My thoughts on Dawn Treader

I understand why some filmmakers make changes when they make a movie out of a novel.  The two art forms are different.  The movie version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader added some plot elements–the green mist, the seven swords–but, as my wife said, they sort of served the larger story, tying together an episodic plot that works better in print than on the screen.  The movie nailed the characters, though, especially Lucy, along with a Reepicheep wonderfully voiced by Simon Pegg.

The Christian elements were there, with lots of talk and examples about not giving in to temptation, something you don’t hear about in most movies.  In the book, Aslan scratched out Eustace’s dragon-nature, supplemented with some great baptismal imagery.  In the movie, once Eustace turns into a dragon, he does all kinds of heroic deeds, and then Aslan changes him back (without touching him, though).  One could construe that as implying that a person does good works, which then merit God’s grace.  Whereas the book has the grace coming first, and then the good works.  But I think the theology was unintentional.  In a movie, if you go to the trouble of devising a good special effects dragon, you need to have it do as much as possible.  The movie did include one of the Narnia series’ most important lines from Aslan, where he tells the children that when they go back to our world they will have to know him by a different name, and that the reason he brought them into Narnia was so that they could know him better in their world.

So I thought the movie was good.  I enjoyed it.  I recommend it.

And yet why do I feel so lukewarm about it?  I realize that a novel has characters, setting, plot, and theme.  The movie did an OK job of approximating those.  But a novel also has language.  It also conveys a feeling. I guess it was the feeling of the Narnia books that I was missing.

Because the story in a novel is happening in your mind, as  you picture the events in your imagination, the effect is deeper and, by definition, more imaginative, than just watching images on a screen.  Reading entails an inner experience.  In movies, we are more detached from the images we are watching.

There is another problem, though.  Movies today have a hard time rendering fantasy.  Yes, they can now create the most fantastical special effects.  But because they are so realistic, so hard-edged, the elements that make fantasy–namely, mystery and wonder–are dispelled.  Fantasy needs to have softer edges to work.  I had the same problem with Inception, an interesting movie about the relationship between dreams and reality, but there was nothing dreamlike about any of the dreams!   Movies and special effects today are just too literal! (Come to think of it, I recall Lewis making this same point, about how fantasy doesn’t work well on the stage or in film.  Does anybody have that reference?)

I do think a movie maker will one day figure out how to use special effects to create truly special effects in the imagination of the viewers.

I can think of one example, though, of a fantasy movie based on a novel that worked in its own terms and in capturing the feel and the imaginative rush of the original.  That would be the Lord of the Rings.

Why do you think the movie version of Tolkien’s trilogy worked so much better than any of the movies of the Narnia series?

Dawn Treader launches

I was greatly disappointed with the movie version of Prince Caspian, and I feared the treatment of Voyage of the Dawn Treader would be more of the same, playing down the Christian themes in favor of Hollywood blockbuster cliches.  I had heard from people who might know that Dawn Treader would go in that direction, despite the disappointing box office performance of Prince Caspian.  That movie caused Disney to dump the franchise, but Dawn Treader was picked up by Fox.  (The first Narnia movie, by contrast, was both faithful to the original, in its story and its themes, and extremely successful.)

But now the word is that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which opens this weekend, is good!  That it keeps the Christianity!  Also that it works as fantasy, with spectacular special effects in 3-D no less.  So I’m excited.

Here is the positive review from WORLD:

WORLD Magazine | Treading carefully | Megan Basham | Dec 18, 10.

If you see it this weekend, please post your verdict here.

from Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Chesterton on gratitude

G. K. Chesterton writes about ordinary life in a way that always makes me grateful for it. He also writes about gratitude. Here is some of what he said on the subject:

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. –Gilbert K. Chesterton

There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person. –G. K. Chesterton

The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them. –Gilbert K. Chesterton

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. –G. K. Chesterton

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. –G. K. Chesterton

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs? ~G.K. Chesterton

Form and Feeling

In arguments about worship, both sides often cast the issues in terms of “formal styles” vs. “emotional styles.” That has always seemed a false dichotomy. To me, our formal, liturgical Lutheran services are very emotionally moving. Besides, the opposite of “formal” is “informal,” and the opposite of “emotional” is “unemotional.” And “informal” worship styles happen to leave me cold; that is, it leaves me “unemotional.” I realize that other people react differently.

The point is, form and feeling can actually support each other. That is practically a literary principle. A sonnet is among the most emotional of poems, and yet its form is among the strictest. This is even evident in the Bible.
Justin Taylor pointed me to these observations about the Book of Lamentations from John Piper:

First, Lamentations is a deeply emotional book. Jeremiah writes about what means most to him, and he writes in agony. He feels all the upheaval of Jerusalem in ruins. There is weeping (1:2), desolation (1:4), mockery (1:7), groaning (1:8), hunger (1:11), grief (2:11), and the horrid loss of compassion as mothers boil their own children to eat them (2:20; 4:10). If there ever was intensity and fervor in the expression of passion from the heart, this is it.

The second observation, then, comes as a surprise: This seems to be the most formally crafted book in the Old Testament. Of the five chapters, chapters 1, 2, and 4 are each divided into twenty-two stanzas (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), and each stanza begins with a different letter of the alphabet. They are three acrostics.

Chapter 3 is even more tightly structured. Again there are twenty-two stanzas, but now each stanza has exactly three lines. The three lines in each stanza begin with the same letter, and each of the twenty-two stanzas begins with a different letter in alphabetical order.

This is the only chapter that is not an acrostic. But it still has twenty-two lines in conformity with the acrostic pattern of chapters 1-4. Now what do these two observations imply? First, they imply that genuine, heartfelt expression of our deepest emotions does not require spontaneity. Just think of all the mental work involved in finding all the right words to construct four alphabetical acrostics!

What constraint, what limitation, what submission to form! Yet what passion and power and heart! There is no necessary contradiction between form and fire.

via Let the River Run Deep, Desiring God by John Piper – Desiring God, John Piper.

Tolkien vs. the Beatles

Imagine:

Once upon a time, the Fab Four—having slain the pop charts—decided to set their sights on the Dark Lord Sauron by making a Lord of the Rings feature, starring themselves. One man dared stand in their way: J.R.R. Tolkien.

According to Peter Jackson, who knows a little something about making Lord of the Rings movies, John Lennon was the Beatle most keen on LOTR back in the ’60s—and he wanted to play Gollum, while Paul McCartney would play Frodo, Ringo Starr would take on Sam and George Harrison would beard it up for Gandalf. And he approached a pre-2001 Stanley Kubrick to direct.”It was something John was driving, and J.R.R. Tolkien still had the film rights at that stage, but he didn’t like the idea of the Beatles doing it. So he killed it,” Jackson said.

via Little-known sci-fi facts: Tolkien killed a Beatles LOTR movie | Blastr.

HT: Joe Carter

Grisham’s latest hero is a Lutheran pastor

Lutheran pastors must be considered cool, at least in popular fiction.  There is the one in
Warrior Monk.  Now bestselling author John Grisham features one in his latest blockbust of legal suspense, The Confession.  From a review in the Washington Post:

The novel opens with a classic noir situation in which an ordinary Joe finds himself suddenly thrust by fate into a nightmare. In this case, our flummoxed hero is the Rev. Keith Schroeder, pastor of a Lutheran church in Topeka, Kan. Sitting in his church office one cold morning, Keith is paid a visit by a monster. Travis Boyette is a convicted felon, out on parole, whose rap sheet for sexual assault is as long as a fresh roll of yellow “crime scene” tape. Boyette tells Keith that he’s dying from a malignant brain tumor and that he (maybe) wants to confess to the abduction, rape and murder of Nicole Yarber, a high school cheerleader from the small town of Slone, Tex., who disappeared almost 10 years ago.

After a couple of days of agonized dithering, Boyette shows Keith convincing proof of his guilt and the unlikely duo hatches a plan of action: If Keith drives Boyette to Slone — and, thus, becomes his accomplice in breaking parole — Boyette will confess to the authorities and take them to the spot where he buried Nicole’s body. By the time the two men pile into Keith’s clunker for the ultimate road trip from hell, speed is of the essence. In less than 24 hours, Donté Drumm, a former classmate of Nicole’s, will be put to death for a murder he didn’t commit.

via John Grisham’s “The Confession,” reviewed by Maureen Corrigan.

Buy the novel here.

If any of you have read it, please report.


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