Movies & TV

MTRCB Theatrical Permits Attempt to Explain Movies

No wonder they're so strict.

During the halcyon days of ACA and Video City, people often had to rely on a movie’s synopsis which were printed on the videotape’s sleeve. These summaries were written to entice the viewer in watching the movie if they were unfamiliar with the general plot. After reading the punchy précis, you were hooked. Consider Blade Runner’s pitch: “Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) prowls the steel-and-microchip jungle of 21st century Los Angeles. He’s a ‘blade runner’ stalking genetically made criminal replicants. His assignment: kill them. Their crime: wanting to be human.”

In the era of Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, these finely crafted sleeve notes no longer have exclusive domain over the studio synopsis. There’s a large chunk of the Internet devoted to expertly condensing the best parts of a movie down to the size of a tweet. Beyond the Internet’s realm however, movie summaries that appear on MTRCB’s Permit for Theatrical Exhibition elevate the subtle art of summarization to another level.

As a public document, MTRCB’s permits can be succinct, clinical, cryptic, verbose, to downright surreal and knee-slapping hilarious. These permits can be seen displayed usually at the ticket-selling area.  For the terse category, the MTRCB describes the indie horror flick Ang Manggangal sa 23B in three bullet points. (All MTRCB permit summaries are quoted verbatim).

R-16 because of:
1| Some bloody scenes

2| Some intimate scenes
3| "Horrific character"

In contrast, the movie’s official Facebook page offers this summary: “Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B is about a lonely woman with dark secrets who falls for a broken-hearted guy amidst mysterious murders in Cubao.” Based on the title, it’s a giveaway who the "horrific character" is.


Wonder Woman, a superlative superhero movie, gets a laconic checklist summary:

Parental supervision needed when viewed due to the ff:
-Theme of war, destruction, chemical warfare
-Scenes of fighting
-Mythological theme
-Women discrimination

What could “woman discrimination” mean? Is it because the Themyscirans treated Steve Trevor differently since he’s the only guy on the island, hence the discrimination by the Amazonians.

In War for the Planet of the Apes, the summary tries to do better than the movie title itself: “PG is required on theme of war between apes and humans. There are scenes of bomb explosions and one scene on implied suicide. Betrayal, inner fightings, amongst apes may be better explained/clarified by adults to minors.”

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Usually, the permit summary tries to explain why a movie was given a particular rating but sometimes it goes above and beyond by offering an off the cuff analysis of the movie’s underlying theme. For the live-action version of Ghost in the Shell, MTRCB had this to say: “Although the movie has a lot of fighting and semblance of violence, the violence is targeted at machines w/c does not have the same affect [sic] if the violence was targeted at humans. The machines were symbols of the evils of technology and that the fight was about preserving the goodness of the human spirit. Parental guidance is needed to explain the symbols.”

The summary for the murder mystery Wind River is emotionally distant with a hint of a spoiler: “A woman is raped and dies on snow-covered tracks. People die in this film. But there is punishment for the guilty and there is healing of wounds.”


While there is an evident need for the synopses to be copy-edited such as Beauty and the Beast (“The live-version shows some fidelity and innovative [sic] from the successful Disney animation.”), the summary for the techno-thriller The Circle unwittingly delivers koan-like wisdom amid the inelegant prose: “Impolite words, treatment of theme on the effects of social media in government accountability, personal lives, privacy among others, need PG classification for some modern technology can be overwhelming; however, the film revealed that ‘sharing is caring’ and that knowledge is a basic human right.”

Patay na si Hesus, a dark indie comedy starring Cannes winner Jaclyn Jose, has an MTRCB summary worthy of a Miss Universe Q&A answer: “Yes, it a film for the mature, with strong adult language. But it is above all an endearing film that holds a mirror to our faces and lets us see ourselves—as family, as a people, as a country.”

According to a former MTRCB board member who opted not to be named in this article, the summary is written by the appointed chair of the three-person film preview committee assigned to the movie. In the previous board, there were efforts to clean up the writing but perhaps due to a change in the administration, the ball got dropped somewhere.

The auto-balletic Baby Driver is encapsulated by this summary: “The action and love story film has themes of enforced criminal activity and scenes of man shooting and killing, murdered bodies, domestic battery and car chase that require a restricted 13 years and above audience.”


The elegiac Dunkirk, an acclaimed movie by Christopher Nolan, fanned the patriotic spirit of the synopsis writer: “The war movie is so inspiring and it showed the real meaning of heroism for man and country. Parental supervision is advised due to several intense moments and delicate language.” Hopefully, future summaries don’t look like a linguistic battlefield.

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Ed Geronia Jr.
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