Executive Producer Steven Spielberg , Director Shawn Levy and his DreamWorks gang are commercial geniuses. They’ve created a situation in which I, a movie violence watchdog, could fall for a drama in which a blood-thisty crowd cheers as boxers pummel each other to the death. It's so unlike me, and yet, Real Steel had me literally biting my nailsover the outcome of boxing matches. I cried, too. Here’s why it’s genius: because the fighting protagonists are robots, I somehow feel less concerned that children in the audience may be negatively affected. The cringe-factor is removed, permitting me to get wrapped up in the action and just have fun.
The glee over robot violence does lead to a question parents need to ask themselves: what kind of violence is okay?
My family has a point of contention when it comes to violence in video games, one that is bleeding into our movie experience. The rule at my house is that video games which involve shooting and/or killing human beings are NOT acceptable. But, that opens the door: is it okay to shoot and kill animals in a deer-hunting game? Aliens? Zombies? Terrorists? Underground Locust People?
After much heated debate with my teenage son, I decided to let the rating be my guide. M-rated games are completely off limits, T-rated games are okay as long as human beings are not the targets.
I honestly don’t know how reliable video game ratings are, but in movies, that middle-ground rating of PG-13 isn’t always trustworthy. Zack Snyder’s incredibly violent Sucker Punch managed to escape an R-rating because bloodless violence occurs with zombies, robots and giant mechanical samurais. That violence, to me, seemed mostly okay because it was unrealistic. The physical and attempted sexual violence against the young women of the movie, however, was so stomach-turning that I cannot recommend the film for any kid.
The Twilight movies are increasingly becoming more violent, but vampires are already the living dead. In African Cats, an alligator attacks young cheetahs, but that’s nature’s circle of life. In Super 8, a realistic-looking monster alien attacks townspeople, but it turns out (SPOILER ALERT!) that it’s more like self-defense. Figuring out what level of violence is acceptable is tricky!
So, how does a parent decide when violence in G, PG or PG-13 movies is too much? Fandango partner Common Sense Media outlines the facts and I weigh in with parent reviews at KidsPickFlicks.com, but ultimately, it’s a decision every parent individually has to make for each individual movie.
My personal guideline is to avoid graphic violence to humans, especially if the violence is without consequence. But even then, Real Steel contains a scene where an adult is badly beaten up. BUT, the brutality is in the dark, the audience can’t see it so clearly, and the attack was the consequence of previous bad behavior. And yes, there’s some brief bit of child jeopardy —and two wincing uses of the “s” word – but my call is that Real Steel is acceptable viewing for most kids. So, even my rules have wiggle room.
But, what do you think? What are the boundaries you set for your family when it comes to seeing violence on the big screen?