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Potter’s Half Blood Prince Is Given A Royal Gift -- A PG Rating


The latest Harry Potter film, the Half Blood Prince, is gobbling up box office dollars this week, and is set to become one of the summer’s big performers. One thing that may help it is the return to a PG rating. The past two Potter films, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix were both tagged with a PG-13 classification.

Parents may be happy to discover Harry is becoming more family-friendly, but before you set off to the theater with your little ones decked out in Potter paraphernalia, I need to tell you the honest truth: This edition of the spectacled wizard is actually more violent than the last two, and throws a dose of implied drug use and sexuality in for good measure. You see, Harry hasn’t changed but the ratings have.

Reviewing movies at Parent Previews, I noticed the quiet but major change to the PG rating back in 2008. While I loved The Chronicles of Narnia -- Prince Caspian, I was surprised at the level of violence that was tolerated in the film’s PG rating. Later in 2008 I screened Marley & Me, and then I knew for sure there had been a deliberate change with how the PG rating was being applied.

Not since the late 1970s had we seen fairly blatant sexuality in the PG rating. Marley & Me included frank adult sexual conversations along with scenes of a married couple excitedly embracing in their bedroom with the hopes of making a baby. Another moment shows them skinny-dipping (without explicit nudity) in their private pool. Again, I thought the movie had some good messages, but I was taken aback to see this type of content in a PG movie. I continued to be surprised early this year with Bride Wars and other movies.

Industry trade journal Variety implies the creators of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince were just as astounded to gain a PG rating. According to Pamela McClintock’s article, “Warner Bros. knew going in that the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise wouldn’t remain a family property as the characters morphed from kids into teenagers and the storyline grew more complex. ... Neither the studio nor the filmmakers went into the ratings process with the intention of securing a PG rating for ‘Half Blood Prince,’ insiders said.”

The article speculates that the PG rating may actually be a detriment, as the PG-13 classification indicated to teens “that a film is cool and slightly more grown-up” and that “sometimes a studio prefers a PG-13 rating because it will draw teenagers. A PG rating can be view by teens as too juvenile.”

So, once again, we must wonder, who is the MPAA’s Classification and Ratings Administration really trying to serve? Parents? Studios? It seems in this case it may be neither -- which is somewhat admirable because we have certainly seen studios sway with their ratings decisions in the past.

But what isn’t commendable is the MPAA’s decision to substantially alter the PG rating with absolutely no indication to parents that they were making a change. This latest edition of Harry Potter clearly proves this. The film allows us to compare movies within the same franchise, and at Parent Previews we determined that in the areas of violence, sexuality and substance abuse, this new Potter film contains more content than the previous one -- which was rated PG-13.

Magic wands become fantastical weapons, but the injuries appear real when a character is shown with blood flowing from several wounds on his chest. Even more surprising, is the depicted use of “potions” which appear to make these teen characters inebriated or high -- an obvious parallel to the use of drugs or alcohol. Finally, Order of the Phoenix contained no sexual content while this new Potter film has more sex (all involving teens) than found in any previous Potter movie. While the sexuality levels are still fairly low (there is no implied sexual intercourse between characters) we see many scenes of teens “snogging,” a British term for kissing and necking.

Sadly, this evidence proves the MPAA rating organization continues to do its own thing without nary a note to the parents it claims to serve. While I feel the ratings should be able to stay consistent over time, at the very least we would have appreciated a small notice somewhere informing us that the PG-rating was going to be given a magical change.

Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews® - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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