Hollywood softening words and deeds in light of bottom line


Don't expect to see the kind of gory scenes showing guts being spilled out of a scientist's stomach that were in Michael Crichton's book "Jurassic Park." Director Steven Spielberg's intention is to frighten audiences by suggestion -- a la "Jaws" -- in his $56 million movie version for Universal Pictures.

And Arnold Schwarzenegger, the king of high-violence R-rated movies from "The Terminator" to "Total Recall" to "T2," is becoming a PG-13 man in his current picture, "The Last Action Hero" for Columbia Pictures.

Sources said that one of the many screenwriters on "The Last Action Hero," Shane Black, was hired to rewrite the script with express instructions not to make the action or language too intense for kids. The story concerns a boy who enters the world of his favorite screen action hero (played by Mr. Schwarzenegger) and the adventures they have together.

What gives? Is Hollywood going soft -- or just becoming savvy? Insiders say it's more of the latter.

"[The studios] want 10-year-olds to go to their movies -- and they want them to go 10 times," said an action-genre screenwriter who has also written scripts of the "two cops running around shooting at everything" variety. "A 'Home Alone 2' for every studio," he added.

There are plenty of R-rated movies around to suit adult tastes -- "Bran Stoker's Dracula" and "Under Siege" just to name two recent hits -- but something is happening here that would suggest the future trend might go the other way. Even Eddie Murphy, reported last week as reprising his role as the funny, foul-mouthed Axel Foley in Paramount's "Beverly Hills Cop III," has agreed to dialogue deemed more appropriate by the Motion Picture Association of America for teen-age ears.

Hollywood is taking note of two recent studies -- one by film critic Michael Medved and the other by entertainment industry consulting firm Paul Kagan Associates Inc. -- positing that PG-13 and lower-rated features are more likely to turn a profit than those rated R.

Mr. Medved's contention in his controversial book "Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values" is that Americans are turning off to Hollywood movies in impressive numbers because of their morally bankrupt content. He contrasts the era of "The Sound of Music," the Oscar winner for best picture in 1965, when weekly attendance was 44 million to today's figure of 18.5 million.

In compiling his own separate set of statistics, he comes to the same conclusion as the Kagan study: Make a good, clean movie and people will come.

Many critics derided Mr. Medved's holier-than-thou tone -- Time magazine called him "The Magistrate of Morals," a New York magazine writer said his views were "dangerous" -- yet studio honchos can't seem to ignore the money factor.

"I'd like to think [the industry] is motivated by conscience or some sense of morality, but the fact is, if you make an R-rated movie, you exclude a large part of the audience,"

said one studio executive. "It's not, 'Let's have less of a body count,' it's about knowing a lower rating transfers to dollars."

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