Monday, 7 January 2008

Movie reviews

If I really want to find out whether I want to go see a movie, I check that useful and witty aggregator rottentomatoes.com. But now I'm thinking of adding MovieGuide.org to the list. Here's why.

Today's Sydney Morning Herald has a story about a man who's put some hard work into demonstrating that movies promoting sex, violence and atheistic world views are not as profitable as movies that don't.

Among other things the story reports on how Ted Baehr, the man responsible for the site, has actually made a difference to the movies we watch, and has done so from a theologically conservative Christian position.

Baehr writes a worthwhile review of atheist Philip Pullman's the Golden Compass on his website, MovieGuide.org.

The movies are rated on the sorts of things you'd expect in a secular movie review; features such as production values, plot, characterization and the other sorts of things you'd normally see in a film write-up. Then, there is an 'acceptability rating', about which the site says:

We gear the ratings to parents with children but also provide information for discerning adult viewers. For example, an Acceptability Rating of Plus One means caution for younger children ages 2-7, an Acceptability Rating of Minus One means caution for older children ages 8-12, and an Acceptability Rating of Minus Two means extreme caution for teenagers and/or adults. These Acceptability ratings are arranged not only according to age levels, but also according to a traditional Christian view of art, going from the sublime and the divine, Plus Four, to the abhorrent and demonic, Minus Four.

So, for example, The Golden Compass gets 3 stars in the general review, but is given an 'acceptability rating' of '-4, abhorrent'. Similarly, the review for Alien vs Predator: Requiem gives a general rating of 2 stars, an Acceptability rating of -3 (excessive) and in summary blasts it to kingdom come with the one-line dismissal "A Waste of Theater Space".

I suppose there are people in the US doing this sort of Christian movie rating all the time. The noteworthy thing about MovieGuide.org is just how far he's managed to get with the process. It's an encouragement to any of us (not just Christians) who dislike exploitative and sexually explicit trends in advertising or TV and movie programming, and decide to make the effort to complain.

27 comments:

marion said...

Thanks Gordon for bringing this to our attention. Having read Pullman's series I wouldn't waste time & money seeing the movie, but good to see someone has seen it & reviewed it.

CraigS said...

I don't understand why Christians would bother complaining about films/shows they don't like. Surely the right thing to do is to just avoid them.

To take the apostle Paul as an example, I don't see any evidence of him petitioning Governors to improve moral standards in the Roman Empire. He just preached the gospel.

Gordon Cheng said...

One of the great Christian and civil freedoms we have is the freedom to complain about stuff we don't like.

As for Paul, I see no evidence that he inflicted his opinions on the general public by blogging, either. But that hasn't stopped some of us from getting into it.

I suppose you could call it 'being part of the conversation.' ;-)

CraigS said...

Oh, I agree that complaining is a freedom a Christian has in a democratic society. If it's left as a purely optional thing, I don't have a problem with it.

I guess I get the feeling sometimes that some Christians believe all Christians should be petitioning the government as regards moral improvement of society. I don't buy that.

Gordon Cheng said...

I'd argue that as well as being Purely Optional, it is also and frequently a Good Thing to Do.

I don't see why Christians shouldn't grab opportunity, as opportunity allows, to influence government and public opinion. We applaud William Wilberforce for mounting a moral campaign against slavery. Why not applaud someone who mounts a moral campaign highlighting (say) the danger of pornography for both producer and consumer?

CraigS said...

I wonder more and more whether Wilberforce should keep getting held up as a normative example for Christians as regards social action. If nothing else, the fact that it's the only example we ever hear about suggests that it was an almost unique occurrence.

Regardless, English slave-trading was a pretty clear cut case of institutional injustice, and it's right and proper for governments to be lobbied to overturn such.

I just don't see banning an X-rated movie as being in the same category as that.

Gordon Cheng said...

Who said anything about normative? All I said was that he'd done a good thing. He is no more normative than Paul as a Roman citizen appealing to Caesar for his rights, or RBS Hammond helping workers during the Depression to build their own homes (hence Hammondville), or Catherine Hamlin and the Addis Ababa fistula hospital, or Stewart and Helen Binns helping Iranian refugees in Villawood to negotiate with government bureaucracy, or Anglican Retirement Villages helping to provide humane treatment for people in nursing homes and advising the government about such matters, or Christ Church Preschool in Gladesville trying to help argue for more equitable funding of community preschools, or...quite a few things actually.

There are more examples than just Wilberforce of Christians who were and are prepared to take social action, and some of them even did so despite the fact that government was involved!

And: I think you should look a bit further into the link between pornography, prostitution and abduction and the international slave trade before making bold claims about whether or not institutional injustice is involved. TEAR Australia would be one place to start looking for information.

CraigS said...

I absolutely believe Christians should be involved in social justice, and I like your examples because they involve Christians actually doing something, rather than lobbying government to do something.

I am strongly opposed to censorship - it is a dangerous power to give to governments.

As far as lobbying government to stop people going to see films that you (and I) regard as offensive - that just doesn't feel right to me either. I don't think you are achieving anything very productive if such a ban is instituted.

How far do you going trying to legislate against behaviour that God regards as sinful? Should a Christian lobby government to outlaw fornication? How about outlawing hateful thoughts? Where do you stop?

CraigS said...

I went to the TEAR website and did a search for "pornography", but it didn't return any matches.

Gordon Cheng said...

Actually, you do agree with censorship, or else you would be complaining when individuals with tens of thousands of the wrong sort of pictures of children on their hard drives are arrested and have their computers impounded.

And I'm glad you like the examples, but at least three of them (including Paul appealing to the Roman emperor) involve the government enacting and paying for certain policies to be put into place and upheld.

CraigS said...

Actually, you do agree with censorship

Actually, I don't agree with censorship.

Regarding child pornography, it always involves the obscene exploitation of the children involved. It is manifestly unjust, it should be outlawed (as it is). Those who receive the illegally produced material are accessories after the fact, so I think it reasonable that they be punished.

This is a very different situation to a consenting adult woman deciding to strip for the camera for money. I might disagree with the moral sensibilities of those involved, but I don't see any injustice being perpetrated.

I ask again - how far should you go in lobbying government for Christian values? I repeat my examples - outlaw fornication, outlaw hate?

Gordon Cheng said...

Hmm. Presumably, then, you would have no problem with animated or computer-simulated pedophilia and the like being available to any one who wanted to download it, any time. Anyone, man, woman or child should be free to consume such material provided that it no actual child was harmed during the production of it.

More broadly, If you don't believe that X-rated videos and the pornography industry generally contribute to the problem of prostitution, and that this in turn contributes to the kidnap of women from poor countries for slavery in Western brothels, then I suggest there is scope for a bit more work on your part.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically addresses the situation of child pornography and child prostitution, because it recognizes there is a problem. Amnesty International reports that hundreds of thousands of women are sold into slavery in brothels. Prostitution doesn't just arise unless the demand is being fed, and part of what feeds that demand is pornography—so argues Pamela Paul in her 2005 book Pornified.

By the way, I was recommending a bit more than a lazy google of the TEAR fund website. You could start by contacting them directly, along with some of the other people I've mentioned above like Amnesty or the UN. Making bold claims about pornography not involving institutional injustice requires more than just saying so.

Gordon Cheng said...

How far do you going trying to legislate against behaviour that God regards as sinful?

This question is drifting further and further away from the original example, which was of a theologically conservative individual influencing the film industry through the use of movie reviews. No government involvement at all.

But if you insist on asking your question, then my answer is, as far as is practical. Different people can argue about what that means, but I personally tend towards less government legislation rather than more. It's not an area I spend a lot of time thinking about.

CraigS said...

By the way, I was recommending a bit more than a lazy google of the TEAR fund website.

You said, "TEAR Australia would be one place to start looking for information." So I went to their website, looked for something relevant, found nothing. Now you say I'm lazy for doing that?

Making bold claims about pornography not involving institutional injustice requires more than just saying so.

True enough - my words were sloppy. Let me say that I'm not aware that the the pornography institution in first world countries involve institutional injustice.

If someone has evidence that it does, I'd be interested in seeing it.

Gordon Cheng said...

If you do more, then you're not lazy! And I will gladly take the comment back, with apologies.

But if you make bold claims, it would be nice to think that you would then come through with some hard evidence.

CraigS said...

Presumably, then, you would have no problem with animated or computer-simulated pedophilia and the like

Such things (if they exist) are an abhomination. But I don't think government should be controlling what people draw or think. Is it illegal in Australia to draw (using pen or computer) something like that? If someone is sitting at home doodling erotic pictures of children, he is under God's judgment. But I don't think he should be arrested and imprisoned.

Gordon Cheng said...

But I don't think he should be arrested and imprisoned.

Nor do I. It's impractical.

John H said...

Gordon: as I said on Craig's site (but since more discussion is taking place here, I might as well cross-post), I really wonder whether a site such as this does a particularly useful service to Christian parents (or Christians in general).

It promotes a reductive, box-ticking approach to Christian engagement with movies. There is also something a bit odd about such an obsessive, carefully-enumerated cataloguing of "profanities", "upper male nudity" and so on that begins to look both prudish and prurient rather than particularly "moral". It very much takes a "Christ against culture" viewpoint.

But my biggest objection is that the site promotes a highly idiosyncratic worldview in the name of "biblical principles". If your film is "pro-immigration" (or even just not sufficiently anti-immigration) then that's a black mark (see their review of "The Children of Men"). If your film is pro-capitalism, that's good (I'm not kidding - "The Pursuit of Happyness" gets a big "thumbs-up" for its "very strong capitalist content"); if it is "leftist", that's bad. "Environmentalism" is another moral evil from which this site seeks to protect us. And so on.

This is not a Christian site: it is a right-wing, Republican, culture war site that just happens to be run by a Christian.

Gordon Cheng said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gordon Cheng said...

[I deleted my previous comment because of a couple of annoying typos! Here it is again, fixed up:]

I take your point, John, although I don't agree that making a list of potentially objectionable content is 'obsessive'.

Now that I have three DVD watching girls of my own, the more info I know about the movie before watching it, the happier I am. I am not bothered by 'upper male nudity' but I know some parents who would think twice about this and would be thankful for the warning.

The trouble with producing such a list is that there is no easy way to do it without leaving yourself open to mockery. But that doesn't stop it being useful.

On the question of whether Mr Baehr or the site is Christian, I've deliberately been a bit cautious about saying that in my post, you'll notice. All I've said is that he is writing from a theologically conservative position, which I think you'll agree is true.

I agree that the political conservatism of the site is not necessarily something to be commended.

A movie review is just that: a review. I don't agree with all the reviews I read, but I do read them to gain a better idea of whether I should fork out my hard-earned to pay for me and sometimes the girls to go see it. The MovieGuide site is potentially useful because it looks at a cursory glance like the information and opinions in it are reliable, even if I won't always agree with them. Once you get a sense of a reviewer's 'take' on things, you can make allowances accordingly.

And I am still impressed that the heads of the major Hollywood studios seem interested in Mr Baehr's opinions.

Anyway, you should beware in slamming the site's right-wing stance as you will have CraigS starting to think it's a good idea! ;-)

John H said...

Gordon: if you're looking for more detailed information on what a film contains, you may want to check out the British Board of Film Classification's "Parents BBFC" site. This provides detailed "consumer information" on films, so that parents are aware of why a film has been rated at a particular level. The Simpsons Movie is a good example of the level of detail provided.

It's less comprehensive than MovieGuide.org (having only been set up in recent months). Also, it doesn't address the worldview issues covered by MovieGuide.org, but then I don't regard Dr Baehr as a reliable guide on worldview issues anyway.

(To take another example: MovieGuide.org slammed "Good Night and Good Luck" for its "pro-communist" sympathies. It seems that thinking Senator Joseph McCarthy was right is now a "biblical principle". Um, not for me and my house it isn't.)

And I am still impressed that the heads of the major Hollywood studios seem interested in Mr Baehr's opinions.

I'm less impressed. All that says is that Dr (I believe it is Dr) Baehr has power in the marketplace, and that his "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" can make a material difference to a film's bottom line. Hence they beat a path to his door as someone who speaks for an important market constituency.

Gordon Cheng said...

Oh, I don't deny that this is rank capitalism doing it's thing as only it knows how. And the examples you cite are good ones to show that it's still got to be 'buyer beware'. I've not seen the movie Children of Men but I still hope to see it on the strength of having read the novel by P.D. James, and knowing that it's got Clive Whatsy and Michael Thingummy in lead roles.

But for heaven's sake, it's only a review site. That's the thing I don't get about this. The more reviews the better, and no-one except Craig has raised the idea that we ought to go from reviewing movies to enacting government legislation to ban things the reviewer doesn't like.

Even Dr. [thanks for the correction] Baehr doesn't say that—indeed, given his heart-on-sleeve commitment to right wing values, I suspect he'd be very wary of such an idea.

Anyway, it seems to me that you've acknowledged the basic point Dr B made in the SMH article I linked, which is that film-makers will tone down material that can be demonstrated to offend enough potential customers, and that legislative action is not required to make it happen.

Sure, SC or the Briefing may do better culture reviews (and thank you for the acknowledgment over on Craig's blog ;-) ), and no doubt the link you just provided is useful too. But much as we would like to imagine differently, our voices are not loud enough to reach Hollywood just at this stage. Dr B's is, and mixed blessing though it may be, it is still a blessing and I'm very pleased his website exists.

Jane P said...

Hi Gordon. You may be interested in an excellent Australian organisation that produces great movie reviews - Young Media Australia. Another active local mob worth looking at is Kids Free to be Kids , founded by a mum from Melbourne.

CraigS said...

and no-one except Craig has raised the idea that we ought to go from reviewing movies to enacting government legislation

Well, I've got to be eternally vigilant against all you big government types out there... ;-)

marion said...

Gordon, the movie bears only a slight resemblance to the book. I'm sorry I spent the money to see it as I left feeling annoyed. Mark Steyn says it a lot better than I can. Go to www.marksteyn.com & scroll down to Children of Men.

CraigS said...

Well, I emailed TEAR about the pornography and injustice issue. I received the following reply -

Dear Craig

Unfortunately TEAR Australia doesn't have any information on the relationship between pornography and institutional injustice.

All the best with your research,

Kind regards

Kate

Anonymous said...

Hi Gordon
I use this site http://www.pluggedinonline.com/ when i want at check a movie our teenagers want to watch - not so much for a literay review but just a quick overview in order to say yes or no - it is focus on the family based - what do you think?