Sony Pictures unveiled its new “Clean Version” initiative on Wednesday, announcing a plan to release edited cuts of its films, with “some scenes of graphic violence, offensive language, sexual innuendo, and other adult content” removed, on home video alongside the original versions. But not everyone is a fan. Seth Rogen, for one, responded to the studio’s plan to publically release these airline and TV-friendly cuts of movies by offering some constructive criticism: Don’t.
To be clear, Sony has not actually announced a “Clean Version” of any of Rogen’s films, which include The Interview and Sausage Party—a clean cut of Sausage Party would probably be about 30 seconds long, anyway. The 24 movies that are being offered in sanitized versions include 50 First Dates, Captain Phillips, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Easy A, Inferno, Moneyball, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and more. (A full list can be found here.) The initiative’s website promises “clean” versions of additional titles in the future, probably depending on the success of this first push.
The criticism of this move from Rogen and others is predictable but overblown. Airlines have long shown edited version of movies on their flights, though these have sometimes been met with controversy—remember Delta Air Lines’ “they’re just gal pals” version of Carol? Same goes for edits of movies that air on broadcast television, which can similarly omit scenes containing sex, nudity, profanity, or violence. The only real difference is that now, Sony is offering those cuts directly to consumers, meeting an existing demand that was previously being filled by filtering services like ClearPlay and the VidAngel. And it’s no coincidence that both of those services are based in Utah, home to the country’s highest concentration of Mormons; sanitized cuts hold an obvious appeal for conservative religious groups, as well as for parents who may want to watch movies with their children without worrying about potentially objectionable content.
Yes, filmmakers will probably object to studio-sanctioned “clean versions” of their films on the grounds that these cuts tread on their original artistic visions. And in some cases, they may even be right, although including them as “extras” on iTunes, Vudu, and FandangoNow hardly seems like it will jeopardize the sanctity of Pixels. Sony is a business, and since it has reason to believe that there is a significant market for cleaned-up versions of PG-13 and R-rated movies, why not tap that market itself instead of leaving it to third-party services (services that studios are desperately fighting, it should be noted)?
More deserving of skepticism are the actual titles the studio has chosen to include in this first batch. While it’s not difficult to see why a certain kind of audience might appreciate a slightly more family-friendly version of a comedy classic like Ghostbusters or the Spider-Man movies, which star a character kids already love, other choices are downright baffling. Can you really appreciate Hancock, a movie about a profane, drunken superhero, without the substance abuse and profanity? And how can you even truly say you’ve seen Step Brothers without the nutsack-on-the-drum-set scene?