The release of the latest film in the James Bond franchise, Spectre, has sparked up some controversy over its 12A rating. The decision was made to cut several seconds of footage in order to reduce the rating from a 15 to a 12A, which is a much more lucrative certificate. Even the decision to release it at the start of the half-term holidays automatically meant that it was aimed towards families with young children going to see the film together, therefore increasing ticket sales. This begs the question, are studios too focused on profit over content, and do censorship guidelines really protect young people in the way that they should?
Spectre is almost entirely made up of tense and nerve-wracking scenes that could be considered questionable for a younger audience. Even my 19-year-old friend jumped and grabbed onto my arm every five minutes throughout the film, and the whole audience of adults jumped at several tense moments, leading me to question how a 12-year-old would cope with the intensity of the graphic sequences.
Censorship guidelines concerning the content of the type of films that 12-year-olds can watch are controlled by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification). According to information provided by them, “At 12A, moderate violence is allowed but it should not dwell on detail. There should be no emphasis on injuries or blood.” In Spectre, as in all James Bond films, I would argue that there are many scenes that emphasise injuries and violence, as there are fight scenes, explosions and several murders.
One scene from Spectre particularly stands out to me as an example of what could be psychologically scarring for young children – one of the villains grabs hold of a man’s head and starts crushing his eyeballs until they are squeezed back into his skull. We can hear his agonised sobs, and this is later described as his spirit leaving his body despite him not having died. I believe that these scenes only conformed to the BBFC guidelines, as they do not show gory details of blood. However, this does not necessarily mean that they are any less scary, as they leave the horror to the imagination of the viewer. Should 12-year-olds be allowed to watch torture scenes simply because the absence of blood and gore adheres to the censorship rules?
To defend the decision to decrease Spectre‘s rating to 12A, the BBFC stated on its website: “During post-production, the distributor sought and was given advice on how to secure the desired classification. Following this advice, certain changes were made prior to submission. This film was originally seen for advice in an unfinished version. The company was advised it was likely to be classified 15 but that their preferred 12A could be obtained by making reductions in a scene of violence and in another scene showing the aftermath of a violent act.
When the film was submitted for formal classification, acceptable reductions had been made in both scenes and the film was classified 12A.” The only conceivable reason for the distributor’s desire to change the classification is to make more money by allowing a larger audience to see the film. It is a perfect example of the money-grabbing schemes of the film industry; they care more about ticket sales and making money than the consequences that the content can have on young minds.
Many of the scariest horror films are only rated 12A or 15 simply because they do not show gory or sexual violence, but they can still terrify fully grown adults with their psychologically disturbing themes. For example, The Woman in Black was rated a 12A, a fact that caused great controversy as the tone is extremely bleak and the premise of a ghost manipulating children into harming or killing themselves makes it a potentially disturbing feature for young children. A 15 rating with no cuts was available to the distributors, however they elected to cut The Woman In Black to achieve a 12A. They removed stronger horror from the film, darkened certain shots and reduced some sound effects to lessen the impact of some of the scarier ‘jump’ moments. With these changes the BBFC concluded that viewers aged 12 and above were likely to find the scary moments thrilling rather than upsetting or disturbing. This proves that film studios favour the promise of a larger audience over the content of the film.
It all comes down to studios prioritising profits over the content of their films and not thinking about the consequences this can have on young minds
There is also the issue of sex and references to sex. In certificate 15 films, “there can be strong references to sex and sexual behaviour” according to BBFC guidelines. In a society where the age of sexual consent is 16, does it not seem wrong that films with explicit sexual content are readily available to 15-year-olds? We are told constantly that young minds are vulnerable and strongly influenced by what they see in the media, not exempting films. Therefore it surely follows that we should not be allowing young people to be exposed to films that promote inappropriate sexual behaviour and glamourize sexual violence.
Despite the fact that censorship in the film industry is intended to protect young people from films that include unsuitable themes and scenes, it is entirely subjective and what may not seem inappropriate to an adult could negatively influence a 12-year-old. It all comes down to studios prioritising profits over the content of their films and not thinking about the consequences this can have on young minds.