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The Joy of Clear Play: R-rated Movies without the R
By Aaron Johnston March 2, 2007

There are a few topics in LDS culture that really get some of us riled. Caffeine is one of them. Everybody's got an opinion on caffeine. Can we drink Coke or can't we? Is Dr. Pepper a sin? And if so, then what about Full Throttle or Red Bull or those Jolt-like soft drinks that are ninety percent caffeine and ten percent citric acid? Is drinking one of those a more serious sin than, say, a caffeinated root beer?

And what about TV on Sunday. Is watching the Superbowl all that bad? I mean really? And what about the Oscars? It's slightly more refined than men colliding into each other atop astroturf. So is it permissible on the Sabbath? Or what about a good Disney movie? No objectionable content there. It's probably one happy animated animal talking to another. What's the harm in that on Sunday?

No, no, no say some. Caffeine or entertainment of any variety on Sunday is a big fat N-O.

So they're delicate issues. Strong opinions exist on both sides.

Mention the Superbowl or Coke in a high priest group meeting, and the old codgers will soon be slugging it out and slapping each other with vaguely referenced General Conference quotations.

But perhaps no topic gets more attention and generates more heated discussion than that of R-rated movies. We Mormons looooove to debate about R-rated movies.

The difference is, R-rated movies are only supported by a minority of members. Most active Latter-day Saints avoid the Big Bad R. Unlike Sunday TV or caffeine, which have room for interpretation, R-rated movies are precisely that: Restricted. We don't have to decide if it's wrong or not. Somebody has already made that decision for us. R means bad. And bad is to be avoided. If somebody says it's worthy of an R, why shouldn't I believe them? Best to stick with Bambi and The Other Side of Heaven.

That said, there are many members -- many temple worthy members, I might add -- who DO watch R-rated movies. Unabashedly so. They may not rush out to see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but they will catch the occasional Shakespeare in Love.

I won't say who's right or who's wrong because frankly I don't know.

Personally, I try to avoid R-rated movies, not because I think they're the eleventh commandment but because I've seen a few in my day and have usually regretted it afterwards. Saving Private Ryan haunted me for weeks. Schindler's List depressed me for a month.

Mr. Speilberg, I'd like to have those weeks of my life back, please.

In any case, I don't think ill of those who DO watch R-rated movies. In fact, some of my closest friends, people who I hold in the highest esteem and respect, watch R-ratd movies all the time. I think no less of them.

But for me, R-rated movies are generally not a good idea. I dwell too much on what it is that made them R. "Oh it was that," I say, when I reach a particularly offensive moment. "That's what made it R."

Then I proceed to think about ONLY that for the next 48 hours.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when my wife bought me a DVD player that edits R-rated movies.

"Holy guacamole!" I scream. "This is amazing."

I frantically read the side of the box, which features a photo of a family gleefully watching a TV screen, which we assume is broadcasting an edited DVD.

"Is this for real?" I ask. "This thing really edits movies? I'm not being punk'd, am I?"

My wife knows that I have a laundry list of movies that I would love to see but haven't because of that infamous letter R. Nothing would make me happier than to own a magical little box that sprinkles fairy dust on R-rated movies, turning them into guilt-free entertainment.

"No joke," she says. "It's the genuine article."

I'm beside myself with joy.

The box indicates that the DVD player is made by a company called ClearPlay, which has been around for several years now and is probably known by everyone who lives in the state of Utah but which is still new and novel to those of us out here "in the mission field."

The technology is simple. But to explain it, one must first explain what the other guys were doing.

A few years ago, a couple of companies in Utah started selling edited DVDs. It's worked like this. They would buy an R-rated DVD, say, The Matrix; rip all the content from the DVD onto a computer; edit out all the objectionable content; burn the new, edited movie onto a blank DVD; and then sell or rent the new edited DVD.

This caused an uproar in Hollywood since many directors strongly oppose anyone touching and manipulating their art. They called it copyright infringment.

Picasso would never allow someone to grab a paintbrush and slap paint over his masterpieces. Why should movie directors think any differently?

The result was a series of lawsuits, of course, and in the end, those companies that sold and rented edited DVDs lost out. They could have continued to appeal, but last year they all threw in the towel. Continued litigation was just too expensive.

So all the companies (the largest of which was Clean Flicks) sold off their inventories and went out of business.

ClearPlay, however, was spared. It survived. And the reason why it survived is what makes the concept of ClearPlay so ingenious.

Unlike the other guys, ClearPlay does not sell or rent DVDs, the cash cow of movie studios. Instead, ClearPlay makes and sells a DVD player with proprietary software that plays R-rated movies however you want them to be played.

And I mean any old R-rated movies. Ones you buy at Wal-Mart or Target. Not copies. The real deal.

DVDs, you see, are digital. They can be skipped and muted easily. So if you don't want to hear any profanity, you simply select that option on the DVD player menu, and the movie will mute out the profanity when it coms along.

Or if you don't want to see that nude scene, simply select that option on the DVD player menu, and the DVD player will skip the entire scene.

It's marvelous.

And the greatest part is, you have total control. The profanity option isn't just a yes or no switch. There are four levels of profanity filtering: none, least, medium, most. That way, if you're only bothered by the F-bomb, you can let the other profane words play as they come. And the same goes for the other filtering options:

Violence

Sex

Nudity

Bloodshed

Substance abuse

Blasphemy

Disturbing content

Bigotry

Dishonoring parent

Dishonoring the flag

Mushiness

Each of these settings has its own level of filtering that you determine.

Some of these categories seem a little odd to me. I'm not sure what mushiness is exactly, but I assume it means any display of romantic affection. Heaven forbid Little Timmy sees the movie stars kiss in the street at the end of the romantic comedy.

But that's just it. That's the beauty of ClearPlay. If you're bothered by mushiness, you don't have to see it. You can skip the last kiss and jump straight to the credits.

But don't celebrate just yet. Like all good things, there is a catch.

Each movie requires its own filter, its only little program, a small computer file that must be loaded onto the DVD player before the player can filter the content. Otherwise the DVD player will play the film exactly as it was intended, unfiltered.

So the DVD player comes with a flash drive (also called a jump drive) that plugs into the USB port on your computer. And this is what you must do:

1. Go to the ClearPlay website (www.clearplay.com).

2. Find the filter that corresponds to the movie you're looking for.

3. Download the filter.

4. Put the filter on the flash drive.

5. Unplug the flash drive from your computer.

6. Plug the flash drive into the USB port on the front of the DVD player.

7. Flip through the menu until you find the filter and load it onto the DVD player's memory.

This process took me forever to figure out. The instruction manual that came with the DVD player was far too complex. And the website gives no instruction for people who own a Mac computer, which I do. My wife had to call customer service, and I had to have an online chat with one of their tech support people before we figured out how to use the freaking thing.

I don't know if it will be as difficult for PC users, but I can't imagine it being much easier. The instruction manual seemed dated, like it was written for a previous model.

So if you're going to make the leap, be prepared for a frustrating start.

Also be aware that the on-screen menu is not particularly user friendly. These guys may be smart programmers, but they're not product designers. If you're going to launch a new, complex electronic device, you've got to make it stupidly simple to use.

I will say, however, that the ClearPlay employees who helped my wife and me were very kind. So no issues with customer service.

Also, you should know that the filters are available on an unlimited basis for a monthly fee. So for eight bucks a month or something you can download as many movie filters as you like.

I have no idea how many filters the DVD player will hold, however. I couldn't find its storage capacity anywhere in the manual or online. I'm just waiting for it to tell me that it's full and can't hold any more filters.

Again, you would think the manual would have such fundamental information.

So figuring out how to operate the thing is a bear.

But once you do, you'll love it. My wife and I have already loaded over 100 filters onto the machine. We've got a list a mile long of movies we plan to watch in the future, R-rated movies we've always wanted to see.

So far we've seen Little Miss Sunshine, The Wedding Crashers (yes, they have that one), and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

They were all excellent and free of profanity, nudity, and violence. My wife and I don't mind the mushiness, however, so we did see plenty of that.

Don't expect to find every movie, though. There are only about 700 R-rated filters available. That may sound like a lot, but the list of R-rated movies out there is much, much longer. Some of the movies I was hoping to see weren't available.

Plus some movies just can't be filtered. When I requested that ClearPlay create a filter for The Departed, for example, they emailed back and apologized, saying they doubted they would ever have a filter for the film. The movie is so egregiously violent that if they created a filter to cut every objectionable scene, the film would run three and a half minutes, and that includes the credits.

So it's not a perfect setup. But you can't fault ClearPlay for trying.

The DVD player is priced at $100, and it's worth every dime. The big downside is that now my life is going to be consumed with watching movies. The upside, however, is that when I go to Blockbuster now, I'll easily find something to rent.

In short, it's the best #$*+%! form of family entertainment. (Note: Some content has been filtered.)

Copyright © 2007 by Aaron Johnston

 
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