In the late September of 2008, Liam Neeson exploded onto British cinema screens as Bryan Mills in the hit action thriller Taken , turning Neeson into a new breed of modern-day action hero practically overnight. The original uncut European
version of the film had been extensively edited to gain a teen-friendly rating in the United States; removing heavy beatings, stabbings, the cracking of bones, blood spurts, drug imagery and brief images of a scantily-clad woman. A torture scene
was also heavily reduced through the use of alternative material shot by the filmmakers, but what remained was still tonally strong. In spite of the film's dark tone, frenetic violence and the scene of torture -- not to mention themes of sexual
slavery and revenge -- the film amazingly managed to get a PG-13 rating in the United States for:
Intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references and language.
The same cut version of the film received a more appropriate 15 rating in the UK for its original theatrical outing, and the film went on to make £7 million at the UK box office. The uncut European version later made its way onto DVD and Blu-ray,
which reinstated the material originally removed for American audiences, and was passed with an 18 rating by the BBFC.
Given the worldwide success of Taken, a sequel was pretty much a given, and the follow-up -- the aptly named Taken 2 -- was released four years later. It made even more money than the first film at the UK box office, which was due in no
small part to the lower 12A rating it was eventually awarded. But this rating came at a price, and in this episode of Cutting Edge, we'll be examining the nature of the censorial changes made to the PG-13 version of Taken 2 for its original UK
Taken 2 followed the same path as its predecessor, with the original version of the film receiving cuts to attain a PG-13 rating in the United States. As is usually the norm, the PG-13 version would be the standard version distributed to other
countries around the globe. Eager to capitalise on the success of the first film, and wishing to make as much money as possible, the filmmakers wanted to attain a 12A rating for Taken 2 in the UK, and the cut PG-13 version of film was submitted
to the BBFC for an advice viewing in the August of 2012, with a request for a 12A rating. However, the BBFC informed the filmmakers that the film was too strong for 12A:
The company was advised that the film was likely to receive a 15 rating but that their preferred 12A rating could be achieved by making changes to three scenes. These were to reduce elements of violence and threat.
The distributors took the film away and, based on the BBFC's advice, made additional cuts to the film before resubmitting it for a formal theatrical classification. The film was passed 12A without further BBFC cuts on September 14th 2012 for:
Moderate violence and threat.
Taken 2 cut for a 12A cinema rating
But what exactly was removed for the UK's theatrical release? Since a formal cuts list is not issued as the result of a BBFC advice viewing, coupled with the fact that the specially-prepared 12A version did not receive a UK home video release, it
is not possible to do a direct comparison between the PG-13 and 12A versions. However, the BBFC's notes on the examination of both the US- and UK versions of the film do give us some indication of the material they deemed contentious.
Cut Scenes: Ear slicing
The first of the three scenes altered for the 12A rating concerns the torture of the corrupt French Intelligence officer, Jean-Claude Pitrel. In an effort to locate Neeson's character Bryan, the film's chief villain, Murad, has one of his men
torture Jean-Claude for information. The torturer in question is the brother of Marko, the man whom Bryan tortured by electrocution in the previous film. Jean-Claude is threatened with a pair of scissors, and a suggestion is made that one of
his ears may be cut off. The blades are then thrust into his thigh, and the villain holds his hand over Jean-Claude's mouth to stifle his screams.
This scene was one of many altered for a PG-13 rating in the United States, but even reduced to its bare minimum in its PG-13 form, the strong threat and torturous nature of the scene was too much for the BBFC, and the filmmakers further
reduced this scene for the 12A version. In particular, footage showing the thrusting of the scissors into Jean-Claude's leg and the stifling of his screams was removed.
Cut Scenes: Bleeding Lenore
The second scene cut for the BBFC was the sadistic treatment of Bryan's wife, Lenore. In the PG-13 version, we see one of Murad's men makes a small incision on Lenore's throat, before she is hung upside down from chains in front of Bryan.
Murad tells Bryan that he must watch her slowly bleed to death before he is killed, as blood is briefly seen to drip from her neck. The sadistic nature of the scene was too much for the BBFC, and Murad's dialogue about the length of time it
will take Lenore to die was thus removed, along with the sight of the slice made on Lenore's neck and the subsequent, undetailed sight of blood dripping from her wound. The contentious dialogue in question was as follows:
MURAD: How long will it take for the blood to rush to her head and have no place to go?
BRYAN: About thirty minutes.
MURAD: You are right. You are an expert on this -- so you have thirty minutes to watch her die."
These events were surprisingly not edited for the PG-13 version, and play the same in the original unrated version of the film.
Cut Scenes: Rescuing Lenore
The final and final scene altered received the heaviest cuts, and again centred around the nature of threatening behaviour directed towards Lenore. In a series of shots that are intercut with Bryan making an effort to come to her rescue, we
see Lenore tied to a chair and her captor threatening her with a pair of scissors; drawing the blades across her chest and her face in a sadistic manner, as well as the sight of him cutting open her shirt.
Lenore is visibly traumatised throughout, and these scenes of threat, which arguably had some sexual undertones, were removed outright or edited down to lessen their impact. Again, these threatening moments were not cut down for the PG-13
Following these changes, the cut 12A version of Taken 2 was released into British cinemas on October 5th 2012, and the film went on to make almost £24 million during its UK theatrical run; an increase of £17 million when compared to the 15-rated
Taken released in 2008 -- no doubt due in part to the 12A rating.
Taken 2 uncut on home video
For the UK DVD and Blu-ray releases of Taken 2, Fox submitted both the American PG-13 version and the original uncut version to the BBFC; the latter of which was released unrated in the United States. Since both of these versions contained the
material originally removed for the UK's 12A cinema version along with further scenes of bloodier violence also removed for the PG-13 version, both versions were passed uncut with a 15 rating on December 24th 2012 for:
Strong threat and violence.
All UK home video versions on DVD and Blu-ray contain the two cuts of the film that are identical to those released in the United States, and the 12A version has never received a release on either format. Fans of the film can therefore pick up
Taken 2 on either format, content that the film contains none of the cuts that were made to appease the British censors for the film's original theatrical release in the UK.
On a final note, Taken 3 was released in the UK on January 8th 2015. Clearly inspired by the success of the 12A rated Taken 2, Fox made numerous cuts to the third film following BBFC advice in order to once again achieve the more
profitable 12A rating. Just as the editing of films in the United States to get the a PG-13 rating continues to become more commonplace, it seems that British distributors across the pond are following suit; continuing to dilute the cinema-going
experience for British audiences by releasing watered-down versions of Hollywood films in order to maximize box office returns. It is a frustrating trend, and one that shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
Cutting Edge Episode 19: Taken 2
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.