October 11th, 2020

Captain Kris W'lash

PG: Potentially Great

Early 1980s. I was wasting some of my youth by watching a lot of cable, sometimes the sole premium channel we got, HBO. Plenty of times it was junk (The Last Chase), plenty of times it was stuff that would mostly not be remembered (1977's sea adventure The Black Pearl, about a young pearl diver who must survive an attack by a manta ray), and overall it was movies, movies, movies. And because HBO didn't show R-rated films until it was night, I watched a lot of PG movies.

Back then, there were lots more PG movies.

The early 1980s were also probably the only time of my life that I fantasized about making movies. Not in any really focused way, unfortunately; I was no budding filmmaker hustling for cameras and 8mm film — though in Virginia Beach back then I took a community center class that made a short film. But that didn't take hold, didn't make me ambitious about making movies. Which is good, because looking back I doubt I would have been a good filmmaker. But still, I had vaguely formed fantasies.

And they'd begin by imagining these me-made films were airing on HBO with the message "The following movie has been rated PG."

Back then, there were lots more PG movies.

Relatively few PG movies are made now. Studios for decades have leaned on the PG-13 rating invented in 1984*; that's become the de facto "film we hope will be a 'four-quadrant' blockbuster appealing to everybody" rating. R-rated films, even horror (which is often cheap to make), aren't expected to be huge hits; NC-17 has been ridiculously niche practically since its creation in 1990; and PG and G films are considered kids' stuff, or at least family stuff.

More to the point, so many PG films have so little style, or verve or energy. They're very likely to be middle-of-the-road, and not engaging.

The me who watched so much PG-rated entertainment in the 1980s wishes that weren't so.

The me who watched so much PG-rated entertainment in the 1980s is very, very glad that decades later, the Wachowskis, the sibling team who'd written and directed the Matrix trilogy and written and produced the film adaptation of V for Vendetta, decided to do a change of pace and make an aggressively, ridiculously, joyously PG-rated film: their oh-so-bright-and-colorful adaptation of the Japanese animated series Speed Racer. Though I'm also disappointed that their 2008 film got ruinous reviews and, famously, flopped.

I managed never to see the film until last week: Speed Racer is now on the Hoopla app, added this month it looks like, and people I trust had said "it's actually great, see it," so I did. And rewatched lots of it the next day.

YES, style and energy and verve. In a PG film. It can be done. Better by the Wachowskis than me. Too bad it didn't inspire a wave of films that also were both PG and really honestly actually interesting, but we can't have everything.

* The first film to get assigned the PG-13 rating: the Matt Dillon drama-with-comedy The Flamingo Kid. But it sat on the shelf until late in 1984, so the first PG-13 film to get released was John Milius's Red Dawn. Trivia!