Chipping Away at the Rock. Gavin Salkeld details Australian and UK censor cuts.
17th June 2014
Welcome To The Rock
The Rock gets the Criterion treatment,
in this case a 2001 Special Edition
In 1995, newcomer Michael Bay enjoyed a considerable success with Hollywood producing duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer on his directorial debut, Bad Boys . Bay would follow up that success with his next project, the smash-hit action
film The Rock in 1996, which saw him reteaming with Simpson and Bruckheimer. The Rock would go on to make over $335 million at the box office, as well as receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing at the 69th Academy Awards. The
Criterion Collection would later release the film as a special edition on both LaserDisc and DVD as part of their prestigious series of films, with a digital transfer supervised and approved by Michael Bay.
Director Michael Bay
sculpting The Rock
Although a hit with fans and critics alike, The Rock would run into censorship troubles in various countries around the world. Two such countries that received edited versions of the film were the United Kingdom and Australia, with each territory
receiving its own specially-prepared cut version. In this edition of Cutting Edge, we'll be examining the cuts made to The Rock for the theatrical, VHS and DVD releases of the film in these two countries.
Cuts in Australia
Films in Australia are classified by the Classification Board (hereafter referred to as the ACB), a statutory body based in Sydney. Formerly operating under the name of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), their principles for
decision making are set out in the National Classification Code, which is agreed by the Australian Government and the States and Territories. There are six key ratings used to classify films for release in Australia:
It could be argued that the Australian censors have always been more lenient when it comes to screen violence - particularly in the lower age categories - than the UK's BBFC ever were. For example, Predator carried an 18 rating for 26 years
in the UK, which legally restricted the film to adults, when the same film sported an advisory M rating in Australia; allowing anyone of any age to view the film. Similarly, GoldenEye is a 15 in Britain, whilst it is an unrestricted PG in
Australia. But however lenient the ACB may appear to be from time to time, that attitude wouldn't be quite so apparent when The Rock came in for classification.
Rated R for Restricted Audience
Sometime in 1996, The Rock had been passed in the United States with an R rating by the MPAA, which would be the standard uncut version of the film. This version was initially submitted to the OFLC (as they were known prior to 2006) for theatrical
classification in the summer of 1996, where it received an R18+ rating for violence on June 5th 1996.
And not what the distributor wanted
But the distributors, Touchstone, were not happy with this classification. The R18+ rating restricted the exhibition of the film to adult audiences only, and in order to maximize profits a larger audience share was needed. They appealed the OFLC's
decision, arguing that an MA15+ rating was more appropriate, but the censors stood by their initial conclusion.
Rated MA for More Audience
Since the Australian censors do not directly order cuts to films, Touchstone made cuts to certain scenes of violence themselves in the hope of receiving a lower classification. A modified version of The Rock was prepared, and seen again by the
OFLC on September 6th 1996, when it was awarded the lower MA15+ rating. This would allow 15 year olds and over to attend on their own and under-15s to attend with an adult guardian.
More of what the distributor wanted
Shower scene cleaned up
The main scene altered for the MA15+ version was the shootout in the shower room. As General Hummel's men fire down upon Commander Anderson's men, the most explicit close-up shots of bloody bullet hits to bodies have been replaced with
alternate, less bloody footage. This method works well, allowing footage to be removed and replaced without altering the flow of the film's soundtrack.
Alternate footage for MA15+ version
Morgue Scene tracheotomised
The next changes occur during the morgue scene. As Mason and Goodspeed enter the morgue, they are spotted by two soldiers. Mason quickly dispatches the first soldier by throwing a knife into his throat, quipping, You must never hesitate , before a firefight ensues with the second soldier. A slight change was made here, with the brief profile shot of the knife entering the soldier's throat being removed from the sequence.
The second is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it alteration at the end of the scene. As Mason and Goodspeed take cover from the second soldier's gunfire, Mason comes up with a way to dispatch the remaining enemy by causing a metal tank to fall from the
ceiling, which crushes the soldier's head. The yelling of the soldier was trimmed slightly, along with the impact shot of the tank hitting the soldier's head, so that the impact happens off-screen. The only footage we see in the cut version is
of the tank falling, the soldier briefly screaming, and then laying dead with the tank covering his head; with the sound remixed to accommodate the edit.
Mutiny scene defused
The final standoff between Hummel and his men was also cut, with alternate footage again being used to patch up some of the cuts. The brief impact shot to Sergeant Crisp's throat was removed, as well as the low-angled shot of the bloody hit
Major Baxter receives in his torso.
Unique alternate footage
The shot of Baxter being shot was replaced with some less explicit and unique footage that doesn't appear in the uncut version, showing a frontal shot of Baxter juddering with no visible blood spurts. Hummel receiving two bloody impacts to his
body were also removed entirely, although no alternate footage was used this time.
Rocket Scene Ejected
The last change in the MA15+ version occurs after Captain Darrow is propelled out of a window by one of Hummel's rockets. As Darrow falls to the ground, he becomes speared atop a fence post. The cut Australian version removes the brief sight of
his body impaled on the post.
Following these changes, The Rock was passed by the OFLC on 35mm film with an MA15+ rating on September 6th 1996. Norway would also release this edited version for the film's theatrical run in that country.
Cuts ensured the film could be seen more widely, despite the film's strong violence and language
The MA15+ version was released in Australia on both rental and sell-through VHS, despite the fact that the OFLC passed the film with an R18+ rating in December 1996 for video release. It was seen again in May 1999 for the initial DVD release of
the film, and The Rock also received an R18+ this time round. On the face of it, the Australian DVD must have looked great to potential buyers, sporting a higher rating than the cut video version of the film. However, the DVD was actually a clone
of the edited UK version of the film, which restored footage missing from the Australian cinema version (hence the higher rating), but at the expense of other missing footage due to the BBFC. The Australians were out of luck, with two different
cut versions available on VHS and DVD and still no uncut version on the market.
Re-rated R for Re-restricted Audience: Uncut Special Edition
A couple of years later however, The Rock would once again be classified by the OFLC for a DVD re-release in October 2001. The version classified was the uncut version of the film, which was passed with an R18+ rating and released on special
edition DVD in Australia in early November 2001. Six years later, the Blu-ray version of the film would also be released uncut under the newly-formed ACB, with a downgrade under new classification guidelines to an MA15+ rating.
Cuts in the UK
The situation regarding the UK releases of the film is different, with unique edits made to appease the BBFC. The Rock was initially passed uncut for UK theatrical release, earning a 15 rating on June 4th 1996. It was later submitted to the Board
in this uncut form for a video classification, but the BBFC demanded six cuts to preserve its 15 on video before the same rating would be awarded. Some of the footage that was removed for Australia was also problematic for the British but
in the main, strong violence perpetrated by the hero of the piece was the issue for BBFC Director James Ferman and his team:
Sean Connery was adapting his violent talents to the modern mode, throwing knives, breaking necks and spraying bullets into the feet of opposing soldiers in the action adventure The Rock. It would be interesting to speculate why screen heroes of
the nineties have become so coldly callous. One day, perhaps the question may be answered by social historians, but it is a trend that sits rather oddly with Britain's new culture of compassion.
Morgue scene tracheotomised
The majority of cuts made to the film in the UK occur during the morgue scene. As Mason and Goodspeed enter the morgue, the BBFC objected to Mason's knife throwing right off the bat, instructing the film company to:
Remove entire sequence of Connery throwing knife into soldier's throat, cutting away after first soldier reacts and resuming as second soldier begins firing.
General Hummel later comes across the dead soldiers and remarks to his team that there are two dead men, here . This line could be seen as confusing to UK audiences, as only one man is seen to be killed in the cut version.
Morgue scene booted out
The morgue scene received further changes for the UK video version, with the death of the second soldier edited to reduce the scene's sadistic edge. The BBFC instructed the distributors to:
Reduce sight of bullets hitting soldier's boots by cutting away after first shot of boots, removing three middle shots and reaction shot of victim, and resuming on last shot of single boot leading to shot of him falling.
further speed-up the death of the soldier, the BBFC also instructed:
Immediately afterwards, remove reaction shot of Connery together with high angle shot of victim in agony, resuming on Connery rising into shot.
And further still:
When metal tank falls on agonized victim, remove reaction shot of zooming in to him screaming, resuming on low angle of tank falling.
To cover up the missing reaction shot, the preceding shot of the tank falling from the ceiling was simply slowed down, with the sound of the soldier screaming from the following shot now played over the slowed-down footage.
Rescue scene silenced
About 20 minutes later, the next BBFC cut occurs. After Goodspeed is captured by another enemy soldier, Mason comes to the rescue by breaking the soldier's neck. The sound of bones cracking was removed from the soundtrack in the cut UK version.
Mutiny scene staunched
The final change requested by the BBFC occurs around eight minutes later when General Hummel faces-off against the three mutinous soldiers. A broad change was demanded by the BBFC here, stating:
When rebel soldiers kill General and supporters, remove blood spurts wherever possible.
This footage removed...
with the cut version resuming on the muzzle flash
The resultant cuts remove three blood spurts in the censored version; Major Baxter gets shot as blood explodes from his shoulder in slow motion, whilst Hummel receives two bloody impacts. Two of these three edits were made to occur right on the
occurrences of muzzle flashes, presumably to try and hide the cuts. The results however, are simply choppy and produce two rather obvious jump cuts in the footage; with both Baxter's and Hummel's positions suddenly shifting due to the cuts. One
wonders why the alternate footage from the Australian version was not simply used instead.
The second blood spurt removed
The third blood spurt removed
Following these alterations, The Rock was passed cut with a 15 rating for a home video release on December 30th 1996. With the use of substituted footage taken into account, the total amount of cuts amounted to around 15 seconds. Cut versions of
the film were used for both the VHS release and the single-disc DVD that was released in June of 2001.
The original censored versions available on VHS and DVD in the late 1990s/early 2000s
The Criterion Treatment
The Rock was resubmitted to the BBFC in 2002 in its uncut version, and with James Ferman departed from the Board, the film was passed intact with a 15 rating on May 8th 2002. All the previous video cuts were waived, and The Rock was released as a
2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD on June 24th 2002, which more or less mirrored the contents of the Criterion Collection release in the United States. The uncut version was also released on Blu-ray in July 2007, and is the standard version available
in the United Kingdom.
The uncut versions are now widely available on DVD and Blu-ray
Special thanks to Rod Williams of Media Censorship in Australia
and film collector Robert Beardsley, whose combined time, recollections and research were invaluable in the creation of this article.
Cutting Edge Episode 9: The Rock
In the latest episode of Cutting Edge, Gavin Salkeld examines British cuts by the BBFC and Australian cuts by the OFLC.
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional
help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC
for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.