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Mar 19, 2010

CLEARPLAY – KEEPING MOVIES CLEAN?

Recently my cousin purchased a DVD player that has Clearplay technology. I had heard of this in passing, but have never seen it in action until recently.


Clearplay is a DVD filtering system that is designed primarily for parents to block out objectionable material from movies or TV shows that they are uncomfortable with their children (or themselves for that matter) seeing, making even the most R rated of films "family friendly". There are several options as to what can be blocked like crude jokes, racial slurs, foul language, violence, sex, and within each option is a degree in that can dictate just how much content is filtered out – least, medium, most or not at all. The filters are downloaded off the Internet that is connected with a subscription based service that provides files by movie title, and the filter is then downloaded onto what they call a "filterstick" (which is really a fancy name for a USB Flash Drive) that then is connected to the DVD player, transferring the data into the machine and then the filters can be altered from there.


To give the player a test run, we watched Sony's DISTRICT 9. The filter settings are automatically set to the highest levels (of which we were unaware) so it ended up cutting quite a bit out. Harsh language was blanked out, but the scene played on, there were several jump cuts and full action scenes were skipped for violence and so on. I had seen the movie before when it first came out which made this a perfect test film for me. The system seemed to be pretty thorough, although there were a couple of glitches like when in one scene where a character drops an "f bomb", his voice was blanked out but a subtitle underneath containing the "offending" word remained. So obviously while thorough, Clearplay is not fool proof. Also of note from this viewing is the fact that when I first saw DISTRICT 9 in the cinema, I was quite oblivious to the amount of swearing during the picture, but the constant blanked out moments thanks to Clearplay made me more aware of just how much the film contained. A question of whether I am completely desensitized, or the system by blanking out the words, brings more attention to them.


Back when I was younger and watching movies with the family, a scene that had "adult" material would happen and my parents would instinctively hit the fast forward button. Clearplay in essence is that fast forward button which skips over the questionable material before it even has a chance to happen.


So could this system be considered a form of censorship? Censorship comes down somebody else cutting or not allowing "offending material" based on their own "moral" system, and then enforcing that system on others. Yes, some children may have that happen because their parents don't want them seeing certain things, but at the same time this is a system that is designed for individual home privacy, and not for a mass audience. The film itself in its original version is still available, the filters are all optional and at the viewer's discretion. Personally, especially in families with younger children, I think this is a viable option. Just because a movie is R Rated doesn't exactly make it bad, it just contains things that perhaps younger children should not be exposed to but still deserves to be watched. One of the biggest things that has been happening in cinema the last few years has been how the studios have been fighting to make more PG-13 movies out of films that in the past would have been rated R to get more theater seats filled. LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is a prime example, the first 3 films in the series were rated R, and this the fourth in the series was PG-13. It also could be considered an example against because the movie itself was terrible, but then again so was the R rated DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (a.k.a. DIE HARD 3).


Then again cutting some of this material out of the film could seriously alter the message of the movie. Take for instance BASIC INSTINCT. You pull all the sex out the movie (although somehow I doubt a movie like this would even bother being made available with a Clearplay option) and the whole tension of the movie is lost. I have a blog post coming up about BASIC INSTINCT in a series I am planning to do on "game changers" (more on that later) but the entire movie revolves around Michael Douglas' character doing everything that is bad for him – everything that would be filtered by Clearplay – and that would completely take away all the complexity of his character and the story as well. Granted someone who is offended by sexual material shouldn't be watching BASIC INSTINCT in the first place.


There were some questionable filter options available as well like "dishonoring the flag", "dishonoring parents" and "mushiness" which are well…taking it way too far. So with "dishonoring parents", does that mean all the crucial scenes where James Dean is in conflict with his father (played by Jim Backus) in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE would be removed, therefore removing the very heart of the movie? Or in a film that features anti-war or civil rights protests like say in BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY that contain a shot of a protester burning the flag would be removed? These seem like really outlandish options and are definitely taking the idea of cleaning up "offensive" material way too far.


Films are a reflection of the world around us, whether it's good or bad. People smoke, they swear and they do despicable things, and films are a way of showing us – even sometimes in a fantastical or hyper-realized setting – all aspects of ourselves and culture. I am not the biggest fan of foul language, but there are classic movie quotes where the profanity just adds to the complexity of the line or film, while there are others where it is completely overused unnecessarily – but I'll still watch those films either way. The first DIE HARD for instance almost turns profanity into an art form. I also get upset at those individuals who want smoking banned from films completely. While yes, I can see positive images of children smoking being not good, showing some characters smoking – like say a working class factory worker or mobster or say all the characters in AMCs MAD MEN who true to their era are chain smokers – is true to the character and not meant as an advertisement for cigarettes. There are definitely arguments for and against and those that are for could get labeled as "ultra-liberal" and those against as "ultra-right-wing". I personally prefer those people in between who don't try to make arguments that really can't be won.


Personally I would never use a system like this. I am a firm believer in seeing movies exactly the way they were meant to be seen – in the proper aspect ratio (meaning letterboxed, etc.), uncut and unedited with even all the "dirty" parts left in. I will never ever watch a movie on a channel where the movie is interrupted by commercials – it's why I watch almost all TV programs on DVD because commercials are annoying. All these are key reasons why TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES is the best station on TV – a great selection of the best movies ever made, uncut, commercial free and displayed the exact way they were meant to be shown with proper letterboxing where applicable. But then again, that is just me. I know there are people out there who hate letterboxing, and go out of their way to find "full screen" editions which employ the "pan and scan" method, which compresses a widescreen frame into the regular 4x3 TV shape by panning and scanning to and from what is seemingly the most important action on the screen to keep the story intact. Directors understandably hate this because it ultimately alters their vision (and so do I).


For my cousin though, the Clearplay system is a good option. She is a movie lover with impeccable film taste - as is her 16 year-old daughter (and anyone who knows me, is aware I like to brag about my amazing 16 year old second cousin…so yes, here is yet another opportunity for that – bear with me here) - and her TV DVD shelf is one of the best collections I have ever seen. In fact, my cousin absolutely HATES people who talk during the movies and it's almost an obsession with her in fact, and in my opinion, a great and very healthy one (movie talkers suck to put it bluntly). However, there are things in films that make her uncomfortable, not to mention she also has 2 teenage daughters in the house. The same goes for my second cousin (the aforementioned 16 year-old) who happens to LOVE horror films and while she has no problem with violence or gore, she is not a big fan of sexual content, and horror just happens to be the genre that features that pretty prominently. She also has such amazing film insight – she can predict everything from actions to lines before they happen, and can breakdown plot lines and subtext better than most people older than she is (she once told me in a sentence why the TWILIGHT series ultimately fails while most other people her age are obsessing over it and have no idea how truly bad it is). The family bragging is here for a reason, to make clear that my cousins are avid film and TV viewers and want to see as much as they possibly can and are not out to condemn material. For them Clearplay has opened up a whole new world of viewing possibilities. Movies that they may have been uncomfortable watching before are now an option. I've had people in various circles actually criticize me to my face and also to my parents for my choices in viewing (which is just about everything – except porn that is) as well as my choice to work in the entertainment industry. Those people will condemn movies they have never even seen without giving them a second thought. That is extremely narrow-minded. My cousins on the other hand, want to give movies – almost all movies – a chance. Yet at the same time, they know what they like, and they know what their comfort zone is. And before anyone gets it in their head to make any comments about my awesome cousins, they as well thought that the options "dishonoring the flag", "dishonoring parents" and "mushiness" and some other aspects of Clearplay were carrying things way too far.


What shouldn't be read into this entry is a firm argument for or against Clearplay – please note that I am not including a link to the company website for that very reason. I am just presenting what is an available viewing option. My stance would definitely be a lot more defined against if say Clearplay became standard on all DVD or Blu-Ray players. As it is now, it's a niche system that has to be purchased specifically and the filters have to be subscribed too. Making this standard on all players or TVs would definitely not be acceptable. In the past when a video store (and I think mail order system) in Utah was shut down because they were altering the movies themselves and the option to watch the movie in its uncut version was unavailable, or back when Blockbuster was demanding that an R rated version of SHOWGIRLS be made available to them because they once (not sure if they still do) had a corporate policy of never stocking NC-17 or X rated material in their stores – that to me is infinitely worse than this. I also don't think the studios should care because their product is still on the shelf and being sold as is, it's just a private viewing choice made in individual's homes and not a mass forced viewing alternative which would be 100% unacceptable. It's like movies getting cut for broadcast television; just in this case the viewer gets to choose what is being cut out – and NO COMMERCIALS.


Clearplay may not be for everyone; however it is definitely another option for a society of consumers who are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to being entertained.