PLEASE NOTE: the following post contains words of a slightly tongue in cheek nature that some readers may find offensive…
What rating should the films Alien and Aliens have? To my mind, they should both be rated 18, no question. How old should children be to watch them? That is an entirely different can of worms.
Very often, the 18 certificate is not about what age a person should be before watching the film, rather it is a badge of honour; a way of saying “the subject matter in this film is so extreme that it warrants an 18 certificate”. That is why the 18 certificate market is primarily a juvenile one. The young are curious, whereas the old have seen it all before.
I saw both Alien and Aliens at an age that was way below the 18 threshold, and absolutely loved the blood, guts and thrills presented therein. When someone recently asked when I would give in to my son’s demands to let him watch Alien, I pondered for a moment and answered perhaps around 12 or 13. Does that make me an irresponsible parent? Perhaps, but I think that sort of age is the primary demographic.
Conversely, I absolutely will not allow my sons to watch the U rated The Remains of the Day under any circumstances. They will not be permitted to view that film until they are old enough to properly appreciate the profound and melancholy undercurrents it contains. That means at least 18.
My youngest son absolutely loves Bernard Herrmann’s masterful score for Vertigo. But will I let him see the film? Of course not. It is rated PG but at this age it would bore him. At this age, he would not understand how truly horrifying it is, nor could he realise that it is possibly the most devastating story about romantic obsession ever put on celluloid. He needs to be old enough to be properly traumatised by it, and again that probably means at least 18.
On the flip side of that coin, there are stories – primarily fairy tales – that children understand perfectly which adults find simply horrifying. The Grimm fairy tales (particularly Hansel and Gretel) are an obvious example, but more contemporary authors such as Neil Gaiman (Coraline, The Graveyard Book) have also contributed to that tradition. I am frequently appalled by some of the hideous cruelty contained within the books and films I enjoyed as a child, but again, they don’t seem to bother my children in the slightest.
As a final thought, I find it fascinating that televised warnings about sex, violence, bad language and the like literally turn off one audience and turn on another. Whenever I hear warnings of this kind before a programme (especially HBO type stuff), I rub my hands in mischievous glee whilst my wife shakes her head and mutters about how childish I can be. The key word there is childish. Is this stuff really aimed at children? Given that one school teacher in Belgium recently threatened to spoil Game of Thrones for his disruptive class unless they behaved themselves, perhaps it is.