Tuesday, November 28, 2006
New Technology Allows Viewers to Censor Movies
Anyone who has ever watched a rerun of a mainstream movie with a rating higher than "G" on network television has probably noticed that some scenes or even individual shots have been left out. This is especially obvious if they've seen the movie before either in a theater or on an unedited video tape or DVD At the very least the language has been changed. Often this creates a sense of something not being quite right while watching it.
Most often this sense of wrongness occurs when the movement of character's lips don't match up with what they're saying, or worse- but fortunately less common- when the voice saying the word or words obviously doesn't match up with the voice the character uses in the rest of the movie.
In the past, these changes were accomplished in editing facilities before the movies were released to the public through television. Then, in recent years small video stores have begun to edit the content of movies before marketing them as family friendly versions of mainstream movies. This provoked lawsuits from major movie studios. For example, Paramount sued when the movie "Titanic" was altered.
The technology that allows studios and even small companies to make these changes is nothing new, it's just a matter of clipping out an offensive scene, dubbing over the audio, or adding clothes where no clothes had previously been. It was a labor intensive process, at least at first, but apparently it was economically justified.
Now, there's new technology appearing that lets people censor videos that they watch in the privacy of their own homes. There are two companies, both based out of Utah, that offer software "fixes" to allow parents show mainstream movies to their kids while controlling what kinds of content they actually see. One company is called Trilogy Studios and the other is known as ClearPlay. Both companies claim that they're filling a demand by consumers who want to control what kinds of content reach their families.
ClearPlay software is downloaded off of the ClearPlay Internet site and, when the user connects their computer to their DVD player, the software skips over scenes of graphic sex and violence and mutes obscenities during playback. ClearPlay was planning to sell a DVD player with the software embedded in it as of 2003.
The software released by Trilogy Studios under the name Movie Mask actually changes the pictures viewed on the television screen with the use of animation and graphics which covers objectionable material. Movie Mask also makes it easy for users to determine what kinds of objectionable material get shown and what kind don't. In effect, this makes it possible for users to start out with an R rated movie and end up with a G, PG, or PG-13 rated movie depending on their own personal preferences. One version of Movie Mask technology also allows viewers to customize the filters and share them with friends.
All of this raises major objections from the movie studios and many movie fans. While most people can understand why parents would want to shelter their children from graphic sex and violence, many argue that what gets included in a film is the director's artistic prerogative, and that any change to that prerogative dilutes the meaning of the film. Which ultimately is part of what feels wrong about a movie when watching one that's been heavily edited. It ends up being something different from what it was intended to be, and in that sense this technology is clearly a mixed blessing.