Did you see the news stories last week about the controversy surrounding "Saints and Soldiers," the World War II drama that received an R rating?

A lot of movies get R ratings, of course, and not much is made of it. And many also go through the rating board's appeal process — sometimes editing the film, sometimes not — to have the rating reduced to a PG-13. But you never see it on the local news.

However, "Saints and Soldiers" is an independent, made-in-Utah production with a largely LDS cast and crew — and one of the central characters is a Mormon (though he's never specifically labeled as such). As a result, the film has been lumped (perhaps unfairly) with the LDS cinema movement. And the rating got a bit more attention than it might have otherwise because the perceived audience — members of the LDS Church — is urged by church leaders to avoid R-rated movies.

More than anything else, however, it speaks to how ridiculous, and perhaps useless, the rating system has become.

Does "Saints and Soldiers" really deserve an R rating? Does the content — specifically wartime violence — really warrant a rating that's more harsh than, say, "Master and Commander" or "Pearl Harbor" or the "Lord of the Rings" films or "Behind Enemy Lines" or the "Indiana Jones" movies?

If the rating system really worked and the R rating didn't have such a negative stigma attached, perhaps "Saints and Soldiers" would deserve an R rating — along with all the other movies listed here. All are adult films with violence that could be quite disturbing to young children.

Yet, when those films and so many others get PG-13s these days, it seems a bit silly for this one to be branded with an R.

Having seen "Saints and Soldiers," my take is this: It's too serious a film. Perhaps the killings should have had a comic kick or a fantasy element, which would have earned a PG-13 rating automatically.

Let's remember that the rating board — the Classification and Rating Administration, which operates under the auspices of the Motion Picture Association of America — has a mandate to rate movies strictly on the basis of content, not quality. But I'm thinking that's a lot easier said than done.

So, if an Orc is beheaded or has limbs severed in "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," with all the accompanying special effects, it is apparently less disturbing than it would be if a human was killed in the same manner.

When, in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Indiana Jones guns down a swordsman in a marketplace and it gets a big laugh, or later, when two Nazis are killed with one shot on a moving jeep and the audience laughs again, that's apparently less disturbing for children. (Perhaps we can simply explain to impressionable preschoolers that funny death is OK.)

The problem with "Saints and Soldiers" may be that it's too realistic. That is, the film is based on reality and the characters are people we could know. And when they die or are mistreated, we feel it. The painful deaths are not funny, and there are repercussions.

Rating-board members never convey to filmmakers what precise content has earned a particular rating, but I suspect the board is jumpy over two specific sequences in "Saints and Soldiers":

— The first is the one that opens the film, as Nazis casually shoot and kill a number of American prisoners for no apparent reason. They are in custody, they are unarmed and they are shot down in a horrifying fashion. Disturbing? Yes. But, strictly in terms of content, any more graphic than the above-named films? No.

— The second sequence comes when someone is shot in the leg and a medic tries to stop the bleeding. There are brief close-ups of the wound, and we see some blood gushing out. Disturbing? Yes. But more graphic than anything in "Pearl Harbor" or "Behind Enemy Lines"? No.

The rating-appeal process is ongoing, and I'm confident the film will get a PG-13 before it opens in theaters sometime in April.

Meanwhile, the film's R rating serves as yet another indicator that the system is horribly flawed and needs revision.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com