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Movies and the marketplace

Big studios sanitize scripts while independents clean up on awards

Issue: "Muddy Gras," March 4, 2006

When Sony Pictures acquired The Pink Panther, the $80 million Steve Martin showcase was all finished and ready to be released. But top Sony movie executive Amy Pascal was not pleased. That version depicted Inspector Clouseau as a dirty old man in a picture filled with crude sex jokes. She demanded cuts of the offensive material. And then more cuts.

"I saw a great family movie in the movie," Ms. Pascal told the Los Angeles Times, "but not everything was appropriate for a family audience." She demanded not only cuts and re-edits, but expensive re-shootings. And then Ms. Pascal would tell the director, "You ain't done yet."

After spending $5 million on changes, the tamed Pink Panther earned a PG rating. And though filmmakers might have cut a little bit more (see "The Pink Panther review," Feb. 25), the resulting movie appealed to all ages and became a bonafide hit.

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Ever since 1992, the Christian Film & Television Commission has been surveying what kinds of films do best at the box office, finding that family-friendly movies consistently make the most money. The effect is especially pronounced in this year's study.

The top 10 movies of 2005 were, in order: Star Wars: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; War of the Worlds; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Wedding Crashers; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Batman Begins; Madagascar; Mr. & Mrs. Smith; and Hitch.

Of these, only one (Wedding Crashers) was rated R. Nine had at least some moral, Christian, or biblical content, as determined by the commission's content analysis as published in its journal Movieguide. Seven had no overt sexual content. None had any overt left-wing or anti-American politics.

Not that the top 10 were free of problems from a Christian point of view. Four had strong pagan content. Four had more than 25 obscenities or profanities.

Taking a bigger sample, of the top 25, only three were rated R. Altogether, movies with little sex, bad language, and violence earned an average of $45 million per movie, whereas films with those elements raked in a little over $27 million. Thus, on the average, family-friendly films outperformed the others by 65 percent.

So why are so many salacious movies still getting made? Why were the best picture nominees for the Academy Awards two gay-themed pictures and three featuring liberal politics, all but one of which are rated R?

According to Ted Baehr, head of the commission that conducted the study, the six major studios (Paramount, Warner Brothers, Universal, Disney, Sony, and 20th Century Fox) are realizing the economic realities and are producing more family-friendly shows. But these big businesses no longer dominate the movie industry.

Mr. Baehr told WORLD that the influence of Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, showcasing independent productions, has changed the face of Hollywood. The hot new directors and movies with the cultural buzz are coming from the ranks of independent films.

And independent moviemakers have a different motivation than the major studios. The latter are mainly interested in making money, but, according to Mr. Baehr, independent filmmakers have other agendas. Some want to create a cinematic work of art. A few, like Mel Gibson and the makers of End of the Spear, want to communicate the Christian faith. Others, like George Clooney and Michael Moore, want to produce leftist propaganda. "People who are in it to do the latest cutting-edge movie," said Mr. Baehr, often include "more sex and violence."

"Independent movies don't make much money," said Mr. Baehr, "but they do get the press." And since there are so many independent filmmakers, they constitute a majority of the Academy that awards the Oscars. While all of the top 10 movies were from the big studios, all but one of the best picture nominees (Munich) were from independent filmmakers.

If the free market had its way, movies might have a higher moral tone. But we still must contend in the marketplace of ideas.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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