Changes hinted in movie rating system

From the March 4, 1984, Deseret News

There's no question that the ratings system has become more and more relaxed over the years, with gore, violence, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity being allowed with more and more abundance in PG-rated films, and each of those same elements being pushed to the limits in some R-rated films.

But with movies as clean (except for a few profanities) as "Ordinary People" and "The Verdict" carrying the same R rating that is given to incredibly raunchy films like "Porky's" or extremely gory, violent films like the "Friday the 13" trilogy, and with the same PG rating applied equally to squeaky clean films like "Annie" and "Solo," as well those with as much violence or sex, respectively, as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Never Say Never Again," people always have the same question before they go to the movies. Why? Why is the film rated PG or R? And how embarrassed or grossed-out am I going to be?

At the Deseret News we have tried to answer that question as accurately as possible, though our parenthetical explanations are really educated guesses. (The ratings board doesn't inform anyone – including the moviemakers – why a film receives a particular rating, unless the producer appeals to have it changed). And a few other publications have begun to follow our example (most prominently, USA Today).

But the nebulous rating may soon be a thing of the past.

Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, has endorsed a move that would include information in ratings to indicate the degree of sex, violence and profanity that gives each film a PG or R. Variety, the show business trade paper, reported recently that Valenti has bowed to the proposal, which the National Association of Theater Owners has long wanted to see go into effect.

As president of the MPAA, Valenti also oversees its subsidiary board, the Classification and Ratings Administration, which rates most of the movies we see. Valenti is quoted as saying he intends to get the plan operational soon, but he's been "sidetracked by other developments," such as the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld programs. (Valenti wants to see a tax added to the price we pay for blank tapes.)

The MPAA president also emphasized the added information is not a fundamental change, but rather an extension of the rating system as it exists. He has often said the system works quite well and needs no repairs.

Despite that, continued criticism of the rating system is obviously a motivating factor here, and suggested changes are constantly being recommended.

Another pending reform in the ratings code may lower the age of admission without parents to R-rated films, from 17 to 16. Valenti endorses that as well, saying there is no reason a youngster who can get a driver's license should be prevented from attending R-rated movies. There may be a number of parents who disagree, however.

There has also long been talk of an interim rating, one that would come between PG and R. Though a growing number of people in the film community endorse that one, there has been no report of anything official coming of it. Steven Spielberg, for example, has said "Poltergeist" shouldn't be an R-rated movie, but it's not really PG material, either. ("Poltergeist" was rated R, then given a PG on appeal.)

The ratings system was designed for parents to guide their children in selecting films to see, but with the advent of videocassettes, which usually carry the film's theatrical rating, more and more parents are finding out they can't simply sit the kids down to any PG and have it meet their own standards.

Likewise, a growing number have been baffled as to why certain films carry an R.

Clearly, some kind of clarification of the ratings carried by particular films is needed. Any step toward that end is a step in the right direction.