New York Times considers the marketing of Narnia

from The New York Times:

The spiritual character of “Narnia” is being reinforced with the debut on the charts last week of a Christian pop album of music inspired by the film. But prospects for a previously announced secular soundtrack now seem cloudy, executives involved in the process say. Disney executives say that at the very least the CD will be delayed beyond its planned Oct. 25 release.

Mitchell Leib, president of music for Disney’s Buena Vista film unit, said he still expected to assemble and release a secular soundtrack before the film’s Dec. 9 opening. But he cited production snags. He said he was still awaiting a recording by the rock band Evanescence that is intended as the film’s closing song. He added that planning had also been complicated by last-minute decisions about how music will be used in the complex, special-effects-laden film.

The Christian-oriented album’s status as the only “Narnia” musical project in the marketplace, for now at least, could upset the studio’s plan to balance two audiences. “If they go ahead and release only the one soundtrack, I think they’re risking being identified as turning toward a blatantly religious company, which does turn some people away,” said Chris Ahrens, founding editor of Risen, a San Diego-based lifestyle magazine that explores the spiritual beliefs of entertainment figures. On the other hand, Mr. Ahrens said, if the music strikes a chord in the Christian market, “I think that’s huge for Disney in terms of the movie audience.” He added, “It seems like a huge gamble.”

I can’t express to you how sad it makes me to see Lewis’s Narnia stories being connected to Christian pop music. It’s like they’ve taken this glorious, mystefying, all-powerful lion and decided to celebrate him by tethering him to preachy, mediocre merchandise. Poor Aslan. Always being tied back down.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if each Lord of the Rings movie had been accompanied by a cd with songs by Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Carman?

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  • Jared Wilson

    I faced the same conundrum when I saw “Born into Brothels” on your top 10 list for 2005 since I recall it winning an oscar for 2004.

    (Most of my responses to you are critical – and I appologize. I truly love your blog. Right now it is among just 7 other links in my bookmark toolbar…)

  • Foolish Knight

    Ooh, tough question. Have you seen the new version? Which one is the one you fell in love with? Maybe you could treat it as two different movies and put it at the top of both lists (with a disclaimer).

    But seriously, I wish I had problems like this. I haven’t even seen enough films from 2005 to make a “Top Ten” list from that year. (Of course ,not that anyone really wants me to.)

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >> Does that mean that you object to contemporay Christian Music about God – and thus CCM in general?

    I do not object to music about God or music played in God’s honor… so long as that music is performed with sincerity and excellence. Much of CCM is mediocre in skill and artistry. The more time I spend studying music and artmaking, the more I see that much (not all) of CCM is derivative of other pop music, and the lyrics, while they are about God, are so simplistic and straightforward that they lack poetry. Or, they are strong because they have copied the more original or excellent ideas of others. Most CCM is like Velveeta, a cheap imitation of more artful work.

    Now, it’s true that there *is* good CCM out there. And I’m all for it. But the more I read C.S. Lewis’s thoughts about his stories, the more I am convinced that he would want the story to stand on its own, so that people could think about what it means on their own. I don’t think he would have approved of a “soundtrack” that is full of songs explaining what Aslan represents, or speaking directly about God. He wanted the story to have mythical resonance, so we could ponder what it meant. He wanted it to be, above all, a good story… a fairy tale… a myth that echoes truth. When we attach a bunch of Christian songs to it, we make it feel more like a “Christian product” or an evangelical tract than pure storytelling.

    That is my objection.

    I say this as someone who has many CCM albums in his collection. CCM has its place. But a God who cares about excellence (read his particular demands regarding the construction of the temple, for goodness sake!) will not be entirely pleased with second-rate pop songs. And unfortunately, a lot of CCM is forgettable, hastily composed, and derivative of greater works of art.

    (Of course, this is true of a great deal of mainstream pop music and country music as well.)

    Christians, more than anyone, should care about setting the standard so high that others are drawn to our work for its originality, its awe-inspiring beauty, its excellence.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Uh… I don’t know what you’re referring to here. We *do* like the form it has taken. What this thread is about is how they are beefing up the Narnia marketing machine with things that C.S. Lewis would not have approved or enjoyed. Where did anybody say that they want a “secular” version? If you’ve been paying any attention to this blog, you’ll have seen many, many posts talking about how we’re frustrated by the fact that many of the story’s echoes of Christianity have been toned down or removed (for example, the book’s acknowledgement that Aslan is the *son* of The Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea has not been included in the film, so we lose Lewis’s allusion to God the Father.)

    You seem very irritated about something, but it seems to me that you assume we’re saying things that we aren’t. You seem to think we would “flock” to a “secular” version. That just shows you haven’t been reading very closely. We support a version that reflects what C.S. Lewis had in mind. This movie does that fairly well, but not as well as it might have. And we are honoring him by examining those finer points.

  • Anonymous

    If you don’t like Narnia the in the form it has taken, you can choose not to see it or support it. If there is a market for a secular version, I’m sure someone in a our capitalist society will produce it and you can all flock to the cinima to see it.

  • Anonymous

    hmm the people who have said that they dnt agree with christian artist working on this soundtrack, listen to the artists first!!! dnt be so prejudice! you must remember that C.S Lewis was a christian and the lion witch and the wardrobe was based on his christian beliefs. check out the band Delirous? and Nichole Nordemans music.You cant tel me that they arnt worthy of supporting such an awsum film and book!! both artist are packed full of talent. how dare you say they are ‘less-than-excellent, more religion-oriented than art-oriented, merely to throw fuel on the fire of a hype machine and make more money’. im glad for christian music, music that speaks more light into this world!A world that truly needs to hear it. i think we all need to listen to what they can bring and apreciate it for what it is.

  • Abigail Brayden

    I can’t express to you how sad it makes me to see Lewis’s Narnia stories being connected to Christian pop music. It’s like they’ve taken this glorious, mystefying, all-powerful lion and decided to celebrate him by tethering him to preachy, mediocre merchandise. Poor Aslan. Always being tied back down.

    Isn’t our God even more glorious and all-powerful? Does that mean that you object to contemporay Christian Music about God – and thus CCM in general? I know you’ve said that you were not blanketly condemning CCM, but you’d have to be in this case, wouldn’t you? It seems to be that it would be strange to think that Aslan is too good for CCM, but God is not.

  • Martin

    Say what you like about the Prince of Egypt three-soundtrack strategy, but at least Christian artists were rubbing shoulders with secular artists (or “real” artists) on all of the soundtrack albums, instead of being ghetto-ized or niche-ified on a CD all their own.

    I was referring to the Times article’s revelation that one of the songs was getting mainstream airplay.

    Should I assume, BTW, that none of the songs on this Christian CD are covers of the songs 2nd Chapter of Acts wrote for The Roar of Love?

    That would be a safe assumption. There is a song called “Turkish Delight” but it’s evidently not the 2nd Chapter song.

    Should I assume that CCM artists have no sense of their own genre’s/industry’s history?

    I’m never sure whether to blame it on the artists, their fans, or the industry.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    We keep saying musicians-who-are-Christians should step out of the ghetto into the “real” marketplace. The artists involved with this soundtrack are getting the chance to do just that.

    Um, well, not really. Say what you like about the Prince of Egypt three-soundtrack strategy, but at least Christian artists were rubbing shoulders with secular artists (or “real” artists) on all of the soundtrack albums, instead of being ghetto-ized or niche-ified on a CD all their own.

    And no, I have never heard the two “pop” soundtracks for The Prince of Egypt — the only soundtrack that mattered to me was the actual movie soundtrack. (Well, that, plus the exclusive Wal-Mart CD sampler that happened to include about ten minutes of Hans Zimmer score missing from all the other CDs.)

    Should I assume, BTW, that none of the songs on this Christian CD are covers of the songs 2nd Chapter of Acts wrote for The Roar of Love? Should I assume that CCM artists have no sense of their own genre’s/industry’s history?

    BTW, y’all do know that one minute of this film’s score is already online, yes? Details here.

  • Martin

    The music should be good music.Mostly, I think, it should be classical music, Bach, Mozart.
    There might be some other music worthy of Narnia but I can’t think of what it might be.

    Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten, Holst … the excellent composers working in Great Britain around the period in which the books are set.

    For Narnia itself, perhaps Byrd and Tallis in spots and some moodier stuff elsewhere…

  • Martin

    My post was not a blanket condemnation of all CCM, everywhere, everytime.

    But you’ve made other statements in other contexts that could be interpreted as such. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to drag that topic in here, though.

    My statement was in reaction to yet another example of Christian pop groups ready to jump at the first blatantly commercial opportunity.

    Well, I’d blame Brother Billy and EMI before I’d blame the groups. CCM artists have been writing songs about Narnia since you and I were born. May I have your assurance that you’d have reacted the same way to, say, a soundtrack full of Fiona Apple, Clay Aiken, Kelly Preston and Alanis Morrisette?

    (The Evanescence thing bothers me, too. But then, so did that gawd-awful Annie Lennox song at the end of Return of the King…)

    And more, my statement was in reaction to the film’s marketing efforts, which taint the integrity of their project

    But that’s what marketing DOES. All marketing.

    by accepting work that is less-than-excellent, more religion-oriented than art-oriented,

    Subjective evaluations, even if I happen to agree with them. The same accusations have been leveled against the Narnia books by more than one critic.

    Further, it’s a reaction against the trend, which parts ways from the idea of a pop-song-soundtrack that is in some way integral to the film, and puts the name of the film on a project that has little or nothing to do with it, merely for the sake of advertising.

    Well, it came across as CCM-bashing.

    How would you feel to see “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” emblazoned on some pro wrestler’s tights?

    Oh, is that what they mean by “wardrobe”?

  • Susan Peterson

    If this music is what one hears on “Christian” radio shows-UGH!
    They even ruin good old rock solid Christian hymns with breathy syncopation, over lush scoring, hyperemotionalism.

    The music should be good music.Mostly, I think, it should be classical music, Bach, Mozart.
    There might be some other music worthy of Narnia but I can’t think of what it might be.
    Susan Peterson

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>But there is a place for it.

    Of course there is. My post was not a blanket condemnation of all CCM, everywhere, everytime.

    My statement was in reaction to yet another example of Christian pop groups ready to jump at the first blatantly commercial opportunity. And more, my statement was in reaction to the film’s marketing efforts, which taint the integrity of their project by accepting work that is less-than-excellent, more religion-oriented than art-oriented, merely to throw fuel on the fire of a hype machine and make more money.

    Further, it’s a reaction against the trend, which parts ways from the idea of a pop-song-soundtrack that is in some way integral to the film, and puts the name of the film on a project that has little or nothing to do with it, merely for the sake of advertising.

    How would you feel to see “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” emblazoned on some pro wrestler’s tights? I can’t wait to see the Aslan NASCAR vehicle.

  • Martin

    I dearly hope the CCM songs aren’t used IN THE FILM. That would drag the project down. But if they’re just on a CD being used to push the film to CCM fans, I don’t mind a bit. Along with BethR, I’ll just ignore it. If the soundtrack brings CCM fans to see a film that treats spiritual themes with depth, beauty, and excellence — if they see the film and say to themselves, “Hey, there’s more to artistic expression of faith than cheesy pop music” — then it’s done its job.

    Like Jeffrey, I can’t stand most of what I see in CCM, and I’m embarrassed by a good chunk of the stuff I used to listen to. But there is a place for it. It may appeal only to people at certain levels of spiritual, psychological, and aesthetic development, but why deny it to those people? I would like to think I’m more mature now than when I listened to a lot of CCM, but maybe I had to go through that stage to get to where I am now.

    Again regarding Until the End of the World, my point is merely that a pop soundtrack can be enjoyed as a work in itself, even by someone who hasn’t seen the film.

  • Moochie

    Also, The Passion of the Christ had 3 STs released for it: one by Christian artists, one of songs chosen by Mel Gibson that he got inspiration from for the film, & the actual films soundtrack. Seems as if Disney’s only following that strategy.

  • Moochie

    The ST for Until the End of the World was created specifically with the film in mind. Director Wim Wenders requested that the artists contributing songs would create them as if it were 2010, the year (if I remember right) the film takes place. The artists really took that to heart & the result was astonishing. IMO, it stands as one of the finest pop music STs.

    I’m very disappointed that Evanescence is still slated to contribute the end-of-film song. That will be jarring at best; not to mention inappropriate. At least the songs used by Peter Jackson were collaborations with Howard Shore, the trilogy’s composer. Musical themes used in the rest of the ST were incorporated into the pop song to create a unity not found in most film STs so the transitions to the pop song were smoother & more effective. Not to mention that the songs were written by the film’s writers & 2 were from the POV of characters! I’m not sure Evanescence (is that really how they spell it?) can contribute that same depth to the Narnia film. But I am sure I’ll leave before the credits are over.

  • Anonymous

    Can you imagine what it would have been like if each Lord of the Rings movie had been accompanied by a cd with songs by Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Carman?

    Could be even worse. Before we actually saw the first LOTR, we were having nightmares that it’d be scored with a trendy (i.e. RAP) soundtrack. HOBBIT GANGSTAAAAAA!

    But Narnia with happy-clappy CCM? I think I’d rather have Aslan Rap. (But then, when I read The Silver Chair, I kept hearing that children’s choir in Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in The Wall” during the opening and closing frames.)

  • Anonymous

    CCM is a cancer on modern culture, and has no place in such a work as Narnia, period. To think otherwise is to show your lack of cultcha, don’t ya know?

  • Glenn

    Jeff,
    First time commment. I read your blog every day, believe it or not :-) Unfortunate that the first time I post is to disagree with you. Generally, I find your blog entertaining, enlightening, and some good ole’ food for thought. This time, however, I think you’ve erred on the comfortable and safe side of “bash the CCM crowd” line of thinking.
    I’m with you. I think marketing LLW as something in some way associated with the evangelical Christian community is putting Aslan, and God for that matter, in a tiny little box. However, I took issue with this quote:
    “It’s like they’ve taken this glorious, mystefying, all-powerful lion and decided to celebrate him by tethering him to preachy, mediocre merchandise. Poor Aslan. Always being tied back down.”
    I don’t plan on buying the album. However, I think to dismiss it as “preachy, mediocre merchandise” is a little snobbish. It’s not alt-folk, alt-country, it doesn’t have Bruce Cockburn or Over The Rhine on it, but judging from the 30-45 second snippets I’ve sampled, it’s not how you described it, either. Jars of Clay left the CCM label behind a long time ago, and has been making relevant, cutting-edge modern pop-folk hybrid for many years now. Delirious is another modern pop-rock band with clout. Nichole Nordeman, I have the feeling, is exactly the kind of artist the Inklings would appreciate – she wears her heart on her sleeve and asks provocative questions. Okay, you got me at Rebecca St. James and Tobymac. It ain’t Grammy-worthy, but it’s not total tripe either, and I wanted to tell you my thoughts.
    I’m curious to hear what sort of music, stylistically, would fit the Narnia world, in your opinion.
    I agree that at first, this smacked of “Prince of Egpt” and that was a fiasco. I think it’s somehow different though. True, Lewis didn’t want to be tied down with his books, either, but they are what they are. A whole bunch of Christians over the years have drawn inspiration, hope, and a clearer view of both this world and the next from Lewis. And they’re not all that ambiguous or vague in their prose, either. A band like Evanescence which vaguely touches on Christian themes, but might also be touching on a dozen or so other religions in their lyrics too, just won’t cut it for Lewis. Grace is all over his works.
    Sorry for writing so long. I guess we’re on opposite sides of the fence on this one. But I appreciate your insights.

  • Martin

    But if the idea of a pop-song soundtrack is, as you say, “jarringly dissonant with the whole Narnia world”; “frivolous”; a “hype-powered bandwagon” — then the fact that the songs aren’t any good cannot “drag the whole thing down.” It’s already down.

    And I don’t see how a good U2 song “elevates” Batman Forever — can you find me a review of the film where the critic says, “I was ready to write this film off, but then I heard the U2 song”? The song might elevate the soundtrack, but saying it elevates the film is a bit of a reach.

    I guess I’m disappointed that there won’t be a collection of thoughtful songs by my favorite songwriters associated with the film, but I wasn’t really expecting one. Songwriters I respect getting songs onto film soundtracks seems to be the exception, not the rule. Which is why Until the End of the World is such an exceptional soundtrack, I guess. (I really should see the film sometime.)

    As for ghettos, it could well be that the music industry is nothing more than a series of ghettos. Those of us who abide in the Ghetto where Taste and Artistic Merit are Encouraged and Respected may despise the inhabitants of the Other Ghettos, but They probably despise Us equally.

    When we call for the dismantling of the Christian-music ghetto, do we ever stop to consider which artists in that ghetto would survive the dismantling? Why, it would no doubt be the most commercially successful ones … the ones who are already making bland, positive pop music for Christians.

    In other words, it would be the artists who are on this soundtrack. They’d just go on making bland, positive pop music and not say “Jesus” as often.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    News flash: Pop-song soundtracks are jarringly dissonant with the whole Narnia world.

    Moreover, Christian pop bands who “step into the mainstream” on a frivolous, propagandistic, pop-song release … with songs that perpetuate the shallow Christian-ese lyrics of CCM … are not improving anything. I saw the lyrics to one of the songs yesterday, and it looked like one of those songs-written-by-a-CCM-committee songs.

    Furthermore, the pop-song soundtrack of “Until the End of the World” was entirely suited to the film, the songs were actually in the film, and they fit in with the pop-culture journey of that film’s narrative.

    I would flinch if singer/songwriters I respected jumped on this hype-powered bandwagon, unless they crafted a song that proved a worthy compliment to the project both in substance and in style.

    When U2 contributes a song to the Batman Forever soundtrack, that’s embarrassing, but what do you know… the song turns out so good that it actually ELEVATES the whole ridiculous Batman project. When a forgettable Christian pop band participates on an official soundtrack to C.S. Lewis’s beloved fairy tale, that drags the whole thing down.

    I don’t think Christian musicians should are getting out of the ghetto by doing this… unless you count climbing into another commercial ghetto progress.

  • Martin

    News flash: Only the Artists Jeffrey Likes are allowed to write songs about Narnia!

    C’mon, man. We keep saying musicians-who-are-Christians should step out of the ghetto into the “real” marketplace. The artists involved with this soundtrack are getting the chance to do just that. So it seems a little petulant to dismiss the project just because you don’t happen to approve of the artists in question.

    I have always believed pop soundtracks like this are completely tangential to the film, anyway. I bought the soundtracks for Until the End of the World, Pret a Porter, and Pump Up the Volume for the T Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips and Chagall Guevara songs on them, not because I liked the films. I’ve never even seen those films.

  • BethR

    Ew. (Words can’t express my horror.)

    I’m just going to ignore this development and hope that everyone else will too.

  • Anonymous

    A few months ago you posted on Bono’s occasionally bawdy behaviour and the consternation it caused among Christians who had been trying to iconify him. Lewis was the same way, but his death has sadly put him within range of their whitewash.

    I wish they would just go home and get their goddamn hands off my books.

  • TheMightyQuinn

    Good post.
    I think you have expressed what my gut feeling was telling me when I sampled the first Narnia Soundtrack. It saddens me as well.


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