But although Trilogy Studios' MovieMask service is being hailed as an answer to concerned parents' prayers, it also introduces a new challenge to serious artistic expression and promises to function as a potent new weapon in the ongoing culture war.
MovieMask uses up-to-date technology to replace bad words with good ones, cover up nudity and generally sanitize Hollywood's output so the kids won't be at risk of exposure to adult images or language. Trilogy Studios markets the program as a way for concerned parents to let their kids watch the same stuff that all the other kids -- presumably, those with unconcerned parents -- get to watch.
"Imagine letting your children watch virtually any film without worrying about the questionable material (i.e. nudity, violence and language)," reads a promotional blurb on the company's Web site. "You'd be, perhaps the coolest parent in the whole world, right? Well, your day has come."
Trilogy promises that MovieMask will allow consumers to control content by choosing from among various "rating levels" -- suitable for children, teens, young adults or adults. By using its product, Trilogy assures parents they can watch box-office hits such as "The Matrix," "Titanic" and "Saving Private Ryan" without "covering your eyes or having to fast-forward through the bad stuff."
By the way, if you're concerned that this sort of monkeying around with a movie's original content might have a tendency to mangle the original, Trilogy assures you that the movies it has designed masks for are "carefully reviewed one at a time and edited with great care" to keep the original story intact.
Altering the content of movies is nothing new. It's done all the time for network TV broadcasts -- but those changes result from contractual agreements involving the filmmakers, the studios and others with a proprietary interest in the films. Regardless of how knowledgeable the folks at Trilogy might be, their alterations to a filmmaker's work product must be regarded plainly as outside interference.
The MovieMask story should serve as a reminder of the timeless wisdom about being careful what you wish for. The same technology that makes this family-friendly service possible could be used to make movie content even racier than it already is, perhaps to impose sexual and violent content on G-rated movies.
Movies may be mostly a commercial medium, but there is no denying that some movies transcend their market value to become cultural touchstones. If your kid sees Steven Spielberg's edit of "Saving Private Ryan" and the neighbor's kid sees the MovieMask version, can anyone seriously claim that both kids have seen the same movie?
Parents who want to be "the coolest" need to consider the very strong possibility that letting their kids see the MovieMask version of "The Matrix" does little more than put off the day when junior and sis will insist that the covered-up version is no longer enough. The "lite" version might even whet their appetite for the real thing.
In any case, no technology will ever allow parents to escape from one of their basic responsibilities to their kids -- either to personally introduce them to life's unpleasant realities, or to leave that part of their kids' education to someone else.