For more than a year, Warner Bros. has been wrestling with the same problem: How to re-release a film with the same rating it received in 1969.
The film is Sam Peckinpah's violent Western classic "The Wild Bunch." The film's MPAA rating at its release was R but is now NC-17. The sticking point, the MPAA says, is the content of 10 scenes--reportedly "character scenes," not ones of violence or sex--that Warners sources say were in the film when it received an R rating but were later trimmed to shorten the film. And those cuts followed six minutes snipped by Peckinpah himself because of their violence.
Warners has restored the director's cut, which is already available in video stores. But it wants to put back the 10 other scenes before the film's theatrical re-release, which was to have been this year to coincide with its 25th anniversary. Now, because of the ratings snafu, the re-release is planned for sometime next spring.
Warners sources say they are considering releasing the lengthened film with an R rating. The MPAA's position is that Warners can release the film as it was shown in 1969 with an R or add the 10 scenes and accept an NC-17. The MPAA's decision, Warners sources say, seems all the more intractable in light of the R rating given to "Natural Born Killers"--a film Warners considers much more violent than "The Wild Bunch."
Adding to the thorny situation, Warner sources say, is that none of the parties involved in the 1969 rating decision are still around to know if the 10 scenes were in the film when it received the R.
That's irrelevant, says MPAA spokeswoman Barbara Dixon.
"The issue is how the film was released in theaters under that original rating," she says. "If they (want) an R, they can re-release it as they did in 1969; it has to be exactly the same." The MPAA says it can't recall a studio's defying the MPAA and putting a different rating on a rated film, and Dixon would not say what repercussions there might be.*