The Lego and Steven Spielberg Movie-Maker Set has just been released in the UK. It contains everything needed for a child of eight to make his own films: a PC camera, editing software and quick-build sets. It costs £180, which seems a lot of money for a child's 'toy' but perhaps this is no bad thing - any child able to raise this amount by whining to adult members of the family may be better prepared to raise the £180 million he will need to make a Hollywood movie later in life. The Movie-Maker Set's emphasis, as you would expect, is on action films; no other genre is so saleable or so easily contained in a box. The formulaic nature of action movies is reflected in the contents: among the Lego 'characters' are a rescue fire fighter, heroine, villain and Fluffy the cat.
The facility to produce homemade films has been around for ages but never in such an accessible form. Before video there was Super 8, and although it was possible to home edit both these formats it was never very simple and often very expensive. (The Fischer Price Pixelvision, an earlier attempt to bring filmmaking to kids, bombed with its intended audience but found favour with artists.) Now, however, even the very young can get in on the act; although why a child of eight would want to make his own movie I have no clue. Doubtless there are parents who like the idea of their child becoming a film director and will purchase the kit in an effort to encourage the slightest whiff of interest. But the chances are the end result will merely be more hours of home-video style tedium. Kids have a short attention span: they will probably soon become bored with the 'explosion studio' and 'stunt-man catapult' and turn their camera on mum making the tea. For every budding Spielberg there will be hundreds of not-so-wunderkinder forcing their parents to sit through hours of interminable drivel.
On the Lego website Spielberg writes: 'You are the storyteller. You're totally in charge. You have final cut.' This dangerous spiel may produce a generation of despotic directors who, having had complete control of the creative process will find it difficult to adjust to the collaborative and compromised nature of filmmaking with a host of egomaniacs. For most of those involved, filmmaking is a notoriously boring and complex process - but with the Lego set there is no waiting for the 'rescue fire fighter' to emerge from his trailer, no meetings about character motivation and no frightened studio boss to appease.
The Lego film competition welcomes entries from all age groups but we probably won't get to see the most heartfelt: the purely personal ones made by teenagers reflecting their own experience. I am willing to bet that somewhere an angst-ridden 14 year old will make a film called The Temple of Gloom. As it says on the website, welcome to the world of imagination and creativity, but the discrepancy between Lego and life will probably mean tears before bedtime.