I remember writing the following article in a rush of inspiration, so some parts could have been thought through a little better.
I was writing this one for Challenge Weekly, a Christian newspaper, whom I thought might have been interested in the premise of my article at least: are the latest blockbusters family friendly?
Looking back at the article, I found I described, and didn’t really give an opinion or judgment on the films being family friendly or not, which looking back was a little disappointing. However, it’s something I should apply now.
Here’s the article, written in 2005.
Blockbusters: to see, or not
By Peter Veugelaers
Hitch, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, War of the Worlds, and Batman Begins top the box offices worldwide in this movie year so far.
Hitch, which started its general theatrical release in New Zealand earlier this year will be available on video and DVD this month. The other three movies have finished or are near finishing their theatrical runs.
Are they family-friendly or family-deadly?
The biggest movie of the year so far is Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the third act of a six-act story about the Skywalker family. Sith is intriguing because it follows the fall of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, who becomes the mechanical dictator Darth Vader, a good man who becomes a slave to the system and institution without truly being human.
There are Buddhist overtones in explaining Anakin’s fall from grace, but at a closer examination there is a Christian parallel here. The power of the hero’s choices, caused by his partial and wrong judgements and pride, ultimately has repercussions on society where democracy is threatened by war, a tragedy according to the film.
Since Anakin is essentially good his dark side blurs the distinction between good and evil although the Apostle Paul’s words in the pages of Romans have an echo, “although I want to do good, evil is right there with me”.
The confused Anakin does not choose to reflect on his behaviour and is torn by his fear of losing his girlfriend, a weakness which the Lucifer-figure Palpatine aka Emperor plays on. The sense of not striving for power and significance in Star Wars is applauded. As well, adoption is recognised. Star Wars is as good film series as you are likely to get: light and dark war and father and son are in conflict and possible reconciliation.
This series is noble, courageous, moral, and traditional, only the cartoonish sci-fi action violence gives but one in the series a PG-rating.
Sith’s casting of evil in some indelible imagery, which makes this the darkest of the series, might warn some families to keep their younger children away (the movie is recommended for mature audiences over 16). While evil here is tragic and painful, not glorified, young children particularly will probably not be able to comprehend its implications.
Steven Spielberg directs the latest incarnation of War of the Worlds, originally a H.G. Wells novel about an alien attack on earth that cannot be thwarted. Compared to the 1953 version – a member of the B-grade 1950s sci-fi movie craze in Hollywood – this has significantly less religious material, leaving that to the final word about creative intervention narrated by Morgan Freeman.
The rest of the movie does not convey anything of the divine or providence, in spite of the impact of the preceding destruction of Earth in apocalyptic and eye-blowing special effects dimensions which owes more to terrorist attacks since 2001 than Biblical judgement.
This movie does contain social chaos, scenes of a city’s destruction, and some off-and-on-screen physical violence, and offensive language including brief profanity. However, it is mainly a spectacle. A family is central to this version with a father, played effectively by Tom Cruise, coming to terms with his own fragile relationships with his ex-wife and son and daughter. As with Sith it is more suitable for mature children.
Earlier in the year the formulaic romantic comedy Hitch pleased audiences with its saccharine smooth lead man, played by Will Smith as Hitch, a too-good-to-be-true professional matchmaker. The girl (Eva Mendes) he is pursuing fends him off while Hitch spends a good amount of the movie attempting defend his clean-cut above-board image and reputation.
Although couples may find the courting aspect entertaining, Hitch is dishonest about real relationships and its staging of human moments are merely sentimental. But it answers the perennial question, what do women want? According to Hitch they want to be respected and treated well. The context of the movie involves dating, the chemistry of attraction, and portrays a matchmaker positively. The Americans rated Hitch PG-13 for language and some strong sexual references.
Perhaps the most critically acclaimed blockbuster of the season is Batman Begins. The troubled central figure (Christian Bale) is poetically sketched – an active symbol and incarnation of justice which parallels Christian charity. This Batman aka Bruce Wayne resists evil and crime because of his compassion for those affected by it including his murdered father and those in poverty. He discovers himself in the Eastern mountain peaks through martial arts training and reflection but parts with his trainer (Liam Neeson) on the matter of why and how one should avenge injustice.
Batman Begins is stylistic action-packed entertainment containing physical and action violence and martial arts, adult situations, some offensive language and is darkly textured, so it could be unsuitable for families for this reason. It does, however, resonate on the themes described above which will involve the adults more than children.
The most popular films of the year are serious treatments of adult issues, bar one which presents serious subject matter humorously. Therefore, they will probably go over many children’s heads who are fascinated more by technique than ideas. But families should find gentler material in the marketplace such as Herbie: Fully Loaded, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Madagascar, and the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.