Why the End of "Sanitized" Movies is a Good Thing
July 13, 2006
I know this will be
a controversial stand to take with my audience, but this week's judgment by U.S.
District Court judge Richard P. Matsch, who declared businesses that edit nasty
bits out of Hollywood movies are "illegitimate," is actually a good thing for
not only the movie industry, but for the future of family entertainment as well.
For those not
familiar with this tiny specialized industry, there are a handful of companies
like CleanFlicks, CleanFilms and a few others who purchase movies on DVD and
then edit them to "family" standards by removing dialogue, sexual content and
violence they deem to be objectionable. Since they first did this to Titanic
when it appeared on home video in the late 1990s, these merchants have
discovered a loyal following of customers who want to watch "sanitized" (a word
used by the news media describing this process) mainstream movies.
creators of these titles haven't been impressed with having little nuances --
like Kate Winslet's naked breasts in Titanic -- excised from their final
product. Perhaps even more surprising, while I am usually quick to approve of
nearly anything that will create "better" movies families can watch, even I
found it difficult to condone this process.
To understand my
position, first it's important to know how these companies operate. From their
perspective, in order to stay "legal," they felt it necessary to purchase a
commercial DVD for every edited copy they sold. So, lets say you are dying to
see last year's "Best Picture" Oscar winner, Crash, but you don't want to
hear Sandra Bullock and the rest of the cast say the f-word every 20 seconds.
After placing your
order with one of these merchants, they will purchase a DVD of the movie on your
behalf. Then they burn a custom edited version of the film (which requires them
to "crack" the encryption on the original DVD and usually recompress it with a
loss of quality) onto a recordable DVD. Then they "disable" (quoting the term
used on the cleanfilms.com website) the original disc, and send it and the
edited "backup copy" to you.
As an alternative,
most of these companies offer a rental service where you can view, but not keep,
the edited backup copy.
businesses were sincerely trying to create family appropriate entertainment, and
it's reasonable for them to want to earn a living doing so. I understand their
motives and appreciate what I feel is a genuine concern for parents who are
searching for a way to watch movies, both as adults and with their kids, without
having to be on guard with the remote control.
But there are
faults within this plan -- and perhaps I relate to one of the greatest issues
because I earn my living as a creator of artistic works.
Imagine you have
finally written that wonderful novel that has been rolling around in your head
for the past few years. After months of hard labor, you get it published. Then,
a few weeks after it appears on bookstore shelves, you see another book that
looks just like it, but someone has deleted words, paragraphs and even pages
within it to suit their own principles and tastes.
That is exactly
what these companies do to other people's artistic works. Yes, I know... some of
these films are pure trash, and aren't worthy of being deemed works of art. Yet
we all want to uphold the basic tenants of free speech, and if you were able to
hack this website and alter my words to fit your own beliefs and opinions, that
would violate my rights.
Other issues to
consider include the fact you are still supporting a movie you find somewhat
objectionable. Because these companies buy copies of the movie to match the
number of edited copies they create, studios are still benefiting from your
purchase. If we truly want to send a message to Hollywood, we need to quit
lining their pockets with cash generated from offensive films. Most of us like
to see movies, but perhaps we should be prepared to sacrifice to make a
As well, bad words
and nudity are easily removed, but what about themes and messages? Would The
Fast and the Furious be any better with the bad language removed? Unless
they film a closing scene with all the street racers locked up in jail, I still
would not want to show this message of a consequence-free life in the fast lane
to my kids.
Fortunately, if you
still want a way to watch movies with the "edge" removed, there is a compromised
alternative I do support. ClearPlay is a technology that allows a special DVD
player to skip potentially offensive scenes on a regular DVD. You go to your
local rental outlet, or use an online service like NetFlix, and pop the disc
into the player. The unit scans the disc and if it recognizes the title, it
matches it up with one of the filters that have been downloaded into this
special DVD player's memory.
This system also
has the flexibility of allowing you to select what you want filtered from 14
different categories, giving you (and not someone else) control of what you do
and don't want to see. And, of course, you can choose to watch the movie with no
filtering at all.
ClearPlay resolves my freedom of expression concerns, but you may still be
supporting movies that may not meet your family's standards. However, this
technology is completely legal, and is even protected by a recent law that will
hopefully encourage more companies to create a wider range of products and
filters. (If you enjoy reading fine print, the official law is available
still waiting for the day when the studios themselves will take advantage of
existing and future DVD technology and create "filters" that are integrated onto
the disc itself, allowing consumers to select what version of the film they
would like to see. At that point, I think we would have the ultimate win-win
scenario where families (and perhaps even theaters -- once digital projection
comes into wide use) can choose if the film is going to be rated PG or PG-13.
If you want more
information about ClearPlay, check this page [http://www.clearplay.com/ptc/] and
help support the efforts of the Parent's Television Council. For more
information on Judge Matsch's ruling, check this article
Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.
and the Media by Rod Gustafson
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