My wife and I, movie addicts and film producers in the making, are determined to show our kids many of the movies we grew up loving but that’s been easier said than done. During a recent binge of ’80’s movie watching with my two older kids, Jonathan (10) and Elena (6) we quickly discovered that many of the films we watched as young teenagers are not exactly good for young children.
Remember the movie “Gremlins?” I hadn’t seen this innocent-looking film in at least 25 years so I didn’t recall how terribly inappropriate this movie was for children. It not only has the furry animals cursing at each other with sailor-bad words but it is dark, gory and even sexually suggestive. If you don’t believe me, ask Netflix to send you a copy and you be the judge.
Sixteen Candles? Well, this is my wife’s favorite but the premise is not exactly family-friendly as there is a bet throughout the movie that the geek (Anthony Michael Hall) can convince the protagonist teen girl (Molly Ringwald) to sleep with him. To prove it, he must get her panties and show it to his friends. Strong objectionable material mars or destroys many other classics like “Ghostbusters” and “Coming to America.”
Last week we innocently thought it would be a great idea to watch National Lampoon’s “Vacation” (yes, I know it’s R-rated) with the kids because our own family of five is preparing to do a 10,000 mile, 32-state road trip starting on Father’s Day June 20. I hadn’t seen this movie in years so while I knew it had a couple parts that might be “close your eyes” material for the kids I didn’t recall that there were two scenes with nudity, several more with sexual situations and two others with drugs. Despite all the objectionable material, we managed to have the kids watch it using what we call the Close Your Eyes Trick.
In order for the Close Your Eyes Trick to be effective you have first be sure you’re watching a movie that overall is watchable by a family because otherwise the kids and you will hate this trick. To explain how it works in more details, let’s use “Vacation,” which due to its R-rating is nearly always unsuitable for kids but that with the trick is actually likable. The kids enjoyed it. The way this trick works is that if you suspect a movie has objectionable content it is highly recommended that you watch the film first without them. That’s to guard against unwanted surprises you might not recall about the movie. The fact is that no matter how much you anticipate something will happen in a movie, you’re not going to be perfect so you have to try to be as prepared as possible.
Next, you let the kids know that they have to sit next to you and that they have to be ready to close their eyes WITH THEIR HANDS and IMMEDIATELY upon your command. Whenever you know an inappropriate scene is about to happen, you tell them “close your eyes!”. I tell my kids to keep their hands blocking their eyes until I know that the danger scene is fully over. If the objectionable scene is accompanied by heavy breathing or other inappropriate sounds of sex or heavy foul language, I will not only tell my kids to close their eyes but I will also mute the TV until the conclusion of the scene. It may sound like a lot of work, and it is, but with this trick my wife and I can at least show our kids movies that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to, including many modern ones.
The other day I was telling my wife how dumb I thought it was that Hollywood studios do not create family friendly rated versions of some of these classic movies because I’m sure many families would buy the alternative-rated versions for purchase or rental. Ironically, as as a screenwriter myself I don’t even see the point in some of the very scenes that make these movies get the spicy ratings. “Ghostbusters,” “Conan the Barbarian”, “Gremlins” and many others would be readily benefit from alternative rated versions. Instead you actually see the opposite. When movies go to Blu-Ray or DVD the studios will frequently try to re-release in an even racier format. PG-13 and R-rated movies often get injected with even stronger mature content.
Unfortunately, until someone at the Hollywood studios gets “it” about the opportunity for alternative-rated movies, parents like me will have to resort to the Close Your Eyes Trick. It’s not a perfect solution but it works for me. What works for you?