Moviemakers: Still in the dark

Rebecca Hagelin

2/16/2007 12:06:27 AM - Rebecca Hagelin

There’s nothing like a cold winter day to make you think about taking the family to the local multiplex and seeing a movie. Grab some popcorn, forget your worries for a couple hours, and enter that larger-than-life world of imagination and spectacle, of heroes and villains.

Warning: Your choices are going to be somewhat limited if your aim is wholesome family entertainment. What’s showing at the movies this week? Hmm, the story about how the world’s most infamous cannibal acquired his taste for his fellow man? An apocalyptic future world in which the human race is threatened with extinction because of an infertility crisis? How about spending the evening with a deranged killer that stalks young people?

Why on Earth do parents actually pay for their children to explore the depths of human depravity? Simply put, most parents just aren’t paying attention.

And what about the video store? Next time you go, count how many titles you see that feature raw sex, violence, disloyalty, etc. Take a few minutes to watch how many kids check out movies filled with messages that undermine the strong character traits most parents want their children to develop. As I point out in my book, Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That’s Gone Stark Raving Mad, it’s crazy to hope that our kids will grow up understanding the importance of fidelity, purity and honesty when they are digesting a steady diet of garbage -- all usually paid for by mom and dad.

But take heart, parents: There are great films made by great artists featuring great stories that your family will enjoy. Lots of them. And one place to find comprehensive information about such films is www.dove.org. The Dove Foundation, founded in 1991, promotes family-friendly entertainment in a refreshingly positive way. It doesn’t organize boycotts or call Hollywood producers names for putting out a bad product. Instead, it encourages good movies by reviewing films for parents and by putting its “Family-Approved” seal on those that actually provide clean entertainment. As Dove notes on its Web site:

“For years we have watched the morals and attitudes of the entertainment industry slowly creep into our society. We maintain that the number of PG-13 and R rated films, with their increasingly salacious material, are not representative of the desires of millions of moviegoers. It’s time for positive family values to impact those in Hollywood instead of Hollywood impacting family values.”

Wait a minute, you may say. Sure, it would be nice to have more family-friendly films, but Hollywood is a business, and like any business, it’s designed to make money. If PG-13- and R-rated films rule at the multiplex, it’s because they’re the most profitable, right?

Guess again. PG-13- and R-rated films don’t make the most money -- not by a long shot. Ironically, it’s G- and PG-rated films that prove to be the most lucrative. Dove examined the average profits per film between 1989 and 2003, and it found that G-rated films produced 11 times more profit than R-rated films. Yet Hollywood produced 12 times more R-rated films than G-rated films during the same time period! What sense does that make?

We repeatedly hear about multi-million-dollar R-rated flops. Then along comes a film like “Eight Below,” a family-friendly Disney adventure about a pack of sled dogs that survive being abandoned in a frozen wasteland, and what happens? It cost $40 million to make and earned more than $81 million. That’s a profit of 101 percent; the producers doubled their money. And that’s par for family-friendly films -- many show greater profits. So why are they few and far between?

Maybe it’s a question of culture. In blue-state Hollywood, what better way to establish your liberal credentials -- and thumb your nose at red-state, middle America -- than to trash traditional values at every opportunity?

Whatever the reason, we can’t change things simply by complaining -- or remaining silent. Our best defense is to support good films. That’s why the folks at the Dove Foundation deserve our praise. They work with producers to encourage cleaner films and put their seal on the good ones. They conduct research that makes the case for family-friendly entertainment.

And their message gets through. According to Ralph Winter, producer of the “X-Men” films, among other titles, “The Dove Foundation provides a valuable service for those of us working in Hollywood trying to reach values-based audiences.” If you count yourself among that audience, you owe it to yourself and your children to speak up in support of good films -- and vote with your wallet. That’s the best way to ensure a happy ending.