Film Censorship: Hannibal (2001)


 

 

 

 

Hannibal

Directed by Ridley Scott / 2001 / UK-USA / IMDb

In February 2001, a 131m 35mm print of HANNIBAL was passed with an MA15+ (High Level Violence) rating. United International Pictures were the applicant.

 

 

HANNIBAL MA15+: The complaints begin

It did not take long for complaints to begin against the Classification Board's MA15+ rating. The Australian Council of State School Organisations and Fred Nile's Christian Democratic Party were two of the first to protest.

 

 

Questions over rating of "Silence of the Lambs" sequel
abc.net.au
, February 8, 2001

President of the Australian Council of State School Organisations Rodney Molesworth:

RODNEY MOLESWORTH: Well, it certainly seems a little bit difficult to understand. I think that what we really need from the board is a lot more consistency. We seem to have certain evidence of government interference when there's something that they have an interest in and there've been changes to the board. There've been some classifications which seem to be ridiculously strict and some which seem (like this one) to be quite dangerously lax.

I think that really we need some kind of inquiry into what's happening with censorship in the country and some further input from the community about what community standards really are.

 

 

OFLC comes under fire for Hannibal's MA classification
abc.net.au, February 8, 2001

The Australian Council of State School Organisations is now calling for an inquiry into the classification guidelines, accusing the Office of Film and Literature Classification of being inconsistent in the way it does its business.

The OFLC's Des Clark though says he'd welcome a review, but he claims the way the board applies its guidelines is entirely consistent. Alison Caldwell has our report.

ALISON CALDWELL: Des Clark is the new head of the Office of Film and Literature Classification. While he himself hasn't seen the film, he says he's satisfied with its classification.

DES CLARK: What's been applied in the MA 15+, mature accompanied in violence, is generally depictions of violence should not have a high impact. Depictions of high impact should be infrequent and should not be prolonged or gratuitous.

And that is what the Board has applied in this instance, in that there is a theme of violence throughout the film but most of that violence is not high impact and most of it is in fact not detailed. And in fact there are, as I understand it, two depictions in the film which are brief and do have a high impact but they're not prolonged or gratuitous.

So that's where their discussion has focused, on that section of the guidelines for MA 15+. And they weren't of a view that it tipped over into the hard category. One board member did have that view, but that was only one.

ALISON CALDWELL: The Australian Council of State Schools Organisations today is calling for an inquiry into Australia's classification guidelines.

DES CLARK: We've done research as recently as last year, where with focus groups of members of the community we've tested our classifications against the classifications given by the board, and in fact there is an extraordinarily high degree of consistency between community expectations and those of the board.

ALISON CALDWELL: What would you say about the fact that the marketing manager for the distributor of this film, he himself was expecting your office to give the film restricted classification?

DES CLARK: He's the marketing manager. It's a marketing statement, I don't accept that that is in fact a genuine statement. If the film had gone R I expected there probably would have been an appeal, because nobody wants an R rating on their film.

 

 

'Hannibal' has crossed the Australian standards of decency
The Christian Democratic Party, 9 February 9 2001
Media Release

The Rev Fred Nile MLC, Hon National President of the Christian Democratic Party and Member of the NSW Parliament, has strongly condemned the soft policies of the Federal Film Censors concerning the ultra-violent film 'Hannibal' with its MA rating for children. The anti violence campaigner, Rev Fred Nile MLC, said "The community is shocked at the soft MA classification which the Federal Censors - the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), gave to the new ultra-violent film 'HANNIBAL'".

"It seems this Federal Censorship Office is being influenced by representatives of the anti-censorship lobby from AXIS (hard core porn move distributor) which it met with last November, and the Eros Foundation, (lobby group for the porn industry)".

"The MA rating is meaningless as it has no legal enforcement powers, so that hundreds of 13 and 14 year old boys are being allowed to watch these violent and pornographic films".

"If the Howard Government was serious they would amend the Censorship Regulations, so that children under 15 years are legally not allowed to enter the theatre to watch an MA, or M-rated violent, porn movie, with heavy fines for theatre owners who allowed children to enter their theatre".

"SURELY THE RECENT BLOODY, BRUTAL MURDER OF A 3 YEAR OLD GIRL BY A 13 YEAR OLD BOY SHOULD SHAKE UP THE FEDERAL CENSORS FROM THEIR COMPLACENCY".

"The Federal Censorship Office must urgently re-classify the 'HANNIBAL' movie at least as an R-rated film only for adults" urged Rev Fred Nile MLC.

 

 

 

HANNIBAL: MA15+ raised to R18+

The protests worked and the Queensland Attorney General, Judy Spence requested that HANNIBAL be referred to the Classification Review Board.

Following the review, the rating was raised from MA15+ (High Level Violence) to R18+ (High Impact Violence).

The theatrical release of HANNIBAL continued, now with an R18+ attached.

 

The full Review Board report is as follows.

Classification Review Board
34th MEETING
15th & 22nd FEBRUARY 2001
23-33 MARY STREET SURRY HILLS NSW

PRESENT;
Ms Barbara Biggins (Convenor)
Mr Jonathan O’Dea (Deputy Convenor)
Ms Joan Yardley
Ms Glenda Banks
Dr Robin Harvey

APPLICANT:
The Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP

BUSINESS: To review the decision of the Classification Board to assign the classification “MA15+” with the consumer advice “High Level Violence” under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 to the film and sale/hire videotape Hannibal.

DECISION AND REASONS FOR DECISION

 

1. Decision

The Classification Review Board decided to set aside the decision of the Classification Board to classify the film Hannibal “MA 15+” with the consumer advice “High level violence”, and to classify the film “R 18+” with the consumer advice “High impact violence.”

 

2. Legislative Provisions

The Classification (Publications, Film and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Act) governs the classification of films and the review of classification decisions. The Act provides that films be classified in accordance with the National Classification Code and the classification Guidelines. Relevantly, the National Classification Code (the Code) in paragraph 4 of the Table under the heading “Films” provides that films (except RC films, X films, and R films) that depict, express, or otherwise deal with sex, violence, or coarse language in such a manner as to be unsuitable for viewing by persons who are under 15 years, are to be classified “MA”. Para 3 of the table provides films (except RC and X films) that are unsuitable for a minor to see, are to be classified “R”.

 

3. Procedure

3.1 Having received a request from the Queensland Attorney General, the Hon Judy Spence MLA, the Federal Attorney General, the Hon Daryl Williams AM QC MP, requested the Review Board on 13 February 2001 to review the classification of the film Hannibal as a matter of urgency.

3.2 Five members of the Review Board viewed the film Hannibal.

3.3 At the request of the film’s distributor, United International Pictures (UIP), the Review Board postponed its meeting planned for 15 February to allow UIP sufficient time to prepare a submission to the Review Board. The written submission from UIP was received on 21 February 2001.

3.4 The Review Board met on February 22nd to review the film.

3.5 The Review Board heard oral representations from Mr Michael Selwyn and Mr John Dickie representing the distributor at its meeting of February 22nd.

 

4. Matters taken into account

In reaching its decision the Review Board had regard to the following: -

(a) The applicant’s Application for Review
(b) The distributor’s oral and written submissions to the Review Board
(c) The film Hannibal
(d) The relevant provisions in the Act
(e) The relevant provisions in the National Classification Code as amended by section 6 of the Act and as endorsed by the State and Territory Ministers responsible for censorship matters.
(f) The current Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes determined under section 12 of the Act.

 

5. Findings on Material Questions of Fact

The Plot
5.1 In this sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Dr Hannibal Lecter, the former psychiatrist who engages in cannibalism, has escaped and is now living a cultured life in Florence. He is pursued for revenge by Verger, who had been horribly mutilated during an encounter with Hannibal some years earlier. Verger enlists the aid of law officers to trace Hannibal, and their paths cross with that of FBI agent Clarice Starling.

The content
The Review Board focussed on the scenes listed by the Classification Board in its report, but also made findings, as below, in regard to other scenes.

5.2 The Review Board considered the content cited by the Classification Board These were the following six scenes:

1) The stakeout in the marketplace in which policewoman Clarice Starling is cornered by a female drug dealer and her cronies, after much gunfire. Clarice is forced to fire on the female who is carrying a baby in a pouch. The female is shot dead. The sequence contains slow motion shots of falling bodies, and blood spurts. Splattered blood is washed off the baby.

2) The flashbacks which occur at several points in the film, but notably around 25mins, in which Verger, as a younger man, is seen swinging from a rope, and slashing at his face with broken glass given to him by, and at the suggestion of Hannibal. Verger peels flesh from his face, and Hannibal feeds the flesh to a dog. Verger is horribly disfigured as a result of the event.

3) Hannibal implicitly stabs a male who has been following him. The pursuer falls with flows of blood shown from his mouth and leg.

4) Hannibal renders unconscious the Italian policeman Pazzi, who has discovered his identity. He gags and straps Pazzi to a trolley, wheels him to the edge of the balcony, puts a rope around his neck, asking “bowels in or out?” Hannibal implicitly slits the officer’s gut, and pushes him over the balcony. Pazzi is hanged and his bowels fall out and are seen on the ground below, with the body swinging above.

5) Hannibal has been captured by Verger’s accomplices and taken to his farm where Verger plans to have Hannibal killed by his trained pigs. Clarice arrives and rescues him, shooting two guards who fall in the pig pen and screams are heard as the pigs attack. Verger is also thrown in the pigpen and is likewise attacked.

6) Hannibal drugs the law officer in the pay of Verger, and removes the top of the agent’s skull revealing his brain. He slices a piece of brain off, cooks and feeds it to him.

5.3 In reviewing these scenes, the Review Board found:

Scene (1) had high impact, with some elements of stylising which did not diminish the overall impact, and was prolonged

Scene (2) While scene 2 contained some elements of a stylised approach, it had high impact. The Review Board also found that this scene required an adult perspective in relation to the dialogue: “when you hang yourself it feels good”.

Scene (3) contained violence, but did not have a high impact

Scene (4) had high impact, and was prolonged, and had elements of gratuitousness

Scene (5) had high impact (despite some stylised elements) and was prolonged

Scene (6) had high impact and was prolonged.

5.4 In relation to other scenes considered by the Review Board, a majority of the Review Board found the scene in which he apparently cuts off Clarice’s hand with a cleaver to have high impact. The Review Board also considered that other scenes or threats of violence, such as the threat to eat the heart of Pazzi’s wife, Hannibal’s slitting the throat of one of Verger’s men, and picture galleries of Hannibal’s victims added to the general impact of the violent depictions in the film.

5.5 The Review Board also found that while some of these scenes, and the film as a whole, had elements that could be considered to be stylised, this did not diminish the overall high impact of the violence. Furthermore, most of the above scenes were portrayed as “real life” events and stylistic elements did not diminish this perception.

5.6 The Review Board also considered the themes of the film and found that the powerful portrayal of the serial killer as a “hero” without any credible alternate role models or an explicit or implicit moral resolution could be disturbing to adolescents in the age range of 13 to 16 years (even if accompanied by adults). The Review Board was also concerned about the theme of feeding of body parts from live humans to animals and people. It was considered that both these themes required an adult perspective.

5.7 The Review Board found that the film contained scenes of high impact violence which were not infrequent and which were sometimes prolonged and/or contained gratuitous elements. In addition the Review Board found that the film required an adult perspective in dealing with some of its themes. The Review Board therefore found that the film was unsuitable for persons under the age of 18 years and was appropriately classified “R18+”.

 

6. Reasons for the Decision

6.1 The Review Board based its decision to set aside the decision of the Classification Board, and to assign the classification “R 18+” to the film Hannibal on the content and themes set out in 5.2 –5.6 above.

6.2 As described in 5.3 and 5.4 above, the Review Board found that there were a number of depictions of violence that, in the view of the Review Board, had high impact, and some of these were, additionally, prolonged or had elements of gratuitousness. The Guidelines for violence in the MA classification require that such scenes be infrequent.

6.3 The Classification Board had taken the view that these scenes were “stylised”. The Guidelines permit depictions of violence with high impact to be more frequent if they are “stylised”. “Stylised treatment” is defined in the glossary to the Guidelines as being such that “the viewer is conscious of the unreality: examples include musicals, horror, animation, and fantasy”.

The Review Board took the view that the film as a whole was not stylised in that the characters and actions were realistic and the scenes were seemingly real.

In regard to individual scenes such as (1) –(6) above, the Review Board concluded that, while it could be argued that some scenes contained stylistic elements, in some cases these elements increased the impact.

For example, scene (2) in which Verger is mutilated, is depicted as a real happening, with stylised elements to convey that it is a flashback. The scene is set up to explain the cause of Verger seeking revenge, and was seen as a realistic depiction of an actual event, that is a key to the film’s action. In scene (3), the disembowelling of Pazzi is depicted as a real event, and the depiction includes a gratuitous closeup of Pazzi’s intestines on the ground. In scene (4) the filming techniques added to the chaos and scariness of the pig mauling and therefore increased the overall impact of the depiction. The depiction in scene (6) of the removal of the skull with the victim continuing to talk, was physically possible and was not considered unreal.

The Review Board concluded that, overall, it did not find the film or individual scenes to be stylised in a way that the frequency of high impact scenes was acceptable under the guidelines for the MA classification.

6.4 The Review Board considered that the portrayal of characters in the film contributed to a theme in which the viewer was invited to admire the culture and intelligence of the serial killer, despite the terrible crimes he had committed, and to empathise with his reasons for his violent behaviour. Adolescent viewers, at this point in their development, could be vulnerable to the ambiguous behavioural and emotional messages implicit in the characterisation of the film. The impact of this portrayal is increased in the final scene, in which Hannibal is seen to encourage a young child to eat a piece of human brain. This was perceived to be an attempt by the older man to corrupt the young child, with no sense of remorse or concern.

Further issues or depictions which require an adult perspective include:

1) the brief comment by Hannibal as Verger hangs and slashes at his face, viz “ When you hang yourself it feels good”. This was taken by the Review Board as a reference to the use of asphyxiation to produce heightened sexual arousal, which is an issue requiring an adult perspective.

2) the feeding of body parts taken from live human beings to animals or people.

6.5 The distributor argued in part that

a) the film was in the “horror” genre, and the violence was stylised. The film took a flippant approach and had an absence of menace

b) the Hannibal character was well known and his excesses would not surprise

c) in regard to specific scenes cited by the Classification Board, scene (4) (as in 5.2 above) was dimly lit, brief, stylised and in long shot; scene (5) had brief visuals, the action was chaotic and not detailed, and was unreal which lessened the impact; scene (6) in visual delivery did not live up to its conceptual strength, and was stylised.

d) The appeal was lodged before people had seen it, and that public concern had lessened after the film began national release.

6.6 In relation to these points, the Review Board took the view that :

a) see 6.3

b) Hannibal was likely to be well known among those who saw the thriller Silence of the Lambs, but that does not reduce the overall high impact of violence in this film

c) See 5.3 and 6.2, 6.3.

d) This is not relevant to the Board’s determination.

6.7 The Review Board concluded that the film contained depictions of high impact violence that were not infrequent, and which were sometimes prolonged and/or contained gratuitous elements. The treatment of these scenes and of the film as a whole was not considered to be stylised in a way that would make the high impact violence acceptable under an MA classification. Further the film contained depictions and raised issues which required an adult perspective. The film is therefore appropriately classified R 18+. The Board’s decision to assign the consumer advice line “High impact violence” is made having regard to the content and view set out in 5.3 and 6.2. above.

 

7. Summary

The Review Board’s decision is to classify the film Hannibal “R 18+” with the consumer advice line “High impact violence”. This decision is taken after full consideration of the applicant’s and distributor’s submissions, and after assessing the film as a whole against the relevant legislative criteria, including those contained in the Code, and in the current Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes determined under Section 12 of the Act.

Barbara Biggins Convenor

 

 

Daryl Williams on the review of HANNIBAL

WHO’S AFRAID OF HANNIBAL LECTER?: The Big Cs: Censorship and Classification
watchoncensorship.asn.au, May 14 2001

Daryl Williams: I sought to review the decision of the Classification Board to classify Hannibal MA in accordance with these provisions and, in accordance with the Act, I applied for the review at the request of the Honourable Judy Spence, the then Queensland Censorship Minister.

There was also a concern in the community and the media about the classification and in the event, the Review Board classified Hannibal R. Such a process is the exception rather than the rule, but it allows for reconsideration of decisions when appropriate and is part of the effective operation of the Scheme as a whole.

 

 

Trish Draper on HANNIBAL

The South Australian Liberal MP Trish Draper had this to say after the rating of HANNIBAL was increased to R18+.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Official Hansard
THURSDAY, 8 MARCH 2001
Film Classification

Mrs Draper: Many constituents in my electorate would be aware that recently the film Hannibal was reclassified by the Classification Review Board from MA15+ to R18+. I believe this is an important decision, reflecting the legitimate concerns of our community with regard to the ever increasing, unnecessary, gratuitous and graphic violence portrayed in films and other genres for the sake of entertainment.

We have enough violence in our society without trying to teach our children that violence is entertainment or a way of solving problems, particularly in the manner of that film. The reclassification of Hannibal to R18+ is a win not only for my local constituents in Makin but for our society right across Australia.

 

 

DVD Releases: Back to MA15+!

In August 2001 Sony Pictures Entertainment had a DVD of HANNIBAL classified R18+ (High impact violence; Horror theme). In February 2001, the Review Board had only given the consumer advice 'High impact violence'.

Universal Pictures re-released the DVD around 2006, and mistakenly added the original MA15+ (High level violence) to the cover.

In July 2009, Universal Pictures Video had a 419m Blu-ray disc rated MA15+ (Strong Violence). Eight years after the original MA15+ was increased to R18+, HANNIBAL was back to where it began.

 

 

2016: 7Flix TV screening results in complaint to ACMA

In December 2016, HANNIBAL screened on 7Flix in Melbourne. Despite being censored, it resulted in a complaint to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). They found there were no breaches by 7Flix.

The full report refers to the film as though it still held the R18+ that it received in 2001. However, the last time that HANNIBAL was seen by the Classification Board was July 2009, when it was downgraded to MA15+ (Strong Violence).

 

Investigation report no. BI-274

Licensee Channel Seven Melbourne Pty Ltd
Station: 7Flix
Type of service: Commercial—television
Name of program: Hannibal
Date of broadcast: 2 December 2016
Relevant legislation/code: Broadcasting Services Act 1992, Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015
Date finalised: 3 March 2017
Decision: No breach of paragraph 7(1)(ga) of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 [modify R18+ films]. No breach of clause 2.6.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015 [suitability for broadcast]

 

Background

In January 2017, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (the ACMA) commenced an investigation under section 170 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA) into the film Hannibal (the film).

The film was broadcast on 7Flix by Channel Seven Melbourne Pty Ltd (the licensee) on 2 December 2016 at approximately 11.05 pm. It had an MA15+ classification and the on-screen consumer advice of ‘Strong violence [and] some horror’.

The ACMA received a complaint alleging the material was not correctly classified and was not suitable for broadcast.

The ACMA has investigated the licensee’s compliance with paragraph 7(1)(ga) of Schedule 2 to the BSA and clause 2.6.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015 (the Code).

 

The film

Hannibal is a 2001 American crime thriller film directed by Ridley Scott. It is described as follows:

"In this sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Dr Hannibal Lecter, the former psychiatrist who engages in cannibalism, has escaped and is now living a cultured life in Florence. He is pursued for revenge by Verger, who had been horribly mutilated during an encounter with Hannibal some years earlier. Verger enlists the aid of law officers to trace Hannibal, and their paths cross with that of FBI agent Clarice Starling."

 

Background – classification

The film was first classified MA15+ by the Classification Board on 7 February 2001, with consumer advice of ‘High level violence’.

The film was subsequently classified R18+, with the consumer advice ‘High impact violence’, following review by the Classification Review Board on 2 February 2001.

On 24 August 2001, a modified version of the film comprising the feature and a range of ‘extras’ (including deleted scenes and ‘making of’ footage) was classified R18+, ‘High impact violence, horror theme’. In its decision report, the Classification Board noted that:

"This approach [the inclusion of extra material] gives the horror element a stronger focus. The additional consumer advice, more adequately informs the viewer of the content of the film."

On 22 July 2009, a Blu-ray version with extras was classified MA15+ by the Classification Board, with the consumer advice ‘Strong violence’.

The licensee has stated that it modified the film for broadcast.

 

Assessment and submissions

When assessing content, the ACMA considers the meaning conveyed by the material, including the natural, ordinary meaning of the language, context, tenor, tone, images and any inferences that may be drawn. This is assessed according to the understanding of an ‘ordinary reasonable’ listener or viewer.

Australian courts have considered an ‘ordinary reasonable’ listener or viewer to be:

"A person of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. That person does not live in an ivory tower, but can and does read between the lines in the light of that person’s general knowledge and experience of worldly affairs."

Once the ACMA has ascertained the meaning of the material that was broadcast, it then assesses compliance with the Code.

This investigation has taken into account the complaint (at Attachment A) and submissions from the licensee (at Attachment B). Other sources are identified where relevant.

 

Issue: Modification for broadcast of a film classified R 18+

Relevant provisions
Broadcasting Services Act 1992
Schedule 2 Standard conditions
Part 3 – Commercial television broadcasting licences

[…]

7 Conditions of commercial television broadcasting licences
(1) Each commercial television broadcasting licence is subject to the following conditions:

[...]

(ga) the licensee will not broadcast films that are classified as “R 18+” unless the films have been modified as mentioned in paragraph 123(3A)(b);

Part 9 – Program standards
123 Development of codes of practice

[...]

(3A) In developing codes of practice referred to in paragraph (2)(a), (b) or (c), industry groups representing commercial television broadcasting licensees and community television broadcasting licensees must ensure that:

[...]

(b) those codes provide for methods of modifying films having particular classifications under that system so that:
(i) the films are suitable to be broadcast; […]

Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015

Section 2: Classification and proscribed material

[…]

2.3 Exceptions
2.3.1 Films must be classified by applying the classification system provided for by the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

Note: Films may be modified by a Licensee to ensure they are suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at particular times.

[…]

2.6 Material not suitable for broadcast
2.6.1 A Licensee must not broadcast any material that cannot be classified MA15+ or any lower television classification.
Note: Material may be modified by a Licensee to ensure that it is suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at particular times.

Section 8: Interpretation
Film means any feature film, documentary or short film that has had first release in Australia through public exhibition (including cinematic release) or sale/hire and which has been classified by the Classification Board.

Appendix 1: Television Classification Guidelines

[…]

The suitability of material for broadcast will depend on the context, frequency and intensity of key elements such as violence, sexual behaviour, nudity and coarse language, and on the time of day at which it is broadcast. It will also depend on such factors as the merit of the production, the purpose of a sequence, the tone, the camera work, the relevance of the material, and the treatment; be it dramatic, comedic or documentary.

These factors must be all taken into account and carefully weighed. This means that some actions, depictions, themes, subject matter, treatments or language may meet current community standards of acceptability in one Program, but in another Program may require a higher classification, or be unsuitable for television. In other circumstances sequences that clearly depict comedy or slapstick behaviour may reduce the classification.

[…]

The Mature Audience (MA) Classification

Material classified MA is suitable for viewing only by persons aged 15 years or over because of the intensity and/or frequency of violence, sexual depictions, or coarse language, adult themes or drug use. The impact may be strong. All elements must be justified by context.

Violence: Realistic depictions may contain some detail, but should not be prolonged and should not be unduly bloody or horrific. Violence occurring in a sexual context may be implied and must not be detailed.

Themes: The treatment of strong adult themes should be justified.

National Classification Scheme

Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995

11 The matters to be taken into account in making a decision on the classification of a publication, a film or a computer game include:

(a) the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults;

(b) the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the publication, film or computer game;

(c) the general character of the publication, film or computer game, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character;

(d) the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.
National Classification Code

1 Under the Code, classification decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to the following principles:

(a) adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want;

(b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;

(c) everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;

(d) the need to take account of community concerns about:

(i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and

(ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.

[…]

Guidelines for the Classification of Films 2012

MA 15+ MATURE ACCOMPANIED
Impact test
The impact of material classified MA 15+ should be no higher than strong.
Note: Material classified MA 15+ is considered unsuitable for persons under 15 years of age. It is a legally restricted category.
Classifiable elements
THEMES
The treatment of strong themes should be justified by context.
VIOLENCE
Violence should be justified by context.
Sexual violence may be implied, if justified by context.

[…]

R 18+ RESTRICTED
Impact test
The impact of material classified R 18+ should not exceed high.
Note: Material classified R 18+ is legally restricted to adults. Some material classified R 18+ may be offensive to sections of the adult community.
Classifiable elements
THEMES
There are virtually no restrictions on the treatment of themes.
VIOLENCE
Violence is permitted.
Sexual violence may be implied, if justified by context.

[…]

Changes to the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and to community attitudes

The Guidelines for the Classification of Films (the Guidelines) have changed over time. The differences between different iterations of the Guidelines may be significant and may affect classification outcomes. The guidelines that applied to classification decisions made in 2001 – the Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Videotapes 1999 – are not the same guidelines that apply to classification decisions made in 2016.

Moreover, community attitudes to the impact of particular content change over time. Content judged to have a ‘high’ impact in 2001, may well be judged to have only a ‘strong’ impact in 2009 or 2016.

 

 

Finding

The licensee:
- did not breach paragraph 7(1)(ga) of Schedule 2 to the BSA
- did not breach clause 2.6.1 of the Code

 

 

Reasons

The BSA and the Code require that films that are modified for broadcast are classified under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 (the Classification Act), according to the National Classification Scheme (the NCS).

To assess compliance with the BSA, the ACMA considers the classification of the film (as it has been modified for broadcast) against the requirements of the NCS Guidelines in force at the time of broadcast. Previous classification decisions and the guidelines used to make those decisions do not apply to the classification of the modified film. This is because the guidelines have changed since the original film was classified, are applied at the time of broadcast, and because the film itself has been modified.

Clause 2.6.1 of the Code, prohibits material, including films, that is not suitable for broadcast. To assess compliance with the Code, the ACMA considers whether a modified film is suitable for broadcast by assessing whether the film can be accommodated within the guidelines for MA15+ in Appendix 1 of the Code.

These considerations involve asking:
- Was the modified film classified appropriately, according to the NCS?
- Was the modified film suitable for broadcast under the Code?

The complainant submitted to the ACMA:

"The film was classified R18+ (following a review) by the Australian Classification Review Board in 2001. I believe the Seven Network did not edit (or as I have since discovered in their reply) sufficiently edit the film, to accommodate it in a lower classification suitable for free-to-air television, due to the "high impact violence" (some of which was gratuitous or over-the-top and prolonged in a realistic manner) the film contained, therefore breaching the code.

[…] I believe the broadcast did breach the code:
- Due to the movie being classified R18+, which is not allowed on free-to-air television.
- But also further supported by the two "high impact" scenes which I mentioned. Impact which is "strong" is the highest level allowed on free-to-air television."

 

The licensee responded to the complainant:
"As required by the Code, with regard to movies, the free-to-air television networks apply the same classification system as the Australian Government's Classification Board. This generally means that if a movie is classified MA (Mature Audience) for cinema or DVD release, it will be MA for television. The Code further provides however that free to air television networks may edit a movie, so as to reduce its impact, and ensure it is suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at a particular time.

[…]

We believe the film was appropriately classified MA and in full compliance with the Code.
In the case of Hannibal, the film was modified for broadcast, so as to be suited to an MA (Mature Audience) classification, with consumer advice for strong violence and some horror."

 

Was the modified film classified appropriately, according to the NCS?

The classification of the film takes into account the context and impact of the six classifiable elements – violence, themes, sex, nudity, coarse language and drug use.

Violence

The ACMA considers that the following scenes contain the strongest depictions of violence and themes, and are the focus of the complaint:

Scene 1 The scene at approx. 76 minutes where Pazzi’s abdomen is slit open by Lecter and he is pushed from a balcony and hanged, his entrails spilling to the ground.

Scene 2 The climactic ‘dinner party’ scene (from 109 minutes) where Lecter removes and cooks a piece of Krendler’s brain and feeds it to him.

In these scenes, violence and the film’s themes of serial murder and cannibalism are inextricably linked. The scenes are essential for character and plot development and are contextually justified within the narrative and genre of the film.

In its response to the complainant, the licensee stated that the scenes were not modified for broadcast.

"You are correct in your correspondence in asserting that [those] two scenes were not edited although other scenes were cut. These two scenes were left unedited as signature scenes in a horror classic in which the horror element is evoked conceptually, while the depictions and style remain relatively restrained."

The ACMA considers that the impact of these scenes does not exceed strong.

-Scene 1

Regarding the first scene, the licensee responded to the complainant:

"As you pointed out in your correspondence, this is both brief and dimly lit. The effect of the downward slice of the blade is barely visible due to the extremely brief duration, and darkness of the shot. The cut is virtually implied and there is no blood detail. The man, silhouetted against the light and attached to the rope, is pushed over the balcony and tumbles as he falls. A shot of the pavement then shows objects from his pockets falling into frame, followed by blood and fleshy material. The man is then seen from beneath, dangling from the rope and swinging, in profile. While thematically strong, the actual depictions of violence-are-brief and/or implied and lack detail."

The first scene uses the darkness of the night-time setting and cutaways to different perspectives of the scene to mitigate its impact. The audience anticipates and is prepared for Pazzi’s death because it is suggested in the previous scene, where Lecter shows Pazzi an artwork depicting the same fate for his ancestor. The scene is frequently intercut with footage of Verger’s men waiting for him outside and images of people wandering in the piazza. A phone conversation between Lecter and Starling, when Lecter answers Pazzi’s phone, also interrupts the build-up of tension in the scene.

Although the viewer sees Lecter slit open Pazzi’s abdomen, the cut is made through his clothing and is shown only very briefly with no wound detail or blood spray. After Lecter pushes Pazzi from the balcony, the contents of Pazzi’s pockets are seen landing on the ground below one by one before his entrails land beside them. This depiction is bathed in shadow, with very minimal blood splash and no close up of the viscera. The camera cuts away immediately thereafter, so the image lasts for a matter of seconds. A final image of Pazzi’s body swinging with the string of his intestine protruding is shown from a distance, is darkly silhouetted to conceal detail and is interspersed with a series of further cutaways.

- Scene 2

The second scene is the ‘dinner party’ where Lecter removes the top of Krendler’s skull and feeds him a cooked piece of his own brain. The scene is less one of violence than a culmination of the theme of cannibalism – the point where Lecter is both satisfying his cannibalistic desires and exacting revenge on a person who has mistreated Starling. It is therefore contextually justified and serves as a parallel to the primary revenge narrative of the film.

Regarding this scene, the licensee responded to the complainant:

Taken in context, this scene, in its deliberately constructed style and pacing, is strong in thematic impact, while the depictions of actual violence are brief, even minimal.

The impact of the scene is mitigated by elements that are only implied rather than explicitly depicted, including the sawing open of Krendler’s skull which is heard rather than seen. The surreal, dreamlike nature of the scene is enhanced by Starling’s and Krendler’s morphine-induced haze. Lecter is matter-of-fact and methodical throughout, and as he peels back the membrane covering the brain, it appears more akin to a medical procedure than an act of violence. Gentle classical music scores the scene, which is intercut with shots of a police convoy en route. The comic dialogue between Lecter and Krendler throughout provides levity and dampens the viewer’s sympathies for Krendler, who shows no fear or pain, including the remarks that the smell and taste of the cooked brain is ‘good’. Although the scene as a whole is approximately six minutes in duration, the focus is split between Lecter’s interaction with Krendler and with Lecter negotiating with Starling.

Both scenes depict acts of predatory violence. However, each is relatively restrained in various ways, whether by tone, lighting, the brevity of particular images, and the use of cutaways to other scenes or points of focus. The impact comes more from the sense of anticipation than the level of violence.

Two other scenes were edited by the licensee to reduce their impact. These scenes and the other instances of violence in the film do not individually or cumulatively exceed what can be accommodated at the MA15+ category under the NCS.

Themes

The themes of serial murder and cannibalism in the film are inextricably linked with the element of violence. The most impactful illustration of the theme is the dinner party scene described above, which is no higher than strong. The film also contains more moderate visual and verbal references throughout, such as when Starling and her colleagues discuss Lecter’s criminal history, and the closing scene where Lecter implicitly feeds brains to a child passenger on a commercial flight.

The ACMA considers that the thematic impact is commensurate with that of the violence, and does not exceed the MA15+ classification.

Other classifiable elements

The classifiable elements of sex, nudity, coarse language and drugs are also present in the film.

The ACMA considers that each of these elements is justified by the narrative context of the film and their impact does not exceed moderate.

Accordingly, the ACMA considers the film was appropriately classified MA15+ under the NCS.

 

Was the modified film suitable for broadcast under the Code?

The ACMA assessed the film against the particular classification requirements of MA15+ in Appendix 1 of the Code. Programs at the MA15+ classification are suitable for viewing only by persons aged 15 years or over. The impact of elements such as violence and themes at this level may be strong, though must be justified by context.

Violence

The two scenes in question both contain some detail but are restrained in tone and their impact is mitigated by the camera work, lighting and editing. Much of the violence is of a psychological nature with the scenes conveying a strong sense of threat and menace through dialogue and pacing rather than through the depiction of acts of violence.

- Scene 1

In the scene depicting Pazzi’s hanging, the moments when he is slit open and pushed from the balcony with his entrails landing on the ground are brief and dimly lit. Although the moment shown represents a period of escalating tension and foreboding, the shots showing his body hanging are framed from a considerable distance, lack detail and are only on screen for a brief period. The scene is not prolonged or unduly horrific.

- Scene 2

While lasting approximately six minutes, the dinner party scene does not contain prolonged depictions of violence. The majority of the scene focuses on the conversation between the three characters, with repeated close ups of Lecter’s and Starling’s faces. The scene is also interspersed with cutaways to the image of the police convoy. Lecter’s surgical cutting of Krendler’s skull occurs off screen. The depiction of Lecter using a scalpel to remove a membrane from Krendler’s brain is not excessive in either duration or detail. The slicing of the brain itself is only implied, as the shot cuts briefly to the small piece of fleshy matter in the frying pan. The depictions are not unduly horrific, given the narrative context.

The ACMA considers that the depictions of violence in these scenes are realistic, contain some detail but are not prolonged or unduly horrific.

 Themes

Appendix 1 of the Code states that at the MA15+ level, the treatment of strong adult themes should be justified.

Serial murder and cannibalism are strong adult themes. Their treatment in the film is contextually justified, as both are critical to character development and plot. Thematic material has been carefully balanced by the tone and stylisation of the scenes, and by Lecter’s matter-of-fact demeanour and expository dialogue.

The ACMA considers that the film was appropriately classified MA15+ under the Code and was, therefore, suitable for broadcast.

The ACMA notes that the consumer advice of ‘Strong violence [and] some horror’ was provided to allow viewers to make an informed decision about viewing the film themselves and choosing whether the material was suitable for those in their care to watch.

The licensee did not breach paragraph 7(1)(ga) to Schedule 2 of the BSA or clause 2.6.1 of the Code.  

 

 

Attachment A
Complaint
Complaint to the licensee:

At ~11:05pm on Friday the 2nd of December, your network broadcast the 2001 movie "Hannibal" on 7Flix.

I believe you have breached the code. Due to the movie on DVD being classified "R18+" with "high impact violence" (which was actually decided by the Classification Review Board following complaints in that year).

I had a teenage boy in the house at the time, who actually alerted me that he had been watching the movie in another room (of which I was unaware). He came to me and said "look at this, a man is getting his head cut open". Which was deeply alarming and concerning. Hence, the instigation for my complaint/anger. It should be noted, I don't have a parental lock set on any of my televisions, as I know R18+ programs cannot be broadcast on free-to-air television.

DETAILS OF MY COMPLAINT:
Channel Seven classified the broadcast as "MA15+" with "Strong Violence" & "Some Horror" (present in the top left-hand corner for ~10sec).

[…]

Two particular scenes upon what I ended up watching & my son had told me about, as well as the use of the Classification Review Board report [snip]of the movie, assisted me in determining my main concerns:

- A man has his torso explicitly (but very briefly and in dim light) sliced open by a blade. He is then pushed off a balcony, whilst attached to a rope. When the rope slack ends, he is suspended in the air with his bowels explicitly splattering onto the pavement below.

This scene was high in viewing impact, particularly given the dark theme of the scene where an innocent man has been tied-up. It was also gratuitous and could be considered abhorrent by many. The classification review board also noted this scene as being high in impact and contributing to the R18+ classification.

- At the end of the movie, a man is seated at a lavish dining room table, with a women (the protagonist) seated adjacent and another man (the antagonist) standing up next to the man. Thereafter, the antagonist proceeds to explicitly (but not graphically) slice open the top of the man's skull, he then explicitly removes it. The man's brain is explicitly exposed for the remainder of this scene. The man is also clearly medically affected, with his facial expressions, slurred and confused speech evident. The antagonist then explicitly removes a thin layer off his brain and cuts a portion of his brain off and cooks it on a frying pan, the man is then fed a piece of his own brain and eats it.

This scene was arguably the most graphic in the movie. It was high in viewing impact, gratuitous, likely to cause disgust and was more importantly unsuitable for a minor to view. It was also very uncomfortable to watch, taking into account the gross displeasure from the female protagonist beside him during the scene, but drugged, unable to move to help. The scene was lengthy, detailed and clear. The horror of the context and scene also increased the impact. The classification review board also noted this scene as being high impact and contributing to the R18+ classification.

In conclusion, I did not have any problem with any other element in the broadcast, which could all be accommodated in a lower classification (except the horror theme, but which was noted in the consumer advice). However the impact of the two specific scenes I mentioned was high in impact (at the R18+ level) and should not have been broadcast on free-to-air television. Adding to this, that no effort was made to edit/modify the movie from its uncut version and also seeing as the movie was classified R18+ (as shown in the report which is hyperlinked above).

I am also concerned at Seven's classification department, that they were not able to determine the difference between content that is "strong in impact" (MA15+, allowed on television) and "high in impact" (R18+, not allowed on free-to-air television) in respect to this case.

Therefore I believe the broadcast did breach the code:

- Due to the movie being classified R18+, which is not allowed on free-to-air television.
- But also further supported by the two "high impact" scenes which I mentioned. Impact which is "strong" is the highest level allowed on free-to-air television.

[…]

Complaint to the ACMA dated 9 January 2017:

In early December 2016, I emailed the Seven Network (via Free TV Australia) to raise concern about the 2001 film "Hannibal" that was broadcast on their multi-channel "7Flix" on the 2nd of December 2016 at 11:05pm.

The film was classified R18+ (following a review) by the Australian Classification Review Board in 2001. I believe the Seven Network did not edit (or as I have since discovered in their reply) sufficiently edit the film, to accommodate it in a lower classification suitable for free-to-air television, due to the "high impact violence" (some of which was gratuitous or over-the-top and prolonged in a realistic manner) the film contained, therefore breaching the code.

The two particular scenes I had serious concern about, was (1) the scene where an Italian Police officer's torso is slit open and his bowels splatter on the ground below explicitly, after being strung up by a rope from a balcony. The second (2) scene I had even more serious concern about occurred at the end of the film, where Hannibal cuts open and removes a section of a man's skull, revealing his brain with eerie detail, cuts a piece off, fries it and then feeds it to the man. I found these scenes to be high in viewing impact, somewhat over-the-top, hard to watch, prolonged (especially the latter scene) and rather realistic, as well as filming effects used to increase the impact and in the latter scene the distressed and uncomfortable mood/tone from the protagonist Clarice. I will admit that there were elements of stylisation and surreal that slightly decreased the impact, but minimally.

[…]

However I was not satisfied with their explanation and reasoning of the two scenes described above, with the Seven Network defending them as "two crucial scenes in a horror classic" and cementing that by saying "the film has become accepted over the years". They also stated they believed the two scenes mentioned were no higher than strong in impact, which I, my family and the Australian Classification Review Board strongly disagree with.

[…]

I want resolution of clear issues:

1) Streamlined and more care given for classification, in that one organisation can't find one scene to be 'high in impact' and the other not to be, especially when the code states that films for broadcast must follow the Australian Classification Board's classification and guidelines.

2) To abolish the assertion that, just because a broadcast is late at night doesn't necessarily mean minors and children will not be subject to the program. Classification provides a safeguard to children and their innocence. There is a reason why R18+ programs shouldn't be broadcast on free-to-air television and it's for this reason that minors (those under 18 years of age) need to be protected from confronting, confusing and offensive material. Many minors, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays stay up very late, particularly older teenagers, which backs this up.

[…]

 

 

Attachment B
Licensee’s response and submissions
Licensee response to the complainant dated 19 December 2016:

[…]

As required by the Code, with regard to movies, the free-to-air television networks apply the same classification system as the Australian Government's Classification Board. This generally means that if a movie is classified MA (Mature Audience) for cinema or DVD release, it will be MA for television. The Code further provides however that free to air television networks may edit a movie, so as to reduce its impact, and ensure it is suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at a particular time.

In the case of Hannibal, the film was modified for broadcast, so as to be suited to an MA (Mature Audience) classification, with consumer advice for strong violence and some horror. Material classified MA is suitable for viewing only by persons aged 15 years or over because of the intensity and/or frequency of violence, sexual depictions, or coarse language, adult themes or drug use. In making the relevant editorial decisions, our experienced Classifiers carefully reviewed the film in the light of both the Classification Board MA15+ Classification and Report, dated 6 February 2001, and the subsequent Review Board R18+ Classification and Report, dated 23 February 2001.

Hannibal (2001) is the second in a series of American psychological thriller films adapted from the Thomas Harris novel of the same name. The film is directed by Ridley Scott and stars Anthony Hopkins in the title role, with Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling and Gary Oldman as Mason Verger.

You are correct in your correspondence in asserting that two scenes were not edited although other scenes were cut. These two scenes were left unedited as signature scenes in a horror classic in which the horror element is evoked conceptually, while the depictions and style remain relatively restrained.

In the first scene you have described, a man's torso is sliced open with a blade as he is poised on a mechanical chair on a balcony above a public square. As you pointed out in your correspondence, this is both brief and dimly lit. The effect of the downward slice of the blade is barely visible due to the extremely brief duration, and darkness of the shot. The cut is virtually implied and there is no blood detail. The man, silhouetted against the light and attached to the rope, is pushed over the balcony and tumbles as he falls. A shot of the pavement then shows objects from his pockets falling into frame, followed by blood and fleshy material. The man is then seen from beneath, dangling from the rope and swinging, in profile. While thematically strong, the actual depictions of violence are brief and/or implied and lack detail.

The second scene you have described is the famous dinner scene at the lake house. Taken in context, this scene, in its deliberately constructed style and pacing, is strong in thematic impact, while the depictions of actual violence are brief, even minimal. The scene unfolds slowly, almost lyrically, from the arrival of the victim Paul, to the waking of Clarice Starling in an upstairs bedroom. As Clarice makes her way downstairs she sees Hannibal stirring a frying pan with a wooden spoon, chatting politely with Paul. The mood at the table is surreal but calm, as an artful cutaway shows police cars speeding along the freeway towards the house. We then return to Paul who says grace, before another evocative shot shows a helicopter moving ever closer to Hannibal's location.

Hannibal then removes Paul's cap, revealing a thin line of blood around his skull. He carefully levers off the top of Paul's skull, revealing his brain. The scene continues with Paul behaving in a slightly bewildered way, but apparently without pain or distress. Hannibal says "You see, the brain itself feels no pain, Clarice, if that concerns you." in close ups of Clarice and Hannibal, she tries to negotiate with him to "stop now." Hannibal removes a small piece of the brain which he fries in the pan. Paul comments, "that is good". Again, close-ups of Clarice and Hannibal are shown in conversation. Hannibal then slowly wheels Paul from the room, as a line of police cars are seen in a dramatically stylised overhead shot, speeding towards Hannibal's location.

While this scene is thematically strong, the depictions of violence are brief and meticulously constrained. In determining that the cumulative impact of the scene was strong, but not high, and thereby suited to an MA classification, our Classifiers gave due consideration to the Code's Television Classification Guidelines which state, "the suitability of material for broadcast will depend on the context, frequency and intensity of key elements such as violence, sexual behaviour, nudity and coarse language, and on the day and time at which it is broadcast. It will also depend on such factors as the merit of the production, the purpose of a sequence, the tone, the camera work, the relevance of the material and the treatment; be it dramatic, comedic or documentary.

Hannibal has become recognized as something of a classic. As with the 'dinner scene' in particular, it denotes a particular style in which the horror element is more conceptual than actual. Since this film was first classified in 2001, it has received wide recognition and acceptance.

We believe the film was appropriately classified MA and in full compliance with the Code. It was broadcast very late at night and into the early morning, and had warnings as to its content. It is intended that people use this information to make decisions about what to watch themselves, as well as those under their care.

[…]

Licensee submission to the ACMA dated 13 February 2017:

[…]

We provided the complainant with a detailed response in relation to [the complainant’s] concerns in our letter of 19 December 2016 and the comments made below are in addition to those we have already articulated.

The Program

Hannibal is a 2001 American crime thriller directed by Ridley Scott and adapted from the Thomas Harris novel of the same name. It is the sequel to the 1991 Academy Award winning film The Silence of the Lambs and sees Anthony Hopkins reprise his role as serial killer Hannibal Lecter, with Julianne Moore as FBI agent Clarice Starling.

The film takes place ten years after The Silence of the Lambs. Hannibal Lecter is living in Italy in exile. Back in America, Mason Verger, one of Lecter's previous victims, uses his wealth and power to have Agent Starling re-assigned to Lecter's case. Verger is intent on revenge and plans to lure Lecter out of hiding, using Clarice Starling to draw him out. Lecter return to the US and finds himself being tracked down not only Agent Starling and the American authorities but by Verger and his henchmen.

Classification

The Classification Review Board gave the unedited version of Hannibal a classification of R18+ for cinematic release in 2001, following pressure from various Christian and community groups.

The Code provides that Films must be classified by applying the classification system provided for by the Classification (Publication, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995. However notes that Films may be modified by a Licensee to ensure they are suitable for broadcast, or for broadcast at particular times.

The film Hannibal was broadcast on 7flix with a classification of MA 15+ and Consumer Advice for strong violence and some horror. It was broadcast very late at night and into the early morning. The feedback from the complainant was the only complaint Seven received in respect of the broadcast, and the film has been previously broadcast with an MA15+ classification without complaint.

While we acknowledge that the content of Hannibal is very much at the higher level of what is acceptable for television broadcast, we consider the film was appropriately classified MA15+ applying the classification system provided for by the Classification (Publication, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

The Guidelines for the Classification of Films 2012 (Film Classification Guidelines) provide as follows in respect of material classified MA15+

• The impact of material classified MA 15+ should be no higher than strong.
• The treatment of strong themes should be justified by context.
• Violence should be justified by context.

The Film Classification Guidelines also provide that assessing the impact of material requires considering not only the treatment of individual classifiable elements but also their cumulative effect. It also requires considering the purpose and tone of a sequence.

The guidelines also emphasise the role of context, stating "context is crucial in determining whether a classifiable element is justified by the story-line or themes."

Community attitudes to strong violence in film and television have changed over the 16 year period since Hannibal was given an R18+ rating by the Classification Review Board in 2001. Indeed, The Silence of the Lambs, classified by the Board as R18+ in 1991, has subsequently been classified MA15+ for DVD release in various editions since 2005.

TV series classified MA15+ in Australia arguably include violence of a similar impact to Hannibal, including The Killing, The Bridge, CSI, Luther, Bones and Dexter. These programs are characterized by detailed verbal and/or visual depictions of crimes in which the victim has frequently been tortured prior to dying.

In particular we would argue that Dexter is highly comparable to Hannibal in the complexity of its themes and the detail/impact of violence depicted. Dexter, winner of two Golden Globe awards, is a US television crime series about a police forensic technician named Dexter Morgan who leads a secret life as a vigilante serial killer.

The New York Times of September 29, 2006, describes the lead character as a "smart, wittily self-aware homicidal maniac in the tradition of Richard Ill and Hannibal Lecter''.

The Classification Board gave each series a classification of MA15+ with consumer advice of "Strong violence and coarse language", sometimes including drug use and themes as well.

Within the Board's Guidelines, content classified MA15+ is "strong in impact". By way of example, material the Board found to be strong in impact in relation to Dexter includes:

• "numerous depictions of crime scenes with large amounts of blood and severed body parts visible"

• "Dexter drops plastic bags on the ground, implicitly full of body parts of a man he killed, in preparation to dump them. A bag breaks open and a dismembered hand with an open wound full of maggots falls out"

• As a boy Dexter and his brother witnessed the murder of their mother when she was implicitly killed by a man with a chainsaw, "a large amount of blood shown spraying onto her face ... two young boys are shown sitting in a very large pool of blood"

• After Dexter "slashes a man's throat with a knife, a close-up of Brian's neck shows the wound begin to open up as a large amount of blood pulsates out. Blood is then shown spraying from Brian's neck and pooling into a bucket"

• Dexter takes a man still alive to a warehouse where he "surrounds a room in plastic, tapes Chino's body to a table with cling film and masking tape and cuts his cheek with a knife, resulting in blood flowing onto the floor. Dexter then picks up a knife with a long thin blade and plunges it into Chino's chest through the tape, resulting in a large amount of blood pouring down Chino's stomach onto the floor".

Dexter's crimes are frequent and cruel, with his victims being subjected to ritualized processes prior to death and always being awake to see their own demise coming.

If Dexter is "strong in impact" (rather than "high") then, we would argue, so is Hannibal.

The following cuts were made to the film, Hannibal for television broadcast:

• At around 01:18 a shot of a man whose throat has been slit by Hannibal is seen lying on the floor, with blood pooling under his head. This depiction occurs in the aftermath of the evisceration of the policeman Pazzi and is a part of the conclusion of that scene. It was removed as surplus to the narrative and for showing the wound in detail.

• At around 01:46 2 edits were made to remove depictions of Verger's head being eaten by pigs.

As noted above, the Film Classification Guidelines provide that assessing the impact of material requires considering not only the treatment of individual classifiable elements but also their cumulative effect. These edits do reduce the overall impact of the film, in particular taking into account that violence within the film was already relatively low in frequency and duration, scattered with long low impact narrative sequences.

While the film is thematically challenging, we consider it fits within the "justified by context" boundaries of the MA15+ category - especially when considered in light of recent examples such as Dexter.

The film has an intricately constructed narrative, with stylized camera work and elaborate editing. It has high production values and celebrated performances. The quality of the film and the cinematic techniques it employs were a factor in the decision to make minimal edits, as was its status as a well known "classic" of its genre. The infamous nature of the 'dinner scene' in particular, has reduced its thematic impact overtime.

Our experienced Classifiers carefully reviewed the film and exercised their professional expertise to bring the film within the boundaries of MA15+. In doing so, careful consideration was given to the scenes that were referenced as high impact in the original decision of the Classification Review Board. However, in the judgement of our classifiers, further cuts were not considered necessary, based on the current Film Classification Guidelines and their interpretation. A brief overview of their reasoning in respect of these elements is set out below:

(1) The scene in which Agent Starling shoots a woman carrying a baby. This scene was not cut as the detail of the encounter is crucial to the narrative and in establishing Clarice's character. The scene portrays Clarice as having both a deadly focus and compassion - as well as very good aim. Before the woman has hit the ground the baby is heard crying (a normal baby cry) indicating the baby is alive and not in pain. In the view of our classifiers there was nothing in this scene that would be considered high impact violence in accordance with the current Film Classification Guidelines and their interpretation. It would sit comfortably within other M/MA classified police action drama films such as Criminal Minds, The Shield, The Wire and Law and Order.

(2) This scene in which Verger recounts his encounter with Hannibal, which resulted in his terrible disfigurement: Verger's disfigurement and wish for revenge is essential to the narrative. The scene establishes a prior event and also demonstrates Clarice Starling's acute understanding of the nature of the relationship between Verger and Hannibal. The scene is stylized to the extent that the hanging and the cutting are blurred and/or obscured. Given the brevity, the stylized treatment and the context as a recollection of past events, our classifiers consider the impact of this scene was no higher than strong.

(3) The scene in which Italian police officer Pazzi is killed: This scene is very dark and much of the action is partially obscured. It was decided to keep the evisceration sequence intact as it is the culmination of events which commence from the moment Pazzi decides to seek the reward for Hannibal's capture. The detail of what was implicitly Pazzi's bowel/intestines falling onto the ground was gory, but no higher than strong in impact. Particularly when compared with a series such as Vikings, which commonly features strong/bloody violence and has been broadcast and approved for sale/hire with an MA15+ classification. As noted above, the depiction of another man lying with his throat slit has been edited.

(4) The dinner scene in which Hannibal removes the top of a man's skull. This has been discussed in some detail in response to the complainant. While this scene is thematically strong, the depictions of violence are brief and meticulously constrained. The surreal nature of the events and the lack of pain or suffering by the victim (who has clearly been medicated) was considered to significantly reduce the impact the scene - particularly when compared to violence within other films and series in the serial killer genre where the protagonist is depicted as being gratified by causing fear, pain to their victims. Hannibal is a very contradictory character - he's brilliant psychiatrist and highly cultured but also a cannibalistic serial killer. Although the dinner scene was strong in impact, it was very much a dramatic expression of the essential contradiction in his nature. In this sense, it wasn't gratuitous. It was meticulously handled in a way that was quite understated and matter of fact. Lighting, music and other special effects are carefully selected to contrast the refined and almost romantic atmosphere with the actions that are occurring, which gives the scene a surreal quality.

In determining that the impact and cumulative effect of these scenes was strong, but not high, and thereby suited to an MA classification, our Classifiers were very mindful of the merits of the production, the contextual justification, and the relative infrequency of strong violence within the film.

For the reasons provided above, Seven submits that the film was appropriately modified for broadcast and classified MA15+ by our expert classifiers applying the classification system provided for by the Classification (Publication, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.

 

 

SILENCE OF THE LAMBS ratings controversy

See our entry for THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) to learn how the M-rating it received in 1991 proved the catalyst for the introduction of the MA15+ rating in 1993.

 

Hannibal - Sony Pictures [au] DVD 1Hannibal - Sony Pictures [au] DVD 2Hannibal - Universal Pictures [au] DVD 1Hannibal - Universal Pictures [au] DVD 2


 

 

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