Movie Mom

The Hangover and Land of the Lost opened on the same day. Other than that, they have little in common. The Hangover is a raunchy comedy about the aftermath of a Las Vegas bachelor party that would have been unforgettable if any of the attendees could remember any of it. The movie has male and female nudity, substance abuse, and many different kinds of very bad behavior. The movie is rated R, just barely (no pun intended). The still photos over the closing credits merit an NC-17.
Land of the Lost is based on a classic — if cheesy — 1970’s children’s television show. It has dinosaurs and time travel but it is “rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference.”
Both movies are silly comedies with no aspiration to be anything else, but I would argue that it is the superficially raunchier film, “The Hangover,” that is more moral and a more entertaining film as a result. “Land of the Lost” treats its female character (played by the talented and beautiful Anna Friel) as a prop. She is there to provide exposition, to be literally pawed by an ape-boy, and to gaze adoringly at Will Ferrell. Although she is the only intelligent and capable person in the film, she is treated as an afterthought. The other characters behave badly and treat her badly and there are no consequences of any kind.
“The Hangover,” on the other hand, is a movie entirely about consequences. The bachelor party guests spend the whole film piecing together the bad choices they made the night before and paying for them financially, emotionally, and even spiritually. They all learn something important and we leave confident that they will be unlikely to repeat their mistakes (except that they have already agreed to a sequel). Furthermore, legally and morally they are not completely responsible for the worst of their behavior because they were drugged, two of them inadvertently.
No one is arguing that either of these films is any kind of morality tale. They are both helium-weight comedies. But I think “The Hangover” is a better film because it fits the innate audience desire for justice and lessons learned. The vicarious thrill of the transgressive behavior is not nearly as satisfying as seeing the characters learn some painful lessons and pay for their mistakes.
For a little more insight into the MPAA’s approach to ratings, take a look at what they have to say.

The MPAA‘s description of a PG-13 rating:

A PG-13 rating is a sterner warning by the Rating Board to parents to determine whether their children under age 13 should view the motion picture, as some material might not be suited for them. A PG-13 motion picture may go beyond the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements, but does not reach the restricted R category. The theme of the motion picture by itself will not result in a rating greater than PG-13, although depictions of activities related to a mature theme may result in a restricted rating for the motion picture. Any drug use will initially require at least a PG-13 rating. More than brief nudity will require at least a PG-13 rating, but such nudity in a PG-13 rated motion picture generally will not be sexually oriented. There may be depictions of violence in a PG-13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence. A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context. The Rating Board nevertheless may rate such a motion picture PG-13 if, based on a special vote by a two-thirds majority, the Raters feel that most American parents would believe that a PG-13 rating is appropriate because of the context or manner in which the words are used or because the use of those words in the motion picture is inconspicuous.

The MPAA’s description of an R rating:

An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.

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