Last week, I did something I rarely do: I went to the cinema. It’s been months and months – I think the last thing I saw on the big screen was Inception, and before that, Avatar (yep, I get out TONNES). Now, anyone who knows me personally knows that patience is not my forte – and the combination of overspending, restraint, ignorant texters, whisperers and chair kickers usually make it an experience I’d gladly avoid. But getting together with friends at 6:30 on a Wednesday night to see a children’s movie turned out to be just the ticket to avoid all of the above.
With a title like Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, it does leave a bit of an impression that this movie could be, as a certain someone delicately put it, “totally lame.” But when I saw the trailer a few months ago, I made a mental note that I was going to see it because I thought it looked fantastic! After an atrocious dinner out (waiting 1.5 hours to get two salads and some chicken fingers, then having to leave without eating so you can MAKE your movie does not give you the right to still charge us, Moxies), we made it with seconds to spare, donned our 3D glasses and set about eating in the dark (way more challenging than it sounds), settling into the opening sequence of the movie.
I’m going to cut to the chase here: this movie was INTENSE!! At the risk of sounding old, I remember the days (oh God) when a PG rating was given to a Disney movie because Aladdin made a sexual innuendo. Today, movies seem to be getting all the more terrifying, being injected with themes way more mature than 9 year olds should be able to understand, and being rated the same thing! Now, I should probably mention the fact that I’m actually all for this. I’m just wondering if it’s a sort of paradigm shift in the cinema – are movies getting scarier and more adult, or are children getting more and more desensitised?
Within minutes of LotG, the audience witnesses two highly adorable baby owls falling out of their tree, landing on the forest floor, and, unable to fly yet, getting kidnapped and taken off to join masses of other young abductees who are given the choice: join their “new family” of “Pure Ones”, or become blinded and enslaved. Pretty upsetting, no? Let’s not get started on the Holocaust allusions – this movie could basically be set in Nazi Germany, following a young hostage trying to escape an evil “King” hell-bent on worldwide racial purification – in the short 90 minutes, we observe brainwashing, torture, and epic, though incredibly gory battle scenes. It was more than enough to make me upset – which leaves me with the question, am I just behind the times?
What was scary when I was a kid is laughable by today’s standards. The primitive TNG Borg in all their hooded glory, and Daleks with egg whisks and plungers for hands that were clearly being pushed along from behind. Today, kids’ movies are full of uncomfortable, upsetting, and downright scary themes and images, which make you wonder if the world’s senses to scariness have just been numbed. I remember thinking the same thing last summer at Coraline, a movie adapatation of a book by one of my favourite authors. It was a treat for the fantasy lover in me, and, visually Burtonesque, was something I came away loving. But again with the PG rating: when I was a kid, a movie filled with grotesque images of a child’s father going crazy and melting in the garden, an insectlike creature, pincers literally pointing out of the screen, and a furiously controlling mother who turns into a monster, stealing away children’s souls by replacing their eyes with buttons… well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch it. Yes, I was the kid who had to wait until she was 12 before watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.
I say I’m all for these scare tactics in family movies and TV shows. And I am. A couple of months ago I wrote about what can successfully deliver a fright, and what’s pretty much the equivalent of horror porn. I can’t stomach traditional scary movies, but I am genuinely affected by themes, hints, and possibilities of the frightening. These days, I’m seeing more and more of it in what are supposed to be “family friendly” – LotG, at times, was downright disturbing. Racial purification and slavery aren’t the most lighthearted of topics, and though watching a bunch of birds in helmets duelling it out is never going to be quite the same as watching Gerard Butler beating up a bunch of Spartans, Zack Snyder has still instilled fear, shock, and visual effects that are nothing short of epic. You have to wonder though, what kids 15 years younger than me came away with – were they as simultaneously disturbed and thrilled as I was? Are children these days more immune to scare tactics, and what does that say about the future of cinema? I think giving people food for thought by genuinely creating a reaction is a good thing, but I can’t help but wonder where this trend is leading. Am I going to be more scared to go to a movie, fifteen years down the line, than my child?
Back to the Guardians. It was epic, it was visually stunning. The tiniest of details were captured beautifully, and dazzled through the elements leaving you absolutely exhilarated. It was emotional, and it was jam-packed with action, heroism, and an extensive list of Hollywood voices: Jim Sturgess, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, and – be still my heart – Sam Neill? Count me in. If you’re in the mood for a Tolkien-esque tale of fantasy, adventure, and triumph over evil, I can’t recommend this movie enough.