Italian groups apoplectic over 'Apocalypto' rating

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ROME -- Consumer groups and religious organizations in Italy are up in arms over the decision to release Mel Gibson's violent epic "Apocalypto" here Friday without age restrictions.

At least six national organizations have blasted the decision to release the blood-and-guts film without the age restrictions present in the U.S. and elsewhere in Europe. The groups are calling for the Italian censorship board to be revamped and become more restrictive.

The lack of age restrictions -- the film carries the Italian equivalent of a "G" rating -- means that even small children can view the film without parental supervision or consent.

Eagle Pictures, which holds the rights to "Apocalypto" in Italy, planned a wide release for the Mayan saga, with the opening spread among some 320 screens.

Italian censors have generally been lenient toward violence or harsh language and less tolerant of explicit sexuality or anti-religious themes -- an attitude often attributed to the close relationship between the Italian state and the Vatican.

Members of parliament's watchdog committee for children have reacted to the controversy, echoing the concerns of the consumer and religious groups, while Gaetano Blandini, head of the government's film commission, responded by telling Italian daily Corriere della Sera that he will step down to improve the censorship process.
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