By: Barbara Brotman
Monday, February 27, 2012
Ratings aren't child's play for Classic Cinemas
Move to ban those younger than 6 from R-rated movies deserves an award.
Not to Monday-morning-quarterback the Academy Awards, but an Oscar should have gone to the Johnson family.
Chris Johnson and his parents, Willis and Shirley, are not actors, writers, directors or producers. But as the owners of Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas, they arguably have as much effect on the moviegoing public as the usual Oscar subjects.
And the new policy they announced recently for their 13 theaters is a blockbuster.
Starting Friday, children younger than 6 will not be allowed into R-rated movies.
Talk about a decision deserving of the academy's humanitarian award! You can practically hear the sighs of relief from adults. Or you could read the inbox of company VicePresident Chris Johnson.
"I sent out an email ... to our subscribers, and instantly we got 300 responses back saying, 'Oh, wonderful. Great. What a good idea,'" he said.
The decision stemmed from complaints by moviegoers, he said. Classic Cinemas had dealt with the problem of young children at R-rated movies before — the previous policy forbade them after 6 p.m. — but then came "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."
The movie includes a scene of anal rape so brutal that I had to step out of the auditorium till it was over.
But there were young children in some audiences, to the dismay of people sitting nearby.
"We had comments from folks saying, 'This is horrible, you need to do something about this,'" Johnson said.
"Children under the age of 6 are problematical in our audience for a couple of reasons," said John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theatre Owners.
"One, they can create disturbances for the other patrons when they get upset at the movie. And two, is it really appropriate in R-rated movies for these kids to be there at all? It's an age at which they can't always distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality."
The concern other moviegoers have for the emotional welfare of young children in the audience becomes another distraction.
It was for me when I saw the science fiction movie"Chronicle"recently. Rated PG-13, it includes a scene where a young man beats his father with such ferocity that the audience at my showing fell into shocked silence.
A silence broken by chortling.
"Ha ha ha!"
A 6-ish child standing at his seat next to a man who seemed to be his father was staring at the screen and laughing gleefully at every bloody smack.
I'm not sure which was more distracting, the sound of the laughter or the fact that a small child found this level of realistic violence funny.
Johnson and his parents — his father is president of Classic Cinemas and his mother corporate secretary — struggled with the issue. Classic Cinemas is a movie theater company, not a parent.
"I really wanted to avoid the perception that, 'Hey, you guys are really infringing on my parental rights,'" Johnson said. "There's a certain sticky slope when you start saying what's right for one's child."
But they decided they would simply be strengthening the R rating, which requires a parent or adult guardian for children younger than 17. The full description by the Motion Picture Association of America includes the warning, "Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures."
"We're just stepping it up a little," Johnson said. "The guests are the ones paying the money. And if we're providing an auditorium that's not conducive to seeing a movie, hey, we've got to change."
After considerable discussion, they decided on the new policy. In addition to banning children younger than 6, it calls for full-price tickets for children ages 6-11. There can be times when an R-rated movie is appropriate for an older child, Johnson said — he cited"The King's Speech"— "but we're not going to give you a discount and encourage it."
Other movie theaters have also banned children younger than 6 from R-rated movies, Fithian said. The theater owners association is considering making it a policy throughout the industry, although it presents the challenge of figuring out who is younger than 6 among a population too young for driver's licenses.
I nominate Classic Cinemas for the movie lover's equivalent of a gold statuette, though Johnson dashed my hopes for an end to those glowing cellphones texting in the dark.
"We're not doing any cellphone jamming," he said firmly. "It's illegal."
He also nixed my suggestion that anyone over 5 feet 3 be banned from the front half of the movie theater.
"I'm 6-3," said Johnson, suggesting the best solution was stadium seating.
He won't get to thank the academy at that rate, at least not if all the voting members are my height.
But no matter. The Oscar didn't go to the Johnsons last night. They'll have to settle for our gratitude.
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