Studios want rating that's adult, not porn


April 25, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOLLYWOOD - The NC-17 rating, long seen as the kiss of death for a movie, is suddenly coming to life.

Three NC-17 films have emerged since the first of the year. Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers came out in February, while Young Adam, starring Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton, opened in some theaters last Friday. High Tension, a French horror film, is due out from Lions Gate Films in the fall. If the films do reasonably well, industry observers suggest, some of the studios' psychological and economic resistance may start to break down.

Until this recent shift, the rating also had been a thorn in the side of the Motion Picture Association of America. Many moviegoers associated the designation (barring admittance to anyone younger than 17) with the former X rating, which - in the absence of a copyright - had been appropriated by the producers of pornography. In response, only 18 movies have been released with an NC-17 since 1990, when the MPAA created the NC-17 rating and did away with X.

Lions Gate, however, is going on the offensive. Rather than sending out High Tension unrated, as it did with Irreversible (a tack the company can take because it's not an MPAA signatory), or trimming to get an R, as it recently did with The Cooler, Lions Gate is throwing down the gauntlet.

"We feel it's important to establish a legitimate adult rating," said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Releasing. "If the MPAA won't do it, we'll do it for them.

"High Tension has the potential to play beyond art houses and become a commercial, mainstream movie," Ortenberg adds.

Jack Valenti, the chief executive of MPAA, acknowledges NC-17 has yet to fulfill its potential. "We've been urging exhibitors and distributors to use the rating for years," he said, "trying to convince them that it doesn't mean `pornographic' or `obscene.' "

Economics, everyone agrees, will dictate whether the rating takes hold or remains on the back burner.

"In the next six years, there will certainly be more NC-17 movies than in the past six," said Steve Gilula, president of distribution at Fox Searchlight. "The real test is whether studios with mainstream movies, in which they have significant investments, will decide to take the plunge."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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