Tonight I saw a silly, but entertaining and ultimately enjoyable, Fox movie. But before paying to see Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I attended a press screening of Live Free or Die Hard. I cannot give you my review of this cartoonish film that shares only a title and character name in common with the previous Die Hards (for more on those, be sure to keep up with Russ’ retrospective), but I can tell you that if you were worried about the PG-13 rating the film has received, you can stop fretting. This is an R-rated film masquerading as a PG-13.
Freeze Dried Movies has reported that Fox has hired a digital effects firm to add blood to some bullet hits for the DVD of Live Free or Die Hard (it seems to me that just doing alternate takes with bloody squibs would have been more cost-effective and given director Len Wiseman more to work with in editing the film, but whatever), but I don’t see why anyone needs it. Sure, this is the least wet Die Hard film, but it’s still a very violent movie, with dozens of people being killed by gunfire, more probably killed in car accidents of varying stripes, a number of seemingly serious injuries, and one guy chopped to pieces in a really big fan. It makes you wonder just what the fuck a PG-13 even means anymore. It makes you realize how totally broken the rating system is.
I’m not arguing that Live Free or Die Hard should be rated R, although I do think that if the MPAA were rating fairly, it would have been. I’m just saying Live Free or Die Hard shows up the arbitrary nature of the ratings system, except when it’s maybe not so arbitrary, like giving a softer rating to a huge summer blockbuster, thus opening the blockbuster to a wider audience (remember, kids, the studios are part of the MPAA, and the MPAA essentially exists to serve those studio masters). The nature of the rating system has changed over time; for example the PG-rated Raiders of the Lost Ark features a guy not only getting chopped up in a propeller but also a splash of blood from his demise that Live Free or Die Hard’s fan chop scene is missing. But that difference comes from the fact that the rating system didn’t have an in-between rating back in those days; Raiders was obviously stronger than a G but didn’t quite meet the standards of an R.
Live Free or Die Hard is the same, but it’s between a PG-13 and an R. It’s amazing to realize that this film, which features many brutal killings, got a softer rating than Amelie, which earned an R for a funny and lovely montage of orgasms. This is the oldest complaint about the MPAA on the books, but it doesn’t get any less amusing – shoot a bunch of people in the head if you must, but please do not make them cum. That would be too much.
To be fair to the MPAA, they’re in a bind. Almost none of the violence in Live Free or Die Hard is out of line for a network action show airing at 10pm, except that there’s more of it (and I think more TV shows would have more violent action if they could afford it). The MPAA’s frustratingly vague guidelines gives the board the chance, supposedly, to be flexible within the culture. I don’t know what value that is to parents in the video age, though – I guarantee there are a number of PG rated films from the 70s now on DVD that would not meet modern PG rating standards. Should the MPAA be re-rating these old movies to keep them in line with the times (by which I mean slap any movie with a titty in it with an R rating – when’s the last time you saw a tit in a movie that was rated less than R? Growing up I saw it all the time)? Of course not, but by the same token, will parents ten years from now be aghast by the level of violence in a DVD of a PG-13 film from a more permissible time?
The answer is a rating system with more ratings. Would America really be that confused by PG-15? That’s probably a better rating for Live Free or Die Hard – hell, with a PG-15 maybe John McClane could actually say ‘Yippie Kay Yay, Motherfucker’ in whole this time out. The recent changes by the MPAA – adding a list of all of a movie’s objectionable elements in fine print below the rating – are useless and meaningless, but a ratings system with more categories would be easy to understand, give filmmakers more leeway and parents a better, quicker understanding of what they’re dealing with.
In the meantime, I don’t begrudge Live Free or Die Hard it’s PG-13; it turns out Bruce Willis was telling the truth when promised the movie would still deliver in action and violence. I’m just sick of seeing our shambles of a ratings system operate with all the consistency of my great-grandmother’s bowels.