Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: I have questions

Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: I have questions-attachment0

Actually, I always have questions, but I’m limiting myself here to questions that involve movies, since those are germane to this column. In this case, I’m posing two questions. I don’t necessarily expect any answers, but these seem to be worth some contemplation. Let’s start with this PG-13 version of The King’s Speech that crept its way into theaters this week.

You may have missed this interesting event. I’d heard nothing about this new “family friendly” version of The King’s Speech until I saw some theater booking sheets last Monday. I subsequently learned that the Weinsteins—apparently without the agreement of the director, screenwriter, or star—made “judicicous” alterations in the film’s soundtrack, so it could be recertified in this country with a PG-13 and they could flog it to a theoretically larger audience than the original R-rated version. I haven’t seen the “sanitized” version myself—nor do I have any interest in doing so—but apparently all but one of the film’s uses of the word “f*ck” have been overdubbed with the word “sh*t.”

Apparently, “sh*t” is more “family friendly” than “f*ck”—and not just with the ever-mystifying MPAA rating folks, but with parents. Times change, I suppose, but I suspect I’d have gotten in just about the same amount of trouble for using either word in front of my parents—or other adults—prior to my later (post-high school) teens. Despite what parents might like to believe, it’s unlikely that their children—those old enough to sit through two hours of high-toned British drama—are unfamiliar with either word.

This isn’t quite precedent-setting. Movies have been altered for a softer rating before. Offhand, I can think of two—John Badham’s Saturday Night Fever (1977) and John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981)—that were re-cut after the fact to be re-issued with a “friendlier” rating. I’ve lost track of the various cuts of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), but there’s a 111 UK version, a 109 minute X-rated US version, a 101 minute R-Rated version, and probably a US TV print. For that matter, cutting films for TV is an old, old practice. However, this is—as far as I know—the first time a Best Picture Oscar winner has been subjected to this in its theatrical release.

Does anyone else find this a little outrageous? Or at the very least disrepectful? It’s certainly on the ironic side that a movie called The King’s Speech should have its words censored. I’d find it all a little less troubling if both versions were still kicking around, but so far as I can tell, all the R-rated prints have been pulled and replaced by this new Weinstein-ified one. Of course, the Weinsteins are touting this altered version as a great thing—an opportunity for parents to take the kiddies to this movie. (Hands up, everyone who thinks that children are just dying to go see a movie about a king they’ve never heard of and his stammering problem.) Let’s be honest, this is simply a cash-grab to milk a few more bucks out of a movie that’s been playing since Christmas day.

What I personally find even more perplexing than this trivializing of a fine film is there appear to be quite a few people who embrace the idea. Beyond this, I’ve seen people express the view that they’d been “really looking forward” to the film, but now wouldn’t be going. Now, I’m far from in favor of this kind of bastardization, but I’m hard-pressed to imagine that there’s anyone “really looking forward” to seeing The King’s Speech, who hasn’t had the chance of doing so in the space of over three months.

Warning: Those who haven’t seen Insidious yet might want to read this section later, since I reveal something about the ending.

In an entirely different realm is a question born of having seen James Wan’s Insidious this week. I have no problem with the film. In fact, I liked it—rather a lot—but it did make me wonder why it is apparently no longer permissible to make a horror film with a happy ending. I’m not hell-bent on movies with happy endings, but neither am I opposed to them, and I don’t think a film is necessarilly more “important” because it’s downbeat. I don’t strongly object to the rather grim—to the degree that a movie in the tone of a funhouse spook show can be grim—but I also don’t think it was particularly necessary.

I concede that some horror pictures need that grim ending. It’s inherent in the material of a film like Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and even Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002). But always? Maybe I’m not sufficiently grim-minded, but I much prefered the “happy” ending that was on Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later… (2002) to the alternate downbeat one that was later tacked onto the end of the credits. It’s also the last horror picture I can remember that doesn’t have some kind of unhappy conclusion. Christophe Gans’ estimable Silent Hill (2006) not only doesn’t need that dragged-out downbeat ending, but is harmed by the fact that it takes the film out of the mood generated by one of the most horrific climaxes ever.

This approach is a fairly modern one. If you go back to the first wave of horror movies from the 1930s, you’ll find that nearly all of them end on a note that depicts good overcoming evil—at least for the moment, since there may be a sequel around the corner. I’m not altogether certain that that was necessarily a bad thing, though it undoutedly becomes trite and predictable if overused. Then again, so does the downbeat-for-its-own-sake approach. Why is it so rampant in the horror film? Does someone think it will make the general public take the films more seriously? Does anyone honestly belive that this will ultimately change the perception that causes some of the bigger newspapers to palm the reviewing of genre films off on stringers? Really? As for the audience—well, the Thursday Horror Picture Show screenings have arrived at a point where those older titles are outdrawing the modern ones. It might be as well for horror filmmakers to take note of that.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

20 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: I have questions

  1. Steph

    LOVED your thoughts on the PG-13 Kings Speech. The Weinsteins are just whores who will try to pump out every penny they can. It can’t be making much money, can it?

  2. Ken Hanke

    It can’t be making much money, can it?

    Its per-theater average last weekend was supposedly about $1500. I say “supposedly” because Rentrak has been reporting only Sat-Sun grosses for the weekend, based on the film’s original opening day being a Saturday. So you might figure there’s a good chance that figure is low by $400-500. That’s not great, but it’s pretty respectable for a film that’s been playing this long. I haven’t seen a weekend gross, but the average for Fri. was $341 per theater. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s another $345,000 in the till, so you’re probably looking at another million this weekend — about half of which goes the studio. Now, what over 1000 new prints cost and whatever it cost to change the soundtrack is another matter.

  3. lisi russell

    I’m apoplectic – in fact, I’m stuttering – with rage over this news about the Weinsteins’ stunt-editing. Surely this is an urban myth like alligators in the sewers or small animals up Gere’s. . .never mind. I am horrified. You’re right, s*** would’ve gotten us bitch-slapped by our parents as readily as f*** back in the day, if not quicker. Are the Weinsteins =that= out of their ever-lovin’ minds? How many drugs would it take to make that stupid a decision?

    As for the downbeat horror endings, I appreciate that you’ve spotted and decried this trend. The best horror films are not formulaic. . .

  4. DrSerizawa

    I’m reminded of the “outrage” James Cameron expressed over his movie, Titanic being edited by a local Provo, UT company. People would buy the tape and this company would remove the nude scene. This sparked a fair amount of outrage from other movie makers as well. You know, complaints about the “purity” of their vision being violated, etc etc.

    However I did notice that Cameron made no complaints when Titanic was cut even more for TV. I suspect that most of the expressed outrage was simply that someone else was making a buck.

  5. Ken Hanke

    I’m apoplectic – in fact, I’m stuttering – with rage over this news about the Weinsteins’ stunt-editing. Surely this is an urban myth like alligators in the sewers or small animals up Gere’s. . .never mind.

    Unfortunately, no, it isnt a myth.

    As for the downbeat horror endings, I appreciate that you’ve spotted and decried this trend.

    You do realize this doesn’t mean anything is going to change?

  6. Ken Hanke

    I’m reminded of the “outrage” James Cameron expressed over his movie, Titanic being edited by a local Provo, UT company.

    Then you approve of this?

    However I did notice that Cameron made no complaints when Titanic was cut even more for TV. I suspect that most of the expressed outrage was simply that someone else was making a buck.

    I can’t believe I’m defending Cameron, but if these people were altering tapes that had been purchased, then Cameron already made a buck, and I’m the one expressing outrage here and I’m not going to make a nickel off this either way.

  7. I don’t know that I approve of the cuts, but the poster for the PG-13 version is hilarious.
    Of course, here in Oz, it’s been out equivilant of PG-13 since it was first released, so no snipping is required.

  8. Ken Hanke

    Of course, here in Oz, it’s been out equivilant of PG-13 since it was first released, so no snipping is required.

    That’s because your ratings board isn’t as weird as the MPAA — or are perhaps weird in other ways.

  9. Charles

    On the topic of horror movies and the trend for “downbeat” ending in horror movies … I may be way off base but it seems to me that this became the standard in post 9/11 horror films. Or it could be that I had blinders on and have just noticed it more in the last 10 years.

  10. Charles

    On the topic of horror movies and the trend for “downbeat” ending in horror movies … I may be way off base but it seems to me that this became the standard in post 9/11 horror films. Or it could be that I had blinders on and have just noticed it more in the last 10 years.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I may be way off base but it seems to me that this became the standard in post 9/11 horror films. Or it could be that I had blinders on and have just noticed it more in the last 10 years.

    I won’t say it mayn’t have been exacerbated during this time — whether or not it has any actual relation to 9/11 — but it definitely started earlier than that. It’s partly with an eye to a sequel — consider the endings of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, and Friday the 13th where the villain/monster/whatever has been defeated or at least escaped from. They’re all also set up for another film by suggesting the evil isn’t dead or even stating it outright. To some degree this dates back to those 1950s sci-fi horrors that followed the words “The End” with a question mark. You might more profitably make a case that it’s a post-atomic thing, though there could be a post-9/11 element at work, too.

  12. Charles

    You know, I hadn’t really been thinking back as far as the 50’s and the post-atomic thing. Thanks for pointing that out.

  13. Ken Hanke

    You know, I hadn’t really been thinking back as far as the 50’s and the post-atomic thing. Thanks for pointing that out.

    Films — well, all art — tend to reflect some aspect of their time. (A good deal of the “disfigurement horror” in 1920s-30s horror has its roots in the maimed soldiers of WW I.) It’s almost inevitable that the sense of impending doom of the nuclear age would find its way into the genre. In fact, it’s still there to some degree.

  14. Dionysis

    “Does anyone else find this a little outrageous? Or at the very least disrepectful?”

    You can put me in the decidely “outrageous” camp on these kinds of shenanigans. To alter, without approval, any artist’s work is disgraceful.

  15. DrSerizawa

    To clarify: I find the alteration of The King’s Speech both stupid and contemptible because I consider it a work of art. I’d say the same of Black Swan. This degradation of the art for a buck is same the mindset that has “educators” (I use the word advisedly) banning Mark Twain from schools because he uses the “N” word. I find it hideous, disturbing and frankly fascistic.

    I believe the arts are preeminent in society. It is the artist that leads the society, not the technologist or politician. I dislike the degradation of it because some people get offended. No one has a right not to be offended.

  16. Ken Hanke

    No one has a right not to be offended.

    Not sure I quite grasp that one exactly.

  17. LYT

    Does anyone else remember how, after LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL won two Oscars, the Weinsteins released a dubbed-in-English version? Then with Benignin’s PINOCCHIO, they released a trimmed and dubbed version first, and the original Italian one after the dub bombed, to no effect.

    They do this all the time. The DVD will be fine.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Then with Benignin’s PINOCCHIO, they released a trimmed and dubbed version first, and the original Italian one after the dub bombed, to no effect

    That they released it at all is reason enough for them to be flogged.

  19. Vince Lugo

    Regarding The Kings Speech: I’m real big on the first amendment, so as a general rule I’m offended by post-release censorship/sanitization wherever it appears. It saddens me to think that the weinsteins, of all people, would engage in such a practice after openly pushing the envelope with such films as Pulp Fiction, Clerks, and Grindhouse. I usually only resort to downloading films and things if they are otherwise unavailable, but for this film, I’ll have to wait and see how they do the dvd release. I’d like to see the film as it was originally intended, but if the dvd only contains the watered-down PG13 version, I will download the R-rated version rather than monetarily support such an odius marketing ploy. It’s a matter of principle.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Oh, I don’t think there’s much — if any — chance that there won’t be a DVD of the original R rated version.

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