Editing in-flight movies

(Welcome to The Soapbox, the space where we get loud, feisty, political, and opinionated about anything and everything. In this edition: Delta Airlines should provide uncut movies on their flights.

What’s the deal with airlines editing in-flight movies for content? (/end Jerry Seinfeld impression) But seriously, folks: I’ve recently taken a few trips across the country using Delta Airlines, and while their in-flight film selection is admittedly impressive, the glow of having a myriad of options at your fingertips immediately fades when you realize that each movie they offer comes with the following message beforehand: “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen and edited for content.” The result? You aren’t truly watching the movies you think you’re watching.

I despise Richard Curtis’s 2003 film Love Actually, but since my wife had never seen it, I wanted to get her take on it and see if she felt the same way or if I was being too harsh. (Hot take: that movie is not very good.) A long Delta flight seemed like a good place to accomplish this, since we didn’t have to pay anything extra to rent it and were looking for something to watch anyway. But I soon realized that the version we saw removed the John and Judy plotline: Martin Freeman and Joanna Page play characters who slowly fall for each other as they work as stand-ins on an adult film set, but thanks to the airline’s censoring, that subplot wasn’t even in the film.

The fact that I don’t like Love Actually is irrelevant: the problem is that we didn’t see the real film, and I only knew those characters were cut out of it because I’d seen it once before and noticed their absence. So at this point, I can no longer bring myself to watch movies on Delta flights. I was looking forward to catching up with Martin Scorsese’s Silence on a plane since the film’s long runtime made it difficult for me to devote the time to seeing it in a theater, but even though it’s technically available through the in-flight entertainment menu, I’ll never watch it on a Delta flight because now I’m not sure what they’d remove.

Look, before you jump into the comments to complain: yes, of course I realize this is a first world problem of the highest magnitude, and it has no real bearing whatsoever on the world at large or any importance in the grand scheme of life. But it still annoys me, and I figured there are a bunch of you out there who might feel the same way.

As someone who watches a ton of movies every year, I know I won’t always remember the circumstances under which I saw a specific film. So if, for example, that version of Love Actually was my first and only viewing and years later I found myself in a conversation about the film and the other person started talking about Martin Freeman’s character in it, I’d look like an idiot if I tried to say that he wasn’t actually in the movie. Editing these films is a no-win situation: audiences may be passing the time by feeding content into their eyes, but what’s the point unless it’s the true, actual version of the thing you want to be watching?

I know this line of criticism can apply to all types of edited content, but I’m specifically calling out Delta because A) they’re one of the largest airlines in the country and B) last year I flew on a rival airline and watched Everybody Wants Some!!, which was not censored in any way, so it’s obviously possible for a major company to simply offer movies as-is instead of cutting them to shreds. So anyone who was preparing to use a “won’t someone think of the children!” rebuttal can save it. And maybe the dumbest aspect of this is that movies loaded up on Delta’s player – even PG rated movies like the live-action Beauty and the Beast – also contain a message that plays before the films that reads: “Parental Advisory. The following program contains material that could be sensitive to some adults and is not suitable for children. Viewer discretion is advised.” What’s the point of that warning if they’re just going to edit the movie anyway?

This situation reminds me of Sony’s “clean initiative” they tried launching earlier this summer, which was met with extreme blowback from filmmakers like Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, who weren’t happy to hear that their films would be presented in a way they didn’t intend. And sure, filmmakers probably weren’t intending for you to watch their movies on a plane in the first place – clearly a theatrical setting is the preferred location of an initial viewing for 99.9% of movies – but editing these films and watching them on a tiny screen attached to the seat in front of you? That’s just adding insult to injury. Moral of the story: editing movies for flights is stupid, and Delta needs to cut out cutting it out.

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