 March 2010

Look away now

OK, so you're sitting in the lounge watching a good movie with the family. The DVD cover said that it was rated 18 for explicit violence, drug use, sexual swearwords and graphic nudity, but still you're shocked when confronted with a scene where a bunch of foul-mouthed, crack-addicted strippers burn an orphanage to the ground. Oh, now the lead stripper is making out with the Mother Superior who runs the children's home. This is just awful.

If only there was some way of shielding the children (and the mother-in-law) from this wanton depravity, whilst still enjoying the director's original vision. You can't afford to pay people to stand behind the couch and place their hand over the kids' eyes every time something offensive happens, so what's the next best thing?

How about ClearPlay? It's a revolutionary new filter system that automatically edits out "potentially offensive scenes" leaving you to enjoy the movie with the peace-of-mind that your little ones won't be corrupted by all that adult content.

Using patented technology integrated into your DVD player, the system can "skip and mute content based on seven categories that can be set to meet viewing preferences" including "violence, blood, nudity, sex, swearing, blasphemy and offensive content." So, all the good stuff basically.

Although the system isn't released in the UK until July, it's already up and running in the US (big surprise there). But although lots of families are delighted about the opportunity to chop out all the good bits from a movie, the film studios are somewhat less enamoured with it. Eight years ago, when the technology was first developed, the Directors' Guild of America and a cabal of Hollywood film studios sued ClearPlay, alleging that its software violated studio copyrights and misrepresented directors' finished films.

The people who run ClearPlay believe that most films have a higher rating on account of a handful of scenes which can be easily edited without spoiling the rest of the film. But, once you get into broad areas such as 'offensive content' and blasphemy, all bets are off.

There are a number of popular websites in the States that review 'secular' movies from a Christian perspective. Giving people an idea of a film's content is one thing, but the list of things that might 'cause offence' borders on the laughable. According to sites like 'Christian Spotlight on the Movies' and 'Childcare Action Project' films as innoffensive as Harry Potter and Avatar score some harsh reviews thanks to their depictions of magic and Gaia spirituality.

If ClearPlay had their way, a blockbuster like Jurassic Park would only be about fifteen minutes long. Take out the dinosaur attacks, the smoking, the severed limbs, the gunfire, the mild language, Laura Dern's exposed arms, the lawyer hiding in a toilet and any reference to evolution, and what have you got left? A fat IT consultant who can't drive, some kids eating jelly and a conversation about a flea circus. They'd be lining up around the block for that...

For the record, I agree with the DGA and the big studios - this is ultimately disrespectful to the people who put months (even years if you're James Cameron) into crafting a film. Why bother getting Thelma Schoonmaker or Michael Kahn to edit your movies, when the audience at home prefer to let a downloadable patch reconfigure it automatically?

However, there is a silver lining to this particular cloud. As Marie Antionette may or may not have said - "Let them eat cake". If people are too stupid to realise that there's an off switch built into every TV, Sky and DVD remote, let them pay ClearPlay a pound a week to make their viewing safer. Perhaps that way, the rest of us will be allowed to get on with enjoying our movies the way the directors intended, without the BBFC (or MPAA) sticking their nose in.

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