Monday, July 10, 2006

The following film has been ruined.

I despise all forms of censorship, which leaks into the greyer area of movies getting butchered. Usually this is seen when a television network wants to show a movie, but doesn't want to show anything that might upset anybody. Well, that and they have to stop it every few minutes to let the advertisers scream at you. Anyway, there are other places this happens. "Family-friendly" video rental shops and other small businesses will sell or exchange for censored versions of movies. It's just been ruled that such businesses are infringing copyright:

...I'm not sure how I feel about that. Sure, a little part of me dies when I see television butcher a movie by cutting off the sides of the picture, dubbing horribly cheesy dialogue over four-letter words, and skipping over intense scenes altogether. I think it does the filmmaker a disservice. But I'll bet that that same filmmaker either agreed to or signed off permission to a studio for the contract that let that movie be shown in a butchered format. Plus, it's generally understood that if I want to see the real deal, I can go buy a DVD or order pay-per-view or something. Now, these "family-friendly" rental outfits and other small businesses wear it on their sleeves that they are peddling modified movies. I personally would never set foot in such a place. But the guy who has a van full of kids to keep entertained on a long trip, or a practicing Mormon who never watches R-rated movies, might see these places much more positively. Butchered Matrix is better than no Matrix at all. ...Was that even R-rated...? Well you get my point.

Part of the problem is that society is full of prudes. This wouldn't even be an issue if there wasn't a sizeable part of the population who decides to get offended by certain words and images, who thinks anything sexual or violent is inappropriate, who picks at the details but misses the bigger picture of context and the notion that some stories simply deal with heavy subject matter. Another part is that many Hollywood studios toss in language and gore where really it isn't accomplishing anything. And then there's the problem that big media corporations want to have total control over how we see anything that comes out of their studios. Hence DVD encryption, unskippable previews, and the whole ridiculous ongoing fiasco around high-definition formats. If I honestly want to watch a butchered movie, I think I should be able to do so. Especially if I've paid just as much as I would for the real thing.

This particular ruling is sort of the worst of both worlds. If we bring the idea to its logical conclusion, there will be no more pan-and-scan and/or butchered-for-tv versions of movies, which would be fine by me, but we'll also be in a world where parody and other fair-use stuff is completely thrown out the window, which is absolutely not fine.

Preserving an artist's vision, hooray to that. But a giant boo to the idea of big film studios working with the government to restrict what we do with our own stuff. Here's hoping this judgement gets overruled, because it's totally wrong, even if it was made for the right reasons.