How should the MPAA distinguish between PG, PG-13, or R ratings?

I find it’s very easy to point out when they’ve done it wrong, but tough to lay out a plan for how to do it right.

As I watched Revenge of the Sith, I realized I was very uncomfortable about the fact that the theatre was full of little kids… kids who were horrified at some of the things they were seeing. Did Sith actually deserve an R-rating, perhaps?

A friend just informed me that Bewitched, the upcoming comedy with Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell, has been rated “PG-13 (for some language, including sex and drug references, and partial nudity).”

It’s hard to believe that anything with foul language, sex and drug references, and partial nudity could get a PG-13. But at the same time, this is a Will Ferrell movie, so it’s more than likely that “partial nudity” simply refers to a visual punchline– a brief glimpse of Will Ferrell standing bare-assed in the middle of the street somewhere.

The PG/PG-13 problem has existed since the rating was invented. I’ll never forget being completely bewildered that Top Gun, with all of its harsh language and sex, could get a PG while Ladyhawke could earn a PG-13 merely because you see a bishop get impaled upon a spear.

How would you advise the MPAA to make these tricky decisions? What films would set up as representing the “threshhold” for a PG-13 film or an R film?

Having said all of that, let me share something from the blog of my friend Jason Bortz: He writes about taking his seven-year-old son to see Revenge of the Sith, and the boy’s reaction is a great illustration of how a child’s perception is often far more penetrating and true than our own. While I’m going on and on about how much I loved the special effects, young Bortz gets to the heart of the matter.

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