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Fear factor becomes an issue for film classification

By Helen Ward

Greater scrutiny will be paid to gore and strong visual detail in horror films when deciding the age at which people are allowed to watch them, the British film censor has announced.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has said that in future particular attention will be given to the psychological impact of watching horror, while more weight will be placed on the theme and tone of films when deciding whether to recommend them as suitable for 12- or 15-year-olds.

There are five main age classifications for films in the UK: “U” means that a film is suitable for all viewers, “PG” that parental guidance is advised for younger children, “12A” that those over 12 can see the film unaccompanied, “15” that it is suitable for those of that age and above, and “18” that it is appropriate only for adults. Any ruling relating to changes to these classifications is reliably subject to comment and debate.

As such, the BBFC attracted flak this morning when it revealed that there would be more flexibility over the use of bad language in 15-certificate films, although it added that the guidelines would be tightened up for U-rated movies. The proposed changes come after a consultation with 10,000 members of the public.

The way that films are rated is attracting greater controversy around the world, especially with the increasing popularity among teenagers of films with explicit depictions of violence, such as the Saw franchise.

The issue has long been subject to heated debate, with religious groups, parents and film-makers locked in argument about the levels of violence and sexual content to which children should be exposed.

Most recently, the first film in The Hunger Games series was granted a 12A certificate in the UK only after edits were made removing some violent detail. Nevertheless, both it and its sequel Catching Fire, which was given a similar certificate last year after being passed uncut, have been subject to widespread complaints about violence.

In the US, The Hunger Games was given a PG-13 rating – meaning “parental guidance for those under 13” – for “intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language” and was subject to similar criticism as in the UK.

Last year, the BBFC revealed that The Woman in Black, a 12A ghost story starring Daniel Radcliffe, had attracted the most complaints of 2012. Some viewers said that the film, which contains scenes of children being killed by supernatural means, was too intense for young audiences.

Questions for debate or discussion

  1. Why does the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) exist? Do you think that it is a good idea?
  2. The BBFC sometimes receive complaints about their decisions – why might this be?
  3. In your opinion, which is the most important factor when deciding the age rating for a film? Language? Violence? Sexual content? Something else? Explain your reasoning.
  4. Are there any flaws in rating films by age? If so, can you think of any better ways to rate films?


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