Summer blockbusters are seldom rated 15 — they get a 12A, ensuring that the movie is accessible to the masses — so Prometheus is a rarity. Yet even this relatively adult rating has caused disapproval among sci-fi die-hards who feel that anything less than an 18 certificate is a cop-out by the director.
They are sanguine about this at the BBFC. If we rated Alien now, says Cooke, it would be a 15. For a film to get an 18 certificate today it has to be either utterly terrifying throughout or there would have to be a level of sadistic violence. It seems that over the past 30 years or so we have become far more tolerant of blood, guts and gore, not to mention bad language. [In fact the BBFC have rated Alien as 15 since 2003].
The examiners will watch a film under natural conditions so that it feels as if we are actually going to the cinema, he says. We always view it straight through, though obviously at the end we can go back and look at stuff. There is a cinema at the BBFC headquarters in central London, where examiners watch about three films a day. But sometimes — as with Prometheus — they go to the film company to watch the movie, to ensure its security.
That film has been passed with no cuts. But even if it had been censored, you’d barely be able to tell. When we make cuts, people think in terms of ‘snip-snip’, says senior examiner Craig Lapper, but these days, with digital, there are so many other ways you can make a film more acceptable. You can suggest soundtrack changes and things like colour darkening, putting shadows in to obscure the more gory elements of a scene. So in The Woman in Black, the adaptation of Susan Hill’s ghost story starring Daniel Radcliffe, we didn’t hear the crack of the woman’s neck as she hung from a noose — and, thanks to the cunning use of shadows, neither did we see her face.
I won’t say what the film was, continues Lapper, but there’s a forthcoming British movie that was a little bit too gory to get a 15 certificate. So I nipped round to the place where they were editing it and they [the film-makers] increased the shadows so that you could no longer see someone’s jaw hanging off.
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