Chattaway & Greydanus weigh in on Narnia. And I get on the radio in SC.

UPDATE: Welcome to the Narnia Smackdown, a post that has provoked some of the most interesting comment-exchanges in this blog’s little history.

It begins with the soon-to-be-father of twins, Peter T. Chattway, and his review of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, here.

Then, it continues as Steven D. Greydanus (gotta love those middle initials! Golly, I need one!) turns in what he calls “the most blistering B-plus review ever.”

My review of the film was first published at Christianity Today Movies, then published in an expanded version at Looking Closer, and then I wrote yet another review of the film for Seattle Pacific’s Response magazine, along with an interview with Walden Media President Micheal Flaherty.

This has led to some spirited responses, involving Barbara Nicolosi of Act One: Writing for Hollywood and blogger; the eloquent Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films; and Peter T. Chattaway of Christianity Today Movies, Canadian Christianity, and FilmChat.

*****

Meanwhile, if you live in Columbia, South Carolina, I hope you tuned in to Steve Sunshine on WHMK this morning to hear my radio interview about the film. You had the rare pleasure of hearing me speak with laryngitis. All I need is the southern accent, and I could quit my job and hit the road as a Johnny Cash inpersonator! I hear I sound much sexier with laryngitis, a fact that makes me first in line for every cold-virus that comes through town…

  • Facebook
  • Why

    Millions, The Return?

  • Denny Wayman

    The Ice Storm?

  • etpetra

    Secretary?

  • Michael Knepher

    Garden State?

  • Jason Cheung

    Splash

  • Anders

    Trainspotting?

  • CJ

    Rushmore

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    All good guesses.

    And, alas, all wrong.

    The closest guess so far is “The Graduate.” The film in question is closest to that film (out of these guesses) in nature…

  • Why

    Howel’s Moving Castle?

  • Mike Harris-Stone

    Cold Mountain?

  • Anonymous

    Three Colours: Blue? :D

  • jonathan

    Jaws 1,2, or 3?

  • chris

    A.I.?

  • Mark Stewart

    Finding Nemo?

  • Anders

    Brazil?

  • Danny

    The Abyss?

  • Phill Lytle

    The Fellowship of the Ring

  • Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer

    Open Waters?

    Into the Blue?

  • Thom

    The Graduate?

  • Denny Wayman

    Snow falling on cedars

  • Tim Frankovich

    Oh, and JEFFREY! – I’ve tried emailing you a couple of times over the last few weeks at your website, but I keep getting told your mailbox has exceeded its quota…

  • Tim Frankovich

    Thanks for the stimulating read, guys. This was a great discussion and I enjoyed reading almost all of it.

    The biggest differences for me between the LOTR movies and the LWW movie is: LOTR was immensely meaningful to me. LWW was immensely meaningful to my 7-year-old daughter. Whenever I consciously brought myself down to her level on the second viewing, I got a lot more out of it (though I do agree with a lot of the above complaints about too much “realism”).

  • Anonymous

    The criticisms of the Narnia film over against the LOTR films are not really of the films, when all is said and done. They are criticisms of the stories. Narnia does a much more faithful job of telling Lewis’s story than Jackson did telling Tolkien’s, as much as I like Jackson’s movies. I nearly wept as I watched LWW, because what I loved as a kid–the book–was brought to life on screen very much as I had always dreamed it. And it was quite faithful to the “themes” of the book. Jackson, by contrast, despite the brilliance of the cinematography, changed the fundamental meanings of the story, when compared to what Tolkien himself said about his trilogy. The departures from teh book were more to be expected in LotR, simply because of the length adn scope of the books. But Jackson added in things that told a different story from what Tolkien told. The bunch that did LWW told Lewis’s.

  • Fortunato

    Funny. Love the dialogue among everyone, it’s a rather nifty idea just to see where the opinions really differ — and to bring to light anything overlooked in the original reviews.

    My impressions of Lord of the Rings.

    I’m a Tolkien buff (I love the architecture of his mythology) but found the movies had changed too much of Tolkien’s own assumptions, throwing the models out of whack.

    (Sort of like knocking over a delicately balanced artistic mobile. You just can’t start changing things wantonly, because it impacts EVERYTHING in the story.)

    This resulted in my liking the first movie (because it was most true to the mood and architecture) but ultimately ruining the last two installments for me.

    Despite some excellent parts (I think Gollum/Smeagol was handled wonderfully, Arwen worked as a chracter, and the Faramir/Osgoliath scene in III was inspired), I have only been able to watch LotR II twice and LotR 1.5 times.

    Besides being offended by the violation of Faramir’s character as well as the reduction of Shelob to a (ho-hum) mindless arachnoid rather than the embodiment of evil, I am utterly BORED with them.

    They hold no interest for me, for they contribute little to Tolkien’s original ideas and actually diminish some of the best things in his work.

    The graphics and special effects DROVE much of the movie. (The entire Balrog fight is simply one large Doom simulation.)

    And Jackson’s tendency to remind us all of his “schlock horror” roots even when such devices don’t serve the story is damaging to his overall tale, even on his own terms.

    I think many people with no knowledge of Tolkien could take the movies for what they were. But I found them less than inspiring — and most of the positive comments I heard were on the special effects, rather than feeling inspired by characters to change one’s life.

    I think much of the “inspiration” is just spillover from those who have read the novels.

    Ironically, I loved King Kong. Despite again Jackson’s breaking of mood with his jarring “horror” scenes (such as the natives’ appearance), he actually took the original story and added depth to it.

    The strength of the original was its themes — the misunderstood monster, the beautiful maiden, the “love” that was going to end tragically and could never be. Otherwise it was barely a skeleton, so Jackson could add whatever he wanted without violating the spirt of the original.

    He took those themes and truly made them resonate. Movies rarely make me weep, but I did so a number of times, and WAS inspired by Kong’s loyalty and courage, as well as Anne’s nobility and compassion.

    Starting from scratch, then, I think Jackson can be evocative. He simply swerves at times into visual diversions or overemphasizes certain points that devalue the overall story.

    I think he can handle theme well, and even handles logical ramifications well.

  • noneuclidean

    I wrote about the sublime (the absent thereof in hte movie) and Aslan at my blog. Please come check it out.

  • Axeman

    Er, I loved the line, “It is Finished”.

    I choked up at that one…

  • Anonymous

    No, I’m not saying Lewis doesn’t have a monopoly on the characters. I’m saying that you don’t have a monopoly on how they should act, what defines humanity, etc.

    Lewis doesn’t write them as skeptical of the journey and their destiny as the movie paints them, with the exception of Susan. And actually, to think of it, Lucy was all for the thing, so that leaves only Peter that has the reluctance of putting his family in danger.

    I think that the movie was really trying to develop Peter’s character, and I didn’t think they went too far in showing that he was a very protective brother, not one to put his family into danger, not that he was skeptical of Aslan (but I do think that if they had just put that one line in there about how Peter would like to see Aslan that would have explained things better) but they did have a general sense of “We’re not heroes, we’re from Finchley”, that wasn’t really there too much in the book.

    But I don’t mind that, I can live with that, they came around in the end. Maybe a little scene here or there about how they came to love Narnia, but oh well. I guess that scene where they are all around the camp fire pit is supposed to explain all that, about how they all wanted to help save Narnia.

    You obviously don’t like it much, but I thought it was a magnificent film. A little realism was put into there in the beginning and they kind of expanded on that more than Lewis did, about kids suddenly finding themselves in a fantasy world, and believing it. But it wasn’t overplayed in my opinion.

    I thought it was great. It just shows you how different people can think about an issue. Who is right? Well, I guess we’ll have to ask Lewis that when we get up there huh? :)

  • Peter T Chattaway

    This is your opinion.

    Of course it is, otherwise I would not express it. The question before us is not whether it is mine, but whether it is right. I hold to this opinion because I believe it is right; I do not hold that it is right because it is mine.

    What is the ‘theology’ behind them? Their ‘conspicuous speechlessness’? Please.

    Actually, I was thinking primarily of Aslan, there. But FWIW, the “conspicuous speechlessness” of the children only makes sense in the light of a proper understanding of who and what Aslan is. And this film does not have anything close to the proper understanding.

    If Lewis had wanted these kids to be perfect, why wouldn’t he make them perfect in other books?

    What a silly question. No one has said that Lewis wanted to make the children “perfect”. If you must argue, please argue against actual points that people are making here, and not against phantoms.

    But still, you don’t have a monopoly on the characters. The fact is they were children, human children, and they had their foibles.

    Well, by the same token, you do not have a monopoly on humanity. So what we must do first and foremost, obviously, is pay attention to how the authors of these stories define humanity, rather than insist on reading them through our own definitions. (BTW, are you saying that Lewis himself does not have a monopoly on these characters?)

    They certainly developed the charcters more than Lewis did in LWW, and if you were to make a film based only on what he wrote, it would be pretty dull. A little imagination is needed.

    Funny, then, that this movie is still pretty dull.

    Some of the cheesiest moments I have seen on film . . . Legolas sliding down the stairs on a shield . . .

    Yes, I have always said that, if I could take only one moment out of The Two Towers, it would be that one. But, one moment out of over three hours isn’t too bad.

    I loved the first movie, and the third one was the second-best, but the second was a bit of a letdown.

    I like each film on its own, more or less, but yeah, seeing all three together on “trilogy Tuesday” (the day before The Return of the King came out) really emphasized for me that The Two Towers is easily the weakest of the films.

  • Anonymous

    I think that’s totally nitpicky. :) I thought that the ‘callback’ lines were charming and very well done, they weren’t cheesy lines at all to me.

    I noticed that some of you that dislike this movie are comparing it unfavorably to LOTR. And I have noticed that some of the critics of this film are saying that the people who like it so much are just biased and are blinded by the book.

    Some of you are also saying that LWW has cheesy lines and unneeded changes, and that Jackson had ‘vision’ and Adamson did not.

    Some of the cheesiest moments I have seen on film have come directly from yours truly…Legolas sliding down the stairs on a shield, with the wrong choice of music as well, Legolas mounting the horse with one arm with the horse at a dead run, Legolas climbing the ropes of the elephant, killing it, and then sliding down the trunk to come to a prim little stop, Sam’s story telling at the end of TTT, Legolas’ info-mercials on the run, etc.

    The first movie was great, but the other two had a few moments that were just cringe-worthy.

    I love LOTR, believe me, I’ve watched FOTR more than sixteen times and I’ve read the books more than 3 times all the way through at least, with countless hours of mid-book reading. But for some on here to criticize LWW for some of the same things that are so glaringly obvious in LOTR in my opinion, is laughable.

    They may not have the callback lines that LWW has, but they have plenty of lines and instances that are just poor. They are great movies, no question, but they have foibles too. I loved the first movie, and the third one was the second-best, but the second was a bit of a letdown.

    The battle with the wargs was good all the way until Aragorn got dragged off the cliff in a totally unnecessary ploy to get Arwen into the story.

    I just can’t believe some of the criticisms of LWW and the support of LOTR here. I think FOTR and LWW are on an equal level, and I think LWW stands a tad above TTT and the smallest speck above ROTK. I love both books and their respective renditions, but objectively looking at LOTR, they have a number of cheesy, poorly done, unnecessary changes and lines as well.

  • Anonymous

    I find it interesting to read these posts. I went into LWW with high expectations and came out disappointed. That said, I still would give it a 3.5. One of the most disappointing things to me was the lack of building up the character of Aslan (but enough has been said about that).
    I find it interesting that with the talk about cutesy/new lines, no one has mentioned the few that were glaringly obvious and annoying to me. The first was when Mr. Beaver called Aslan “the top geezer.” Susan saying “thanks” was also annoying, considering that she is so prim and proper (as well as being a girl from the ’40s who wouldn’t say that!). There was another instance, but it seems to have escaped my mind! Sorry, but what are your opinions on these?

  • Anonymous

    This argument is wrapping up quickly. Obviously, you’ve seen it twice and don’t like it, and that’s, of course, fine. But still, you don’t have a monopoly on the characters. The fact is they were children, human children, and they had their foibles.

    They certainly developed the charcters more than Lewis did in LWW, and if you were to make a film based only on what he wrote, it would be pretty dull. A little imagination is needed.

    Obviously, you don’t like the development. I do, I think it’s wholly more realistic (in a GOOD way, in my opinion, not in a way that compromises what Lewis was writing) and believable approach than making them perfect little daisies.

  • Anonymous

    “But I do not like the way the film completely misunderstands the characters, and the theology behind them.”

    This is your opinion. What is the ‘theology’ behind them? Their ‘conspicuous speechlessness’? Please.

    If Lewis had wanted these kids to be perfect, why wouldn’t he make them perfect in other books? This is not an attempt at changing the subject and ignoring LWW, the movie and book we are talking about, but rather a question concerning the very same characters.

    If the theology behind these characters is perfect behavior, never doubtful, never skeptical about anything, never bickering, etc., then either the characters changed substantially, or this was not the theology, in my mind.

    What is this ‘theology’ you speak of?

  • Peter T Chattaway

    I think that you have a thing against this movie and you will absolutely not see any good in it.

    If that were true, I would not have pointed out some of the film’s good qualities in my reviews — or, for that matter, in this thread. But I have.

    It doesn’t have to be a visual book–the idea of a movie is to create the same images as are in the book, yes, but also to put the same themes that are in the book, in the movie. This cannot be accomplished by filming a word for word film, especially in this case.

    Never said it should be a word-for-word film. I actually like a few of the changes. But I do not like the way the film completely misunderstands the characters, and the theology behind them.

    When you say that Aslan lost his temper, it seems to me that you are not looking at the actual scene in and of itself to decide whether or not he lost his temper, but rather are comparing it to the book and from his reaction in there, you dedude that this was a loss of control by Aslan.

    Dude, Aslan does show less control over his emotions in the film compared to the Witch. This is an objective fact. If you can’t see that, you aren’t watching the film. And it also happens to be the complete opposite of the dynamic between those two characters in the book. This, too, is an objective fact. But the comparison between the film and the book is the secondary fact; the primary fact remains the dynamic portrayed in the film.

    I’d give the movie another try, though. But that’s just me as well.

    It’s been two weeks since I saw the film a second time. Are you saying I should see it a third?

  • Anonymous

    I think that you have a thing against this movie and you will absolutely not see any good in it.

    It doesn’t have to be a visual book–the idea of a movie is to create the same images as are in the book, yes, but also to put the same themes that are in the book, in the movie. This cannot be accomplished by filming a word for word film, especially in this case.

    When you say that Aslan lost his temper, it seems to me that you are not looking at the actual scene in and of itself to decide whether or not he lost his temper, but rather are comparing it to the book and from his reaction in there, you dedude that this was a loss of control by Aslan.

    That’s faulty logic. The big point, to me, is whether in this scene, where he is obviously God in the parallel, he lost his temper. Not whether his reaction or choice of words differed from those in the book.

    “Yes, and I happen to think that a so-called “realistic” approach to Narnia is absolutely wrong and out-of-step with the books themselves. That has been my point all along.”

    I don’t mind a little realistic behavior from the kids. I don’t think Lewis intended them to be perfect, as evidenced by other books, but that’s just my opinion.

    I’d give the movie another try, though. But that’s just me as well.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Are you talking of Lewis or of Wright?

    Lewis, since he is the artist and Wright is the art critic, as it were. But now that you mention it, the same principle applies to both.

    My point was, again, that it seemed you had singled this person out as an authority on this subject and used what she wrote as some sort of a rebuttal for my opinion.

    No, I did not commit the logical fallacy of the appeal to authority. So if that was your point, then you are wrong. (Or, rather, while no one can dispute that something might “seem” a certain way to you, we can certainly point out that the way things “seem” to you and the way things actually are are very different.)

    My point was, just because someone wrote an important essay on a subject doesn’t make them right.

    As I said, if that is your point, then it is beside the point.

    But that’s another discussion.

    That is indeed. So much so that I am wondering why you are trying to have that other discussion.

    Not insofar as what he wrote can be interpreted to such an extent that the author’s intentions must be considered, if possible.

    Your grammar is unclear to me here, but I will freely agree that the author’s intentions must be considered when they make a difference to the argument at hand. There are times, however, when the author’s intentions — however they may be discerned — don’t make a difference.

    My point was that some here were saying he was not unsure of himself or doubtful in LWW, and yet in PC he was. Obviously then the capacity to be unsure or skeptical was there.

    Well, we are discussing LWW here, not PC. Have you really never, ever, ever seen a sequel make substantial changes to the characters that have been carried over from the earlier installments?

    Lost his temper? Lost his temper? I have to disagree on that.

    Then, at a minimum, you have not compared the film’s version of that scene to the book’s version of that scene.

    Yes, and I happen to think that a human that is sometimes doubtful and unsure of himself at 14 is quote normal and far more realistic than one who is not.

    Yes, and I happen to think that a so-called “realistic” approach to Narnia is absolutely wrong and out-of-step with the books themselves. That has been my point all along.

  • Anonymous

    “If that was your point, then it is utterly beside the point. We are discussing the work of art itself, not the artist — except insofar as our knowledge of the artist may or may not shed light on the art.”

    Are you talking of Lewis or of Wright? My point was, again, that it seemed you had singled this person out as an authority on this subject and used what she wrote as some sort of a rebuttal for my opinion. My point was, just because someone wrote an important essay on a subject doesn’t make them right.

    “Yes, I am quite happy to give credit to people who have found better ways than I have to express ideas that are common to us both. In this case, Jenn was simply articulating something that had occurred to me long ago, but in a different form.”

    Well, whatever. That still doesn’t make the case for telling someone else they are wrong, simply because a person wrote an essay. But that’s another discussion.

    “What Lewis intended is ultimately less important than what he actually wrote. And some opinions are, indeed, better than others.”

    Not insofar as what he wrote can be interpreted to such an extent that the author’s intentions must be considered, if possible. In this cae, we don’t know what his intentions were.

    By that logic, we might say that Narnia is the same from book to book. But I don’t think this is the case — I think the books reflect a significant evolution in how Lewis perceived his created world.

    No, you can’t. If LWW and PC had taken place ten years apart in Peter’s life, then we might consider this potential problem. However, only one year took place. My point was that some here were saying he was not unsure of himself or doubtful in LWW, and yet in PC he was. Obviously then the capacity to be unsure or skeptical was there.

    “Examples of how the movie’s Aslan lacks divine flawlessness and perfection and strength of character? I’m sure many examples have already been pointed out in this thread, such as the way he loses his temper while the Witch remains cool and calm.”

    Lost his temper? Lost his temper? I have to disagree on that.

    “No one disagrees that Peter is human. What we apparently disagree on is the definition of “human” itself. That’s where “little points” like, oh, the ways in which characters express their humanity come into play.”

    Yes, and I happen to think that a human that is sometimes doubtful and unsure of himself at 14 is quote normal and far more realistic than one who is not.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Anonymous wrote:

    The point was, just because she writes about Lewis doesn’t mean she is Lewis.

    If that was your point, then it is utterly beside the point. We are discussing the work of art itself, not the artist — except insofar as our knowledge of the artist may or may not shed light on the art.

    You cited someone elses opinion, and perhaps it is right, instead of your own to find something wrong with how the kids were portrayed.

    Yes, I am quite happy to give credit to people who have found better ways than I have to express ideas that are common to us both. In this case, Jenn was simply articulating something that had occurred to me long ago, but in a different form.

    She mentions silence. What if Lewis didn’t intend this at all? It’s just an opinion.

    What Lewis intended is ultimately less important than what he actually wrote. And some opinions are, indeed, better than others.

    I mentioned Prince Caspian because I don’t think Peter changed suddenly, it’s still the same character–whether Lewis had this story in mind after he wrote LWW is quite irrelevant.

    By that logic, we might say that Narnia is the same from book to book. But I don’t think this is the case — I think the books reflect a significant evolution in how Lewis perceived his created world.

    You’re taking little points in my post and disputing those, without taking up the major point of it all–the FACT that Peter is human.

    No one disagrees that Peter is human. What we apparently disagree on is the definition of “human” itself. That’s where “little points” like, oh, the ways in which characters express their humanity come into play.

    Alright, I checked a bit and didn’t find any real examples of ‘doubt’ and ‘skeptiscism’, so I concede that argument for now. :)

    Aha!

    Examples please.

    Examples of how the movie’s Aslan lacks divine flawlessness and perfection and strength of character? I’m sure many examples have already been pointed out in this thread, such as the way he loses his temper while the Witch remains cool and calm.

    J. M. Richards wrote:

    I maintain that Lewis’ and Tolkein’s works were very different from each other, though in the same genre, both series have a very different feel to them. So why should we compare movie adaptations?

    Well, partly because one movie apes the other in certain ways. If movies are different from books, it follows that a movie based on one book may be similar to another movie that is based on a book that was actually rather different.

  • J. M. Richards

    I maintain that Lewis’ and Tolkein’s works were very different from each other, though in the same genre, both series have a very different feel to them. So why should we compare movie adaptations? It isn’t quite fair. The temptation to do so is obvious, of course; but they are completely different. You can’t contrast them without keeping this in mind.

  • Anonymous

    A passage from G.K. Chesterton, posted as a response to certain blog comments in this thread. If you don’t understand how it relates, I recommend you just ignore it. But for those who understand that a little Chesterton is always a good thing, here you go….

    Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

    The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. Or, to speak more strictly, the insane explanation, if not conclusive, is at least unanswerable; this may be observed specially in the two or three commonest kinds of madness. If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s.

    Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace his error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. A bullet is quite as round as the world, but it is not the world. There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; you may see it in many modern religions. Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable MARK of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction. The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t say it was her writing ability–I don’t care if she’s a scholar or a kid. The point was, just because she writes about Lewis doesn’t mean she is Lewis. You cited someone elses opinion, and perhaps it is right, instead of your own to find something wrong with how the kids were portrayed.

    She mentions silence. What if Lewis didn’t intend this at all? It’s just an opinion.

    I mentioned Prince Caspian because I don’t think Peter changed suddenly, it’s still the same character–whether Lewis had this story in mind after he wrote LWW is quite irrelevant. My point was the character, not when or whether this story was planned at the time.

    You’re taking little points in my post and disputing those, without taking up the major point of it all–the FACT that Peter is human.

    How he would have acted isn’t entirely spelled out. I think that a good portion of the character development–development in an amount sufficient for a movie–is left to you, what you imagine. He doesn’t describe too much.

    But the underlying fact is that Peter is human.

    Alright, I checked a bit and didn’t find any real examples of ‘doubt’ and ‘skeptiscism’, so I concede that argument for now. :)

    Still, I like what they did in the movie and don’t mind the change much. I think it’s a little more realistic–if Lewis had written the stories with the children always so trusting just incidentally. He was probably attempting to teach us something with their silence, but the movie version teaches to to learn to trust as well in its own way, so for me it’s not too bad.

    “I never said it was those things. Although I do think Aslan, at least, should reflect those qualities (and alas, the movie version of Aslan does not particularly exhibit those qualities)”

    Examples please.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Just because someone wrote an essay doesn’t mean they are some mind-reader of Lewis’s does it?

    True, it is Jenn’s reading ability — i.e. her ability to see what Lewis actually wrote — rather than her writing ability that makes her points as valid as they are.

    No. The children in the Narnia story are not always silent “whenever” Aslan tells them things.

    Please cite examples from Lewis’s book in which they do express doubt, skepticism, etc., etc., then.

    Look at Prince Caspian.

    No, that is a different book. Lewis had no idea he was going to write any sequels when he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — a fact that is quite obvious from within the books themselves — so I don’t think an argument about the content of this book can necessarily rely in any way on the contents of those books.

    Why would Lewis write a story that humans can not learn from.

    I’m not sure that’s a relevant question. We are discussing what Lewis actually did, not why he did it.

    True strength of character is not perfection, it’s not flawlessness.

    I never said it was those things. Although I do think Aslan, at least, should reflect those qualities (and alas, the movie version of Aslan does not particularly exhibit those qualities).

    Then it’s little more than entertainment . . .

    As far as I can tell, the movie in its current form is already “little more than entertainment”. Certainly it doesn’t “inspire” me in any of the ways that you say movies should inspire people.

    Rick B Jensen said:
    . . . btw, I also saw the parallels in the bombing scene and the great battle – it even seemed like there was a mirror image between the bombs falling and the rocks falling.

    Yes indeed. But to what end? The lack of any particular meaning to that visual parallel is my main beef with it.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I think that what happened was the director and everyone made the book–so if you’re a Christian and you see the parallels in the Narnia books, then you’ll see it in the movie. If you’re not, and you enjoy the story, you’ll enjoy the movie.

    I think it’s a magnificent film, anyway. I guess we’ll see how Mr. Chattaway responds. :)

  • Rick B Jensen

    Wow – OK, I doubt I can add much to this conversation, but I feel compelled to expose myself as a fool. So here goes:

    I think the best place to start is with the script writers and director – what is their world view? If they are not Christians, I have a feeling their approach to this would be much like it is rather than someone who ‘gets’ the deeper theological issues Lewis is writing on. For instance: if I was a pagan, I would read this as a nice kids book with 4 kids, a magical lion, a mean witch, and a bunch of talking animals. There’s some good morality in there about family values, leadership, betrayal and consequences, and some nice talk about sacrifice. So lets adapt it for the screen…

    OK, main character(s) – well, it’s obviously the children, who else? They are the ones that cause the excitement, and Aslan is there because they are there (remember, I’ve got no knowledge of Christian Theology).

    Peter, the great high king – OK, not much depth there, what can we do to develop him? Who is he? Well, the ‘head’ of the family at 12, confused as to what it is to be a man, as the only one he’s knows is in a uniform off somewhere fighting a war. Someone gives him a chance to fight a war, but it’s not the ‘war’ as he knows it (remember the bombers?). He also sees it as going against what he promised his mum (as others have noted).

    Edmund: OK, here we have an interesting character – betrayal, leading to a sense of honor. Why did he betray? Well, it’s probably his circumstances, since we’re not really all bad, just confused and messed up sometimes (remember I’m a pagan). Why is he bad? OK, it’s gotta be the war-induced stress on the family – he’s a middle child, driven by a love for his dad, picked on by others, and he’s got no place to put his frustrations and no one to help him work through it.

    Susan; geez, who is this girl? She’s not necessary for the story, she’s given a bow and arrow but told not to use it, what’s the point? How can she contribute to the story? She’s a little mom, of course, trying to keep everyone safe; and of course the skeptic of it all as well, since you really need one of those. And geez, let her use the bow and arrow!

    Lucy: more than your cute girl for the movie, since much of it revolves around her. No character development, but hey, she’s 6.

    The Professor: weird old guy in the house who’s obviously been there before. Setup by the housekeeper as a scary old guy, but when Lucy sees him for the first time he looks so ridiculous and happy that she naturally feels safe.

    Aslan: the magic lion, who is wiser since he’s good, knows more magic than the witch does – so is not afraid to go and sacrifice himself. Possibly a bit like Obi-Wan, since when he comes back he may have more power than he did.

    See, I think the thing is, this is a great story, but at heart an allegory – if you take the allegory away, there is no deeper meaning to this than Harry Potter. If someone who reads this has no understanding of Christendom, they have no ‘grounding’ for understanding the story. At that point the story has no depth, and it becomes less of a great book and more of a sketch, an outline. All the great lines make no sense, because they all relate to Aslan as Christ. When taken from this perspective, all the choices the filmmaker made makes a lot more sense.

    BTW, I think this all makes the opening scene make a lot more sense. It sets the kids in their environment, builds the family dynamics quickly, introduces the tensions they’re under (and why they’re all picking on Edmund). It helps set Peter up as wanting to be a man, but shows that there is no one to confer manhood upon him. Each step he has to make a conscious decision about what he’s going to do (btw, I also saw the parallels in the bombing scene and the great battle – it even seemed like there was a mirror image between the bombs falling and the rocks falling. And yes, I do think Peter plans the battle.).

    So there it is – of course the movie is faithful to the book! It’s just a book about a magical lion and 4 kids. What else is there?

    As to the making of the movie, if you’re going to do it just for kids then make it a cartoon. If you want to appeal to adults, better give them something more to them (this is Disney, remember).

    p.s. I did remember to use my middle initial – do I get a prize? :)

  • Anonymous

    Just because someone wrote an essay doesn’t mean they are some mind-reader of Lewis’s does it?

    No. The children in the Narnia story are not always silent “whenever” Aslan tells them things. Speaking in the Christian vein, we must learn to trust the Lord…that isn’t always immediate. We humans can be very short-sighted people…and sometimes it is very hard to believe.

    It’s a struggle to be a good person, and it’s a struggle to do the right thing. No one is perfect on this earth, and I don’t think Lewis wanted the Pevensie children to be perfect either. Always and immediately trusting, always doing the right thing, always knowing what to do. They all had their flaws. They all got annoyed, they all did unfortunate things, they weren’t always trusting.

    Look at Prince Caspian. Peter in that story didn’t want to have to vote whether to go up the gorge or down, and Trumpkin had to remind him that he was the High King.

    Why would Lewis write a story that humans can not learn from. If the Pevensie children are too perfect in their relationship with Aslan, and we find that it’s not that easy in our world, what good will it do us for him to write those stories?

    True strength of character is not perfection, it’s not flawlessness. True strength of character is honesty, being able to ask forgiveness for mistakes you have made, forgiving others, doing your best, and on and on.

    If Narnia, the movie, does not have these truths in it, if it’s not something that we can relate to, draw inspiration from, and try to do better in our lives, then why did we just go watch a movie for 2 hours? What good did it do? Then it’s little more than entertainment because when we watch Peter and Edmund and Susan and Lucy, we see that we will never be as perfect as they are, we see that in a Christian sense, we don’t have that relationship of perfection with Christ, and we walk out of the theater not inspired to persevere and not inspired to try to do better, but instead doomed to despair as we realize that what we just saw, perfection, isn’t possible, nor is it realistic.

    Instead, we walk out understanding Peter’s struggle to be a leader and a man, and to trust, Edmund’s folly and then his redemption, Susan’s sensibility over belief, and Lucy’s honest and true wonderment and love for Aslan, with her own struggles.

    I can’t understand why Lewis would put Aslan in their as a parallel to Christ, and then put humans in there that none of us can relate to nor understand because they are perfect and we are not.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    If C.S. Lewis wanted to get the four kids to act in a way that kids in our own world would not act, why didn’t he make them inhuman? The point is they ARE human, which then means that they have faults, doubts, and flaws. . . . A story where the kids are so unrealistic that they can’t be related to, and we can’t then draw inspiration from them, is in my opinion a very poor story indeed. And certainly not what C.S. Lewis wrote.

    No, you’re wrong about that. Earlier today I read Jenn Wright’s essay on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in Two Roads through Narnia, and she goes into some detail about the “silence” of the Pevensie children — or what she calls their “conspicuous speechlessness” — namely, the way these otherwise inquisitive children who enjoy exploring old houses, etc., do not express skepticism or ask questions whenever Aslan spells out their future for them.

    Jenn writes:

    If all this silence is deliberate on Lewis’ part, we have to ask: what does it mean?

    In my world, I question everything. Like the toddler who learns that magic word WHY? and repeats it ad nauseum, I am seldom silent when God tells me anything. Why me? Why this way? What am I supposed to do with this? Are You sure You want me to do this? Isn’t there someone more qualified? Have You really forgiven me? The questions are incessant, and I rarely stop questioning long enough to hear an answer, should He offer one I might want to try to understand.

    But the Pevensies, by contrast, instinctively know what it means to trust the Almighty One, and to acknowledge that he knows best regardless of how things appear to be. They know how to accept responsibility as well as redemption, gifts as well as admonition, grace as well as truth: with silence.

    You may or may not be right that the film needed to make the characters more “realistic”. But you are absolutely wrong if you think that Lewis wrote his characters the same way the screenwriters wrote theirs.

    And I, for one, am tired of filmmakers always assuming that the way to portray “realistic” “humanity” is to emphasize flaws, doubts, neuroses, and so on. Honestly, watching the Narnia movie reminded me of watching The Last Temptation of Christ, on that level. This is what I’m getting at in my review when I say that the Narnia movie’s brand of “realism” leaves no room for true strength of character.

  • Anonymous

    I posted one comment above, and today saw the movie for the second time – our nine-year-old wanted to see it again, so I thought I’d chime in again.

    On the realism of Peter’s reaction – it may be plausible, but his in-movie reactions and reluctance are not what Lewis wrote and do a disservice to the movie as handled, as there’s no turning point where he decides he does care for Narnia. So his ‘for Narnia and Aslan’ cry rings false to me.

    I guess the point comes when the news comes of Aslan’s death, but I was watching for soemthing and couldn’t tell. (I blame the director)

    Had a new thought though, while considering the differences between the openings of the book (as I remember it) and the movie. In the book, the kids are thrilled with the place, looking forward to outdoor adventure and games, etc.. Narnia, in a way is an extension of that – more outdoor adventure and more serious, but I can see it as along the same continuum to the kids as presented by Lewis. Nor is there anything presented tying them back to England or their parents.

    Now, look at the movie. Lots of grounding in England, loving mother, missing Dad, new place to live not very welcoming, and so on. Even Professor Kirke’s recommendation that they act as a family. Their repeatedly expressed desire to return is well-grounded in the movie by all that. It’s even realistic, especially given all the above. But it makes a hash of the core of the story. Because Narnia for three of the kids becomes the home of their hearts. And I can’t see that happening in the movie as it is set up.

  • Anonymous

    No, I think you’re wrong about that. The fairy-tale was the fact that they go into a world where animals talk, not as in the humans act in a way that humans wouldn’t act.

    If C.S. Lewis wanted to get the four kids to act in a way that kids in our own world would not act, why didn’t he make them inhuman? The point is they ARE human, which then means that they have faults, doubts, and flaws.

    My point wasn’t that the film should be ‘realistic’ in the sense that the fantastic isn’t possible, but that Peter should act in a way that can be viewed as human, which he was.

    This isn’t Harry Potter. The kids are English humans who leave their home because of WW11, an actual, human, real, event. The fairy tale part starts with the wardrobe, not with the way the kids act, in my view.

    Peter is a 14 year old kid. He’s not all the sudden a knight in shining armour. A story where the kids are so unrealistic that they can’t be related to, and we can’t then draw inspiration from them, is in my opinion a very poor story indeed.

    And certainly not what C.S. Lewis wrote.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    There is no WAY that a realistic portrayal of Peter will be that he’s all for havihg them around for the battle, in which they could die. That’s not realistic at all in my opinion.

    Of course, the attempted “realism” of the Narnia movie is precisely what’s wrong with it.

    It’s a fairy tale, folks. Treating it “realistically” just misses the point, and makes the incredibly unrealistic bits that remain all the more glaring. (Like the fact that the children, who go on and on and on about wanting to go home for the bulk of the movie, suddenly forget all about that when they are coronated.)

  • Anonymous

    Barb’s criticism of a lack of theme in LOTR makes no sense to me. “the meek shall inherit” and “the last shall be first” is the substratum of the little hobbits’ odyssey. The theme is capped of perfectly in that moment when the royal court of Gondor kneels to the four hobbits. I don’t think that was in the book and if Jackson added it he deserves credit for the perfect artistic flourish.

  • Anonymous

    I find some of the comments about the way Peter is portrayed absolutely unbelievable.

    Picture yourself, in a fantasy world that suddenly appeared in a wardrobe, and with 3 younger siblings. There is no WAY that a realistic portrayal of Peter will be that he’s all for havihg them around for the battle, in which they could die. That’s not realistic at all in my opinion.

    Narnia, I think, is very much a book where Lewis leaves a general framework, and leaves the rest for each person to imagine.

    Example: Lewis spends about one and a half pages on the battle. In that battle Edmund is mortally wounded. Now, what is Peter’s reaction? Lewis doesn’t mention it. Instead, Peter speaks a paragraph to Aslan and says that they must go and see him.

    A more real, or a more imagined Peter, would probably involve him lifting heaven and earth to do whatever he can to get back at his attacker and help Edmund. Which is basically what you see in the film, but not what you read in the book.

    To imagine Peter as some sort of a guy that is a wuss or something, I don’t see how you guys get to that. It’s not him, it’s his family he’s looking out for. This isn’t some cute little story where they get to close the book. For them it’s real.

    No way is a responsible older brother who loves his siblings going to put their lives at risk and ‘accept their destiny’ right away, or even soon, in my mind.

    It’s great that everybody gets to sit at their computer and criticize the on-screen Peter, but I think they were trying to convey to us, the viewers, that for the kids it’s real and in my mind there’s just no way that Peter’s going to be this so-called ‘leader’ that leads his family into (what he originally thought was) unnecessary danger.

    I see Peter as a big-brother type of guy, not some “hey guys, cool, we get to be kings, let’s go fight a battle!” person.

    I think it’s important to remember that Narnia at many points really isn’t able to be put on film just as it is written, I don’t think. That doesn’t mean you butcher what’s there and make a film about Turkish delight being cheeseburgers, but it does mean that there are some major gaps.

  • tyledras

    Well, having plowed through this conversation (which I have immensely enjoyed) I have one small thing to throw in. I agree with a lot of the criticism and praises that are put forward here, but not on the opening sequence of LWW.

    The movie opens and we find ourselves in the cockpit of a german bomber, and (I so wish they had subtitled this conversation) the bomber starts griping about how it is so cloudy, its unbelievable. He’s having trouble seeing and identifying his targets. I think this is deliberately setting up an image with Edmund.

    Edmund deliberately sets out to be hurtful toward Lucy, and when he falls through the wardrobe and comes back, he deliberately betrays her. And once back in Narnia, he continues to act in ways that are rude and deliberately hurtful, but like the german bomber, even his deliberately hurtful actions don’t do exactly what he thinks they will do. He is fine with the idea of his siblings as servants, but doesn’t want them to die, but he is in a moral and emotional fog. He can’t see clearly so that, even when he directly intends evil, the consequences are not what he might directly choose.

    Not to say that there is a direct correspondence between the german bomber and Edmund, but I think it does foreshadow and set up some of what Edmund does, and provides for some commentary on it. If only it were in English (pr subtitled) and therefore more accessible.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Okay. You’ve made your point, and for what it’s worth, I do value Lynch very highly, and what Greenaway says about “illustrated text” resonates with me. Thank you for sharing the quote.

    I just don’t want to cut off 9 out of 10 people involved in a chat by moving the conversation on to subjects that they may or may not be equipped to discuss, nor do I want to wrest the conversation away from the specific subject at hand.

    Thank you for understanding. I have no problem with your love of Lynch. I appreciate his films very much. One of these days, I’ll start a thread on Lynch. But just because Lynch is moving the art form into new territory doesn’t mean we should miss out on the nourishment to be found in “illustrated texts” as well.

  • Anonymous

    … sorry… those were quotes by Peter Greenaway.

  • Anonymous

    Please forgive me one last post. You can decide if you want it to remain. I wanted to make it clear that I believe in the good work you all are doing as film critics. It’s just that I thought I saw here that the conversation was headed toward more of a literary criticism. And I wanted to bring it back to the person who I think best justifies your existence as critics and film lovers: Lynch.

    “I don’t think we’ve seen any cinema yet. I think we’ve seen 100 years of illustrated text.” “My favourite film-maker west of the English Channel is not English – but to me doesn’t seem American either – David Lynch – a curious American-European film-maker. He has – against odds – achieved what we want to achieve here. He takes great risks with a strong personal voice and adequate funds and space to exercise it. I thought Blue Velvet and Eraserhead were masterpieces.”

    Keep up the good work.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Just remember, without Mulholland Drive, we wouldn’t have Peter Jackson’s King Kong — not in the form we now have it.

    Let the reader understand!

  • Anonymous

    I thought you might be more receptive to these ideas since I read this, which you yourself posted in the Au Hazard Balthazar thread:

    “P.S. Watching it again this week, I was struck by how Bresson continues to remind me of moments in David Lynch’s work. Learning to appreciate Bresson is increasing my appreciation of Lynch, even though Lynch is far more interested in evil than Bresson, who is interested in everything. (Hmm. Wonder what ever happened to the fellow who spent so much time here arguing that Lynch’s films are all about Christ?)”

    <>

    But you are sending me away. Why? Why do you say that I was insisting that it be about “something else”? You’re rejecting me, yet I haven’t been rude, but civil – and I’ve given reasons for my beliefs… and I always have. If anything, others have been rude to me here. Yet you don’t speak about that. Why, I wonder?

    You are claiming to be discussing Christ, yet you won’t allow someone to say: Wait a minute, that’s not the Christ I know.

    I won’t post further, unless you would like to know more about why I believe what I believe.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>My point isn’t that anyone here is consciously choosing evil in this regard, but that they are unconsciously drifting away from an understanding of the one movie that is the true Ringbearer sent by God. The Ringbearer is the movie “Mulholland Drive”.<<

    Okay, I remember you now. You’re the fellow who has decided that “Mulholland Drive” is the one true exalted film, that it is somehow an ultimate manifestation of Christ, and you persist in your claims, disallowing conversation to proceed on its own meaningful course. You insist on making conversations more meaningful, but then “Mulholland Drive” is the only film you find meaningful to discuss. We’re not sending you away lonely. We’ve raised a subject for discussion, and you are rudely insisting it be about something else. We’re not rejecting you the way people reject Christ, as you insist. We’re discussing one thing, and you’re insisting it be about something else. Is this what you did in school? Raise your hand in biology class, bring up Mulholland Drive, and then act persecuted when the teacher told you that this wasn’t the appropriate time or place? That’s disrespectful and disruptive. Your posts will be deleted.

    Please publish your manifestos on how “Mullholland Drive” where that film is the subject of conversation, or on your own site. If it is the truth, those being drawn to Christ will find it rewarding to meet you there.

  • Anonymous

    <<"… but let's not belittle the value of criticial discourse. I don't think any Christians involved in this discussion would argue that Christ's sovreignty is, indeed, priority. But that shouldn't usurp our conversations about smaller matters.

    “According to Scripture, we are to “test all things and hold fast to what is good.” We are to set our minds on “whatever is worthy of praise.” Scripture is full of examples that show God cares about excellence in everything. We are discussing the standards of excellence in two different filmmaking endeavors, and the extent to which these stories imperfectly reflect aspects of truth. That is not “useless” talk. And the goal of this discussion is not unity. The goal is to do that very “testing” so that we can sharpen each other’s discernment and “hold fast to what is good.”>>

    But the thing that you are “testing” is Christ! And now it is me also, because I am saying the same thing Christ said. You are telling me to go away so that you can talk about what is or is not “Christ-like”! I am not the Christ, but some of you are making me into Him by insisting that I go away lonely.

    The disguise that you insist upon all wearing who come here is the disguise of having to use words like “theme” and “plot” and “narrative”, etc…. if that language isn’t spoken, then they are not welcome.

    My point isn’t that anyone here is consciously choosing evil in this regard, but that they are unconsciously drifting away from an understanding of the one movie that is the true Ringbearer sent by God.

    The Ringbearer is the movie “Mulholland Drive”. Or perhaps David Lynch is the Ringbearer of our world and MD is the Ring? Look how he has destroyed the mask of words like “theme” and “narrative” and revealed the true face of God underneath.

  • Nicholas

    anonymous: “unity will not come about through discourse”

    Then how in the world did so many people come together to contribute to this post? I get what you mean, but on this scale I really think it does.

    Jeff: Well, I hope I can disagree with you, come Thursday. If not (and probably regardless of Kong, anyway), I think this will be (in my opinion) the most disappointing year for movies in a while-I think Broken Flowers and Millions were the only two films that met or exceded my expectations.
    Sadness.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Okay, fine, Jesus rules, but let’s not belittle the value of criticial discourse. I don’t think any Christians involved in this discussion would argue that Christ’s sovreignty is, indeed, priority. But that shouldn’t usurp our conversations about smaller matters.

    According to Scripture, we are to “test all things and hold fast to what is good.” We are to set our minds on “whatever is worthy of praise.” Scripture is full of examples that show God cares about excellence in everything. We are discussing the standards of excellence in two different filmmaking endeavors, and the extent to which these stories imperfectly reflect aspects of truth. That is not “useless” talk. And the goal of this discussion is not unity. The goal is to do that very “testing” so that we can sharpen each other’s discernment and “hold fast to what is good.”

    You are welcome to find a forum where the issue you seem compelled to discuss can have its own particular thread. But that’s not the primary subject of this discussion.

    Let’s proceed.

  • Anonymous

    <>

    I didn’t mean that you were intruding on my thread, but that the idea I was trying to get across takes priority, indeed that it is the only idea that could possibly unite. (And I meant to imply that the “One Ring” I was talking about was the true One Ring of Christ.) The first step toward unity is to point out that unity will not come about through discourse. It never does with Christ.

    The idea that each human heart is a Mordor, and that the Gollum (knowledge of sin, good and evil) within each person must, in the perfect balance shown in Tolkien, must guide the Christ (Mercy = Frodo; Justice = Sam) first past the Faramir (perhaps the intellect?) within and then past Shelob, etc, etc…. seems a true picture of human nature: Christ cannot approach us but through the disguise of our own sins. We won’t know when the true Christ comes to us in a movie, because when He comes He will have the appearance of sin. “No one can come to me unless the Father draw him.” It’s a matter of faith, not intelligence.

    Also, we have these words of Jesus: Many will come saying, “I am He.” [i]Do not believe them[/i].

    The Ringbearer cast the Ring back in 2001. There can only be one Ringbearer.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    If you like an hour-long, uninteresting buildup and then two hours of chaotic, outrageous action involving characters we don’t care about, well, yeah, it’s fantastic.

  • Nicholas

    I’m still highly anticipating Kong, though. I’m really just looking forward to spectacle in this case. If the film pulls this off enjoyably, I’ll be happy.
    Hey, 93% at Rotten Tomatoes with 46 reviews in-it’s gotta be pretty damn good.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Oh, and Peter, I’m eager to read your King Kong review.

    I haven’t been so eager to escape a theater in a long time. For all of its astonishing technical achievements, I can think of only one scene… ONE SCENE… that drew me in to the point of actually enjoying the film.

    And no, SDG, it wasn’t that action scene you told me to watch for. THAT, well… it was amazing, but it was also relentless in a bad way. At the end of the big scene, I wasn’t cheering… I was just exhausted.

    But now, back to our central subject…

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>It seems like a lot of talk has been dedicated to trying to determine who is the better fantasy writer, Lewis or Tolkien. How about they both win? <<

    I think they were both great writers. They both win, yes.

    But Tolkien was a more gifted storyteller, and here’s why. He wrote WONDERFUL children’s stories, books that could stand alongside Narnia. Lewis wrote WONDERFUL children’s stories as well, the kind that are also excellent for adults. But when it comes to writing complex, rich, high fantasy, informed by a deep understanding of multiple languages, Tolkien was miles ahead of Lewis, and I doubt that Lewis would have argued that point.

    But you’re right, they both win. They’re both excellent at what they did.

    Speaking just from my own experience, though, I grew up with both Middle Earth and Narnia. I read the Narnia books and liked them. But I had read The Lord of the Rings three times through by age 10, and I continue to go back to it for new discoveries. I love the sound of the language as much as anything else. With Lewis, I appreciate the ideas at work in the stories, from Narnia through to Till We Have Faces, but I have to apply myself to his stories more rigorously, because Tolkien just sweeps me along. But I admit that THIS is just a matter of personal perspective, not a measure of their differing command of language and style.

  • SDG

    I understand, Derelict, and please believe me when I repeat that I don’t in the least mind other people taking or expressing takes different from mine.

    Of course I agree with you that purist fans of ANY story will never be satisfied with ANY adaptation. MY point is only that I don’t want MY criticisms of LWW to be lumped together (not that you were doing this, but I wanted to make the point anyway) with the objections of impossible-to-please purists opposed to any change whatsoever, because that is emphatically not the case with me.

    For me, when a change enhances the spirit of a story or even makes for a better film, it brings joy to my heart. When Aslan’s face appears in Tumnus’s fire, when Lucy turns to Edmund and said “What were you doing all that time, anyway?”, when Father Christmas’s sleigh finds the children out in the open rather than in hiding, resulting in a chase scene rather than a suspenseful silence, my immediate response to all those changes was positive. (“ASLAN!!!” I scribbed in my notebook during the scene in Tumnus’s cave, and then, “Better explanation of Edmund lying” or something like that.)

    Granted, none of these depatures is quite up there with the inspired reinvention of the awakening of Theoden as an exorcism in TTT, or the wonderful conceit in ROTK that the reforged blade of Isildur, held by Isildur’s heir, has objective power over the oath-breaking Dead, since their oath binds them until they fulfill it. But still, they were nice moments, nice changes.

    What *I* object to is changes that HARM the film and/or the spirit of the original story. I did NOT come to LWW as an impossible-to-please purist. I was extremely disposed to love this film, to champion this film, just as I did the LOTR films. That I wound up recommending LWW less enthusiastically than I had hoped is not because I brought impossible standards, but because the filmmakers did a workmanlike but flawed job rather than a brilliant and sensitive one.

  • The Derelict

    Steve,
    I understand what your reaction to LOTR was/is — it’s the same as mine. I was only pointing out that your reaction to LWW reminded me of the purist reaction to LOTR. But I think the majority of movie-going audiences will react to LWW in a positive way (just pop into Narniaweb.com to see their responses), much the same way they reacted to FOTR. I think the LOTR purists, and the LWW purists will be the minority in the long-run. I hope that doesn’t sound too harsh, because I do respect yours and others’ criticisms, I just don’t always agree with them.

  • Bubba

    Mr. Greydanus:

    Anonymous, I’m afraid your style of discourse is far too profound for me to have a clue what you’re trying to say. And I’ll bet you a spiffy plush Aslan that pretty much no one else is following you, either.

    I’m not following him: can *I* have the spiffy plush Aslan? :)

  • Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, Jeff, I just got home from seeing King Kong, too, and I agree with everything you say.

  • Nate

    It seems like a lot of talk has been dedicated to trying to determine who is the better fantasy writer, Lewis or Tolkien. How about they both win? It’s really a useless question, isn’t it? A lot like trying to decide between Keaton and Chaplin, or Kelly and Astaire, when there’s clearly room for both.

    I think I know what Jeffrey means when he says Lewis’s books are more obvious in their imagery, but it’s precisely because the symbolism is so thinly disguised that I find them so profoundly stirring—each emblem in this fantasyland immediately recalls something real, something authentic. It’s simply a matter of turning Lewis’s metaphors into meanings. Some people would call this lazy (as Tolkien probably did), but I find it ingenious. Incidentally, my favorite part of Jackson’s Middle-Earth trilogy is Gandalf’s speech about ‘the white shores and the far green country.’ Need I explain why?

    Not to demean what others have said on this topic, but in my estimation, in order to understand Lewis—in order to really ‘get’ him—one must be able to distinguish between the simple and simplistic, the childish and childlike.

  • SDG

    Derelict, I can only speak for myself… but I can’t say that the experience you describe of having been disappointed with the LOTR films at first but having their flaws fade with time matches my experience (or JO’s, or PTC’s).

    My opinion of the films is pretty much exactly where it was when I first saw them. My glowing review of FOTR, written prior to opening day, is on record, and even at the time I downplayed its shortcomings, saying, “I mention these things, but I will not dwell on them.”

    TTT I thought was more flawed but still shot through with brilliance, and ROTK — as Barbara can well attest, having sat next to me in the screening — I declared as soon as the credits rolled to be possibly the greatest spectacle ever filmed. (I in turn can also attest to Barbara’s very different feelings at the time, which she expressed not just after the credits rolled but during the last 20 or 30 minutes of the film.)

    My reaction to LWW as the credits rolled was very different… and (pace Barbara) it will stay different. I am very confident that my present rating of the film will remain my only rating of the film (though here and there I may slightly tweak my perceptions of specific issues).

    It’s a decent, flawed adaptation without the brilliance or sensitivity that characterizes the LOTR films at their best. It’s a B-plus film.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Having just seen “King Kong,” I think I understand even more why Jackson was the right man to direct The Lord of the Rings.

    Tolkien’s story does the work for him. It’s so rich in themes, in detail, in characterization, that all Jackson needed to do was tell the story.

    Fortunately, he did. His talents are a strange mix. He likes actors… likes their faces, likes to let actors act (unlike George Lucas, who uses them as mannequins to surround with special effects.) But ultimately, he wants to make things come to life that until now only existed in our imaginations. He did that with The Lord of the Rings, bringing to convincing life things that had never been accomplished by anyone else… and probably couldn’t have been. Adamson’s workmanlike accomplishment with Narnia is built by following Jackson’s lead.

    But without the strength of story that Tolkien provided him, Jackson is reduced to mere showmanship. When you see “King Kong,” you’ll see what Jackson is left with when he doesn’t have a rich literary tapestry weaving through his scenes. You’re left with bombast, astonishing effects, and wearying mayhem.

    The Lord of the Rings is at its best when Jackson doesn’t let his desire to overwhelm us with mayhem interfere with Tolkien’s story… when his focus is more on story than spectacle. It’s at its weakest when he strays from the text and focuses on spectacle.

    Adamson, similarly, is at his best when he keeps both feet planted in storytelling, and at his weakest when he thinks he can improve on Lewis’s work and steps into shallower material for the sake of spectacle.

    But in my opinion, Jackson’s films still win out because Tolkien’s text is so much more involving, whereas Lewis’s is more simplistic, using bigger, bulkier, more obvious symbols and lacking the complexity and specificity of Tolkien’s world.

    Personally, to get back to where this all started, I don’t think Greydanus has “a weird Jackson fetish,” and that will probably be clear when he reviews “King Kong.” I think Greydanus appreciates the majesty of Tolkien, and is pleased that Jackson brought such powerful imagery to seemingly unfilmable events like those that Tolkien imagined.

    I can promise you now, you won’t find me to be putting Jackson on any kind of pedestal when my “King Kong” review is finished.

  • SDG

    One Ring to unite us? Wait, I think I’ve heard of that…. the one to rule them all and in the darkness bind them, right?

    “Everybody else is the intrusion, I’m the only one who’s actually contributing to the thread. For this, you threaten to cut my throat.”

    Sheeeeeesh.

    Anonymous, I’m afraid your style of discourse is far too profound for me to have a clue what you’re trying to say. And I’ll bet you a spiffy plush Aslan that pretty much no one else is following you, either. Of course, if we’re only intruding on your thread, our incomprehension is probably moot. Perhaps we should stop rudely interrupting your thread and let you carry on in peace….

  • Anonymous

    … I possessed the One Ring that could unite us here in this conversation. I spoke the words that promised unity. You responded by threatening to “slit my throat”/delete my post. You did this with the good intention of keeping the “work of art” (Christ) alive.

  • Anonymous

    <<"No, this talk is not useless. If you find it useless to YOU, please go away and don't interfere. Otherwise, stop vandalizing the chat.

    And please indicate what your talk about Christ’s death as a suicide has to do with the subject at hand… the strengths and weaknesses of the Narnia film and the Middle-earth films, or I’ll delete it.”>>

    I didn’t mean it as a put-down in any way, but only as a statement of a fact. My point is that all words have become useless, perhaps even that all thinking itself, or at least a certain type of thinking, has become useless and harmful. See how my post above is perceived as an intrusion into the conversation. But is it really the intrusion? Is it not possible that it is rather true that my post is the only post that is not an intrusion (even considering that other posts came before it)? We know that Christ was before Abraham, and we know that John said that the One who would come after him was before him.

    That is why these new movies – especially the ones that are ‘known’ to relate to Christ – don’t serve to bring us closer to Him, but rather further away. Because, like the quote from the movie that I commented on, it seems to be part of our nature to “slit the throat” of the Christ (justified by thinking that we are “collaborating in the work of art”) and take the One Ring for ourself.

    And, by the way, Julian Po’s death was called a “suicide” by the Barber and not by Po himself. So even there we have a glimple of who it is who insists upon Christ wearing a “disguise” when He comes near to us.

  • The Derelict

    You know, this whole conversation feels like it’s December 20th 2001 all over again! I frequented a Tolkien message board at the time (TORC) and I remember fondly the various reactions to FOTR. I was known as a pragmatist with purist leanings, so I found myself arguing both sides, on the one hand because I had such a positive emotional response to the film but on the other because a lot of the changes bothered me (i.e. radioactive Galadriel).

    Anyway, I remember the hardcore purist posters thinking FOTR was okay, but not the transcendent experiece so many “revisionists” thought it was. The LOTR movies just didn’t “click” for many of them. I was very sympathetic to the purist side of things, but FOTR did deliver emotionally for me, so I couldn’t help but enjoy the movie despite its flaws.

    I see the same thing going on here, that for whatever reason LWW isn’t clicking for a lot of you, and I think the changes from the book are a lot of the reasons why, in addition to not caring for Adamson’s style (though, frankly, I think there are a lot of really beautiful compositions and sequences in the film, and some less-than-inspired stuff as well). Time has sort of made LOTR’s flaws fade away in our minds, but many, many fans of the book felt a similar disappointment in PJ’s movies as many feel now for LWW.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Anonymous,

    No, this talk is not useless. If you find it useless to YOU, please go away and don’t interfere. Otherwise, stop vandalizing the chat.

    And please indicate what your talk about Christ’s death as a suicide has to do with the subject at hand… the strengths and weaknesses of the Narnia film and the Middle-earth films, or I’ll delete it.

  • Nicholas

    SDG:
    “King Arthur has never, ever gotten his due in the movies”
    I was going to ask about Excalibur, but I checked your King Arthur review and saw:
    “…followed by John Boorman’s interesting but muddled Excalibur, which honored the diversity of the Arthurian material but failed to shape it into a coherent whole.”
    I agree for the most part. I think Excalibur is good, but definately flawed.
    The reason I bring this up is that Boorman’s film has that great scene where Arthur returns: the flowers are falling from the trees and Carmina Burana is blasting-I couldn’t help but think of this scene while watching LWW and wonder how Boorman could achieve such a scene of majesty on a miniscule budget, yet $100 million dollars and the source material aren’t enough to help this film (LWW) achieve anything close?
    Maybe they should have played Carmina Burana?

  • Anonymous

    All of this talk is useless. Important truths for our times were given to us through Tolkien. One of them is that each human heart is a Mordor; and that Jesus Christ can’t reach that heart but by wearing a disguise… and, more than that, the disguise has to be the disguise of evil. See if you don’t find the same wisdom in these words from the movie “Jullian Po”, written and directed by Alan Wade:

    “I’ve been giving your situation a lot of thought, Mr. Po, a lot of thought.”

    “Have you?”

    “Fascinating. A man wants to do away with himself… but he doesn’t just do it like most people. He travels to a place he’s never been, announces his plans and goes about everything in a most deliberate way. Makes of his suicide… a work of art. It’s beautiful!”

    “You think so?”

    “Definitely…. uh… I even, in my small way, imagined that I might be able to help.”

    “Oh? How’s that?”

    “You see, I’m a kind of an artist, too…. with this. Most people think I just cut the hair, scrape off the whiskers. But it’s more than that to me. A face is a canvas, and this is my paint brush. You know, I never shaved anyone without imagining what it would be like to slit his throat. But each time I get the thought, my hand starts to shake, I get scared… I guess I’m just not cut out for murder. But with you it’d be different. It wouldn’t be murder at all. We’d be collaborating on a work of art.”

    If we know, or even suspect, that it is Jesus, we won’t have the strength to resist “collaborating” with Him on the “work of art” which is His death.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Nate, I too enjoyed “Wardrobe” more the second time. I wasn’t as focused on the text; some of the performances really affected me. My complaints remain, but there is a lot here to enjoy and admire.

    And now you’ve made me very unhappy about having missed Oliver Twist. I’ve got to check the DVD release date on that puppy.

  • Nate

    The dwarf (Ginarrbrik, wasn’t it?) annoyed me, too. He seemed like a distant cousin of the albino from The Princess Bride—a pitiful, rejected Oompa Loompa,

    Let me run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it:

    I went in for a second helping of Narnia last night and found it a substantially more rewarding experience. In fact, second viewings have been very kind to me in general. Ask me what I thought of Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist the first time around, and I would have called it a mild disappointment. Ask me what I think of it now, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the best film of the year.

    First viewings rarely lie—they hit the gut uncompromisingly. But second viewings are more introspective and more cerebral—you begin to notice things (a felicitous touch, a telling detail) that had previously remained hidden.

    I don’t think Narnia is a great film, but its strengths (and there are many) belong almost exclusively to its author. I didn’t come out of the theater thinking, ‘That Andrew Adamson fellow is a genius!’ I came out of the theater thinking, ‘That C.S. Lewis fellow was a genius!’

    Granted, my familiarity with the book and with Christian doctrine in general allowed me to gloss over some of the screenplay’s glaring weaknesses. Nonetheless, in light of its victories, the film’s failures seem to fade to insignificance. And it did something never thought it would do—it made my heart ache.

  • SDG

    Um, okay, yes, I did say that… in my actual review of the film, no less… but my point was only that for a filmmaker like Jackson the emotional impact of the scene as Lewis wrote it would have been the draw, and he would have done better by the scene for that reason. I didn’t mean that what I missed in Adamson’s version was primarily emotional impact. :)

  • Peter T Chattaway

    SDG, I could have sworn I read a post of yours somewhere to the effect that the scene of Susan and Lucy walking Aslan to the Stone Table was the sort of scene where Peter Jackson would have “zeroed in” on the emotional content, or something like that. But now I can’t find it.

    Jeff, I found the dwarf annoying too, yeah. This may seem like a minor detail, but I was particularly put off by the way he said he was taking Edmund to get some “num-nums”. I don’t know the etymology of this word, but it reminded me of the South Asian character played by Peter Sellers in The Party (“Birdie num-nums!”), and since the dwarf himself was played by someone of South Asian descent, it seemed to me like a misguided attempt to bring a non-English real-world culture into Lewis’s very-English fantasy world (and if you’re going to bring in a non-English culture, why of all things would you give it to one of the bad guys, in this day and age?). At the very least, it seemed to me like careless writing — or, worse, a careless director’s acceptance of an on-the-set improvisation.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Peter,

    Amen and amen.

    For all of Richard Taylor’s boasting about how he made sure that the armor in The Lord of the Rings looked “lived-in” and weathered, the strength of Peter Jackson’s film was above all in the performances, which spoke of longstanding relationships and hard-earned experience.

    There was a sense of history in everything.

    This, too, reflects Tolkien’s text, but it can’t be communicated merely by repeating what Tolkien wrote. It has to be created visually, through design, mannerism, intonation, and perceived habits of its characters.

    The characters looked like they’d lived in those particular personalities all their lives (with the glaring exception of Elrond, who never convinced me of his ages-long experience).

    I think this sums up for me the primary strength of Jackson’s films over Adamson’s. It’s not just the script that reflects a passion for Tolkien. Everything is carefully crafted to bring something to the storytelling that the script itself cannot be expected to reflect.

    Sure, Jackson’s script took detours from the text, just as Adamson does. But, with respect to Barbara’s admirable dedication to good screenwriting, a movie is much more than its script. In fact, many of my favorite films excel more for what they show us than for what they tell us.

    As a silent picture, Jackson’s film would still have reflected Tolkien’s ideas with depth. There would always have been new things to observe and discover. Everywhere you look, there are signs of history and culture.

    Moreover, its soundtrack was composed with a great deal of thought about the music of Middle-Earth. Narnia’s only token nod to any kind of Narnian musical tradition is Tumnus’ lullaby.

    And the creatures are so much more than guys in suits. With the exception of the casts, the witch’s army just looks to me like a bunch of guys in suits. Kudos to Adamson’s team for creating impressive centaurs and fauns, but one guy in a suit can spoil a viewer’s suspension of disbelief, no matter how many runes are etched into Peter’s sword.

    By the way, did anyone else find the dwarf intensely annoying? I kept asking myself, “Why, with such a host of servants, does the Witch want THIS miserable guy around all the time?” The first time he spoke, I wanted to give him some hot tea with honey. The second time, I just wanted the reindeer to run him over. Or Gimli to show up and behead him.

  • SDG

    SDG has commented before on how the scene of Susan and Lucy accompanying Aslan to the Stone Table is lacking in emotion. But the quality that is noticeably lacking from that scene runs deeper than I think is conveyed by the word “emotion”.

    For the record, I agree 100 percent with these comments and your subsequent expansion of them (and have made some of the same points myself, notably in a certain outline you may or may not have read ;) )… but when did I suggest that “emotion” as what was lacking in that scene? Just curious.

  • melanie b

    Bubba,

    I think you are dead-on about films pandering to what the directors think audiences want:

    “Scripture gives us red meat, but congregations seem to want nothing more than skim milk. We celebrate how much we are loved by the Lamb but do not express proper dread at getting on the wrong side of the Lion of Judah.”

    Case in point a conversation on Amy Welborn’s blog http://amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook/2005/12/why_a_lion_and_.html
    in which she asks why is Aslan a lion and not a lamb and some commentors simply cannot accept the lion image or understand why it is more effective and more appropriate. We seem to want a safe, tame, comfortable Christ made in our image because the real deal is much harder to live up to, it might actually cost us something to try to follow in his footsteps and live in his image.

    Still, like Steven Greydanus, I think that it is not so much that the task has been tried and found impossible as that the attempt simply has not been made. (to misquote G. K. Chesterton.)

  • Peter T Chattaway

    SDG wrote:

    I’d say the revelation of Gandalf the White in The Two Towers was a more impressive vision of goodness than Adamson’s Aslan. And compare the confrontation of Gandalf and Saruman over King Theoden in the halls of Edoras with the confrontation of Aslan and the White Witch over Edmund in Aslan’s camp — I think Gandalf comes off far more masterful and awesome and impressive.

    Indeed, good comparison.

    Incidentally, what makes Gandalf’s revelation in TTT work so well is the compassion he so clearly feels for Theoden — it isn’t all about supernatural power, though that definitely helps.

    And one of my favorite Gandalf moments actually comes a lot earlier, in TFotR, in the “Do not mistake me for some conjurer of cheap tricks!” scene. That scene has forever affected how I see the relationship between power, love, and fear. Bilbo is “not himself”, he is trapped by his enslavement to the Ring, and only a good jolt like that will snap him out of it — but once he has been scared out of his moment of selfishness, once he is “himself” again, the deep and abiding friendship between Gandalf and Bilbo asserts itself again.

    Qualities like compassion and friendship can only be conveyed through believable characters; they cannot be conveyed through special effects (except where those effects are at the service of a character, as was the case with Gollum). And they can only be portrayed by people who have a sincere belief in the strength of these qualities.

    Alas, that strength, and that believability, are sadly missing from Narnia.

    SDG has commented before on how the scene of Susan and Lucy accompanying Aslan to the Stone Table is lacking in emotion. But the quality that is noticeably lacking from that scene runs deeper than I think is conveyed by the word “emotion”. I miss the part where Aslan tells the girls to stay behind and to not let themselves be seen, no matter what happens; without that simple gesture, Aslan looks careless, or less authoritative, or both. And I miss the part where Aslan tells Lucy to use her cordial to heal others, and chastises her for being slow to act; just a few simple lines like that would have helped to convey Lucy’s love for her brother, but also her higher responsibility to others, as well as Aslan’s lordship over them all.

    Heck, I’d be happy if we just had a scene like the one where Gandalf grabbed Merry and Pippin by the ears and made them clean the dishes. I can’t imagine this Aslan having that sort of relationship to any of the children — children! — who populate this film.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Interesting, Bubba, that you should bring up Johnny Cash in this context. The recent film about him reinforces your point…. We never see Cash humbled and trembling before God’s awesome power. We only see him invigorated by June Carter and responding with amorous beligerence. What really changed Cash was the ferocity of God’s love for him.

  • Bubba

    I misspoke, Mr. Greydanus, and I apologize: I don’t think the Parley in the film was one-sided to Aslan’s favor; going by the book, it should have been. That’s not to say that I thought it was one-sided in Jadis’ favor. Aslan showed anger, but never (I thought) genuine concern at the threat Jadis was posing to Edmund and consequently all of Narnia. And when he spoke his final word, he made it clear that the discussion was over.

    And I don’t think it’s the case that the medium of film cannot convey a character who is both fierce and good as Lewis describes Aslan. I think the problem is with the culture: a truly fierce Aslan would have been seen as a priori bad.

    I say this because, from my limited point of view as a Protestant in Alabama and Georgia, even the church has largely eschewed the image of God wielding His “terrible, swift sword.” The awe that Moses experienced on the mount, the awe that Isaiah led him to cry “woe is me,” the awe Peter and James and John experienced at the Transfiguration: it’s all but entirely missing from the present-day Church.

    Scripture gives us red meat, but congregations seem to want nothing more than skim milk. We celebrate how much we are loved by the Lamb but do not express proper dread at getting on the wrong side of the Lion of Judah.

    Blake wrote of the Tyger, “What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” In the face of hurricanes and tsunami we do not ask the same thing.

    Johnny Cash’s apocalyptic hymn “The Man Comes Around” is striking and haunting for two reasons: it sounds so much like the words of a prophet like John the Baptist, and it sounds so unlike anything in the modern world.

    How can we expect a largely secular (or at best only nominally Christian) audience to appreciate an aspect of God that we do not appreciate? How can we expect filmmakers to draw nearer to that aspect than we do?

  • The Derelict

    You know, isn’t it funny how differently we react to the same work of art? I share some of bubba’s concerns, that having the witch run away in fear during the parley would be very difficult to film without it being laughable.

    But the moment in the film when Aslan roars and the witch falls back into her chair with a startled (and, imo, frightened) look, and then the Narnians cheer and laugh at her — wow! That was a great scene, and for a brief moment I “got” the whole character of Aslan — someone who is NOT safe, but is good.

  • SDG

    Derelict,

    I will defer further discussion until I’ve seen the film again. :)

    Bubba wrote:

    It’s not just that Aslan is a Yoda or Gandalf in a lion’s body: Aslan is a lion, and part of his power should emanate from being physically intimidating, almost terrifying. His ferocity should be comparable, not to Gandalf or Yoda, but to Darth Maul or Jaws. (The shark, not the Bond villain.)

    And yet, he should still be good.

    Absolutely. Only I couldn’t find a character like that in cinema — not that I think it couldn’t be done.

    And, if I may, the comparisons to Gandalf and Yoda are half beside the point. Aslan isn’t an archtypal Wizard; he is the King who happens to wield control over magic and nature. His literary lineage has at least as much in common with Arthur as it does with Merlin.

    Ah, there you touch me on a point long sore. I chose Gandalf and Yoda because they were the best I could do, for a very sad reason: King Arthur has never, ever gotten his due in the movies. I’ve written about this in a number of reviews. And here, too, not for an instant do I think it couldn’t be done; it’s just that no one had ever done it.

    Now, alas, we must add Aslan to the list of cinematic stabs at the Great King archetype that don’t quite make it.

    My thought is, Aslan’s awe-inspiring presence isn’t the only issue. He must also be clearly good and approachable, otherwise the Stone Table sequence loses its emotional impact. And making the parley more one-sided runs the risk of making the White Witch is a comic villain.

    More one-sided? Did you think it was one-sided at all? Or at least, one-sided in Aslan’s favor?

    If anything, I think it’s one-sided in the Witch’s favor. The film actually reverses the cues that Lewis used to put Aslan in charge. In Lewis, Aslan remained calm and the Witch lost her temper; in the film it’s the other way round. (Swinton has commented in interviews that she didn’t want the Witch to lose her temper because that would diminish her character. Pity no one noticed or cared that Aslan was diminished in precisely this way.)

    Also, in Lewis it was Aslan who was enthroned and the Witch who came on foot; now the Witch is carried in on a litter while Aslan is on foot.

    In any case, fears about reducing the Witch to “a comic villain” are a far distant second concern to the dignity and awesomeness of Aslan, IMHO. First ensure Aslan’s awesomeness and dignity, then worry about the White Witch. The film got that backwards, too.

  • The Derelict

    I don’t recall Beaver smoking, but the filmmakers definitely highlight Professor Kirke smoking his pipe. Yeah for pipe smoking!

  • Bubba

    Actually, on second thought, I do see one way around the conundrum of the Parley: if, while waiting for Aslan and Jadis to exit the tent, some of the Narnians were talking about how Jadis had the law of the Deep Magic on her side — that Edmund was trapped and would killed, that the prophecy couldn’t be fulfilled, that Narnia was doomed, etc. — the filmmakers could have her to be physically cowardly but (superficially) cunning seemingly to beat the good guys on a technicality.

    That still may not solve the problem of portraying Aslan as the good but fierce king, but it would have been a start.

  • Bubba

    I guess what I would say, Mr. Greydanus, is that I agree with the B+ rating but not with the reasons for it.

    Or, at least, I think I would give it a B+ compared to the A+ story Lewis told, but I’m not sure that any film adaptation could actually get appreciably higher than maybe an A-.

    Truly, in TTT, Gandalf’s goodness and supremacy over Saruman is clearly demonstrated, but maybe I’m not getting at what I conceive Aslan to be — and how I think Lewis portrays him.

    It’s not just that Aslan is a Yoda or Gandalf in a lion’s body: Aslan is a lion, and part of his power should emanate from being physically intimidating, almost terrifying. His ferocity should be comparable, not to Gandalf or Yoda, but to Darth Maul or Jaws. (The shark, not the Bond villain.)

    And yet, he should still be good.

    (And, if I may, the comparisons to Gandalf and Yoda are half beside the point. Aslan isn’t an archtypal Wizard; he is the King who happens to wield control over magic and nature. His literary lineage has at least as much in common with Arthur as it does with Merlin.)

    The real issue, though, is that the creators hamstrung themselves by specifically cutting out the very elements of the book that help make Aslan so awesome on the printed page. Granted the difficulty of making Aslan awesome on screen, are matters helped or hindered by NOT having the children and the Beavers hanging back and saying “You first,” or by NOT having the Witch flee for her life at the sound of Aslan’s roar?

    My thought is, Aslan’s awe-inspiring presence isn’t the only issue. He must also be clearly good and approachable, otherwise the Stone Table sequence loses its emotional impact. And making the parley more one-sided runs the risk of making the White Witch is a comic villain.

    Fact is, Lewis was quite explicit in (ahem) some other book about mocking the devil — that evil is something we should not fear — but most movies of this sort have to have a heavy baddie. (Think Palpatine, Voldemort, etc.)

    The only exception I can think of in recent cinema is an animated exception: Scar, coincidentally enough in The Lion King. Here was a vain physically cowardly villain, comedic but no less dangerous a foe for it.

    There is a tension between the things that a perfect LWW movie would have to convey: Jadis as a villain worthy of a fairy tale of this scope; Jadis as a vain and rather nervous villain; Aslan as a good, personable character so his sacrifice has impact; Aslan as the powerful, fierce King with no rivals and no equals.

    It may have been that the filmmakers chose to avoid this difficult balance and gone with the easier aspects to convey in film: Jadis as a credible threat, Aslan as the good lion.

    To return to the baseball analogy, would you prefer a relatively safe swing that led to a solid triple or “swinging for the fences” that risks a strike-out?

    It may be a matter of preference, but since I am skeptical that modern cinema could even come close to succeeding at the bolder endeavor, I’m willing to settle for safe.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Am I correct in remembering that Mr. Beaver is a non-smoking Mr. Beaver in the film? He smokes a pipe in the book…

  • The Derelict

    because even in the film Peter is set up to be the “leader,” and then is never given a chance to lead

    I disagree. He has his chance to lead at the end, in the battle. He leads the charge, afterall (and, it’s hinted, designs the battle plan — I’m not the only one to notice this by the way; I’ve read some messageboards where others saw this as well).

    He has a kind of default-leadership position because he’s the older brother, but it’s shown that his heart and judgement are in the right place when he sides with Lucy against Susan/Edmund to stay in Narnia — a sign of his goodness and ability to make right decisions, despite Susan badgering him to do the safe, “smart” thing.

    I think it’s also a telling moment of his growth into leadership when he dismisses Susan’s objections about going across the ice. He’s finally stopped listening to her negativity. Earlier, in the beavers’ hut and at the witch’s castle, Peter listened to Susan’s nagging (you could see he thought he was doing the wrong thing by coming into Narnia, and that’s why he agrees that the only thing they want to do is get Edmund back). The moment where he rebukes her as they’re heading down to the river is a moment of growth for him as a leader.
    But, with Aslan around, I think Peter probably feels like he doesn’t need to do any of the heavy leadership stuff. That’s why he’s still going on about them leaving when they’re picnicing. But, notice again a moment of growth for him when he stands up to the witch at the meeting in Aslan’s camp. He reminded me of St. Peter in the Garden of G striking at the soldier’s ear; a misguided, but good-intentioned effort.

    It is only after the news reaches them that Aslan has been killed that Oreius (sp?) asks Peter what to do, and this is where, I think, Peter finally emerges as The Leader. Again, his line about Edmund and the girls getting home happens during the heat of the battle when Peter thinks they have lost. This line is more about despair, the loss of hope, than it is a comment about Peter’s leadership abilities. And at that point he doesn’t say that HE will return home; he’s willing to die defending Narnia. Pretty heroic. I’d also say it’s pretty heroic for a boy of twelve to lead an army into battle. Peter is at the head of the charge. Again, a sign of his growing heroism, much different from his hesitation earlier in the film when they’re on the ice against the wolves.

    I agree with a lot of the criticisms people have raised (mostly from a book-purist standpoint) but I do think the movie has a good internal logic, for the most part, and that all of the children have character arcs that work (well, except Lucy, who remains the same good, true, trusting girl from the beginning to the end).

  • SDG

    Adamson depicts the classic (I mean throughout centuries of literature)”reluctant” here. If you study myth at all, we know that most heroes don’t willingly take on their calling.

    Nah. To use Campbell’s language, it is indeed true that the “call to adventure” is often followed by the “initial refusal of the call.” Examples:

    * “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures! Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
    * “Alderaan? I’m not going to Alderaan! I’ve got to go home. It’s late, I’m in for it as is!”
    * “I can’t be a wizard! I’m just Harry, just Harry.”

    However, this “initial refusal” is usually followed by the “acceptance of the call.” In Adamson’s LWW, Peter is *constantly* “refusing the call,” right up to the climax of the film. And no, holding his ground against the Wolf and even taking on the Witch do NOT count as “accepting the call,” because the “call” is not just to heroism, but to LEADERSHIP, and Peter NEVER displays LEADERSHIP. In Lewis, Peter is CONSTANTLY leading; in the film, he NEVER leads once that I can remember, except in the wrong direction.

    I give Peter props as a human being for standing his ground against the Wolf (however terrified he may have been, and however little he may have done besides holding his sword out for the Wolf to impale himself on, which is NOT how Lewis has it), and for going up against the Witch (again, however ineffective he may have been, which, again, is not how Lewis has it). He does achieve a level of heroism, though not like his brother. But he doesn’t get props for leadership, because he doesn’t display any.

    And, again, that is a DRAMATIC problem, not just an adaptation problem, because even in the film Peter is set up to be the “leader,” and then is never given a chance to lead.

    Plus, I find an interesting parallel to Peter duringthe trial of Christ. After all, he had been with Jesus for quite some time, he knew what was going on, yet he didin’t seem to have much regard for what Jesus was going through. Her acted less heroic than Peter did in the LWW.

    Ah, but Simon Peter had his brilliant moments as well as his croppers. He was the one who first confessed, by divine revelation, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. He was the one who dared to step out of the boat and walk on water, even if his faith faltered. He speaks to Christ for the Twelve on the occasion of the Bread of Life discourse, affirming their faith in him and loyalty to him in spite of the abandonment of the crowds. And of course he led the Twelve in proclaiming the Good News on Pentecost Sunday. Peter Pevensie, in the film, is not given such moments of greatness or opportunity to lead.

    Bubba said:

    I find myself agreeing with JSB: the movie was a solid triple.

    Well, I gave it three stars out of four. Wouldn’t four stars be a home run? :)

    But the question is about an evil horse. Is there an instance in cinema (or at least cinema since 1970) in which the overpowering screen presence is clearly a good guy? And not just a good guy or the hero but the embodiment of all that is truly good?

    I’d say the revelation of Gandalf the White in The Two Towers was a more impressive vision of goodness than Adamson’s Aslan. And compare the confrontation of Gandalf and Saruman over King Theoden in the halls of Edoras with the confrontation of Aslan and the White Witch over Edmund in Aslan’s camp — I think Gandalf comes off far more masterful and awesome and impressive.

    Other possible points of reference might include Li Mu Bai in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, the title character in The Iron Giant, and Jesus in The Miracle Maker.

    I would have loved to have seen LWW try and succeed at making the audience tremble at Aslan while knowing that he is truly good, but I don’t fault the creators for not trying what may currently be an impossible task.

    The real issue, though, is that the creators hamstrung themselves by specifically cutting out the very elements of the book that help make Aslan so awesome on the printed page. Granted the difficulty of making Aslan awesome on screen, are matters helped or hindered by NOT having the children and the Beavers hanging back and saying “You first,” or by NOT having the Witch flee for her life at the sound of Aslan’s roar?

  • Bubba

    I found this discussion indirectly through National Review Online’s blog (from this entry on the Corner to this blog entry by Ross Douthat to here), and I must say that this discussion has been enlightening.

    Mr. Greydanus, as much as I have appreciated your reviews (yours is about the only site I visit regularly for one man’s movie reviews), I don’t find myself agreeing with every criticism about LWW. Yes, I would have preferred more of Lewis’ dialogue in the movie, but I didn’t find the dialogue that they put in there to be all that jarring.

    I find myself agreeing with JSB: the movie was a solid triple. My biggest complaint would be that there was no “numinous awe” (to use a phrase of Lewis’s) when it came to Aslan. They didn’t make him (Him?) both clearly good and clearly fierce.

    The thing is, I can’t think of any movie that has managed that feat.

    In referencing one of the Dark Riders’ steeds in LOTR, Mr. Greydanus asks, “why can Jackson make a horse seem a more overpowering screen presence than Adamson can a lion?”

    But the question is about an evil horse. Is there an instance in cinema (or at least cinema since 1970) in which the overpowering screen presence is clearly a good guy? And not just a good guy or the hero but the embodiment of all that is truly good?

    It seems to me that all or most of the overpowering screen presences since 1970 have been bad guys to some degree or another: Darth Vader, Travis Bickle, Nicholson’s Joker, even the Dark Knight of Batman Begins.

    The closest I can come to truly overpowering good guys in the visual media has been on television: Sisko on Deep Space Nine and Optimus Prime. With the former, Sisko’s presence as a commander was contrasted with his affection as a father, so they were not combined into a good-but-not-tame Aslan-like force of nature. With the latter, we’re talking about a cartoon that painted with very broad strokes with its heroes and villains.

    Is there a counter-example in LOTR, Potter, Star Wars or Spider-Man? I can’t think of a one.

    I would have loved to have seen LWW try and succeed at making the audience tremble at Aslan while knowing that he is truly good, but I don’t fault the creators for not trying what may currently be an impossible task.

  • JSB

    Really liked Narnia. It’s a solid triple. Almost an inside the park home run. Even so, there are no outs and Jesus is on third, in scoring position. A great day for the home team…

    That said, I do agree with a certain film critic in my family…I think the Narnia books are better storytelling than LOTR, which is myth writ large (along with interminable singing); but the latter transfers better to film. Why is this?

    Thinking out loud–what Lewis does in the books is so amazingly masterful, in a line or a pargraph he can convey such deep meaning, it is extremely difficult to capture this on film. Case in point, this from LW&W:

    “You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund. But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning. He just went on looking at Aslan. It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said.–

    That’s the genius of Lewis. And he does this over and over again throughout the Chronicles. And that’s really hard to put on celluloid.

    The books are really “think pieces” for children (and adults!) written so as to “hide” the thinking; it just buries itself in you using the story to carry you along. LOTR is more of the grand sweep, an alternate world (and this is not to take away from Tolkien’s achievement, if you have the stamina to stay with it). So naturally it is easier for a visionary filmmaker (and Peter Jackson is) to direct such an epic (which does have thematic coherence and classic structure).

    But considering the many ways Narnia could have foundered, Adamson and the writers did a sterling job. Tilda Swinton as the White Witch captures the allure of evil as well as the hideous delight evil takes in spreading itself around. That was one of Lewis’s most important points.

    Again, a solid triple. Now it’s time for other Christian filmmakers to step up to the plate.

  • Anonymous

    A few things about Peter in LWW.

    I actually think that Adamson’s choice about how to depict Peter (get ready, many are going to hate this) is better that Lewis’. Why you ask?

    Adamson depicts the classic (I mean throughout centuries of literature)”reluctant” here. If you study myth at all, we know that most heroes don’t willingly take on their calling. They find all sorts of reasons to abandon their mission or change it somehow. The movie Peter is just like this classic hero.

    A a matter of fact, I found the way the children embraced the proephy a bit unbelieveable in the book. They seemed to take to it rather quick considering they just heard about it.

    And you know I don’t have any trouble with Peter at the end telling Edmund to take the girl’s home. After all, he’s human. Plus, I find an interesting parallel to Peter duringthe trial of Christ. After all, he had been with Jesus for quite some time, he knew what was going on, yet he didin’t seem to have much regard for what Jesus was going through. Her acted less heroic than Peter did in the LWW.

  • John C. Hathaway

    “True again, though the simple fact is that Lewis was an extraordinarily fluid writer, and Tolkien couldn’t have worked that way if he’d wanted to, any more than Lewis would have done what Tolkien did.”
    Which was exactly my point.
    In my initial comment about Tolkein, I was merely reflecting back the attack against Lewis that he was too concerned with morals and fables.
    One can pick up a Lewis story and read it as smoothly and easily as he wrote it. Reading Tolkein is extreme visual and mental exertion–some people enjoy such exertion to fiction, I don’t.

    I happen to like Lewis’s work better than Tolkein’s, but I don’t dislike Tolkein’s.
    I dislike unnecessary debates about which one is better or worse.
    Nor do I have a problemw with “dead languages.” I wish I knew more of them.

    What I have a problem with is a book that takes five pages and a concordance to describe something.

    What I dislike in Tolkein I also dislike in Dickens.

    Of course, Eliot criticizes Milton for being too auditory. Lewis is very auditory, as well.

    “So methinks you are completely barking up the wrong tree”
    I was stating that critics whose primary concerns are the secondary aspects of literature.
    One must enjoy and experience first.
    And Lewis says that you cannot honestly criticize something you don’t first enjoy. He repeatedly advises–both in his theological and critical writings–that it is a waste of time to read or think about something you don’t enjoy.

    “a good book is one that can be read in one way, a way that exalts and inflames and ennobles and enriches and inspires, and a bad book is a book that can only be read in a much coarser and lower level.”
    How does that contradict what I said?
    Lewis would also say that another kind of a bad book is one that can *only* be read at a high intellectual level.
    As I noted on Amy Welborn’s site, I see a commonality in what Lewis, Eliot and O’Connor say is the principle aim of literature. They are almost impressionists, in fact.
    The terms “exalts, inflames, ennobles,” and “inspires” are all feelings or spiritual states. All three writers hated most forms of literary criticsm and the obsessive quest of critics for “meaning” in a text.
    An O’Connor story, for example, is meant to hit you hard and fast with the kind of awareness you get from living as a desert hermit or living with a terminal disease.
    It’s not an intellectual message.

    You can find lots of meaning in O’Connor’s stories, but you can only find the proper meanings if you first get that proper gut reaction at the beginning.

    Eliot’s poems are designed to elicit “feelings” about modern life, spiritual life, etc. They have themes and meanings and symbols, but those can only be properly understood after you’ve enjoyed the ride.

    Lewis’s goal was to do the same thing. He failed, I admit, by putting too much overt “meaning” or “symbolism” in his stories. People get bogged down in it.
    _Till We Have Faces_ changs all that. Like Tolkein, O’Connor and Eliot, the Christianity in TWHF is not too overt to distract from the book itself.
    People can too easily take LWW and say “allegory,” and they *may* get the right “gut reaction” from the story, but they stop from forming any deeper insights.

    TWHF hits you with a gut reaction “This is something wonderful and great and uplifting,” but you don’t quite know *why*, and then you have to keep delving back into it.

  • Grace

    Where’s Barbara? It would be nice if she’d return to take up her end of the conversation again.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Thanks to GreenCine Daily for noticing, and sharing a link to, our conversation!

    http://daily.greencine.com/archives/001433.html

    And thanks to everyone participating here. Thanks for keeping it civil.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I’m not a critic, or even a frequent viewer of movies, but I’d like to chime in. The LWW movie, which we took our nine-year-old to on Friday struck me as a missed chance made by a P Jackson wannabe. THe visual look was very LOTR-movie-like. But I left it with no sense of a coherent story. Greydanus has put his finger on a lot of the problems. To take just one – Peter’s characterization, was way way too wimpy for too long, and there was no identifiable point of change for him. All of a sudden he just was. I got fed up with his wimpiness over the wolf in the first scene, the second, where the wolf essentially commits suicide by jumping on Peter’s sword made no dramatic sense in terms of the character’s development arc.

    To compare to a different movie that had nothing to do with Peter Jackson – I found The Incredibles a heck of a lot more engaging in story and characterization. There was s sense of a story and characters developing together. In this one, LWW, I didn’t get that. Someone once said something like ‘plot is what characters do, story is a force of nature’ I didn’t get that sense of a force of nature, a drive of *story* underlying the Narnia movie.

    [to the person who thought movies and books should be entertaining, not engaging - if I am not engaged, that is, drawn into the entertainment, I won't care much about it one way or the other. ]

    Elaine T.

  • Nicholas

    “Alas, there was no Ian McKellen among the LWW cast carrying around a copy of Lewis on the set…”

    You’re right. I thought Douglas Gresham’s presence would have raised the chances of some of the more transcendent themes staying intact.

    The film really does give the impression that the source material is not dear to the filmmakers.

    I remember hearing that either Boyens or Walsh had read LOTR at least once every year since they were a little girl.
    Watching LWW, I never felt that the text was precious to anyone. In fact, after one scene, I said out loud, “This Adamson guy and his screenwriter could not have read this book as a kid.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I really got that vibe…though it may have just been anger. It definately did not seem like that reverence was there.

  • SDG

    Derelict, I see I was right that we are more in agreement than not. Guess we must all be smoking the same crack…. :)

    Hildebrandt wrote:

    Tolkien’s problem was not that he was intellectually pretentious, but that he was a perfectionist and a procrastinator. If it wasn’t for that he would have put out book after book like Lewis.

    Absolutely right. In fact, as others have since noted, if it wasn’t for Lewis’s enthusiasm for the fruit of Tolkien’s painstaking work, the latter probably wouldn’t ever have published anything at all.

    Frankly it bothered Tolkien a lot that Lewis would put out one draft and send it to the publishers.

    True again, though the simple fact is that Lewis was an extraordinarily fluid writer, and Tolkien couldn’t have worked that way if he’d wanted to, any more than Lewis would have done what Tolkien did.

    Tolkiens preoccupation with making fake mythologies and fake languages was strongly encouraged by Lewis, who was also preoccupied with making fake mythologies, for that is what Narnia is. The difference was Lewis made many different mythologies, while Tolkien only made one. While Lewis “slapped together fairy tales” to make his own mythology, Tolkien took elements from other mythologies and fairy tales but made it his own, original mythology.

    There is truth to this, but I find the literary differences between Tolkien’s work and Lewis’s to be great enough to warrant using different terms for them. I find it helpful to characterize Tolkien’s work as mythopoeia and Lewis’s as fairy tale. To compare and contrast them I find generally as unhelpful as comparing and contrasting Homer with the Grimm Brothers, or Malory with Lewis Carroll.

    Tolkien’s achievement, I grant, was the greater, but there’s no sense running down Beatrix Potter or Kenneth Grahame because they didn’t write the Divine Comedy. There’s plenty of room on the bookshelf for the Grimm Brothers, Lewis Caroll, Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame as well as Homer, Malory and Dante.

    And there’s plenty of room on the DVD shelf for LWW as well as LOTR. The reason that I do find it helpful here to compare and contrast, with LWW the worse for the comparison, is partly because Adamson himself demands the comparison by the whole imitation-Jackson quality of the film (whereas Lewis was never remotely imitation Tolkien), and partly because PJ’s LOTR, for all its shortcomings, simply captures the glory of the books better than AA’s LWW captures the glory of its book.

    When I think of the LOTR films, one of the things that strikes me is how, despite the obligatory compression, the films nevertheless manage to preserve as much of Tolkien’s glorious language as they do. Consider how much poorer The Fellowship of the Ring film or book would be without such lines as these:

    * “Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand… Deserves it? I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

    * “Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

    * “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

    Now consider these lines from Lewis’s LWW — NONE of which made the film — and ask yourself: If you could choose just ten lines from Lewis’s LWW that simply MUST be in any film adaptation, which of these would NOT make the cut?

    * “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

    * “Yes! It is more magic.”

    * “…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still that she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time began, she would have read there a different incantation.”

    * “This is no thaw. This is spring. Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan’s doing!”

    * “Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight
    At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
    When he bears his teeth, winter meets its death
    And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

    * “Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say! Turn him into stone? If she can stand on her two feet and look him in the face it’ll be the the most she can do and more than I expect.”

    * “Let us say I have forgotten it. Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

    Alas, there was no Ian McKellen among the LWW cast carrying around a copy of Lewis on the set saying to Adamson, “You know, this bit here is actually pretty good”… no Boyens or Walsh among the screenwriters willing to engage Lewis’s transcendent themes as the LOTR screenwriters engaged some (not all) of Tolkien’s transcendent themes.

  • John Farrell

    Of course, no one knew better than Tolkien just how much of a niggler and perfectionist he was. Which is why the one allegory he did write, Leaf by Niggle, is sucha beauty.

    I fully agree, by the way, with A.N. Wilson, in his biography of Lewis, that there’s no question, Tolkien would not have finished his masterpiece, had it not been for the constant encouragement, indeed nagging, of Lewis.

  • The Derelict

    I don’t think it holds a candle to PTC’s experience of the LOTR films, or to mine.

    Or mine. :) PJ’s LOTR is filled with moments of transcendence and awe and melancholy and beauty, and I am deeply, deeply moved by it. Of course, this is also my reaction to Tolkien’s book.

    Lewis’s LWW, however, is just not as great a book as LOTR, so I never went into the movie expecting it to be LOTR-level greatness.

    By the way, I’m a girl ;) (though I know my handle isn’t very helpful in this regard).

  • a m hildebrandt

    “Tolkein, by contrast, was far more concerned about intellectual pretentiousness than about story. If story was his concern, he’d have churned out book after book like Lewis, but his preoccupation was making up fake mythologies and fake languages.”

    A Myth is an allegorical narrative, it is a body of stories about legends and gods, many if not all authors are involved in mythopoeia. Tolkien’s problem was not that he was intellectually pretentious, but that he was a perfectionist and a procrastinator. If it wasn’t for that he would have put out book after book like Lewis. Frankly it bothered Tolkien a lot that Lewis would put out one draft and send it to the publishers.

    Tolkiens preoccupation with making fake mythologies and fake languages was strongly encouraged by Lewis, who was also preoccupied with making fake mythologies, for that is what Narnia is. The difference was Lewis made many different mythologies, while Tolkien only made one. While Lewis “slapped together fairy tales” to make his own mythology, Tolkien took elements from other mythologies and fairy tales but made it his own, original mythology.

    “But I don’t see _Lord of the Rings_ as any better, or worse, technically speaking, than Narnia. They’re written for different reasons, to different audiences (yet was Tolkein even *writing* to an audience?).”

    You are right, Lord of the Rings and Narnia should not be compared they are entirely different books. But they did write to the same audience: themselves. For Lewis and Tolkien both wrote the stories they always wanted to read.

    It is unfair to say that Tolkien was not concerned with stories for he poured most his life into creating his own stories, and the only reason one can question if he was writing for an “outside” audience was because he too questioned that, but he wrote it anyways because he felt that it was what God wanted him to do. (If you don’t believe me read his essay “On Fairy Stories”). And as Flannery O’Connor said:

    “When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.”

    So when the book left Tolkien’s hands God gave him a bigger audience than he ever could of expected.

  • SDG

    - I find it very interesting that the people here who most admire LOTR are giving articulate, thoughtful, specific, incisive, introspective, reflective, and even spiritual reasons for why they respond to the film the way that they do… and the people who most dislike it are merely saying “Bah humbug.”

    C. S. Lewis once said that the difference between a good book and a bad book has to do with what kind of reading they encourage — that a good book is one that can be read in one way, a way that exalts and inflames and ennobles and enriches and inspires, and a bad book is a book that can only be read in a much coarser and lower level. (See “Experiment in Criticism” and various essays in “On Stories” for more.)

    Those of you who are LOTR skeptics, obviously you have not had an exalting, inflaming, ennobling experience of the films, and certainly they aren’t perfect and can be criticized on many fronts. Yet when all is said and truly said against them, the undeniable fact remains that a great many of us have experienced the film in a way that is not cheap or vulgar — and the experience we have of the film is of sufficient value that your skepticism and even the films’ real flaws cannot and will not carry the day.

    Re-read PTC’s comments above about how LOTR makes him want to be as brave as Frodo, as loyal as Sam, as wise as Gandalf, as contrite as Boromir, or how they helped him to appreciate such qualities as royalty, majesty, and awe. Reconsider what he says about how these films have even helped to transform him on a spiritual level, helping him to progress from an Anabaptist heritage that perhaps instilled him with what I, knowing him at the time, might have characterized as (pardon my bluntness, Peter) a rather reductionistic outlook on many fronts, to embracing a fuller and richer experience of Christian life and worship.

    You can dismiss this, if you want to, as the random effects of smoking crack, as indeed some people have met Jesus while tripping on drugs. But I think you will be a smaller human being for it. Or you can accept that there might be more value in these films than your experience of it suggests.

    Derelict says that he came out of LWW with “a warm, comfortable feeling, as if I’d just finished Christmas dinner or spent the afternoon reading a book by the fireplace. I felt a sense of happiness and contentment for several days afterward.” I am perfectly willing to grant him that experience (again, I gave the film a B-plus). I don’t think it holds a candle to PTC’s experience of the LOTR films, or to mine.

  • John Farrell

    Tolkein, by contrast, was far more concerned about intellectual pretentiousness than about story. If story was his concern, he’d have churned out book after book like Lewis, but his preoccupation was making up fake mythologies and fake languages.

    They weren’t fake. They were built upon actual ancient languages, as were his mythologies. It is perhaps a commonplace observation to point out that often, people who dislike Tolkien, are also people who dislike or have no interest in ancient languages. But I hardly find Tolkien’s interest in ancient languages pretentious. He once said that LOTR grew out of “the leaf-mold” of his mind. I find that a very revealing thing to say, as dead languages in a sense are linguistic leaf-mold. When you add the fact that he lost both his parents by the time he was 12, and 2 out of his 3 best friends in the war, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why he was, his entire life, in love with that which he felt he never really had the chance to enjoy.

    If that makes him pretentious, we could use a little more of this in our current crop of novelists.

  • Anonymous

    When people start waxing lyrical about Peter Jackson, you know that film criticism is in serious decline. The Rings trilogy is clearly two parts fluff and one part hot air. It’s just a dumb movie for dumb times. It isn’t art or anything.

    ~The Invisible Man~

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Critics get so lost in their own intellectual constructs, and they’re so numbed by overexposure, that they’ve lost the sense of simple appreciation and reaction. . . . But in the meantime, this all raises the point that professional film critics need to be more in touch with their feelings.

    I haven’t a clue who or what you think you’re referring to. I have already mentioned in this discussion that I am deeply moved by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films — indeed, I cried the first time I saw the first film — so I think I, at least, am a film critic who is very much in touch with his feelings. Heck, I have even admitted, in this discussion, to being a little verklempt during Narnia, albeit for reasons having little to do with the film’s merits, such as they are.

    So methinks you are completely barking up the wrong tree, at least where the participants in this present discussion are concerned.

  • Anonymous

    David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive”, taken together with Lars von Trier’s “Dogville”, euthanizes the critic within. They are the Ringbearers Frodo (Mercy) and Sam (Justice), respectively. They travel along with Gollum (appearance of evil/sin). Those two films are the only ones that can make it all the way to the fire burning within the Mordor that is each human heart. Will Faramir let them pass?

  • Nicholas

    Hathaway, I really enjoyed your post.

  • John C. Hathaway

    Lewis’s stories do that to some extent, but I am far more richly rewarded by Tolkien, who was more concerned about story than any easily-detachable theme.
    Word-choice error. Please distinguish “concern” from “capability.” That LWW is too allegorical is a valid criticism, but Lewis was *very* concerned about avoiding “easily-detachable” themes.

    Personally, I would contend that Lewis is far more *concerned* with story, as such, than Tolkein.
    As noted, Lewis wrote “slapped together fairy-tales.” He wrote, as he put it, “The stories I’d always wanted to read.”

    Lewis liked science-fiction. He hated that most science-fiction writers were agnostics and atheists. He liked fairy-tales, but hated the propensity of fairy-tale lovers to delve into the occult.
    So he wrote science fiction stories and fairy tales that exist in a Christian worldview.

    Tolkein, by contrast, was far more concerned about intellectual pretentiousness than about story. If story was his concern, he’d have churned out book after book like Lewis, but his preoccupation was making up fake mythologies and fake languages.
    I’m not saying I have anything against Tolkein, as such. This entire “debate” about which was better is ridiculous.
    But I don’t see _Lord of the Rings_ as any better, or worse, technically speaking, than Narnia. They’re written for different reasons, to different audiences (yet was Tolkein even *writing* to an audience?).

    As much as I love the Narnia books, I’d take _Till We Have Faces_ over Narnia or Middle-Earth any day.

    This brings up a more fundamental issue in this discussion, which is a great irony.

    Lewis, like most artists, hated critics. One of the main reasons he *was* a literary critic was to rebel against the establishment in that profession.
    He says he could never even read Shakespeare until he was middle-aged, because the critics just destroyed the experience.

    The word “engaged” has been used several times here.
    You know what?
    Most people don’t read books to be “engaged.” They certainly don’t watch movies to be “engaged.”

    Most of us come to fiction and drama to be entertained. If a book or movie makes us think, that’s nice.
    If you *have* to think about a novel or a movie in order to understand it at all, then it’s a waste of time.
    When I want to be intellectually “engaged,” I read Aquinas or Aristotle.

    Eliot said that the only purpose of literature is to produce “feelings.”
    While it’s a fun intellectual exercise to talk about “themes” and whatnot, that is all secondary, if not tertiary, to the principle purpose of story-telling.

    Critics get so lost in their own intellectual constructs, and they’re so numbed by overexposure, that they’ve lost the sense of simple appreciation and reaction.

    Most people would consider T. S. Eliot and Flannery O’Connor the embodiment of high-brow “literature that you have to think about.” Yet both writers hated such an association.
    Both insisted that their works were supposed to hit you in the gut and leave it at that.
    O’Connor’s stories are designed to shake your self-complacency to the core.
    Living as a desert hermit or suffering from a disease like lupus teaches you far more about the spiritual life than reading _The Dark Night of the Soul_ as a technical manual.
    O’Connor wanted to write stories that elicited the same “shake your complacency” reaction. O’Connor’s stories make you think, but they make you think about *yourself*.

    ELiot’s poems make you feel the emptiness of modern urban life, while reaching out for the hope–and later the knowledge–that there’s something better to aim at.

    Reading tragedy, says Aristotle, brings you to examine your own morality by the fact that you sympathize with the tragic hero.

    And Lewis’s stories are designed to hit you with the awe and wonder of another world, and to realize that the longing for “another world” that leads many of us to fantasy is really the longing for Heaven.

    If the movie captures that realization, wonderful. If it doesn’t, it’s a travesty.

    But in the meantime, this all raises the point that professional film critics need to be more in touch with their feelings.

  • The Derelict

    but wasn’t he already talking about Edmund and the girls going home even before the battle began?

    Not quite. Once Edmund is rescued, and the children are all sitting around at a picnic on the grass, Peter mentions that they leave and I’m pretty sure he says that they all should leave, not just the girls and Ed. Edmund speaks up and says that he’s seen what the witch can do first-hand and that they have a responsibility to help Narnia. Lucy and Susan seem to imply that they feel the same as Ed and so Peter says that they will stay (can you tell I’ve seen the film three times? !)

    I DO agree with you guys that the movie takes liberties with the book, and it does seem like the movie wants it both ways: fairy tale and modern kid-flick. What I wonder though, could the film have retained this “fairy tale” tone and still worked as a film. I know I would have probably liked it, but would a general audience? I’m thinking of films like Legend or Labyrinth, which are very much fairy tales, two films I love, but which didn’t seem to catch on with regular moviegoers.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    I also think it’s wrong to say that Aragorn’s new-improved-indecisivness is a “‘realistic’ extrapolation” from the text.

    Note my use of quote marks.

    Book-Aragorn is nothing if not confident and ready to assume his duties as king. The “extrapolation” is done because the filmmakers don’t think the audience will accept a king-without-internal-struggles.

    Or because they want the character to have some sort of “arc” over the course of the film’s ten hours, instead of simply being a one-note steadfast kind of guy. Either way, it’s a legitimate thing to do in a film that is more of an historical epic than a fairy tale.

    If the filmmakers of LWW felt the need to “psychologize” the kids, that’s their decision.

    It’s their decision, sure, but their decision affects many other people, too.

    Personally, I always thought the psychology presented in Lewis’s book was believable enough — especially where Edmund was concerned. He was a bad boy, and I recognized my badness in his badness. The Edmund of the film, however, is not a bad boy, just misunderstood, and forced into circumstances where all he can do is choose between the lesser of various evils. While some children might recognize themselves in this version of the character, I think this particular revision does a fair bit of damage to the moral sensibility of the book.

    Also, I found the children’s reactions to seeing their thrones (especially Edmund’s) an absolute delight, and I thought they seemed pretty happy to be kings and queens.

    Yes, and isn’t it odd that, after pining for their mother and father in England all the way through the course of the film, they suddenly forget all about that and decide to be kings and queens in this fairy-tale land?

    If the film had preserved the book’s fairy-tale sensibility — where the war is nothing more than a background detail which explains why the children are in a strange house, and the boys and girls just naturally embrace their destinies — then this wouldn’t be an issue.

    But since the film has gone in a “realistic” direction and rubbed our faces in the attachment these children feel towards their home and their family, their sudden willingness to forget all that is now a bit of a problem. Once the war is over and the Witch vanquished, you’d think one of them might say, “Well, let’s get back to England now, our parents must be getting worried about us…”

  • SDG

    A M Hildebrandt:

    Many of your criticisms of Jackson’s LOTR are valid, and I’ve made some of them myself. I also agree completely that much of LOTR’s fidelity to source is probably due to others besides or even more than Jackson, including McKellen (whom I myself heard tell that anecdote about carrying around the book in his pocket on the set) and perhaps Mortensen as well (the fax story is new to me).

    In fact I give more credit to Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens than to Jackson in this regard. Film is a collaborative art form and many hands deserve the credit or blame for any film, and it’s often not possible to parse it all out (and attempts to do so often go awry).

    Ultimately, though, I don’t care if it was Jackson or his team that made it happen, the point is, things happened in LOTR that don’t happen in LWW.

    That said, it is hardly the case that “all Jackson did was great casting and great special effects.” Very likely Jackson deserves a lot of credit for the compelling way that things unfold on the screen.

    Take the way that the Ring — a tiny metal band — becomes such a formidable presence in the film — the way it bounces on rocks or falls to the floor with the force of hammer striking anvil. Think about the creative challenges in showing the magical allure of a little metal hoop. Now ask yourself: If you didn’t know from the book that the Witch’s Turkish Delight was enchanted, would you have gotten that idea from the film?

    Or consider the directorial choices that make that terrible appearance of the Black Rider on the path so overwhelming — the closeups, the dramatic use of silence and sound, the emphasis on the Riders’ effect on the hobbits, especially Frodo. Think about how boring or even cheesy it could theoretically be to watch a hooded figure ride along and get off his horse.

    Again, I hate to make the comparison, but why can Jackson make a horse seem a more overpowering screen presence than Adamson can a lion? Why was Adamson less interested in the effect of Aslan upon the children than Jackson was the effect of the Rider upon the hobbits?

    Derelict:

    You make some valid points, and I think we disagree on LWW maybe less than you might think. Remember, I DID recommend the film to the tune of a B-plus — not nearly what I was hoping for or would have wanted, but still I’m glad the film was made and I plan to take my kids as soon as I can. (And thanks, I’m glad you appreciated the “King Arthur” review!)

    Your hypothesis about Peter planning the battle and using the griffins based on his blitz experiences is interesting — though I don’t remember anything in the film to show us Peter planning the battle or showing the leadership you infer. A brief planning sequence, even if we didn’t hear any actual strategy, would have made a lot of difference. As for “For Narnia and for Aslan!” — my point is just that the film doesn’t do the character-development heavy lifting that gets Peter to that point.

    Incidentally, do you remember that in the book Aslan actually coaches Peter beforehand on battle strategy, and warned Peter that he (Aslan) might not be present for the battle? There’s another bit of Aslan and Peter the film chopped out.

    My point about Lucy embracing the Professor isn’t that the Professor was or should have been scary, but that LUCY THOUGHT he was scary — just his shadow moving under the study door was enough to make her gasp and run away — and that Lucy’s evident change of heart about the Professor comes without any warning or explanation to the audience. My best guess is that there was originally additional Professor footage and that he was originally introduced in some other way in between those two scenes, but that this was cut for length and no one noticed the resulting storytelling discrepancy. However it happened, it IS a problem. The first scene has no payoff, the latter has no setup, and the audience is jarred for no reason at all.

    My point about “cute callback lines” doesn’t just mean lines that get repeated for any reason, like Sam repeating his promise to stay with Frodo to explain his loyalty and heroism. Sam keeps coming back to that line because he is steadfast and it’s something that he’s holding onto. To me, the repetition of “Impossible,” “Why can’t you do as you’re told,” etc. is, well, glib. I don’t know, I’m not enough of a screenwriting expert to really nail it down. But I know it when I hear it. :)

    The coming of spring is far, far too hasty and incidental in the film. It is possible that my summary is too hasty as well. I’ll watch again the next time I see the film.

    Finally, while I absolutely agree that Jackson also is open to criticism regarding unwarranted character changes, it is not true that my objections to the characterization of Peter are adaptation issues rather than dramatic issues. Totally without reference to the book, the film is sloppy in its characterization of Peter. Peter is a leader whose leadership is never really seen in the film, and any way you slice it, that’s a dramatic problem. (I could almost buy your idea that Peter’s final attempt to pull Edmund and the girls out of the battle comes only because he despairs of the battle… but wasn’t he already talking about Edmund and the girls going home even before the battle began?)

  • The Derelict

    Thanks for the reply, Peter!

    I will concede that it is not absolutely necessary to start the film off with the Blitz, but the film DID, and I think it’s a perfectly valid way to start. I know I enjoyed the heightened tension, and it actually reminded me of Boorman’s Hope and Glory. Your other points, again, are really criticisms of adaptation rather than of the film itself. And that’s cool, but my response was to Steve’s, that the film AS FILM was heavily flawed. I don’t think it is (at least not in the examples he gave).

    I also think it’s wrong to say that Aragorn’s new-improved-indecisivness is a “‘realistic’ extrapolation” from the text. Book-Aragorn is nothing if not confident and ready to assume his duties as king. The “extrapolation” is done because the filmmakers don’t think the audience will accept a king-without-internal-struggles. But it’s not Tolkien, that’s for sure. LOTR shares similarities with the heroic epic, and unsure hero-kings are not generally a staple of that genre, so the LWW-is-fairy-tale argument doesn’t really hold, for me. If the filmmakers of LWW felt the need to “psychologize” the kids, that’s their decision. I loved the characters in the movie. I also love the book characters. And I recognize they have differences.

    Also, I found the children’s reactions to seeing their thrones (especially Edmund’s) an absolute delight, and I thought they seemed pretty happy to be kings and queens. The “plodding” as you put it is representative of the struggle we must all go through before we
    receive the reward of the eternal kingdom.

    Sorry to be so argumentative, but all the things you found missing in the film I found in abundance. I’m just sorry you couldn’t enjoy it as much as I did. I had a similar reaction to FOTR the first time I saw it, as you had with LWW, but I found that once I separated my book experience from my movie experience I was able to fall in love with the film.

  • fbc

    Haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing LWW; but I’m going to as soon as possible.

    I just wanted to add my .02 to the commenters who didn’t swoon over the LOTR trilogy. I’m also one of those average Joe types who thought that the LOTR was deadly boring. I’ve watched each one in succession (because my children loved them) and have yet to be able to watch one all the way through without dozing.

    I know I’m in a decided minority of people I know who unlike me, absolutely love LOTR. But as for me, fantasy leaves me cold and the LOTR triply so.

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree with Barb that Peter Jackson is a great visionary, but little else. He made The Lord of the Rings look breathtaking, and he pushed a lot of boundaries with his special effects, but when it came to his story telling I found him lacking.

    I would agree with all the others that The Lord of the Rings has wonderful themes, and the characters are deeply moving and inspiring, but I don’t think that is something we can credit to Mr. Jackson – rather those around him and most of all to Mr. Tolkien.

    Tolkien had lots of wonderful themes and all Jackson had to do was remain a little bit faithful to the book to have his film contain those themes, and from what I heard it wasn’t so much Jackson who was remaining faithful to the book but those around him. Sir Ian McKellen had the books tucked away in the pockets of his robes and carried them everywhere he went reading, and giving helpful suggestions to those around him. Viggo Mortensen sent Jackson faxes every night with suggestions as to how to keep it more faithful to the books. I’m sorry but to me Jackson is not the one we should be praising for the themes and compelling characters.

    Erich von Stroheim and his adaptation of Greed is as far as I know the only film to try and remain completely faithful to the book, and it was never shown(as far as I know) in all it’s glory as a seven hour film. It was – against Stroheim’s wishes – cut down to three hours. That said, I would agree with the cuts that Mr. Jackson had to make, because you can’t have them all, but what puzzled me was when he started adding and changing elements that were never there. The Ents in the book decide at their Ent moot to go to war for they could not stand the way Saruman was destroying their forests. In the movies, the great tree shepherds don’t even know that he is clear cutting until Pippin tricks them to going to the south end of Fangorn.

    Aragorn’s “death” (when he falls off the cliff) in the two towers is just a waste of screen time; it doesn’t do anything to make you feel the tragedy. Everyone knows he is not dead, for the third book/movie gives it away: The Return of the King. Jackson and his wife wanted to recreate that feeling of loss like we felt when Gandalf goes down with the Balrog, but it does not convey the same thing.

    In the books Faramir is the polar opposite of Boromir, and I always saw him as someone who takes after Aragorn and the Dunedain, rather than his father and brother. I always loved Aragorn, for to me he plays the Christ figure in the Lord of the Rings on most occasions, and as such, he is not someone you can always wish to be. You can wish to be like him but you can never be Christ. But Faramir is someone you can strive to be, he is not perfect but he is someone who is very Christ like, or in this case Aragorn like. And that is why it is so easy to understand why Eowyn is taken by him, for he is like Aragorn, and Eowyn knows she will never have Aragorn’s love romanticly, but Faramir is closer to home for her. So when they make Faramir, to be more like his brother, and someone who is just out to seek his fathers approval, you loose that Aragorn like aura about him.

    Lastly I will say that Jackson didn’t stay true to all the themes of transcendence, for he changes the one that Tolkien thought the most important, the Fall of it’s hero, and the Grace that saved him. In Jackson’s version, Frodo, Falls as he claims the ring for himself, but then chooses to take Sam’s hand as he is about to fall into Mount Doom. But in the book, Frodo does not get to choose whether he should be saved or not, for even if he had his choice I think he would have taken the same path as Gollum. But it is Grace that saves him and destroys the ring and no choice of his own.

    All this to say, Peter Jackson should not be getting the credit for being a great storyteller here, for all he did in my mind was some great casting and visual effects.

    A M Hildebrandt

  • Peter T Chattaway

    First, the Nazi bombers. Obviously the filmmakers decided that they needed to establish the setting and situation that would require the four children to leave London, so they included scenes of the Nazis bombing the city.

    No, those scenes were not required at all. The 1979 and 1988 adaptations got by just fine without them. And for what it’s worth, if memory serves, British children were sent to the countryside before the bombings began, in anticipation of the bombings.

    Several of your comments justifying the film’s changes to the character of Peter are predicated on the notion that the film needs to draw a parallel between World War II and the war within Narnia. But in fact, the film does not need to draw this parallel, because the book never draws this parallel.

    And it is precisely because Narnia and The Lord of the Rings are such completely different beasts that Peter should not have been given the same sorts of doubts and hesitations that Aragorn was given. Tolkien wrote a richly detailed epic history, a work of thorough sub-creation; Lewis merely wrote an off-the-cuff fairy tale that slapped together elements of his favorite stories, not unlike how J.M. Barrie slapped several genres together when creating Neverland.

    Narnia is more like Peter Pan than The Lord of the Rings in this regard (props to SDG for the analogy), and it is for this very reason that The Lord of the Rings can withstand and even invites a degree of “realistic” extrapolation, whereas Narnia does not.

    Narnia is a fairy tale, and in fairy tales, it is assumed that children want to be kings and queens; that’s why they call it “escapism”! But this film, in the misguided name of “realism”, kills the fairy-tale spell by giving the children nothing but doubts and hesitations as they plod on towards their inevitable destiny; and as a result, the film doesn’t feel like much of an “escape” at all.

  • The Derelict

    Also, I’d just like to add, that I came out of LWW with a warm, comfortable feeling, as if I’d just finished Christmas dinner or spent the afternoon reading a book by the fireplace. I felt a sense of happiness and contentment for several days afterward (I saw the film at an advanced screening). Just thought I’d offer my impressions.

  • The Derelict

    Well Steve, I’m not Barbara, nor have I taken any Act One classes, but I did study screenwriting and filmmaking at the University of Michigan, and I actually LOVE the LOTR movies. So I’ll try my hand at answering your criticisms.

    First, the Nazi bombers. Obviously the filmmakers decided that they needed to establish the setting and situation that would require the four children to leave London, so they included scenes of the Nazis bombing the city. Later, of course, the bomber scene will be recalled in the final battle between Peter’s and the Witch’s army when Peter sends the giffins to drop rocks on the bad guys. This goes to answer your problems with Peter (his reluctance to lead, etc.), because I think we’re suppossed to realize that the planning of the battle was handled by Peter and he used his experience of the blitz to inform his plan. Pretty good for a kid who (suppossedly) hasn’t show any aptitude for leadership. ;)

    Secondly, you criticize the introduction of the professor as having no payoff (if I understand you correctly). But I think the point the filmmakers were emphasizing in that scene with Mrs. MacCready wasn’t so much that the professor was scary but that the house itself was forboding, that this wasn’t going to be some fun little vacation. It’s the MacCready who sets-up the professor as “not to be disturbed” but that is not an attitude the professor himself takes. In fact, the point could be made that what we sometimes find intimidating/scary is really not, that it really might be something wonderful instead. This, however, seems like a minor point, just a little bit of dramatic misdirection, one I could hardly imagine would relegate a script to the reject bin.

    Your point about “cute call-back lines” is one that, frankly, I can’t believe you’re making. Lest we forget the fantastic call-back line from FOTR — “‘Don’t you lose/leave him, Samwise Gamgee.’ And I don’t mean to” — I think these lines are all wonderful, and add to the characters. Susan says “Impossible” because she is the skeptic, the unbeliever who doesn’t have time for “childish” faith. Of course, later on, it is the evil witch who will utter it. A juxtaposition which I thought very telling (especially, knowing what I do about the later books).

    “You need it more than I do” IS a little too cute when Tumnus repeats it to Lucy at the end, but I didn’t mind it because it was an expression of their friendship and mutual regard for each other’s well-being.

    The dialogue repeated by Peter to Edmund (about doing what he’s told) might seem a little trite/cliched/whatever, but I think the line was meant to highlight Edmund’s actions in these scenes. Both at the beginning of the film and at the end, Edmund rushes off, against Peter’s wishes, because he wants to save a loved one; first, to save his father (at least symbolically, in the picture), and later Peter, in the battle. Thematically, you might quibble with what message is being sent here. But, Edmund doesn’t do “what he’s told” because he wants to help someone he loves.

    The “some kids don’t know when to stop playing pretend” line is, again, somewhat like the Susan/White Witch “Impossible” line: it’s the “unbeliever” who’s really pretending; the Fantasy IS the truth.

    Your point about the change from winter to spring not being a focus in the film, is, I think, absurd. The way you describe it, one frame has the world covered in snow and the next has it in full-blown, blossomed spring. I seem to remember, ice and waterfalls melting (creating a beautiful rainbow, btw); flower blossoms on trees pushing through the snow and ice on the branches; wet coats left on branches as green ivy and moss grow furiously on trees; the White Witch walking on foot now that the snow has melted; Ginabrik complaining of how hot it was getting; and a tree spirit waking up and waving to Lucy. If you want to reduce that to “an action scene, a quick effects scene, and a cut”, well, that’s your business, but I thought the change was beautiful.

    Your criticism of Aslan’s walk to the Stone Table is one I share myself. It would have been nice to see Aslan suffering more and really asking for comfort from the girls. But, I do think the stuff that IS there, is very good. I know I cried a little when Lucy buried her hand in Aslan’s mane.

    I also was upset that we didn’t get to see Aslan waking up all the statues, but I can understand why the filmmakers left it out. They were going for a furious, “this is the climax, folks” pace, so they didn’t want to spend too much time with Aslan and the girls because then it would bring down the tension going on in the battle. But, again, I think the stuff that is actually IN THE MOVIE is great, with very well-done special f/x.

    Finally, your criticism of Peter’s character is pretty valid. Just as the criticisms of Jackson’s Aragorn, Faramir, Denethor, Eowyn, Theoden, Galadriel, and Saruman are. Both filmmakers took liberties with the characters (in relation to the books), but this hardly qualifies as a “movie criticism”, only as an “adaptation criticism.” I might not enjoy Kathy and Heathcliff. . . erm, I mean, Elizabeth and Darcy swooning over each other in the misty rain in the new P&P film, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a good film. Similarly, though the Peter of the film is not exactly like book-Peter, it doesn’t mean he’s not a good character IN THE MOVIE.

    You mention his reluctance to be a leader. However, notice that he continually acts on behalf of his brother and sisters’ well-being. He made a promise to his mother that he would look after them, and he tries to do so throughout the film, and this accounts for his repeated suggestions that they leave Narnia. Peter made a promise to his mother, and it speaks to his dedication and love that tries to uphold it.

    Peter, in the battle at the end, tells Edmund to get the girls and go home (which you site as an instance of Peter ignoring the prophecy), but he only does so because he thinks the Witch has won — they won’t really have to worry about the prophecy if they’re all dead, so Peter, trying to fulfill his mother’s wish, is willing to sacrifice himself in order to save his brother and sisters. Also, I think Peter’s insistance that Edmund and the girls leave, but that he stay, is a nod to the earlier scene at the train station where Peter looks over, somewhat longingly, at a young soldier going off to fight. Peter, throughout the film, is always pulling out his sword, trying to find the courage to fight evil in way he cannot do at home. Without a thought for his own safety, he kills Maugrim in order to protect his sisters, again, fulfilling the promise he made to his mother. His final growth as a character comes when he takes charge of the army (and, it’s suggested, plans the battle, see my point above) and embraces his position as leader of Narnia. Why “For Narnia, and for Aslan”? Because now Peter is their leader. If he didn’t care about Narnia, he could’ve just taken his siblings home after Edmund was saved by Aslan’s sacrifice. But, instead, he is willing to sacrifice his own life to fight evil. But, as you say, he’s not much of a leader. ;)

    I could say more, I guess, but this post has gone on way long enough. :)
    I feel like this “either-or” thing that is going on between Narnia and LOTR is kind of missing the point. LWW is nothing like LOTR, whether we’re talking about the movies or the books, so I’m not quite sure how the discussions have turned into this strange fight between the two. I would think that the real argument would be between the Harry Potter films and LWW, since these works have more in common with each other than do LWW and LOTR.

    For the record, I love HP 3 and 4, can’t wait for King Kong, put Gone with the Wind at the top of “favorite films” list, and have seen LWW three times.

    Also, Steve G. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your awesome smack-down review of King Arthur. That review has endeared you to me forever!
    I
    enjoy reading reviews from all of you guys, though in this particular case (LWW), sadly, we disagree.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Admittedly, I’m just your average Joe moviegoer.

    That’s just the thing, though. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films grossed between $314 million and $377 million each in North America alone, and raked in more money overseas besides, for a total trilogy box-office haul of $2.9 billion.

    That’s bigger than Harry Potter (the first three films grossed $2.6 billion worldwide) and Star Wars (the prequel trilogy grossed $2.4 billion worldwide; FWIW, the original trilogy grossed almost $1.8 billion worldwide, but most of that money was earned over 20 years ago, when ticket prices were a lot, lot lower).

    So obviously, The Lord of the Rings had a much, much broader appeal than simply those members of the audience who happen to be extremely huge fans of Tolkien’s books.

    Barbara, one of the things I find curious about all this is that you sometimes come across like one of those people who points to a film’s box-office success as a sign of its moral or artistic merits. E.g. you said your top film of 2004 was The Passion, because you were going to go with “the global audience”.

    Then again, the top film of 2004, both in North America and around the world as a whole, was actually Shrek 2 — and outside North America, The Passion was also behind Spider-Man 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Incredibles, Troy and The Day After Tomorrow, so maybe I’m making too much of your rhetoric…?

  • the wild man

    WOW!
    quite the clash of titans indeed!It’s a bit like stumbling into a bun fight in the school cafeteria!

    Comparing the LOTR pix & Adamson’s Narnia flick is a bit like comparing steak and burger or even less appealing; hamburger helper.( jus’ to continue the cafeteria metaphor) I am with Peter & Greydanus & the venerable Jeff O. I found Narnia disapppointing in that I was left with no sense of wonder or awe.Since the books DO convey a sense of awe I think anyone who gives Adamson a B- is being a generous soul!
    In contrast Jackson’s LOTR left me with a sense of mystery..the theater became a wee bit like a cinematic cathedral where LOTR was a medium of the transcendent.
    Lewis was an unabashed Christian mystic whose Aslan ( a “supposal” not an alegory(:) conveys a sense of the holy and other.I guess we should never have expected the director-writer responsible for opening Shrek with fart bubbles in the swamp bath to grasp this.The issue is faithfulness to the source material and obviously having some sense of what Narnia was about.Even the low-budget late eighties BBC Children’s workshop with its lame special FX conveyed a sense of the other..the Beaver’s speech in the Beeb version gives us a sense that Aslan is an awe-some figure.
    In the Adamson treatment I was more than disappointed by the Beaver dialog being stripped down or is that dumbed down? when the kids have tea with them. ” Aslan is on the move..wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight etc..” Is not there. The books convey a sense of awe,the other.Lewis was hugely impacted by Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy and this infuses his literary masterpiece.It has been argued that there is a hint of Trinitarian faith in the Chronicles :Aslan is is the Son of the Great Emperor Beyond the Sea whose breath brings life to the “dead”.
    The film has no reference to Aslan being the Son of the Great Emperor Beyond The Sea.There is no one-liner about Alan not being safe but good.In the books one’s response to the utterance of Aslan’s name or his presence is a kind of barometer which indicates what is happening in the heart or flags up the spiritual well-being of the person or the lack thereof.
    The blogger who said we are introduced to Aslan as “oh look there is a lion on the other side of the river” sums it up.
    The Aslan passion scene does not reflect the pathos of the book.It is a genuinely moving narrative.
    I could go on but enough blethering for just now.

  • Plato’s Stepchild

    Based upon the discussion here, I assume its a near certainty that discussion of William Friedkin’s movie Sorcerer with the Tangerine Dream and Keith Jarrett soundtrack is not on?

    TTFN

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>That is the problem with you film critics, you HAVE to find a fault with a film.<<

    Uh, well, no. It is our job to sift a film and highlight what went wrong and what went right. If nothing went wrong, well, no one will rejoice more than critics, because frankly, we’re SICK of sitting through films that don’t engage us.

    If there is something wrong with a film and we DON’T point it out…

    or we give it an ‘A’ primarily because we agree with its message…

    or that it was supported and made with the involvement of Christians…

    or because it’s accessible…

    or for any reason other than excellence in artistry…

    well, we should be fired from our jobs.

    Nobody needs to read someone who sits around and equates what is popular or easy with what is good.

    In any discipline, there is demand for experts who devote their attention to the field and offer insight and training in discernment. Film criticism is not a task that pays well, so those who do it regularly do it out of passion for film… for LOVE of film… and that’s what most people don’t understand. We’re picky because we love it.

    And if it’s arrogant for a professional film critic to say he knows more about movies than the regular moviegoer (as Michael Medved once wrote), then it’s also an arrogant claim for professors, journalists, pastors, or plumbers to believe they have some measure of knowledge or experience beyond their customers. Film critics become film critics by weighing each title against hundreds more over the course of a year, dialoguing about the discipline day in and day out, and practicing to become better writers. Any film critic who HAS to find fault with a film has already blown his integrity.

    I wanted to praise LW&W, just as I wanted to praise the Lord of the Rings films. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in aspects of both.

    I just happened to be enthralled by Jackson’s vision, whereas I expected to be appalled. And I was troubled by Adamson’s vision, whereas I went in fairly optimistic (because of the standard Jackson had set, and the constant promises that “The film is the book” … a lie that Barbara doesn’t seem to mind.)

    And for the record, I frequently criticize big screen adaptations for disrespecting the source material. Sure, some changes need to be made, but there’s no reason to cut out what SDG described as brilliance “served on a silver platter” and replace it with unremarkable action. If you’re going to give the adaptation the same title as its source, or worse, put the author’s name in front of it in the credits, you had better respect the story they wanted to tell. Otherwise, do what they did with “The Name of the Rose” and call it “A Palimpsest of the Novel” or “Inspired by the story by…” or “Loosely Based on…” or something like that.

    “Palimpsest.” It’s a good word. Look it up. Adamson’s Narnia is his own invention, inspired by “his memory of reading the novel as a child” … by his own admission. It’s not C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. Similarly, Jackson’s Middle-Earth is his own invention. But faced with far greater challenges, Jackson did more credit to the story Tolkien wanted to tell than Adamson does to Lewis. And he did it with innovation, style, and enthralling filmmaking. And I respect that. There was absolutely nothing original about Adamson’s use of the camera. There was nothing “visionary” about his treatment of the characters, except for a few fine flourishes with Edmund. The soundtrack was unremarkable, whereas The Lord of the Rings was symphonic. The special effects were good, whereas the Lord of the Rings’ were standard-setting and remain unmatched.

    If and when my novels are adapted for the screen (and I don’t find myself longing for that), I will only work with screenwriters who agree to tell MY STORY, not hijack my characters and their circumstances only to distill it down into some easily accessible THEME. Nor will I sit still while lines I’ve spent hours thinking about get replaced by routine movie cliches.

  • SDG

    Oh yeah, I forgot “because he has no sense of theme.”

  • SDG

    That’s fine, Anonymous. I’ve got no quarrel with anyone who doesn’t like the LOTR movies. You can be an intelligent, sensitive, insightful person and not like LOTR.

    You can also be an intelligent, sensitive, insightful person and not like Citizen Kane, or A Man for All Seasons, or Diary of a Country Priest, or Toy Story 2, or The Passion of Joan of Arc, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or The Kid Brother, or Chariots of Fire, or any other movie under the sun.

    There’s no “canon” of Officially Good Movies that You Must Think Are Great if you want to be an intelligent, sensitive, insightful person.

    And I’ll tell you something else. If you don’t like any of the movies above, or if you happen to rate them below some other movie that I happen to think is terrible — say, American Beauty, The Cell, The Hours, The Last Temptation of Christ, Pleasantville — I won’t say you’re smoking crack, because I happen to believe that movies are sufficiently complex and open to interpretation that intelligent, sensitive, insightful people are allowed to disagree about them.

    I therefore find it somewhat jarring that someone who happens to think that LWW is a better movie than the LOTR movies feels obliged to engage in what C. S. Lewis himself called “Bulverism” to explain why other people think differently — to say things like “Greydanus thinks that because he’s smoking crack, because he has a Jackson fetish, because he’s over-awed by The Hollywood Thing [whatever that's supposed to mean], because these handicaps keep him from being an insightful critic.”

    That strikes me, to say the least, as darn rude. It also strikes me that to put other people down in this fashion over contrary opinions about movies raises questions about what kind of film commentator, not to say what kind of human being, you might be.

  • Anonymous

    I wholeheartedly agree with Barb about the LOTR movies. I’ve tried (multiple times) to watch them all on DVD. I forget most of the character’s names now. I fell asleep during the second movie — twice. I think they’re tedious and boring, not to mention unfocused. I went into it wanting to like them, after hearing how brilliant they supposedly are…but, sorry, not seeing it. At. All.

    Admittedly, I’m just your average Joe moviegoer. I have no training in film theory or storywriting, nor am I overly enamored with movies in general. I think our culture in general is way too invested in the entertainment business, actually, but that’s just my opinion.

    Just throwing my 2 cents in, since aside from Barb, this thread is a vertitable LOTR lovefest. It’s especially funny to me that some commenters have suggested that they know what “most people” thought of the LOTR movies. I know some people who loved them, lots of who were pretty indifferent to them, and quite a few people who didn’t like them at all.

  • Brian Friesen

    Just saw the Narnia film. I was surprised how almost irrelevant Aslan really is in this adaptation. His slow, dramatic approach in the book is traded in for “Aslan is over there on the other side of a river massing the good guys for a battle.” The end of winter is suggested to be the result of the children – their arrival more than anything they do. The result of this seemingly small shift is that the moments of Aslan’s death and resurrection and the thing about deep magic all work more like a distraction from the film’s focus on the kids fulfilling the prophecy and bringing an end to the witch’s reign. If it were not for my long history with Lewis’ book, I would wonder why Aslan is even necessary for this story. I’d be all like, “supposedly, he’s the ‘real king,’ but then there are two more guys becoming kings, and a couple of queens. What’s up with this story?”

  • Nicholas

    I’m not exactly a titan, but I made a comparison of how the films treat their source material here:
    http://thenicsperiment.blogspot.com/

  • Justin

    Someone has to come out and say this: Barbara….what films DO you like? You truly have no film taste whatsoever if you can say those things about the Lord of the Rings films.

    That is the problem with you film critics, you HAVE to find a fault with a film.

    The fact of the matter is, Peter Jackson made an epic film on many different levels. He made a film that still will move people long after all of us are gone. I still cannot watch those films without being moved. Any praise that those films get is well deserved.

  • SDG

    And yet, Barb, having said all that, there is something to be said also for the issue of capricious, harmful, wanton changes to the source material.

    I know, you said that’s “not the way to watch a film.” But honestly, are you telling me that you don’t look at Aslan as a Christ figure? If you do, then aren’t you comparing him in some way to an external text, the Gospels, if not to Lewis’s story?

    Are you really saying that dramatically it doesn’t matter whether this Christ figure, on his way to die to bring salvation, experiences suffering and loneliness beforehand? Whether Aslan moans and stumbles and asks the girls to comfort him, or whether he merely walks somberly to his death — dramatically, it’s six of one, half a dozen of another, and only obsessive Lewis fanboys would be concerned about that, because that’s not the way to watch a movie?

    Are you saying that dramatically it doesn’t matter whether or not a lot of other characters express awe and trembling about coming into Aslan’s presence? Whether lines affirming his omnipotence and sovereignty are kept or deleted? Whether Aslan is clearly seen throughout the story as in every way superior to the Evil One, or whether Aslan and the Evil One are seen as “worthy adversaries”? You don’t think different decisions here could possibly be worthy of praise or blame? That’s not how to watch a movie?

    Because frankly, if that’s what you think, you’re in no position to be ragging on my about my crack habit.

  • SDG

    Come on, Barb, you can’t just go about throwing around innuendo, insulting everyone else’s tastes, and avoiding coming to brass tacks, at least not forever.

    It’s all well and good to complain that I happen to think the source material matters (guilty as charged), but what about the issues I raised that have nothing to do with the source material?

    Let’s take Lewis off the table. I’m taking your Act One class. Help me be a screenwriter.

    I have this screenplay — never mind the source — that starts out at the top of page 1 in the cockpit of a Nazi bomber, though after page 1 I have no more Nazis, planes, or bombing.

    On page 3 I establish that the heroine is afraid of this mysterious unseen character, but then on page 5 we meet the unseen character for the first time and my heroine is clinging to him for comfort. No explanation. Her earlier fears have no payoff, her subsequent embrace has no setup.

    My heroine travels to a magical land where she makes a friend who offers her tea and sardines, but doesn’t know about shaking hands. (Let that pass.)

    Her friend lives in mortal terror of an evil witch who has made it winter for 100 years, whom he betrays to set her free. She goes back to visit him again to make sure that the Witch hasn’t found him out. Returning a third time with her siblings, she discovers that this time the worst has happened. She, not one of the others, says, “Who would do something like this?” although if you stop and think about it she should be the last of them to ask such a question.

    Oh, look at that, suddenly it’s spring now. I bet that didn’t even take me one page. I hope you don’t think a thing like that should be important.

    My country has talking animals, but sometimes I give them dialogue like “Put that sword down, someone might get hurt.” I also use a lot of cute call-back lines (“Why can’t you do as you’re told?”, “You need it more than I do,” “Some kids don’t know when to stop playing pretend,” “Impossible!”).

    Finally, I’ve established the older brother as the leader of the siblings and the future High King of Narnia. Yet the whole film I have him do nothing but go on about not getting involved and needing to go home. Eventually he has this rite of passage scene, kills a wolf and gets knighted, yet he continues to go on about wanting to send his siblings home, even though I’ve established that my story needs all four of them to stay and the eldest knows it darn well.

    Suddenly, in the end, as the final battle approaches, I have him marching on the enemy at the front of the ranks, even uttering a war cry, “For Narnia and for Aslan!” although I haven’t exactly focused on the character arc that leads to this new attitude. Even then, though, I still have my “leader” continuing to “lead” in the wrong direction right into the climax of the story, insisting against my story’s own established logic that his siblings should go home. What actual “leadership” he ever really exhibits, I’m not sure.

    You’re my teacher, Barb. Do I get an A?

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    >>And talk about awful characters! The movie engaged me with no one.

    Hmmm. That reminds me of my gripes with The Passion of the Christ. I can care about someone in general if they’re flogged for thirty minutes. But that doesn’t mean I’m engaged with their character. Watching a jolly bearded fellow splash some water on his mom doesn’t endear me to him in the least.

    I have never met anyone else who can’t keep track of more than Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings films.

    On the other hand, I can think of many people who saw the films and eagerly ran out to read the books for the first time. ook at what happened to book sales for Tolkien’s work. And look at how the Academy, many of whom I’m sure were not familiar with the books, responded. (Compare that with how they respond to Narnia. Just watch.)

    If you’re more engaged with Adamson’s characters than with the moral struggles of Boromir, Frodo, and Gollum, or the breaking heart of Gandalf, or Eowyn’s desire to participate in defending what she loves, then I really do not understand your idea of good characterization.(Of course, you’ve no idea who I’m talking about, so those examples won’t make sense to you.)

    Did you ever care about the original Star Wars trilogy? Do you remember anyone beyond Luke and Darth Vader? Just curious.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    And no, that your projections on a character make you want to be more wise or noble is not the same thing as having a unifying thesis.

    I haven’t a clue what this is supposed to mean, as I can vividly recall how surprised I was by how moved I was by the characters when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring. I had not expected to like Jackson’s film (not that much); and since I am not a particularly big Tolkien fan (I haven’t read the books since Grade 6), I don’t know what I would have brought into the theatre that I could then have “projected” onto the characters.

    Incidentally, one of the few things about the Narnia movie that I really liked — as I indicate in my review — was the authenticity of the sibling relationships. But the fact that I got choked up by the way Lucy clings to Peter at the train station was definitely due to the fact that I was “projecting” my own experiences as the eldest brother in a family of four (including a sister nine years my junior) onto the movie. Which is why I did not let that particular moment of verklemptness have too big of an impact on my assessment of the film as a whole.

    Again, so many of Steve’s notes come from his imposition of his knowledge of Lewis’ book on the film. I suspect this was why he was so mesmerized by Jackson trilogy. It is the wrong way to watch an adaptation .

    Do you feel this way about, say, Bible epics? Because like it or not, Aslan pretty much is Christ to a lot of people.

  • Barbara

    Sigh.

    You are all smoking some kind of crack about Jackson’s movies. They are tedious, meandering, repetitive, and pretentious. But worst of all, they have no point of view. Which is another way of saying they have no theme. And no, that your projections on a character make you want to be more wise or noble is not the same thing as having a unifying thesis.

    Because I too was snarky, I accept the ultra snarky insinuation that demanding a theme in a movie is the same thing as wanting things to be superficial and moralistic. I wish you would rethiink it and not reduce the one to the other.

    Again, so many of Steve’s notes come from his imposition of his knowledge of Lewis’ book on the film. I suspect this was why he was so mesmerized by Jackson trilogy. It is the wrong way to watch an adaptation .

    I never read the whole LOTR series, so I watched the films with untainted eyes and saw them for what they are. Very messy. Bad storytelling. (And talk about awful characters! The movie engaged me with no one. Three movies in, I still don’t know the bad guy’s name. In fact, I don’t know any body’s name except Same and Frodo. Now, THAT’S BAD characterizations.)

    You know what guys, let’s pick this up in twenty years or so. Or sooner perhaps. I hope I live long enough to hear Greydanus say, “Wow, instead of growling at her, I really should have let Barb leave the theater at the fourth stupid ending to the LOTR movies! She’s right. These things really suck.”

    It was choking on some kind of overthunk Turkish delight not to give Narnia an A. You will be backtracking for many moons….

    [Barb chortling with evil glee. heh heh]

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Barbara, after commenting that the Narnia films would be nonsense to The New York Times reviewers, are you surprised at the positive (if less than profound) review that A.O. Scott gave it?

    http://movies2.nytimes.com/2005/12/09/movies/09narn.html

    He does misunderstand the term “allegory” in his descriptions of Lewis. The Narnia tales definitely lean toward allegory far, far more than Tolkien’s do… and the more they do so, the less charm they have as stories, and the more they become mere sermon illustrations. But thankfully, Lewis’s love of pure storytelling trumps his tendency to play the teacher.

    A.O. Scott also says, “The supposed controversy over the religious content of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” may be overhyped…” which is funny, considering it was The New York Times that played the biggest role in “over-hyping” the controversy, publishing no less than SIX articles about it before the film came out.

    He does admit that “British children are especially prized, and little Georgie Henley, who plays Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie children and the first to discover Narnia, is both winsome and indomitable, with a wide smile and a priceless accent (though not quite the same one as that of the actors playing her siblings).”

    And this may be my all-time favorite passage from Scott’s often-narrowminded reviews: “For me, the best moments in the film take place in the wardrobe itself, which serves as a portal between England and Narnia. When the children pass through it for the first time, I felt a welcome tremor of apprehension and anticipation as the wooden floor turned into snowy ground and fur coats gave way to fir trees. The next two hours might not have quite delivered on that initial promise of wonder – we grown-ups, being heavy, are not so easily swept away by visual tricks – except when I looked away from the screen at the faces of breathless and wide-eyed children, my own among them, for whom the whole experience was new, strange, disturbing and delightful.”

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Erm, I meant to say, Jackson’s films made me a better churchgoer.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Here’s another angle I’ll toss into the mix.

    I happened to start attending my wife’s Orthodox church (now my Orthodox church) between the theatrical releases of The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The fact that many people at my church, including my priests, are huge Inklings fans was pretty nice. But the reason I mention this is because Peter Jackson’s films filled me with a deep appreciation for royalty, majesty, and awe — qualities that are absolutely essential to worship in an Orthodox setting.

    Whenever I bow or prostrate myself during the service, I do so because Jackson’s films, for all their action-movie histrionics, encouraged a reverent sensibility in me. For that matter, whenever I kiss my priest’s hand, I think of Pippin kissing Denethor’s — which is no diss against any of my priests, because the point is, it is the office that commands respect, more than the person who occupies it; and indeed, one of the key points that Tolkien and Jackson make through the character of Denethor is that some people are unworthy of the offices they occupy, and that ultimately people who act as stewards for higher powers will be judged based on how they reflect and submit to those higher powers.

    The point is, I think Jackson’s films made a better churchgoer. And there is nothing — nothing — in Adamson’s movie that inspires that kind of reverence in me.

  • SDG

    Thanks, hombres. (That was supposed to be “GREY rain-curtain,” of course…)

  • Peter T Chattaway

    When you flesh out your screenplay with boilerplate dialogue . . .

    The one that really grates on my nerves is when the wolf says, “Put that sword down. Someone could get hurt.” That is such a typical movie-bad-guy line. Lewis would never have written something so banal.

    Look at how the LOTR films aren’t afraid to include (and even discuss!) themes of transcendence in LOTR, like the hints of Providence . . . and immortality . . . and then compare it with LWW’s studious avoidance of transcendent references to “deeper magic from before the dawn of Time,” the “Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea,” etc.

    Oh, brilliant comparison! (Or, rather, contrast.)

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Wow.

    I mean.

    Wow.

    Steven, I agree with you on every point, and couldn’t have come close to saying it so clearly.

    But I do have one question. I don’t remember what Gandalf was referring to when he said, “The grain rain-curtain…”

    Did it rain grain in Middle-earth?

    :)

    Jeffrey

  • SDG

    Hi Barbara!

    Thanks for your comments… which, of course, are completely wrong. :)

    Let me say, to start with, that you have NO IDEA how it KILLED me NOT to give Narnia an A-plus. NO. IDEA. I swear, it was like giving a B to my own flesh and blood. I would gladly have cut off my right pinkie to be able to give the film an A in good conscience. But I’m not going to lie and call a B and A.

    Some questions for you to consider, screenwriting maven that you are:

    * When your leader (Peter) is still bull-headedly “leading” in the wrong direction at the freaking climax of the film, is that A-level storytelling?

    * When your leader talks about nothing but giving up and going home through the whole story, and then suddenly in the end you have him prepared to fight a battle and crying “For Narnia and for Aslan!” without really showing how Narnia came to really matter to him, is that A-level storytelling?

    * When opening scenes establish that your heroine (Lucy) is intimidated by a mysterious unseen character (the Professor)… and then you forget all about that and introduce said mysterious character by having your heroine cling to him for comfort, is that A-level storytelling?

    * When the very first shot in your film is not just of Nazi bombers but is actually shot from the inside of a Nazi bomber cockpit, but there doesn’t seem to be any good thematic or storytelling reason for this choice, is that A-level storytelling? (Props to PTC.)

    * When you flesh out your screenplay with boilerplate dialogue and trite screenwriting tactics like cute call-back lines (“Why can’t you do as you’re told?”, “You need it more than I do,” “Some kids don’t know when to stop playing pretend,” “Impossible!”, etc.), is that A-level storytelling?

    * When you don’t notice that the book you’re adapting is hugely majorly about winter turning into spring, and you decide to just get the whole changing of seasons out of the way in an action scene, a quick effects scene, and a cut, is that A-level filmmaking?

    * When you don’t notice that your Christ figure is supposed to, you know, be suffering on his via-dolorosa agony-in-the-garden journey, when you chop out little things like him moaning and stumbling and saying how sad and lonely he is and asking for comfort because you don’t think it’s important, is that A-level filmmaking?

    * When you’re handed on a silver platter such a wonderful description of stone statues being brought to life that critics of earlier film adaptations spontaneously quote it in their reviews, and you don’t think it warrants more than a token visual since you can just as easily do it offscreen, is that A-level filmmaking?

    I could go on and on and on. Jeffrey has seen my REAL list of grievances against the film, and he knows that I’m holding back in my review as it is.

    Oh, and one other thing. While we disagree about the LOTR films (not to mention the books!), I think I’m critical enough of Jackson’s shortcomings to be able to quarrel with the accusation that I have a “Peter Jackson fetish” — but be that as it may, I know in my bones that in a number of cases above Jackson would have made better choices than Adamson.

    You wanna talk themes? Look at Peter Jackson’s treatment throughout the trilogy of the theme of the allure of the Ring…. and then compare it with what Adamson does (or rather doesn’t do) with the allure of Turkish Delight.

    Look at how Jackson dramatizes the theme of temptation and moral struggle in the story-arcs of Boromir, Gollum, and Frodo… and then look at what Adamson does with the moral struggle of Edmund. (Like, leaving out all the most important stuff… not just some of it, but ALL of it.)

    Look at how the LOTR films aren’t afraid to include (and even discuss!) themes of transcendence in LOTR, like the hints of Providence (“There was another will at work… you were meant to have the Ring”) and immortality (“The grain rain-curtain of this world back… and then you see it… white shores and a far green country under a swift sunrise”)… and then compare it with LWW’s studious avoidance of transcendent references to “deeper magic from before the dawn of Time,” the “Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea,” etc.

    Look at how Jackson (like Gibson in The Passion) gets maximum impact from the suffering of his heroes — the shattering impact of the toll that carrying the Ring takes on Frodo…. and then look at what Adamson doesn’t bother to do with Aslan’s walk to the Stone Table.

    Let’s face it. Adamson was in way over his head. He didn’t understand the story he was trying to tell, and he’s not that sensitive a storyteller — as the “Shrek” movies illustrate and this film confirms.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Indeed. Dissing Jackson and praising Adamson is like dissing Guinness and praising Bud Lite. Jackson’s films a brave, bold, groundbreaking and enthralling. There were only a few moments in Narnia when I felt drawn out of self-awareness and into real enchantment.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Oh, hey, and by the way, Jeff, I was on the radio too this morning — on CBC’s The Current — and I believe I had to clear my own throat a couple times, too, which was annoying. I blame it on the fact that I had to wake up at 3:45 in the morning to be at the studio by 4:45 in the morning.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings leaves me wanting to be a better person — as brave as Frodo, as loyal as Sam, as wise as Gandalf, as contrite as Boromir, etc., etc., etc.

    Andrew Adamson’s Chronicles of Narnia makes no impression on me whatsoever.

    That’s what it all boils down to, in the end.

    Maybe it’s because Jackson’s liberties are more justifiable than Adamson’s (emphasis on the word “more”), maybe it’s because Jackson knows how to work with actors and musicians in a way that Adamson clearly doesn’t, or maybe it’s even because Jackson had better source material to work with.

    Whatever the set of reasons, I experience what Lewis called “joy” while watching Jackson’s movies, but not when watching Adamson’s movie.

  • Jeffrey Overstreet

    Huh. I thought his “Lord of the Rings” film had a powerfully strong sense of theme. “Beautiful Creatures” did as well. Haven’t seen “Kong” yet.

    And “Narnia” is NOT an “A” movie. It’s got serious flaws in its script, its effects, and its flow. And as an adaptation, it includes changes to the original text that are counter-intuitive–they don’t improve anything, and they break things that were strong and admirable to begin with. I gave it 3.5 stars as a “thank you” for encouraging so many people to discover C.S. Lewis, but in my more discerning moments I wanted to give it a 3-star review… a B or even a B-minus.

  • Barbara

    Oh yeah, what I meant to say (in between throwing bombs) was that I can’t believe that Greydanus couldn’t bring himself to give Narnia an A. Good grief.

  • Barbara

    Greydanus has such a weird Jackson fetish. It keeps him from really seeing the movies. Jackson is a much a “visionary” as was the guy who built the Titanic. Reminds me of The Princess Bride, “Visionary. You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what that word means.” Greydanus tends to be totally over-awed by “the Hollywood thing” and it gets in the way of his being an insightful reviewer.

    The fact is, Jackson has zero sense of theme. And theme is what makes a movie haunting and great. His movies are all style with almost no substance.

    It’s weird to me that so many of the Catholic critics – notably Rose Pacatte, Greydanus, Peter Malone – don’t have any sense of theme.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X