From Hempstead to the Hamptons, there’s an ample amount of very real life situations that someone can come across. The language might not always be appropriate for everyone, especially if there are kids around, but real life can rarely be censored. Some movies actually limit themselves to a certain number of curse words or adult situations to keep a rating down from PG-13 to R. It’s a way of making sure that a movie is accessible to the maximum audience, therefore bringing in the most possible money. But for films that aim more towards bringing a fictional, or even non-fictional story to true life, there’s a risk of losing some of that reality if actors don’t show enough raw emotion, or the script seems too politically correct. So when watching a film that’s been “adapted for TV,” it’s easy to get left behind in the audio cuts and re-dubbing of certain dialogue.
Brian De Palma’s Scarface does a ridiculous amount of this, almost to a comical effect for anyone who’s seen the uncensored original. It’s not that television networks shouldn’t take advantage of a popular movie by adapting it for a broader audience. But seeing this done for stories that were never meant for any channel surfing adolescent to come across, it’s easy to wonder if these peoples’ priorities are in order. No matter how much you cut and paste portions of Scarface, the movie is still a violent, bloody tale of an Cuban immigrant’s ascent from ambitious laborer to raging drug lord. It’s not meant for everybody.
When the effort isn’t made to come up with even halfway clever replacement dialogue like melon-farmer, cockroaches, shoot or shoddy, and the exclamatory “forget you!”, it just becomes distracting. For BET’s (Black Entertainment Television) showings of the 2009 film Notorious, they decided to just cut out any potentially offensive language all together, while leaving the rest of the scenes intact. This biopic of the Notorious B.I.G. takes place in a 1990s hip hop culture that allows for adult language to fly freely the majority of the time, like many everyday people do, along with a formerly negative word that many African-Americans transformed for use today as an informal version of “brother” or even “person” (don’t think too hard). All the audio drop outs made it near impossible for the movie to be fully enjoyed by someone who might be watching for the first time. Almost like an inside joke or a “you had to be there” moment.
Subscription stations like HBO and Showtime don’t have to worry about this, and it seems like a few others are catching up. Tuning in to Comedy Central during the late-night hours might leave some viewers caught off guard as the censors lower the barricade a bit, while standing firm on a few choice words including the infamous f-bomb. This is one station that realized most people who are watching have already heard, and don’t necessarily mind the use of these words. Those who shouldn’t be watching probably need their parents to take a tutorial on the V-Chip.
Now this isn’t saying that Dora the Explorer followed by an uncensored Chainsaw Massacre should become common practice. But maybe some Academy Award winning films like the R-rated Little Miss Sunshine can be left without the severe censorship ― and it doesn’t need much ― when played at the appropriate time through the appropriate network. Films that would seem butchered, or rely heavily on adult situations to properly tell the story, should probably be left on Netflix queues and DVD shelves. In the end, the integrity of the film and respect for its target audience is what should matter most to producers and companies. Not how to go about appeasing the FCC while cashing in on a box office hit.