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November 27, 2011 / tietze

Sane Max: Sanitising Cinema and Sanitising Comment

There’s an outfit operating (I suspect) out of the more puritanical regions of the United States, who have taken it upon themselves to, as they call it, “scrub” various pieces of cinema to make them more family-friendly. That they have selected such titles as Mad Max and RoboCop for this project is a good indicator of the lack of thought that’s gone into the whole endeavour, but “scrub” these films they have, clearing them of “Profanity, Nudity & Excessive Violence”.

(Other choices are more curious. The pruning of profanity from The King’s Speech, for instance, severely diminishes the depiction of the severity of the title character’s stammer, not to mention the frustration he feels as he struggles to do that thing so many of us take for granted, to speak clearly. However, at least a narrative remains. Black Hawk Down, two hours of action scenes in search of a plot, must surely have been “scrubbed” down to ten minutes of credits.)

Naturally there’s not a lot of room for the commercial exploitation of such unauthorised re-edits – though some have reportedly tried – so they exist in that grey area, that strange nether-world known as peer-to-peer file sharing.

I came across one lately, loudly proclaiming to be the “scrubbed” versions of Mad Max and two other films given the titles “Road Warrior” and “Beyond Thunderdome”. In short, the Mad Max trilogy using strangely bastardised versions of the US export titles. By now I’m used to the antics of the team behind these clean-ups, all uploaded by the one user. (I won’t repeat the username here as I don’t desire to advertise.) But the reaction of the moderators of the P2P site I’ve found the upload on was… troubling. Here’s why.

Comments are to be used for commenting on the quality of the content (namely the encoding quality), asking for help or saying thanks.

They aren’t to be used for debating the content or posting your personal views on it.

If you don’t like the content and have no intention of downloading the torrent, refrain from posting any comments or warnings will be handed out.

Take note, if your comment was deleted, don’t post another one along the same lines.

– Member of Site Staff

I’m a little concerned that the upload of movies which have been edited for content to make them more suitable for the prudish should then have their upload protected by what amounts to a blanket suppression of free expression – even when that expression can be judged to be reasonable.

I suppose there’s a suitable irony inherent in this decision, since the free expression of the filmmakers is likewise suppressed by the censorship of the films (albeit with uncut versions available elsewhere), but it does smack a bit of protecting the prudes.

It’s a shame, because discussion of the potential merits (or otherwise) of making these edits is relevant to the cut versions and not to the uncut ones, so it would be a bit odd to, say, post remarks under uploads of the complete films. And queries along the lines of how much has been cut, as one other user did before his/her post was removed, can lead to the provision of useful audience information that is sadly lacking in the original upload notes. To simply say the “Profanity, Nudity & Excessive Violence” have been removed from what are essentially movies about violence is too vague. These films will potentially function in a completely different way, making them a markedly different viewing experience in terms of intellectual as well as visceral impact.

But why not just download them and find out for myself how they’ve been affected? Because I’d rather be able to read a potted text summary than eat into my ratio and use six hours of my life to glean the same information. Contributors to the site Fanedit.org are inclined to be helpful in this way, often going so far as to (rather obsessively) catalogue edits by time code. Why? Because it’s information that is useful to their audience.

Comments that serve only to abuse the uploader of the “scrubbed” edits are undeniably predictable, unimaginative and ultimately unproductive, and hateful or abusive commentary is deserving of a warning. But if open rational debate or straightforward queries about content are to be stifled, then – looking at it from the other side of the coin – potentially positive discussion of these versions will be lost as well.

I can only assume the uploader has the courage of his/her convictions and is willing to stand by these “scrubbed” versions come hell or high water, and I’d hope the site staff are equally willing to respect that while protecting said uploader only against genuinely abusive or inflammatory reprisals. But so far, this hasn’t been the case, and all criticism of their policy has gone the way of the dodo, removed under the blanket “Take note, if your comment was deleted, don’t post another one along the same lines” warning. Actually, other than the removal of one genuinely abusive comment, all deletions appear to have been to remove requests for information and criticisms of site staff policy. Yet, paradoxically, a remark praising freedom of speech has been retained…

Welcome to what happens when Gen Y nerds get a little power.

To close, I’d like to express my disappointment that the second film in the series hasn’t been accorded its original title, Mad Max 2, or the third its full title, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and my inexhaustible joy that the adjective “mad” has not also been utterly excised from the collective title of what is, let’s face it, a bunch of movies about a guy going violently nuts.

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