Melon Farmers Original Version


Detailed BBFC cuts for a PG rating


Cutting Edge Season 5 Episode 57: Willow...

BBFC cuts to make you weep

Link Here31st August 2019


In this edition of the series, Cutting Edge looks at the classification issues surrounding Ron Howard's 1988 fantasy film Willow , which was first released on May 20th of that year. Although it received mixed critical reviews, it has since become a cult film among fans of fantasy pictures.

BBFC cuts required for a PG rated cinema release

The film received an uncut 'PG' rating in the United States and less than a week before it opened there, it was seen by the BBFC in the UK for the first time on May 17th, 1988. UIP, the distributor, had requested a 'PG' rating for the film's British release. Some examiners felt that the film's content was at 'U' level for the most part (a category equivalent to the US 'G' rating, meaning a film is suitable for all audiences). However, comments were also made that the levels of violence and fantasy horror towards the end of the film were problematic. As one examiner wrote in their viewing report:

"'PG' is clearly the right category. A few problems do arise, however... Throughout [Reel 6], and to some extent in Reel 5, there is continuous minor-league violence with throats cut, arrows in chests, daggers landing in bodies, etc. Rarely do we see significant process or after-effect but there is a build-up of violent images very much at top end of 'PG', and on one or two occasions shots do slide towards '15'."  

It is worth remembering that the BBFC had not yet introduced the '12' category for cinema releases, which was just over a year away, so there was an unusually large gap between the 'PG' and '15' ratings.

The examiner also noted some comic sex references and the sight of what appeared to be a medieval version of a shuriken, or ninja star. In the 1980s, these weapons were routinely cut from films in Britain under BBFC director James Ferman's weapons policy, regardless of a film's rating, but in Willow the examiner noted that, given the fantasy context of the film:  

" is less worrying than elsewhere perhaps."  

After some discussion at the BBFC, the Board outlined a list of changes to UIP that would help them secure their desired 'PG' rating, which included reducing some fantasy horror elements and the desaturating of reds to soften the sight of blood on characters' faces during battle scenes. After these cuts had been made, the BBFC held a test screening on the evening of October 5 th , 1988 for children aged between 7 and 12 who attended with their parents. Such test screenings were occasionally undertaken by the BBFC in the days before the Board conducted public consultation to help shape their classification guidelines. Following this screening, the young audience was asked to fill in a questionnaire about the film and after reading some of the comments, the BBFC's director James Ferman felt that the changes the Board had demanded of UIP had not quite gone far enough to secure a 'PG'. As a result, the day after the screening Ferman wrote a letter to the filmmakers to explain the situation, the key points being:

"I have to say that the re-grading of colour in the bloody combat scenes did not go as far as I hoped, but it seemed to be a bit better than the original. I didn't ask for a similar treatment of blood at the end of the battle with the Queen, but if it can be toned down a bit, it would help.  

"Most of [the kids] found the beginning very frightening indeed. I am sorry I did not realise just how horrific the two wild boar (taken by the kids as dogs) would seem. After the midwife pushes the baby downstream, the camera let[s] us see the dogs attack and apparently kill the midwife. The kids found this very horrible indeed... it was deeply unsettling. Isn't the death of the midwife taking this kind of thing a bit too far?  

"With the removal of those shots in the opening credits and some reduction in the redness of blood in the final scenes of Reel 6, we will be able to give you the 'PG'."

Detailed BBFC cuts

Let's examine all of the changes made to Willow for its British theatrical release in chronological order.

Cut Scenes: Midwife attacked

The first cuts occurred in Reel 1 of the film during the sequence where the midwife floats baby Elora away to safety. As discussed in Ferman's letter, the sequence in the uncut version finishes with the midwife being attacked by the boar. As a result, for a PG rating in Britain, the BBFC demanded:

"In title sequence, remove all sight of dogs attacking midwife after she has floated baby downstream, remixing sound to remove dog attack noises."  

The UK version includes two exclusive shots here; the first being a new shot of the midwife running away to safety after the brief sight of the boar approaching her, and the second consisting of an additional shot of Elora floating downstream, with the two new shots helping to smooth over the cuts.

Cut Scenes: Troll  transformation

Willow was left unscathed until Reel 5, where the BBFC demanded two more changes, the first of which affected the scene of Willow casting a spell on the troll that threatens him. After the troll falls to the ground and curls into a ball, three tentacles sprout from within it that strip away the troll's fur. For a British 'PG', the BBFC cuts list stated:

"Reduce scene of troll turning into two-headed dragon by removing all sight of troll peeling back furry scalp to reveal brain."  

Cut Scenes: Pig transformation

Approximately 10 minutes later is the scene where Queen Bavmorda performs black magic on Madmartigan and his men. For the UK, the BBFC demanded:

"Considerably reduce scene in which Queen Bavmorda transforms Madmartigan and soldiers into pigs, removing profile shot of Madmartigan's partially transformed face and minimising Sorsha's pleas to her mother and shots of soldiers writhing around in agony together with agonised pig squeals on soundtrack."  

The censored UK version cut a shot of Madmartigan almost fully transformed, along with the extended sight of Sorsha falling to the ground in pain as men squeal around her.

Cut Scenes: Fights quietened

Reel 6 saw the heaviest changes in Britain, with the BBFC making two particular demands to the filmmakers:

"Reduce violence of soundtrack throughout battle scenes, emphasising music instead, and in particular, remove sound of throat-cutting as Airk kills soldier guarding boiling oil."  

These changes resulted in the reduction in volume of numerous punches, body blows, and slashes with swords in many of the fight sequences.

Cut Scenes: Airk and Kael fight

The subsequent fight between Airk and Kael also received cuts for a PG, with the BBFC stipulating:

"Reduce violence of fight between Airk and Kael by removing shot of Airk jerking back as he is stabbed in abdomen; reducing some of the redness of blood on Airk's face; reducing violent fight effects on soundtrack."  

The reduction in redness of blood was achieved by optically desaturating the redness in the film slightly, rather than cutting the offending footage outright.

Cut Scenes: Madmartigan and Kael fights

On a similar vein, cuts to bloody detail were implemented for the two fights between Madmartigan and Kael. For a 'PG' rating, the BBFC demanded:

"Reduce bloodiness of both fights between Madmartigan and Kael by removing sight of Madmartigan with blood on his neck and reducing sight of bloody gash in Kael's face when mask is sliced away and of Madmartigan's bloody nose; also reduce intensity of redness of facial blood through re-grading colour.  

"Considerably reduce violence of final fight on bridge between Madmartigan and Kael by removing sight of Madmartigan slamming his hand against hilt of sword embedded in Kael's abdomen and sight of Kael being pulled slowly down to be impaled on angled sword."

Cut Scenes: Raziel and Bavmorda fight

Immediately after this, the final BBFC cuts for Willow were demanded, which affected the punch-up between Raziel and Bavmorda:

"Reduce fight between good and bad witches by removing first two heavy punches by Raziel to Bavmorda's nose. Also reduce sight of Bavmorda strangling Raxiel, and reduce redness of bloody scratches on Raziel's face during and after climax of fight."

Following all of the necessary changes made to satisfy the BBFC, Willow was finally passed after 34 seconds of cuts with a 'PG' rating on November 17th 1988.


Cuts maintained for VHS

Willow VHS

The pre-cut cinema version of the film was later submitted twice for VHS classification; once in 1989 and again in 1995. Both submissions were passed 'PG' without further cuts. The BBFC examiners noted that the impact of the film's soundtrack was reduced when viewing the film on videotape on the small screen, without the more assaultive surround sound that had been present in the theatrical release, although the fight between Raziel and Queen Bavmorda (which is rather tame today) was considered to be at the upper limits of the 'PG' category.


Uncut for DVD


Willow has been uncut since the 2002 DVD release (left)

It would be a few more years before Willow was seen by the BBFC again and in the summer of 2002, it was submitted by 20th Century Fox in its original uncut version for consideration for a special edition DVD release. With the passage of time, the Board decreed that cuts were no longer required, and Willow was passed uncut with a 'PG' rating in July 2002, with the BBFC noting that the film:

"Contains mild language, sex references and fantasy violence."  

The uncut version of the film was later repackaged and re-released in 2013 on DVD and Blu-ray and is now the standard version available to British consumers.


Cutting Edge Video, Season Five, Episode 57: Willow


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.

Gavin has written about film censorship for Melon Farmers since the year 2000. See more on the Cutting Edge Facebook Page.
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