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Toying Around With The Dark Knight


With huge fanfare the latest Batman tale is flying into theaters, and audiences are responding in true record numbers. The Dark Knight has made its way into box office legend with the biggest three day weekend opening in cinematic history with a whopping $158 million windfall. Remember, that's just three days. There's undoubtedly more to come.


I reviewed the film for ParentPreviews.com, and must say it's an artistically strong film -- especially Heath Ledger's posthumous debut as Batman's classic enemy, The Joker. However, great performances on the screen rarely equal family fun in the audience, yet merchandising moguls in the entertainment industry won't give up on trying to sell trinkets and food from a very adult film to even the youngest kids.


According to the Chicago-Sun Times, "Mattel Inc., which has a standing relationship with Warner Bros. [the studio with rights to create Batman movies] and DC Comics, is among the companies offering products based on the movie, aimed at both fans of the film and those too young to get in due to the PG-13 rating."


Then Sun-Times writer Denise I. O'Neal quotes Brad Woods, Mattel's senior director of marketing for the Batman products, who says, "The intent of our products is to bring the movie experience to all kids."


I've got to give Brad credit -- he doesn't even try to hide his plans to evangelize a movie to "all kids" that features an antagonist who, in The Dark Knight, provides highly detailed verbal descriptions of his abused childhood.


Without giving away major plot details, The Joker, in two scenes while holding a knife at his victim's throat, tells how his own face was scarred. The horrid details, combined with Ledger's almost too convincing performance, were enough to bother a jaded film critic like me. I wonder how a nine-year-old would interpret this same message?


Or how would a seven-year-old girl view the many acts of violence toward women in this movie, where men hold ultimate control? One of The Joker's victims is a woman, who he nearly chokes to death before pushing her through the window of a high-rise building, leaving her to fall to her demise.


In another scene, a bank is being robbed and many innocent people -- including women and children -- are seen huddling on the floor while The Joker selects who might be used as a pawn. Eventually he selects a man who he has shot in the leg. Tying his hands, he places a live grenade in his mouth and leaves him.


Even our hero is not averse to using torturous techniques. In one scene Batman pushes a man from a low-rise building, explaining that he didn't want to kill him, but instead wanted to hurt him. We clearly hear the cracking of his bones as he hits the ground.


The two-and-a-half hour film features dozens of highly violent scenes, featuring on-screen shootings and intense person-to-person conflicts. It is rated PG-13 (another point I will touch upon in an upcoming article), but has the intensity and serious tone of many R-rated movies.


I have no idea how much information corporations are provided when deciding to license merchandise for a particular movie. Obviously these deals are struck long before a film opens in theaters, and I doubt executives have the opportunity to see the finished product. But why are we marketing toys and food that are obviously intended for the very youngest audiences, that feature characters who, in my opinion, no child should see?


We spend millions of dollars trying to create "bully proof" schools, trying to teach our children proper socialization habits and ways to deal with conflict in their lives. Is it too much to ask Corporate America to help parents out in this regard?


If I must pay for a toy in my cereal, next time give Kit Kittredge a try.


Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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