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The following article from July 2000 came about when Michael Demtschyna had words with the editor of DVD Now at the time (Debra Taylor) about a censorship article. Since Michael knew I had some knowledge of the field, he suggested me for the gig, which I gladly took onboard. In total the article ran for three full pages and was illustrated with stills from six of the films mentioned.

The following text represents what appeared in volume 5 of the magazine, with corrections and improvements made. The proofreading job they did stank, so a handful of mistakes I made in the original text went to press. Lousy proofing was a chronic problem at DVD Now in those days I have not picked up any of the recent copies to see if things have improved. (Actually I suspect the magazine has folded, because its website appears to be dead.) The copy editor also sexed up the article with dollops of saccharine humour. I have retained these flourishes for your eternal amusement, along with switching the paragraph breaks from 'newspaper column' mode back to essay composition form.

I do not remember how or, indeed, if I was paid for this article. GST and ABNs had just been introduced and total confusion reigned. I think in the end I either waived the fee for simplicity's sake, or categorised myself as a GST free agent. As it turned out, I would have been happy if the proofreading staff were awake when they churned my article through their desktop publishing software. Ultimately it was great to present this information to a wide and largely ill-informed readership. Furthermore, the notes compiled for this article laid the groundwork for the Chopping List.

Cut! Uncut
by rod williams

You don't always get what you want...Rod Williams explains why Region 4 DVDs are subject to censorship both at home and abroad.

Death and Taxes used to be life's only certainties. In the late 20th Century, a third contender has emerged to pervade the fabric of our media-driven society: censorship.

Like TV, film and video, DVD falls under the watchful eye of the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), but their hand isn't always the one at work. Ordinarily, the same version of a film released on VHS is transferred to DVD. One expects, for example, that the edition of Tomorrow Never Dies shown in cinemas can be purchased or hired on tape or DVD, and enjoyed in a home cinema environment. The OFLC has previously viewed the work and granted it an M rating in cinemas or on video for sale/hire. However, as we shall see, what happens to Mr Bond on your DVD may differ to what happens to him on the VHS or cinema formats (although, or course, he still gets the girl and beats the baddies).

Firstly, a handful of blockbuster DVD titles Tomorrow Never Dies among others have been issued in Australia with cuts made for the UK market, either by that country's censorship body, the British Board of Film Censorship (BBFC), or by the distributors themselves. It's not all bad news: the knife can cut both ways. A small number of films released theatrically, on VHS, or overseas in a censored manner, have made it to the DVD medium in stronger versions.

One recent movie that comes to mind is the excellent Gulf War actioner Three Kings, which has George Clooney searching for stolen gold in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm. The movie screened in cinemas cut and rated MA, but arrived on DVD uncut and rated R. At present, finding information about such examples is rather difficult, especially where UK censorship overspill into Region 4 is concerned. The following overview describes the current state of play.


UK censorship overspill

There is little doubt that the censorship guidelines in Britain are tighter than those in Australia. Consequently, instances of on-screen violence are frequently cut from action and horror movies, whereas in Australia the same movies are merely assigned the appropriate rating, typically without cuts.

Because we share the same video format as Europe (PAL), many DVDs in the Australian marketplace were manu­factured in Europe, using PAL master copies. In some cases, those masters were sourced from a version of the film censorsed specifically for UK circulation. Consequently, these titles as Region 4 DVDs will contain edits we never had to tolerate in cinemas or on VHS.

The good news is that the incidence of this problem is low compared to the number of DVDs that could have suffered this ignoble fate. For example, The Matrix and Eraser were trimmed of violent moments in the UK; our DVDs are uncut. Relative to the number of domestic DVDs actually on sale, the hit rate is almost trivial. Nevertheless, the affected DVDs (listed below) rang among our most popular titles.


censored DVDs

Golden Eye (MGM via Warner Home Video)
Time 1:54:47 A jump cut indicates that a second or so is missing from the fight between Bond and 006 in the antenna room.
Time 1:57:09 During their scuffle on the lower prong of the antenna, a shot of Bond head butting 006 was cut.

Tomorrow Never Dies (MGM via Warner Home Video)
Time 1:38:22 Shots of Michelle Yeoh taking a ninja star from her boot heel and hitting a bad guy in the throat have been trimmed.

Executive Decision (Warner Home Video)
Time 0:01:49 Glimpses of Seagal dispatching bad guys with a dagger during the mansion raid scene are missing.
Time 1:33:11 In the original version, the lead hijacker says a prayer just before answering a phone call from another terrorist in the cockpit. One assumes this edit was made for religious reasons.

Face/Off (Touchstone and Paramount via Warner Home Video)
Time 0:11:42 Side B Castor Troy as Sean Archer flourishes a butterfly knife before giving it to Sean's daughter as "protection". Most of the knife twirl is missing.
Time 0:46:15 Side B Held at gunpoint, Archer's daughter flicks the knife open and stabs Castor Troy's thigh. Again, any frame showing the knife unfolding is gone.

The Rock (Hollywood Pictures via Warner Home Video)
Time 0:18:52 Side B Sean Connery kills a marine with a knife and says, "You must never hesitate". An awkward jump cut replaces the action.
Time 0:19:30 Side B Lying on the floor, Connery shoots a marine's feet. Most of the gory footage has been removed.
Time 0:48:44 Side B Ed Harris and other marines receive several bloody bullet hits to their abdomens and upper body. These shots are shortened.

The Glimmer Man (Warner Home Video)
Time 0:18:42 Steven Seagal breaks a thug's right arm. The snapping, like the one in Nico, is not shown.
Time 0:18:57 In the same fight sequence, another thug is impaled on rusty machine blades. The subsequent close-up is zoomed in to hide his chest wounds.

The Bodyguard (Warner Home Video)
Time 1:10:39 A shot of Kevin Costner ear clapping a thug in a hotel kitchen is missing.

South Park Volumes 3,4,5 (Warner Home Video)
The creator's introductions were removed. They are shown on the Australian VHS releases. Volumes 1, 2 and 3 on DVD are intact.

Enter the Dragon (Warner Home Video)
About one and a half minutes are missing. Any use of nunchaku was deleted.


where the knife falls, and doesn't

Besides DVDs tainted by indirect UK censorship, a selection of other titles exist in an altered state for one reason or another.

Alien Resurrection
If you watch this fourth Alien sequel carefully, you will notice times when an elaborate gore effect was obviously going to happen, but quick editing spares us the sight. Possibly the cuts were made to secure a US R rating before its theatrical release. No extended edition is planned by Fox.

American Pie
The US Region 1 special edition DVD contains the longer unrated version, which has just been released on VHS in Australia by Universal. One hopes that the companion DVD will hit the shelves soon.
(a) A teenager is caught having intercourse with the apple pie on top of the kitchen counter.
(b) More pages of the Sex Bible are shown.
(c) There is an additional five seconds of Nadia masturbating.
(d) Vicki groans for longer as Kevin goes down on her.
(e) The term "pale ale" is swapped for "man chowder".

Blade Runner
Additional moments of violence existed in the European print, which to date has only been available on Criterion's NTSC laserdisc and on VHS from Warner Brothers. The studio is currently preparing an extended version of Blade Runner as a special edition Region 1 DVD. Presumably this version will feature the abbreviated violence.
(a) Pris is shot a third time.
(b) An extra shot of the nail emerging from Roy Batty's hand is shown.
(c)Tyrell's death scene is bloodier.

End of Days
On the cinema release print it was obvious that a few graphic moments had been scissored. The most likely explanation is that the studio cut the film to obtain a US R rating. The Australian DVD does not seem to have the missing footage.

The Frighteners
As Jake Busey's character is sucked into the vortex during the film's climax, rumour says that a worm creature wriggles up into his behind. No official release contains this special effects shot, which may turn up on the forthcoming special edition DVD.

From Dusk Till Dawn
Robert Rodriguez's riotous horror film was censored before its theatrical run to qualify for a US R rating. This is the version circulated around the world. The special edition NTSC laserdisc from Dimension Home Video includes the missing footage as part of a making-of documentary.
(a) When a man's throat is cut open the shot lingers longer.
(b) A vampire bites a patron's head with its stomach jaws.
(c) The same vampire squeezes a zit on its face, spraying unlucky bystanders with putrid pus.

Mad Max II
The first version of George Miller's masterpiece was originally granted an R by the Australian OFLC on 1 December 1981. A shortened version, the one we are most familiar with, received an M rating. The longer edition of Mad Max II has never surfaced on home video anywhere.

Species II
Cut to obtain a US R rating, Species II on DVD provides the missing footage in its supplements.


special uncensored DVDs

Occasionally the gods, gazing down from on high, take pity on their creations and visit some good fortune upon us. In the realm of home video such gifts take the form of unadulterated versions of films previously mangled in the name of censorship. To date, those made available on Region 4 DVD are:

Three Kings
The slightly trimmed, box-office friendly MA version was shown theatrically instead of the longer R version, which has since landed in all its desert-storming glory on DVD from Village Roadshow.

Lethal Weapon IV
The initial censored version was distributed with an M rating. As the packaging says, Warner's DVD is actually the longer MA version.

Eyes Wide Shut
To gain the US R rating he was contracted to deliver, Stanley Kubrick approved the use of digital technology to obscure sexually explicit material. As the camera glides past masked guests indulging their passions, computer generated onlookers and furniture block the more overt copulation from view. This is the version released in America on DVD by Warner, much to the dismay of Kubrick aficionados. The Australian and European DVDs thankfully utilised the original negative, thus delivering a rare scoop for Region 2 and 4 customers.

Total Recall
Paul Verhoeven's Martian mind bender was released by Columbia Tristar on VHS in two versions, the censored version rated M (which also played in cinemas) and the original bloodier version rated R. Depending on circumstances, the eventual debut of Total Recall on Aussie DVD in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound may have easily been sourced from the crummy expurgated print: a sure way to boost sales of the Region 1 DVD. To everyone's relief, the longer director's cut was delivered into the hands of grateful DVD enthusiasts.

Men in Black
When it was submitted to the OFLC for classification in 1997, Men in Black received an M rating; Columbia Tristar was hoping for a PG. After removing a shot here and there, it was resubmitted and this time picked up a PG. Following its theatrical release, the censored version was launched on VHS, and fans of the wondered if they'd ever see MIB as it was intended. As you'll see from the review on page 14, the superb DVD does indeed boast the missing footage.

Hard Target
Initially transferred to VHS with cuts rated MA, Hard Target is the longer R version on DVD. However, it is still not director John Woo's preferred assembly of the movie.


future cuts

The version in circulation on VHS was initially shorn of about 20 seconds by the American distributor to obtain a US R rating. Scream is only available uncut on NTSC laserdisc from Dimension Home Video and on Japanese Region 2 DVD, which is also the sole anamorphic transfer in existence. It remains to be seen whether the licence holder can go the extra mile to create a PAL director's cut DVD.

A Clockwork Orange
Granted an 18 certificate by the British censors without cuts, the inevitable arrival of Kubrick's brilliant A Clockwork Orange on domestic DVD from Warner should be similarly intact after all, it has played the arthouse circuit that way for over two decades.

It was clear to me that many of the fight sequences were toned down, perhaps by the studio to guarantee a US R rating. Whether or not the gore will be reinstated on DVD is not yet known.

Lord of Illusions
The shorter version of Clive Barker's hardboiled horror show, re-edited for pacing and censorship, was released locally rated MA. In the US his director's cut is available on DVD from MGM. Hopefully Clive's preferred cut survives the journey to our shores.

Natural Born Killers
Several scenes in this pile-driver of a movie from Olive Stone fell victim to the censor's knife. The US unrated director's cut was released this year on DVD by Image Entertainment. The domestic VHS tape is still the tamer R version shown in cinemas. Would Stone's approved cut pass locally with an R rating?

The much-celebrated director's cut, which extends choices moments of bloodshed, is available on US laserdisc and DVD. There is no word yet of its debut on Australian DVD. Two versions have been released so far, the censored M cut in cinemas, and the longer R cut on VHS. The director's edition is longer still.


future releases : how will the dice fall?

As the DVD phenomenon grows, there's no reason to believe censorship will lessen, although Region 4 distributors pledge to us the best versions available. And there are certainly many instances where logistics, rather than the censor's knife, is the culprit.

Marc Gareton, Managing Director of Warner Home Video Australia, says that, while an effort is made to utilised uncut masters, scheduling pressures and resource availability sometimes necessitates the use of cut UK product. It's a situation that can, of course, work the other way. As Gareton points out: "For Lethal Weapon [4] we actually submitted the longer US version to the censors and released it on DVD with an MA rating."

However, when the censors themselves are wielding the knife, consumers at least have the right to know what our money buys. If censorship remains a certainty in the 21st Century, we should be allowed to make informed decisions.


UK censorship overview


U Universal, suitable for all ages
PG Parental guidance recommended
12 Restricted to persons aged 12 or over
15 Restricted to persons aged 15 or over
18 Restricted to persons aged 18 or over
R18 Hardcore NVE pornography, restricted to sale in licensed sex shops only, and not by mail order either, drafted this year
Rejected In other words, banned

Since the 'Video Nasty' furor in the early 1980s, Britain has lived in the shadow of one of the world's tightest censorship regimes. In addition to graphic violence, the BBFC objects to many elements of hand-to-hand combat, such as vicious punching, nunchakus, head butting, ear clapping, and arm and neck breaks. Actions easily copied by viewers are also removed. A shot of Cat Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) placing aerosol cans into a microwave oven to trigger an explosion was scratched from Batman Returns.

The BBFC themselves make cuts to material submitted for classification, unlike Australia's OFLC or America's MPAA. Ratings are mandatory. In many ways the BBFC is behind the rest of the world. After two sex video distributors took legal action against the BBFC, hardcore porn was permitted for the first time just this year.

Two scenes were cut from David Fincher's Fight Club for its 18 rating. In both scenes, the BBFC claimed, there was an indulgence in the excitement of beating a defenseless man's face into a pulp. At least the Exorcist was finally re-released in 1999. "The BBFC concluded that The Exorcist, while still a powerful and compelling work, no longer has the same impact as it did 25 years ago," said a statement. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre still remains in limbo, as does Straw Dogs and many other controversial films.



US censorship overview


G General audiences
PG Parental guidance suggested
PG13 Parents strongly cautioned, inappropriate for persons under 13, similar to our M rating
R Persons under 17 must be escorted by a parent or guardian
NC17 Formerly X, no persons under 17 admitted, similar to our R and X ratings
Unrated The distributor has opted to release the film without a rating

Having its share of pros and cons, the US system is run by an industry sanctioned group called the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The biggest advantage over Britain and Australia is the option of releasing a film without a rating. This opens the way for any film containing hardcore sex or violence to be distributed, whereas in Australia or Britain, the same film might be refused the highest rating, R or 18. One example is Pasolini's infamous Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom.

The major drawback in the US is the commercial angle. Advertising for unrated or NC-17 material is not carried by the usual media. Since a major film can only make money if the advertising is secured, studios insist on an R rating, which is a cross between the Australian R and MA ratings.

The MPAA are tough on films in R territory. Many directors Oliver Stone, Wes Craven, Paul Verhoeven have spoken at length about their battles with the MPAA. Films by this caliber of director are usually cut for cinema release rated R, and released 'unrated' on home video, but certainly not always.

The MPAA does not cut films, but will point out trouble spots to distributors. Films cut for the US R rating often arrive in Australia and the rest of the world in the same censored state, e.g. Scream.



aussie censorship overview


G General audiences
PG Parental guidance recommended
M15 Recommended for mature audiences, aged 15 and over
MA15 Persons under 15 must be escorted by a parent or guardian
R18 Restricted to persons 18 or over
X18 Same as R, reserved for hardcore pornography
RC Refused classification, effectively banned

While our system is not as strict as Britain's, we are still bound by mandatory ratings for all media product. Material not suitable for R or X is refused a classification, which is a euphemism for banned. Last House on the Left, Salo, and Cannibal Holocaust are all banned, as are many others.

Our R rating allows stronger content than either the 18 UK or US R categories. But being restricted to 18 years and over, an R rating means lower box office takings. To avoid this problem, films may be cut down to an MA rating by the distributor, as was the case with Three Kings. Like the MPAA, the OFLC does not cut films. If the distributor is unhappy with the rating, then the decision to cut is theirs alone.

Censorship in Australia is becoming tighter as religious pressure groups such as the Lyons Forum push for ever more stringent regulations, and not just film, but all parts of the media have been affected. The mighty R rating is not as open as it once was, and X is being replaced by the NVE (non-violent erotica) compromise. Magazine censorship has reached the stage where Penthouse must print its Forum letters in a separate publication, and People's nude models are airbrushed into pre-pubescence.


Post Script 8/7/2004: Although this piece is only four years young, the censorship climate in the UK and Australia has morphed quite a bit since it was written. Curiously, the US has stayed the same, with studios contracting directors to deliver PG or R pictures for theatrical release to avoid the NC-17 stigma. Consequently, many mainstream films are still released in Europe and Australia in a compromised form, e.g. Kill Bill. Refer to the Chopping List for the current status of any titles mentioned above.