Stephen Arnell

Ten films that faced censorship

Ten films that faced censorship
Helena Bonham Carter in Fight Club (Image: Shutterstock)
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The news that film censors from China’s Tencent streaming service have restored the original ending of David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club will be warmly welcomed by cineastes around the globe.

If you, recall, the picture ends with Edward Norton's narrator offing his alter ego Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) and initiating a lethal city-wide bombing spree.

The Chinese authorities had previously decided in their collective wisdom that it was better to go with an end board that stated: 'Through the clue provided by Tyler, the police rapidly figured out the whole plan and arrested all criminals, successfully preventing the bomb from exploding. After the trial, Tyler was sent to a lunatic asylum receiving psychological treatment. He was discharged from the hospital in 2012.'

Which wrapped things up nicely, if you really were secretly hoping that the famously dystopian movie pulls a 180 to deliver an, er, feel-good conclusion.

Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk commented on Twitter with a degree of sarcasm on the alternative ending: 'This is SUPER wonderful! Everyone gets a happy ending in China!'

This is obviously not the first time that scenes have been dropped and meanings altered to suit the sensibilities of different territories – when not being banned outright, as happened to 2017’s Wonder Woman, when Lebanon objected to star Gal Galdot’s service in the Israeli Defence Force.

2014’s Seth Rogan/James Franco comedy The Interview was pulled from worldwide cinema release schedules due to its subject matter (an assassination attempt on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un).

On TV, Fawlty Towers’ bungling waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs) was Italian (Paolo) in the Spanish dubbed transmission, whilst in the autonomous region of Catalonia, the local broadcasters changed his nationality to Mexican. Make of that what you will.

Streaming service Disney+ has been busy in the cutting room, making sure (amongst other things) that subscribers won’t be offended by the sight of Daryl Hannah's bare behind in mermaid flick Splash (1984) or the use of ‘Isis’ as a character name (changed to ‘Ice’) in teen series Hannah Montana.

Presented for your entertainment, ten motion pictures where censors decided that, in the case of certain scenes, lines had been crossed.

Rocketman (2019) Amazon Rent/Buy

To the credit of Reg Dwight and the writer Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), Dexter Fletcher’s enjoyable Elton John biopic wasn’t the hagiography that might have been expected.

Not exactly warts and all, John’s marriage to former wife Renate Blauel (Celinde Schoenmaker) is given scant screen time, and the depiction of rockstar debaucheries of 1970s and 80s are less sleazy than they probably were.

But the scenes featuring homosexuality and drugtaking were predictably enough to prompt censorship in Russia and Malaysia, two countries with a well-known official anti-LGBTQ stance.

After the triumph of Rocketman in May 2019, Lee Hall experienced the bitter taste of failure in the same year, when Cats (which he also scripted) was released to critical derision and box office disaster in December.

The Devils (1971)

The then aging enfant terrible of British cinema Ken Russell pushed the boundaries of UK film making with his still shocking adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s 1952 non-fiction novel The Devils of Loudon.

Based on actual events, the movie recounts the story of worldly priest Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed), who unintentionally finds himself cast into the town’s cauldron of heresy, satanic panic, exorcism, sexual hysteria, and finally, torture and execution.

In the UK, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification – whose current slogan is the vaguely Orwellian ‘View What's Right For You’) requested multiple cuts, but they were not enough to satisfy the likes of Mary Whitehouse and perma-outraged London Evening Standard film critic Alexander Walker.

Walker slated The Devils as the 'masturbatory fantasies of a Roman Catholic schoolboy' and later belaboured Russell over the head with a rolled-up copy of the edition containing his review.

The picture is still a shocking watch, but is an exceptionally well-made film, with terrific imagery and a provocative take on religion.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) Disney+, Amazon Rent/Buy

Tipped at various points (around the releases of Anna & The King, Bulletproof Monk etc) to be on the cusp of international stardom, Chow Yun-Fat ('The Asian Cary Grant') saw his most recent Hollywood role considerably condensed in his homeland by Chinese film censors.

Believing his role as Pirate Lord of the South China Sea Captain Sao Feng denigrated the people of China, his screen time was cut by half to ten minutes.

To be honest, the third POTC movie was a confusing mess, and even with a full twenty minutes for his performance outside China, the role wasn’t up to much, overshadowed as it was by Johnny Depp’s increasingly tiresome antics as Jack Sparrow.

Mission Impossible III (2006) Amazon Rent/Buy

Criticised at the time for its apparent resemblance to an extended episode of director J. J. Abrams’ TV show Alias, M:I III is an underrated instalment in the franchise, one that anticipated the later resurgence of the series.

Although making $399m on a $150m budget, the picture was deemed a commercial disappointment, feeling slightly small scale when compared to Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation (2015) and Fallout (2018).

So why and by whom was it censored?

Our friends the Chinese government again, offended by the concluding sequences in Shanghai, where scenes of dirty laundry hanging from balconies were ordered to be excised from the movie by the studio before release in the People’s Republic. The authorities also objected to MI: III’s car chase in the city, which was felt to belittle the reaction time and driving skills of the local gendarmerie.

Savages (2012) Amazon Rent/Buy

Oliver Stone’s drug cartel black comedy was subjected to cuts for sex and violence at the behest of the UK’s BBFC to achieve the desired 15 rather than 18 rating.

As the released picture contained fairly graphic scenes of torture and tamer depictions of troilism, one wonders what did not make the cut.

Savages is a decent enough motion picture, notable for John Travolta’s decision to forsake his usual unconvincing hairpiece for the role of crooked DEA Agent Dennis Cain.

Talladega Nights (2006) Amazon Rent/Buy

The sight of a shirtless man in a background scene was enough for Iranian film censors to slam on the brakes (sic) on the release of Will Ferrell’s fitfully enjoyable NASCAR comedy.

Fortunately for Persian fans of the comedian, the offending torso was covered up by Iran’s use of digital censorship, which meant that viewers could then enjoy Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance as proudly gay French Formula One driver Jean Girard.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Disney+. Amazon Buy

The depiction of a same-sex kiss between two rebel pilots in the background a penultimate scene in J.J. Abrams bloated sci-fi sequel caused collective pearl clutching amongst the film censors of Dubai (United Arab Emirates) who pressed for the scene to be cut before release.

Personally, I was offended more by the sheer tedium of the picture and its incomprehensible plot, rather than the fleeting scene in question, which I missed due to nodding off an hour earlier in the action.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Amazon Rent/Buy

The clichéd view is that in the US, onscreen violence is usually fine, but sex is where the wagons are circled.

Turns out, that the cliché is true – at least in the case of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, his adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Dream Story (1926).

The director’s final movie boasts a notorious masked ‘orgy’ scene, a mildly titillating sequence which US censors felt the need to digitally obscure to secure an R rating.

Bruce Almighty (2003) Amazon Rent/Buy

To some, the mere fact that Jim Carrey stars in movies is offensive in itself as the gurning comic actor has proved a Marmite figure in the manner of Jerry Lewis, Norman Wisdom and Charlie Drake.

Carrey plays dissatisfied TV reporter Bruce Nolan, who when fired from his job, vents his anger on the Supreme Being, calling for Him/Her to be fired too.

When God (in the shape of Morgan Freeman) appears and challenges him to prove that He/She is doing a decent job by gifting Nolan his powers and seeing how he fares in the role, much hilarity ensues.

For the authorities in Egypt the picture was guilty of 'Infringing on God's Sacredness' and banned; in the United Arab Emirates all scenes where Freeman physically appeared were removed from the movie as the depiction of God is not permitted in Islam.

Nonetheless Bruce Almighty proved to be a box office smash, prompting a Carrey-less sequel (Evan Almighty) where Nolan’s rival reporter Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) becomes a modern-day Noah.

Evan Almighty flopped, despite costing almost twice as much as the first picture ($81m vs $175m).

Pulp Fiction (1994) Amazon Rent/Buy

Not censorship as such, but Lebanese distributor Italia Films treatment of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction must hold some kind of record for callous mistreatment of a filmmaker’s work.

Deciding that the reels of the movie had been mixed up, the distributor decided to rearrange the picture in chronological order…

Italia were not finished with Quentin though; oh no, not by a long chalk. With both Kill Bill Part II (2004) and The Hateful Eight (2015), Italia Film thought they could cut a fair chunk out of the two films to fit in three daily showings of each.