A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there are a few scattered swear words in this generally gentle drama about a very average, nice American guy endowed with mental superpowers. Overall this movie is more a romantic tearjerker than the science-fiction action/mind-blower some fans -- restless kids especially -- might expect. There is an upsetting death of a main character (off screen).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
PHENOMENON centers on small town mechanic and bachelor farmer George Malley (John Travolta), who, on his 37th birthday, wonders if life has passed him by. Then one night, he's knocked down by a mysterious bright light. Soon he realizes his intelligence is way beyond average -- he comes up with groundbreaking inventions and even exhibits telekinesis. When George successfully predicts an earthquake and cracks a secret military code used on a nearby base, the government takes an interest in him, too. But all he wants to do with his newfound super-genius is share his inventions, help the community with the agriculture techniques, and maybe arrange some lonely friends of his to make love connections. On that theme, even with his incredible mental mojo, George seems to have his hardest challenge impressing Lace (Kyra Sedgwick), a single mom he's got a crush on.
Is it any good?
There are times when Phenomenon teases you that it's going to go deeper into science-fiction territory. Are UFOs involved? How about future time-travelers making people smart? Will George use his spooky talents to fight bad guys for the CIA? Instead, the script (which is on the long side) keeps things focused on the small-town society and down-home values -- and the contrast with the cosmopolitan "experts" from outside, who just see George as a test-tube subject. If anyone's an "alien," they are, in the sentimentalized view of village life.
The crucial question is Will George's old friends shun him because of his awesome brain power? Or will they accept what he says? There turns out to be a fairly earthbound reason (but still a tall tale, medically speaking) to explain George's amazing transformation, and it ends the movie on a heart-tugging note. It's a tearjerker, but an optimistic one, and Travolta is very effective, atypically cast as Joe Average.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether having superior intellect can be a gift or a curse. What other examples do you see in the news or on your favorite TV shows of exceptionally smart people? Do you think the reactions of characters in this movie -- including fear, resentment, and near-religious mania -- are realistic? Do you think George is correct in wishing that sudden genius struck someone else, especially someone who wasn't blue collar?
- In theaters: July 3, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: December 3, 1997
- Cast: John Travolta, Kyra Sedgwick, Robert Duvall
- Director: Jon Turteltaub
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: language and mild sensuality
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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