Film Fanatic: Uncut or pre-cut?

A poke around the BBFC website highlights a worrying trend among UK cinema releases

For many film fans who grew up in the era of the ‘Video Nasty’, the British Board of Film Classification’s decision last year to pass Jörg Buttgereit’s controversial cult classic Nekromantik uncut for home viewing in the UK can be viewed as something of a fresh watershed for the softening of censorship restrictions on these shores. However, 2014 also saw the BBFC having what may well be its biggest impact on mainstream movies in decades, one prompted by film distributors’ desires to reach ever-wider audiences for their content.

If, like me, you spend a lot of time checking out the BBFC’s official website then you’ll have seen more and more references to ‘Precuts Information’ on the pages for films that have been through the certification process. This relates to a service the BBFC provides where distributors can submit rough cuts of a film during the production process – or even scripts – and seek advice on how to achieve a specific age rating. In a way it harks back to the days when the BBFC would actually vet the scripts of British films prior to production commencing.

Still confused? Well, let’s take a look at Paul Anderson’s historical epic Pompeii (pictured above). While the main listing at the top of the relevant page on the BBFC’s website states ‘All known versions of this work passed uncut’, scroll down a little further on the page and the actual situation becomes a little more complicated. The reason no cuts were made to achieve a 12A rating when Pompeii was officially submitted for classification is because the BBFC had already seen it during production.

According to the BBFC site: ‘During post-production, the distributor sought and was given advice on how to secure the desired classification. Following this advise, certain changes were made prior to submission… The company was advised to reduce stronger moments of violence where there was a dwelling on particular acts and to reduce the emphasis on blood on bladed weapons.’

Now, while possibly annoying for gore-hounds, such desire to achieve a specific (less restrictive) rating for a film’s UK cinema release isn’t really that much of a problem. After all, when it comes time for the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release, the distributors frequently go back to the uncut version of the film (as happened with the ‘Extended Harder Cut’ of Taken 2 in the UK). And if that doesn’t happen, then there’s always the option of importing the uncut version on disc from abroad.

However, we’re starting to get to the point where such outcomes may not be possible. In the case of Pompeii, the UK pre-cut version of the film was the one that was subsequently used worldwide, as comparisons with the US PG-13 Blu-ray release have proved. In other words, thanks to the distributor’s desire to secure a specific cinema rating here in the UK, the entire world has to put up with the same censored incarnation of the film. Furthermore, there may even be no uncut version available for a future release. All that blood on a bladed weapon becomes just a screenwriter's dream. 

The list of films being pre-cut is growing. Taken 3 and Kingsman: The Secret Service are two of the more high-profile examples of the past few months and more will undoubtedly follow. This isn't the fault of the BBFC, but of studios desperate to reach as wide an audience as possible, rather than sticking with a film's original vision.