WHEN MY SISTER and I were both kids, we used to scare each other at night by whispering the name "Scarlett." To most of the world Scarlett ws the heroine in the movie "Gone With the Wind," but to us, there was no more horrible word in the English language. My parents had taken us to GWTW thinking it was a film about adventure and romance. We kids learned better. It was a horror film.
Now that fatherhood is upon me I try hard to remember what scared me as a kid. I know I got scared when Scarlett shot the Yankee soldier in the face and I know that the scenes of the wounded in the streets of Atlanta gave me nightmares and the scene in which a soldier's leg is amputated stays with me to this day. So does the movie "Sorry, Wrong Number."
It is with that in mind, that I did not take my son to a preview of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and I am glad now that I did not. What you will not learn from the reviews and from the cover story in about every magazine except Popular Mechanics is that there is more than enough violence and gore to make you wonder how in the world it ever got its PG rating. There's enough to keep a kid up -- and a bed wet -- for weeks.
Specifically, there are something like 60 deaths in this movie by every means possible. People are shot and they are knifed and they are beaten to death. They fall off cliffs and they die by poison darts and they depart this world in ways you could not imagine -- their faces sort of shriveling up before your eyes. Much of this dying, killing, maiming and general violence is in good fun -- old-time movie fights in which no one seems to get hurt and in which the people who die are mostly cardboard Nazis who surely deserve their fate.
But some of it is awful. One man, for instance, is decapitated by an airplane propeller. The hero, Indiana Jones by name, gets shot while driving a truck and blood sprays all over the windshield. Snakes abound and so do tarantulas, asps and hot pokers -- not to mention guns, knives, fists and poison. Skulls and skeletons pop out of walls, snakes wriggle out of the eyes and ears of the aforementioned skulls and human beings melt before our eyes when the wrath of God turns on them. There is more than enough nightmare material to last a summer.
The question that comes to mind is why? -- why all this blood and gore? And the answer, I suspect, is that it heightens tension and is, in some weird way, good fun for adults. But it is not good fun for children and the added tension the violence injects into the movie, this little edge, is gained at the expense of children. The movie shows either an ignorance of the way children react or a contempt for them.
It's hard to figure which one applies here, but contempt is the upshot of it all. In a sense, "Raiders" mirrors a society that is showing itself less and less willing to accommodate children, more and more willing to accommodate violence -- even to the point of labeling some of it "fun." But even that kind of violence has a cumulative effect -- maybe nothing more than giving kids the idea that a punch in the mouth is funny and not painful.
In a sense, "Raiders" seems part and parcel of the trend in which children are either ignored or treated as pets -- a reflection of the selfishness of the parents, an imposition on everything and everyone around an accessory, and not an integral part of life. "Raiders," for instance, makes no apparent attempt to accommodate itself to children. It is a picture in which no one (including the rating board that awarded it a PG) seems to have asked, "Is this okay for kids?" Yet, it passes itself off as a wonderful movie for children -- and with a little less violence, it could have been. It could, in fact, have been the family film of the summer and there is every reason to believe that this is what its producers, indeed the entire movie industry, thought and intended.
The upshot is a movie that is being hyped as a clone of Disney -- a film patterned after the old Saturday afternoon serials that the film's director, Steven Spielberg, and the producer, George Lucas, say they remember with affection. But what they have produced is not quite as innocent. Their memories are faulty. The remembered the serials, but not what it was like to be a kid. In the middle of the night, guys, it can be very, very scary.