Monday, March 19, 2007

Transformers Movie Saved from an "R" Rating--Fun Rescued from Near Disaster!!!

How's that for a bit of melodrama.

Well, in Hollywood it is where everything is just a little more dramatic, from making a movie to doing the laundry.

But it was serious business last week when Steven Spielberg went to bat to save this movie from a dreaded "R" rating. Based on the 25 minutes or so of this movie that we've seen, this is going to be one of THE movies of the summer. Plus, it's the only one that makes perfect sense from a toy standpoint. After all, these guys started out as toys. The way to play with them is built right into the story line. It's been genius from day one, and it still is today.

And, sure Transformers were originally were intended for kids 6 and up, but there's a whole generation of kids who have grown up with these characters who are very (to put it mildly) excited about Transformers: The Movie. All I have to do is wear my movie t-shirt to the gym (They gave them to us during Toy Fair; isn't that cool?) and more often than not guys come up to me and tell me how much they love Transformers and how they're looking forward to the movie. It's got blockbuster written all over it. Moreover, the execs up at Hasbro are practically giddy when they talk about this.

Think about it: This is a property that was created by guys up at Hasbro, more or less on the fly and has become one of the most enduring boys action properties of all time. Grown men still mention these as one of the favorite toys, and perhaps only Star Wars gets grown men talking like excited kids faster. In fact, I know guys in their early 30s who can virtually repeat entire episodes--that's how important to kids that show has been.

Needless to say, there's a lot of excitement, but the movie was headed into dangerous territory last week when the MPAA got a first look at the movie and was planning to give it an "R" rating. Apparently, according to Dreamworks, Steven Spielberg himself stepped in and got the PG-13 rating.

Why does this matter? Well, from an audience standpoint it probably doesn't. Haven't you seen a lot of kids at "R" rated movies lately? Haven't you seen "PG-13" movies with language that could turn a hair or two? And it's not just that it's the bad words, it's the intention behind the language. The MPAA Guidelines like the infamous Hollywood Production Code of the 1930s is something that can often be gotten around. And taste and appropriateness are always in the eye of the beholder. When it comes to movies, we always recommend that parents and caregivers make sure that what they take their kids to see are consistent with their values. You're the consumer, so choose what you consume. And from all we've seen over the years, a rating isn't going to stop someone from buying something they want.

But it does matter when it comes to toys. We've had a sneak peek at some of the toys coming out for the movie, and they are some of the most incredible Transfomers toys ever. You will not believe the sophistication, creativity and fun that Hasbro has built into these. However, when there is a movie with an "R" rating, you get the folks coming out of the woodwork to protest that companies like Hasbro and Dreamworks are trying to destroy our children! And it makes mainstream retailers leery about carrying these products because of the PR storm that these people kick up. So Hasbro and Dreamworks have dodged a bullet on this one.

Yet, before I give this up (I can really get like a terrier at times with these kinds of issues), can we look at what the "R" rating was for? It wasn't for bad language, violence or sexual content. (Transfomers are pretty sexless as far as we can tell. The Tin Woodman from The Wizard of Oz was more likely to have libidinous feelings. After all, he started as a human.) It was for intensity!

But isn't this intensity exactly what kids go to the movies--and this movie in particular--for? The entire ethos of the world of Transformers is based on power and conflict. This is an essential element of boys play, and as far as we can tell has been so since boys made wooden swords and dreamed of becoming Knights. It's a mammalian trait, and it's not going anywhere. Will it upset some kids? Sure. But I've seen kids carried out of Snow White because they were scared of the Witch. Heck, Strawberry Shortcake sends me screaming from the room, but that, again, is just personal taste.

The point is, you don't ride a roller coaster expecting to be on a merry-go-round. You want to gambol around your magic forest with Care Bears, by all means do so. You want some kick-ass special effects and a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, then stay tuned for Transformers: The Movie.

Hooray for Mr. Spielberg for sticking to his guns. Summer's going to be a lot more fun because of him.

- C. Byrne