I left the cinema on both occasions thinking, good film (surprisingly good for Transformers) but has the British Board of Film Classification lost its mind? I sat through Harry Potter with six and seven year olds crying behind me through the scary bits. It was a later evening showing of Transformers so I was spared a repeat performance but goodness knows what the afternoon showings have been like.
Transformers opens with an attack by an evil autobot on a US airbase in Qatar - the scene is like a cross between Starship Troopers and Jarhead - both of which received a 15 rating from the BBFC. The rest of the film is filled with a great deal of violence. I understand it is classed as "fantasy violence" but it still involves people being blown up and lots and lots of shooting! Many scenes made me jump, and I'm not squeamish. Harry Potter had less "violence" but was psychologically far more scary.
12A was originally applied in 2002 (to The Bourne Identity, dear God who would want under 12s to see that (excellent) film); replacing the 12 rating that had been brought in in 1989. Apparently it had been under consideration for a while but was prompted into use by Spiderman, as parents were complaining that their kids were desperate to see it but a 12 rating would mean they couldn't. So 12 was scrapped and 12A came in. But despite the fact that the BBFC policy for 12A indicates that this rating means that they think it is suitable for 12 and over only, but they leave it up to parental discretion to judge whether under-12s should see it I don't think this message gets across at all..... I guess the problem comes down to the fact that these films are made for and heavily marketed at kids.... and they don't include much sex or swearing or gritty person-on-person violence but that doesn't mean that 12A is a good idea as it sends a mixed message, and leaves parents open to pester power.... "No, I won't get scared Mum!"
In the words of a senior examiner from the BBFC when asked if she ever feels she has made a mistake in an interview in The Guardian, "I think every examiner goes home and thinks that....With me it was The Others." The Nicole Kidman horror film was passed uncut as a 12-certificate. Later, during one of the board's public consultations, Bates discovered that the film had scared the wits out of its younger viewers. "The problem with that film was that there was nothing onscreen; everything was implied. So within the letter of the guidelines I got it right. But it bothers me to this day."
I think the same is true for some fantasy films like Harry Potter, it is the viewer's imagination that helps make the film really scary or not - but for Transformers... how more "on screen" can you get! I'm generally not in favour of censorship for adult films - no matter how horrible I think it is, if it doesn't commit a crime in showing it, then it should get an 18 or an 18R if necessary. But come on BBFC, give the parents a break and help them look after their kids!