Readers of this paper on Saturday will know that a part of my job involves writing The Dominion Post's film reviews.
OPINION: I've been doing the job for a few years and most days I enjoy it immensely. Doing the job means that I see most films that pass through our movie theatres. I've certainly seen every Ironman, Avengers, Batman, Twilight, Harry Potter, Hunger Games and their innumerable sequels.
And I've noticed a couple of things about these films: first, they're a lot better written and made now than the equivalent films would have been 10 years ago, and second, they're always rated M.
An M means that the film is recommended for an adult audience, but it is not a restriction. Which explains why, whenever I see a Hunger Games or an Avengers during the school holidays, the theatre is packed with primary school-age kids. And yet these films are often brutally violent, and they deal with some very adult themes.
So I've been brooding on that. And then last week I watched Jemaine Clement's and Taika Waititi's What We Do in the Shadows, which didn't seem to me to contain half the violence of a Twilight instalment, and yet Shadows is rated R13.
I was curious about what was going on, so I made a phone call, and asked to have a yarn with Andrew Jack, who is our chief censor.
I asked Jack why blockbusters which feature quite graphic beatings, stabbings, murders, and collateral deaths by the thousand, are routinely rated M, while our little indigenous comedy, which contains one arterial spurt, one vampire on fire, and one masturbation gag, gets an R13.
And the answer surprised me. It turns out that usually we don't rate the movies we show. The Australians do.
New Zealand has a reciprocal arrangement with Australia. If a movie gets a G, a PG, or an M over there, then we rate it the same.
It's only if a film picks up a restricted rating in Australia that we have a look at it and make up our own minds.
If Australia hasn't yet rated a film, then we ask the United Kingdom censors' office what sticker it puts on, then follow the same process.
It's only if a film screens in New Zealand before it is released in Australia or Britain that we make our own decision. Hence, What We Do in the Shadows gets an R13.
I can see the sense in the system; it saves us millions of dollars a year, and, in theory, it should work well. But I think there are flaws. First, we are not Australia. It might be our nearest neighbour, but culturally it's a very different place.
Australia has always reminded me more of the United States than it does New Zealand. It's louder, brasher, and I think more casual about violence than we are.
And, oddly, the Australian censors are a lot more uptight about sex and nudity than us. Also, Australia doesn't have an R13 equivalent.
So I asked Jack why we look to Australia first, and the UK second.
It seems to me that our taste for violence and our acceptance of sexuality is a lot closer to the UK than Australia.
The British are pretty liberal about sex and nudity, but less tolerant than the Aussies or Americans about graphic violence. And the UK has an R12 rating, which it routinely awards to the most violent and adult of the American blockbusters.
I'm advocating that we make one simple change to the system: If we can't afford to rate every film ourselves, then instead of looking at the Australian rating first, and the UK's second, let's reverse the order. The costs involved in making the change are minimal, and you won't have a sobbing 7- year-old sitting behind you at the next Hunger Games. Worth considering?
- The Dominion Post