The Motion Picture Association of America was an organization voluntarily created by Hollywood to essentially allow the filmmaking industry to police itself rather than having government censorship step in. But over the decades, the MPAA has proved ridiculous in their decisions again and again and again. Just last week I raged against this obsolete operation for their insistence that f-bombs are more detrimental to young audiences that massive amounts of onscreen gun violence. But the bit of film history above (courtesy of io9) shows just how subjective and confounding the MPAA's decisions have been for decades.
The end of Raiders of the Lost Ark is undeniably disturbing. Indiana Jones and his Girl Friday, Marion Ravenwood, have failed to stop the questing Nazis from discovering the Ark of the Covenant. But it doesn't matter because God and his angels aren't about to let Nazis use this priceless artifact for evil. So, these angels of death spit righteous flames out of the Ark, striking down those whose faces aren't melted or exploded. Apparently, the ghoulish face-melting was fine by the MPAA for a PG rating, but the head exploding, that was too much. The PG-13 rating, where loads of gun violence is allowed as long as there's no blood, would not be instituted for another 3 years. So, if Spielberg didn't want an R rating on Raiders, he'd have to cover up the original version of the head exploding. And as you can see above, he did so with flames.
Below you can see a still of the original, non-flamed version.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: Belloq's exploding head, minus the superimposed flames the MPAA made Spielberg add. pic.twitter.com/h4p7DWeyCp— will mccrabb (@mccrabb_will) November 14, 2013
Is it just me, or do flames make it more disturbing, not less? Like in the still, it's clearly a dummy head, but obscured by flames its faux nature is better hidden. Plus, considering the context of the Ark and all, how do flames not read as hell itself actually consuming this villain?
Did the MPAA make the right call on Raiders?
Having watched the mind-blowing documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, little about the MPAA surprises me. But I'd love to see a handbook for new members that includes such "helpful" guidelines as "children under the age of 17 can totally handle people's faces melting. But to show a person's head explode without being veiled in flames demands an R-rating." It would be both frustrating and deeply satisfying.
Here's the full nightmare-inducing scene: