It was the first question we received after the “When Can I Watch” column launched: “Are you guys going to write about theatrical releases, as well?” While that was always part of the grand plan, I think we intended on beefing up the weekly column with a litany of film-geek classics before trying our hand at breaking down movies currently screening in area multiplexes.
But you know what they say about the best-laid plans, and so our timetable is shifting (slightly) this week. Since J.J. Abrams’ new Super 8 so specifically targeted genre fans who grew up on early Spielberg (as mentioned in our recent E.T. column), several parents started reaching out to see if the film was appropriate for their fledgling film lover. Is it “kid safe” (like, say, Goonies) or borderline (like Joe Dante’s Gremlins)?
Great question. Let’s load our vintage video cameras, time travel back to the 1970s, and discuss when you can watch Super 8 with your kids.
The Discussion: Being a Parent Often Requires Parenting
Believe me, parents, I get it. When it comes to live-action feature films you’re able to experience with your kids in a theater, options tend to range from Mr. Popper’s Penguins to something called Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer … meaning there aren’t any options, at all. And with Pixar averaging only one animated film a year, you’re tempted to stretch the boundaries and consider practically ANYTHING that might be good for your young ones itching to get to the movie theaters.
But with all due apologies to the 10-and-under crowd who think they are ready for Abrams’ Super 8. I’m estimating on behalf of every parent reading that they are not. Movies that focus on young protagonists aren’t always made for young audiences (as evidenced by Larry Clark’s complete filmography). And while Abrams has genetically engineered Super 8 to resemble every film you grew up watching – from The Monster Squad and Goonies to Spielberg’s masterpiece, Jaws – it has a number of disturbing elements children should be protected from … and we’ll discuss them in the Red Flags section.
Red Flags: A Creature Feature, Through and Through
In the days leading up to Super 8, movie critics and film bloggers snuggled up under a warm blanket of nostalgia and reminisced about Spielberg’s Amblin days, which Abrams routinely references throughout his creature feature. And while one half of Super 8 certainly celebrates an endearing clique of small-town middle-schoolers bound by a common goal of shooting their own indie zombie film, the other half is a bona fide alien-invasion thriller from the producer of Cloverfield.
Much like I would in a review, I’m obligated to dance around spoilers. But parents need to know that from the minute Abrams unleashes his alien creature during a spectacular train wreck, the young kids in Super 8 face mortal danger on multiple occasions. Super 8 isn’t gratuitously gory, but characters meet bloody deaths on screen. A standoff between the creature and the military on an overturned bus – as well as a confrontation in the alien’s subterranean lair – will be too much for young children to handle.
Yes, Abrams takes a page from Spielberg’s Jaws playbook by keeping his monster off screen as long as possible. But Super 8 also is a summer movie meant to satisfy blockbuster crowds with effects-driven thrills, chills and scares … all of which are aimed at an older crowd.
Other red flags would focus on language, which is peppered with curse words middle schoolers would know (and probably throw around with their friends). There’s no sex, just a sweet romance sold by the main child performers Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, who is just fantastic. If you have a son who is old enough to see Super 8, he’s probably going to have his first crush on Dakota’s younger sister before the end credits roll.
Green Lights: That’s What Friends Are For
When Super 8 works, it’s because the kids Abrams casts as his motley crew of zombie-movie makers share that unforced camaraderie of small-town friends who’ve been through thick and thin and aren’t fazed by a little old monster tearing up their town. Friday Night Lights star Kyle Chandler does what he can to keep up, but he’s lapped by the undeniably honest performances of Fanning, Courtney, Riley Griffiths (as the budding horror director) and Ryan Lee (as the “explosives expert” who just likes to blow stuff up real good with his limitless supply of fireworks).
We gravitate toward films like this, Reiner’s Stand By Me or Donner’s beloved The Goonies because they either remind us of the friends we had or make us long for the kids we wanted to pal around with and go on impossible adventures. Abrams nails that aspect of his film, and it will speak to all ages as they let the emotion of Super 8 carry them over the generic monster-movie elements. OK, maybe not “all” ages. Let’s get to our final section.
For once, the PG-13 rating is accurate. Abrams aims Super 8 at middle-schoolers who are close in age to the young characters on screen, so parents should probably limit Super 8 to kids who are 13 and older. Children that age will better associate with the friendships, the hardships, and the occasional horrors that occur on screen. Anyone younger would likely suffer super-sized nightmares.
Previous “When Can I Watch” Columns:
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
The Indiana Jones series
The Star Wars Saga