When Tim Burton’s Batman came out in 1989, it was the first movie in the UK to be given a 12 certificate. This classification meant that I was able to see it at the cinema while my best friend – who was six months younger than I was – had to go to The Land before Time because it was the only thing suitable for his age.
Oh, how smug I was. “Enjoy the baby dinosaurs,” I crowed before swanning off to watch Jack Nicholson spray acid into Jerry Hall’s face. Little did I realize that we were actually at a cinematic point of no return – the moment when superheroes became more concerned with facing their own demons than facing down bad guys.
Twenty-three years later and it’s all too apparent, for here is my eight-year-old son looking at Batman action figures in a toy shop and asking when the new movie is out. Not that he’s seen any of the Christopher Nolan films. He once got freaked out by the peril in Total Wipeout, so I don’t think he’s ready for Christian Bale just yet. But it still doesn’t stop him from quizzing me about the release date for The Dark Knight Rises.
“Oh, Batman’s not for kids anymore,” I answer, wondering if this will eventually be the way of all family-friendly fare. On the shelf next to the Batman toys is a Fireman Sam playset: in a decade’s time, can we expect to see the saviour of Pontypandy becoming an avenging angel after witnessing Station Officer Steele getting gunned down on a routine call-out?
At this stage, comic-book fans are probably ready to attack me with a batarang or slam me face first into an upturned pencil. Surely, Batman hasn’t been aimed at the under-tens for a long time? Well, that may be true of the movies but it certainly isn’t the case with the merchandise. And it seems a bit unfair to pique a child’s interest and then make the film entirely unsuitable for them to see.
I admit that I may not be of sound mind as I put forward this argument. The school holidays are fast approaching and, with the weather the way it is, I fear I’ll have no choice but to seek shelter in the soft-play centres of the South East. If you’ve ever set a shoeless foot inside these brightly coloured bedlams then you’ll appreciate why my nerves are jangled, but this could be the only way to detach my kids from the hype of the summer blockbusters.
Because I’ve seen what exposure to this type of movie can do to primary schoolers. Only the other day, a friend of my son’s who was at our house on a play date, said at the dinner table: “Oh, it is SO amazing. First, he gets both legs chopped off, then one of his arms goes flying. And then, a fire burns him up completely. I was like, no way!” I thought he’d got hold of something by Martin Scorsese – turns out it was Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. These days, it seems we’re light-years away from camp droids and Alec Guinness.
So what can a parent do if they can’t avoid the toys but wish to avoid the movie? I have two radical solutions: one is to show your children the 1966 Batman film (the one with the Bat poles and Chief O’Hara) and try to convince them that’s it’s The Dark Knight Rises. Yeah, that’s not going to work, is it? The second is to hunt down a copy of The Land before Time and serve up baby dinosaurs instead of superheroes. Radical, I know, but that best friend of mine who was too young back in 1989 became a pre-eminent paleontologist. I’m not feeling so smug now, let me tell you.