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When is a PG-13 movie not a PG-13 movie? When it has been re-edited and repackaged for home viewing in a racier, "unrated" version. As we near the halfway point of 2005, it's happening more and more. King Arthur. Hellboy. White Chicks. XXX. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The Chronicles of Riddick. While parents may be new to this backdoor attempt at creating edgier DVDs, teenagers are well aware of Hollywood's latest cheat in the ratings game. In fact, some young people look for the unrated cut. They prefer it. And leading retailers are making sure they have no trouble finding it.

Having It Both Ways
What has paved the way for this phenomenon? Call it the economics of filmmaking. With PG-13 movies consistently out-grossing R-rated features at the box office, studios now pressure directors to deliver PG-13 product to theaters. So a director shoots the film he wants, then cuts whatever he must to get a PG-13 and maximize profits. But the edited material, while not in the movie, isn't discarded. It's lying in wait, biding its time for new life in an unrated DVD not governed by the MPAA ratings board.

In short, what the studios take away from filmmakers with one hand—extreme sexual content, violence and foul language—they give back with the other when it becomes financially advantageous to do so. Once a flick has run its course on the big screen, the PG-13 label is disposable. It's a marketing tool that has served its purpose. Then the unrated DVD gives the studio a lucrative way to generate repeat viewership, usually for a mediocre film that wouldn't merit a second look. Execs exploit the curiosity factor, especially among adolescents, of What did they add? and How far did they go?

Accomplices in Your Neighborhood
Blockbuster Video, the nation's largest renter of DVDs, has played right along. According to company spokesman Randy Hargrove, execs there have made the decision to stop carrying the PG-13 version of movies when there's an unrated counterpart. Furthermore, stores aren't making it a point to alert shoppers that the movie they're renting isn't the same one seen in theaters. The only "check" in the process is that all unrated movies available at Blockbuster carry a "Youth Restricted Viewing" sticker, which prompts clerks to ask for ID. (The YRV program forbids the renting of R-rated movies to anyone under 18 unless parents explicitly give permission to do so when signing up for a Blockbuster account.)

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, carries both the unrated and PG-13 versions of these movies. Unrated editions typically get stocked in the main aisle where all movies are filed alphabetically. Plugged In found the PG-13 versions displayed in different locations where shoppers aren't as inclined to look. As is the case at Blockbuster, cash registers will prompt an ID check if an R-rated movie is scanned. However, that same safeguard has yet to be put into place for unrated movies, according to Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk.

Burk clarified that the company reviews all movies before carrying them in the first place. "In many instances, the unrated version simply offers a few minutes of additional footage that gives the customers more than was in the theatrical release," she said. "If this additional footage, whether a few seconds or a few minutes, changes the general content of the movie, we may make a decision not to carry it." She couldn't say if any movies had been rejected, but we had no trouble finding the hottest new unrated titles at local Wal-Marts.

"Unrated, Uncut and Uncalled For"
While theater owners have required that films carry an MPAA rating, most retailers haven't applied that standard. Knowing this, some creative types revel in upping the raunch factor, as evidenced in the titles of recent unrated DVDs. The formerly R-rated Bad Santa, for instance, is now called Badder Santa. The unrated version of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy carries the moniker "Unrated, uncut and uncalled for."

"I think this proves that there's still a demand for raunchier fare now that it's easier for teens to buy or rent DVDs than it is for them to buy tickets for an R-rated movie," Gabriel Snyder of Variety magazine told Plugged In. Snyder added that the studios are happy to oblige.

What about families who don't want more explicit fare? Once again, the discerning among us will have to work harder to protect our children from a downward spiral. Sometimes a retailer will provide information about the unrated DVD. For example, amazon.com's description of King Arthur reads, "The 15 extra minutes of footage in the unrated extended cut of King Arthur mostly add more graphic violence such as severed limbs, spattering blood and arrows through heads." But that's the exception. As proven by Blockbuster and Wal-Mart, parents will have to dig just to find out if a film's been altered, much less how.

Published May 2005