The other day, I watched Jason and the Argonauts with my four-year-old son. It was one of my favourite films to watch as a boy (on many a rainy Bank Holiday) so I thought he might appreciate the sword fights and variety of weird and wonderful mythological creatures. So we snuggled up on the sofa together and watched as Pelias brutally murdered one of King Aristo’s daughters, coldly running her through with his xiphos as she cowered beneath a statue of the goddess Hera.
“She’s fine…she’s just sleeping,” I said reassuringly. (I’d forgotten about the beginning of the film.)
“Is she dead?” my son asked.
“Yes. Yes, she is.” I solemnly replied.
But once we got past the murderous opening scenes, it felt like a ‘moment’ to be sharing the film with my son. I watched with muted delight as the creatures, monsters and Gods appeared on-screen: The Children of The Hydra pushing their way up through the dry earth, bones clacking as each skeleton formed; Triton rising from his subaqueous kingdom to hold the Clashing Rocks apart, providing safe passage for the Argo; Jason and his crew capturing the two Harpies who were cruelly tormenting King Phineus. He seemed to enjoy it all!
He only watched from behind the sofa when Talos creaked to life and stepped down from his plinth, while I silently marvelled at Ray Harryhausen’s fine attention to detail (the mint green patina on Talos’ bronze body is just superb). On every subsequent viewing he’s asked me to fast-forward through that particular scene, only allowing me to resume normal play at the point where Jason removes the cap on Talos’ heel, resulting in a flood of steaming, lava-like ichor gushing out. He won’t watch the statue come to life but he’ll happily watch its death by exsanguination, which sees Talos desperately clutching his throat before collapsing on the beach in pieces, crushing Hercules’ sidekick, Hylas, in the process.
“Did he get squashed, daddy?” my son asked.
“Yes. Yes, he did.” I solemnly replied.
It’s always a bit of a thrill when my son enjoys classic films from my childhood. Last year, we watched Bedknobs & Broomsticks and he absolutely loved watching the Nazis being repelled by a ghostly army of medieval armour and military uniforms, all magicked into life by Miss Price’s Substitutiary Locomotion spell. (And it’s never too soon for your children to enjoy watching Nazis getting their asses kicked.) The same scene used to capture my imagination, too. So when my son started excitedly shouting “Go on, knights! You can do it!”, I had a golf ball-sized lump in my throat that choked me harder than Angela Lansbury’s rendition of ‘The Age of Not Believing’.
With my son’s love of all things knights and castles, I also bought him Disney’s The Spaceman and King Arthur (aka Unidentified Flying Oddball), which I loved as a kid. Sure, with adult eyes you can clearly see the wires attached to the NASA jet pack during the final battle scene. But with a stellar cast that includes Kenneth More, John Le Mesurier, Jim Dale, Rodney Bewes and Ron Moody, I can happily overlook some of the more shoddy special effects.
We’ve also tried introducing him to Star Wars but there were lots of questions throughout. I’m not sure how much of the film he understood. A few days after the viewing, he spotted Chewbacca in an advert and referred to him as “the funny bear”. He also started marching around the house with his lightsaber, where he would enter rooms and announce that he was “Star Wars”, as if the film was a biopic about someone of that name. (Similar to having a name like “Paul Space Battle” or “Duncan Solar System”.)
I’ve started mentally listing other essential viewing for when my son is of appropriate age. For instance, he can watch the original 1987 version of Robocop and let out a hearty cheer when the knife-wielding rapist gets shot in the dick. Another must-watch is Red Dawn, where he can learn how to fight an insurgency if we’re ever invaded. Although that, too, must be the original 1984 version (once hailed as the most violent movie ever made by the Guinness Book of Records) not the heavily diluted 2012 remake. It’s important for him to learn that if you betray your friends during wartime, they’ll execute you for being a traitor. They won’t give you the Kylie Jenner Pepsi ending, where you get to coolly flash the victory sign as they drive off and leave you by the roadside to update your fucking Instagram account or something.
My son will also need to observe some of the more stringent laws that surround film viewing. For instance, if he’s idly flicking through the EPG late at night and happens to stumble across Point Break (1991), Total Recall (1990), The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Lethal Weapon (up to Lethal Weapon 3), or Die Hard (up to Die Hard with a Vengeance) – regardless of how much of the film he’s missed or how tired he feels – he must watch them to the end. Furthermore, “Vaya con Dios” and “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” will enter his lexicon. And whenever he hears the phrase “diplomatic immunity” he will automatically repeat it via a Joss Ackland impression, followed by “It’s just been revoked!”. Even if he’s in a job interview at the time, or on a first date, or at a funeral.
But it’s not just watching the films, it’s the additional memories that go with them. After watching Clash of the Titans when I was six years old, I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It to ask if I could see how the special effects were done, mainly because I envisioned a three-foot-long model of the Kraken appearing from the arm of Jimmy Savile’s chair as a participatory gift for me. (One day, my son will understand the sense of relief that my letter went unanswered.) And when I was 7-years-old, I cried so much after watching King Kong tumble from atop the Empire State Building amid a swarm of Curtiss Helldiver biplanes that I almost de-molecularised into a puddle of water like Senator Kelly in X-Men. A year later, in 1982, I was equally inconsolable after watching a screening of ET in a small Spanish bar while on holiday with my family.
So far, my son has a memory of walking out of a screening of Paddington 2 because he didn’t like Hugh Grant’s villainous character – but it’s a start!
The only film I’ll be nervous to watch with him is the one I keep close to my heart, and usually only watch alone: It’s A Wonderful Life. What if I share it with him and he doesn’t like it? Or the bell rings on George Bailey’s Christmas tree and when I turn to look at him – sporting a blotchy, tear-sodden face – I realise that he’s quietly left the room without me noticing. I don’t know if I could take that kind of rejection.
But there’s still plenty for him to watch and enjoy. There’s The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, The Goonies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future… oh shit, I’m really over my word count now. Fin.