The dozen or so people sitting on the movie-rating board often make truly baffling decisions, and one that has just come up is a real head-scratcher. In fact, it has me wondering if the board members even realize that the G rating still exists or know what it means.
You may have read that “The Wizard of Oz” has been rejiggered for IMAX and 3-D, and will play a one-week theatrical run next month at some 400 IMAX theaters around the country (to include Utah) before the Oct. 1 release of a 75th anniversary 3-D/Blu-ray box set. (Although this year marks the 74th anniversary of the film; go figure.)
What you may not know is that “The Wizard of Oz” has also been re-rated, and the board, in its infinite wisdom, has overturned the film’s G rating and marked it with a PG!
This is the weirdest classic-film rating since Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” earned an R after 16 years with an M rating (the PG-equivalent at the time).
In the scheme of things, rating “The Wizard of Oz” PG instead of G may seem like much ado about nothing, but it’s indicative of how modern Hollywood is moving further and further away from truly family-friendly moviemaking.
In fact, the G rating is nearly extinct, something to which I devote an entire chapter in my recent book on the movie-rating system … if you’ll pardon that blatant, shameless plug.
If you want evidence, look no further than the 2013 roster.
So far this year we’ve had 175 new movies roll through Salt Lake theaters and only one has been rated G: Pixar’s animated “Monsters University.”
And scheduled for the rest of the year, in terms of movies rated so far, there are no others. That could change, of course, but even if a few more G-rated films do show up the total will remain a single-digit tally.
As for “The Wizard of Oz,” it has been rated G for 43 years, so why this sudden change?
The Classification and Rating Administration, which operates under the auspices of the Motion Picture Association of America, never gives any reasons for its specific movie decisions beyond what is printed on the rating itself. In this case, “The Wizard of Oz 3D,” as it is listed on the CARA website, is rated PG “for some scary moments.”
“The Wizard of Oz” is, of course, one of the most popular films of all time, a comic musical fantasy based on the first in a series of “Oz” books by L. Frank Baum and starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, a young girl who is transported via tornado from black-and-white Kansas (sepia tone, actually) to the brilliant Technicolor land of Oz.
Not that I really need to explain all that. By show of hands, how many of you have seen “The Wizard of Oz”? Or, for a smaller number, how many have not seen “The Wizard of Oz”? And if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you? Not seeing this film is positively un-American. Or un-Ozian, perhaps.
Originally released in 1939 when color was a couple of decades away from becoming the standard, “The Wizard of Oz” surprisingly played to less-than-stellar box-office numbers. But of course, in the years since, the film has built its huge audience generation by generation, through theatrical reissues and especially after it began a remarkable run of annual showings on network television during the 1950s and ’60s. (Something my family looked forward to each year when I was a child.)
Because “The Wizard of Oz” was released nearly 30 years before movie ratings came into existence, it was, like all films at the time, unrated. But in 1970, for a theatrical reissue, “The Wizard of Oz” was submitted to CARA for the first time, and, as you might expect, it sailed through with a G. (Go pull the DVD box off your shelf and look at the back cover and you’ll see the G rating.)
So why was it re-rated in 2013? The rule is that if a film’s content is altered in any way, it must be viewed and rated again by the board before it can play theatrically. And apparently “The Wizard of Oz” has been edited in some form for this new IMAX 3-D release.
When a film is reconfigured to IMAX and/or 3-D, it does go through some adjustments, but not in terms of actual content, which is supposedly the only thing the rating board cares about. And such other recent re-releases in those formats as Disney’s “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Jurassic Park” managed to be re-released without being re-rated.
So what’s the deal? Are we going to see the flying monkeys with blood on their fangs? Oh, wait, that was “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
It could be that the board simply felt “The Wizard of Oz” is scarier in 3-D. The wicked witch in your face might be something board members worried would startle the little ones.
Whatever the reason, when a genuine family film like “The Wizard of Oz” gets a PG, it really does signal the death knell for the G rating.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parents Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com