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Peter Jackson knows a thing or two about making R-rated movies. Before he became the man responsible for bringing Middle-earth to the big screen, he was the guy who brought us titles like Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles and Dead Alive - three of the most over-the-top films that you’ll ever watch. His newest R-rated film – his first since 1996’s The Frighteners – is the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, but rather than being a return to old, more adult-oriented fare for Jackson, the special cut is in reality just another example of the uselessness of the MPAA and their ratings system.
I had the opportunity to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition during the special Fathom Events screening that was held nationwide last night, and while I can honestly say that I enjoyed the experience, it also left me scratching my head. With a running time of 164 minutes, the movie is 20 minutes longer than its theatrical predecessor, and as you might have guessed considering the original cut is 75% war scene, much of the additional footage is battle-related. This includes dwarves charging into battles against orcs, wargs, and various other kinds of monsters with all kinds of weapons – including a ram-driven sled featuring scythe-covered wheels and a crank-operated arrow launcher. As enemies are taken down, small splashes of black blood occasionally appear, and I’ll admit that some of the deaths do rank on the gnarly scale, but the idea that it actually crosses any kind of line from PG-13 to R is entirely ridiculous. The change truly suggests that the line between ratings is so thin that it might as well not even bother existing, and paints a perfect picture of the entire methodology’s arbitrary nature.
The MPAA has come under scrutiny many times in the past for the way that it judges violence against other more adult-oriented material, such as sex and language, but none of that is in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Extended Edition to muddle the conversation. Instead, the film serves to shine a light on exactly what the organization deems as acceptable and unacceptable for younger viewers where death and war is concerned, and what’s pathetic is that it really just comes down to bodily fluids. It’s completely acceptable to see Gandalf use a sword to decapitate a goblin and nudge his head off with a staff – as we do in An Unexpected Journey - but we’re led to believe that a little spurt out of the creature’s neck hole would have resulted in the otherwise family-friendly film being only accessible to those 18 and over. Not only does that establish a horrible precedent where the consequences of violence are concerned, but one also really has to wonder how a rating could possibly be useful to any parent looking for guidance.
The MPAA guidelines for ratings is not only still remarkably out of touch with today’s society, but in the internet age it’s impossible to understand exactly what it is that they offer (other than essentially being a censorship board). There are now hundreds if not thousands of sites online that can tell you whether or not a film is appropriate for a certain age group – and what’s more they’ll even provide actual details regarding content. Meanwhile, the MPAA’s only explanation for The Battle of the Five Armies’s R-rating is – and this is no joke – "Some Violence." This isn’t the first time that the brazen stupidity and uselessness of the ratings board has had a light shone on it, and it most definitely won’t be the last – but it sure would be nice if the film industry finally did something about it.