As an adolescent growing up in the 80s, the 12A certificate was my greatest wish.
An endless succession of movies which I desperately wanted to watch, and I knew were basically okay for me, came and went at the cinema. Each had a 15 certificate which forbade me to attend. Top Gun. Crocodile Dundee. Gremlins. Each time, I had to grill my older brother for nuggets of information about these enticing pieces of forbidden fruit, and begin the long wait for their eventual VHS releases (and the inevitable accompanying discussions with my parents as to whether they were 'bad' 15s, prior to the decision as to whether a rental would be permitted).
I screamed at an unjust and silent God in the sky. Why couldn't there be an additional rating? Something along the lines of "Still a PG, but we're serious this time"? Something that would allow me to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off?
And lo, just when I was too old for it to matter in the slightest, the 12 rating turned up in 1989. It was just flat-out 12 at that point, nothing advisory about it. If you were 12, they'd let you in. If you were 11, they wouldn't. By that point I was 15, so the new rating made no practical difference to me, but as a budding censorship and classification nerd I was still interested. I was interested with where the limits of the rating would lie. I was interested in how it would be dealt with on home video (Answer: they didn't introduce it for years, and 12s just got bumped to 15s or cut for PGs). Most of all, though, I was interested the way that the public clearly didn't understand the new rating at all. The queue for Tim Burton's Batman was full of parents accompanied by pre-schoolers, who were all duly turned away at the ticket desk with varying degrees of argument.
Skip to 2002, and the 12 rating became advisory shortly after the release of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Now it really was "Still a PG, but we're serious this time".
And then the bastard thing took over cinema as we know it.
Lets look at some franchises from the pre-12A world and check the certificate of the latest release from each, taking 1995 as our test point.
Star Wars - U (Return of the Jedi)
Star Trek - PG (Star Trek: Generations)
Batman - PG (Batman Forever)
Jurassic Park - PG (Jurassic Park)
Indiana Jones - PG (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
Superman - PG (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace)
James Bond - 12 (Goldeneye)
Terminator - 15 cut version, 18 uncut version (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)
Die Hard - 15 cut version, 18 uncut version (Die Hard with a Vengeance)
Hop to 2015 and we have...
Star Wars - 12A (Revenge of the Sith)
Star Trek - 12A (Star Trek: Into Darkness)
Batman - 12A (The Dark Knight Rises)
Jurassic Park - 12A (Jurassic World)
Indiana Jones - 12A (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Superman - 12A (Man of Steel)
James Bond - 12A (Spectre)
Terminator - 12A (Terminator: Genisys)
Die Hard - 12A cinema version (A Good Day to Die Hard)
As I type these words, we're still waiting for the BBFC rating for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As I've got a four year-old daughter who is absolutely crazy about the franchise (well, the original trilogy. She made it ten minutes into Attack of the Clones and asked if we could watch "one of the good ones" instead), I'm hoping against hope for a PG. But in a world where PGs are the generally preserve of films that should actually be U rated (Frozen is clearly U material, not PG. It's aimed at four year-olds. It's just about the tamest Disney movie ever made; it makes the U rated Sleeping Beauty look like Driller Killer. Yet that's got a PG slapped on it), I've got a feeling that the 12A might just be inevitable.
I'd like two things. I'd like kids' movies that I can take my kids to, and grown-up movies with hard edges that I can go and see myself. Yet somehow we've got to a place where the Robocop franchise, (which started as VERY hard 18), and the Star Warsfranchise (which started at U) have both met in the middle with this horrible, oily, shitty compromise of a rating which suits nobody. 12A. Is it suitable for kids? Sort of, maybe. Is it aimed at adults? Sort of, maybe.
I realise this situation hasn't occurred in a vacuum, and is in many ways directly connected with the rise of the all-pervasive PG-13 in the States. But, since the entire US system is completely broken anyway, (they've got a rating that means something is just for adults but not pornography called the NC-17, and they don't use it. Even for films like Fifty Shades of Grey, so that movie ended up Stateside with a rating that you could take kids to), it's probably best that we seek our own solutions closer to home.
But the 12A has to die. Let children enjoy otherwise family-friendly films without the ridiculous single use of the word "fuck" (used to ensure a PG-13/12A rather than a PG, of course), and let grown-ups have proper Robocop movies with blood up the walls.
Sorry, 12 year-old me. The thing you wanted was rubbish, and I'd like it taken away now please.
Consumer advice: Ironically, the previous piece of writing contains moderate threat and a single use of strong language. It may be unsuitable for persons under 12.