There’s an interesting debate tucked into the heart of the British comedy “Son of Rambow,” a good argument about what movies kids should see and how old they should be when they see them.
The film is a childs’-eye view of action movies, movie-making and movie magic. It’s about a would-be 12-year-old filmmaker who shows a naive, unworldly classmate “First Blood,” inspiring the more naive boy to want to star in and write “Son of Rambow,” his own guts-and-glory combat film that the boys - and soon all their classmates - do-it-yourself shoot in their corner of 1980s suburban England.
Son of Rambow
Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jules Sitruk, Jessica Stevenson, Neil Dudgeon, Ed Westwick
US theatrical: 2 May 2008 (Limited release)
UK theatrical: 4 Apr 2008 (General release)
Garth Jennings, director of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” movie, wrote and directed “Rambow.” And his friend and business partner, Nick Goldsmith, produced it. Their movie is a comedy more about a love of movies and a desire to make them than about childhood. But the age-appropriate issue, “movies you’re not supposed to see,” interests them.
“Five is bloody young to be watching `First Blood,’” Jennings jokes. “I was about 12 when I saw it, and even though it was still inappropriate for my age group, it was pretty mild. Especially considering how bloodthirsty and grizzly the later Rambo movies were. I think he only killed one person in that first one.”
Jennings laughs, remembering another film he wasn’t supposed to see at his age.
“The very first film that I watched that I wasn’t meant to watch was `The Hills Have Eyes.’ I didn’t sleep for about two weeks after that. Kids who see `First Blood’ as the first film they weren’t supposed to see got off lightly, I’d say.”
“Son of Rambow” says that children are impressionable, that they will “try this at home.” But the movie has a “give kids a little credit” credo, sanctioned by the tag-line from its advertising - “Make believe. Not war.”
“There are consequences to the violence,” Goldsmith says. “But the kids in our film are re-creating scenes that they see in a film. They’re doing movie versions of scenes they’ve seen in a movie. It’s not real and they know it. Garth did that sort of things as a boy. You don’t expect a kid to go out and do something for real just because they’ve seen it faked in a film. The thing we tried to capture was the way you might try to re-create what you’ve seen with what you’ve got around you.”
Jennings, 35, says that it isn’t necessarily just violent action that lures kids, especially little boys, into movies such as “First Blood.” “Son of Rambow” has kids not just mimicking the action and the filmmaking stunts they see. They’re copying Rambo’s survival skills, his ability to make do with what he has, to master his surroundings.
“There was something very stoic and self-sufficient, inventive, that appealed to us as boys at the time,” Jennings says. “He was able to survive on his own, and that’s very attractive to boys that age.”
“Son of Rambow” was “was based on my own experiences as a kid,” Jennings says. “One of the first films I ever saw, pirated, was `First Blood.’ And I thought it was amazing and so did my friends. We started making our own action movies based on that first Rambo movie.”
“What we set out to do was go back there and re-capture what it was to be 11 or 12 years old and just bowled over by a movie like this.”
“Garth did these short films as a boy, films that this one is based on, in which he sets the building on fire,” Goldsmith says. “But he didn’t really set the building on fire. They’d set a rag alight on a stick, just below the camera, so that you can see flames and a building and it looks like the building is on fire.
“If kids would just use their imagination: That’s a point we’re making here,” Goldsmith adds. “They’re very inventive and creative when you put them on their own. They will figure something out.”
Sylvester Stallone has seen “Rambow” and given it his seal of approval. And the showbiz mag Variety praised “Son of Rambow"for the “bright
and witty physical and visual touches (that) spill off the screen.” Most reviews have been raves, a far cry from what Jennings and Goldsmith, who go by the team name “Hammer & Tongs,” experienced with “Hitchhiker’s Guide.”
“We were inspired by films like `Stand by Me’ and `My Life as a Dog,’ where even though they’re heightened in terms of drama - kids dodging a train, for instance, in `Stand By Me’ - there was an honesty to the action that made them real,” Jennings says. “We wanted something like that in tone, a movie that didn’t have childhood with all the edges rubbed off. It was all the things we’d have gotten into if we’d had the guts.”