Some random Narnia thoughts

Some random Narnia thoughts May 11, 2005

I just came across this article from the May 2 USA Today on the upcoming Narnia movie. It prompted a few random thoughts.

1. The film is described as “PG-rated”, but in fact, the film is not yet finished and therefore the MPAA has not yet listed any rating for it. Still, having said that, I expect the filmmakers have aimed for a PG rating, and not a PG-13, just as the makers of the Harry Potter films and the first five Star Wars films have done.

2. The article states: “Just as The Little Mermaid rescued Disney animation from going off the deep end in 1989, Narnia aspires to restore the studio’s legacy as the leading maker of all-ages, live-action escapism.” I am tempted to say something snarky in response, like, “Maybe this will be more like the new Black Cauldron, which pushed Disney closer to the deep end in 1985,” but who knows. Certainly I think the Disney company is closer to where it was in 1985, when it was running on fumes and stale ideas, than to where it was in 1989, when its fresh infusion of new blood was starting to pay off in a big way. In any event, I believe this film is more of a Walden Media production than a Disney production; Disney is providing money and distribution, but the key creative impulses have come from somewhere else.

3. Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch, says: “I’ve never made a children’s film. I’ve never made a film my children can see. I’m not even sure if they’re going to see this one. I don’t want them backing away from me for the rest of my life.” Heh. I remember having nightmares about the White Witch after watching that cartoon on television in 1979. Lord only knows how a child might react after seeing a live-action movie on the big screen.

4. Director Andrew Adamson‘s parents, the article says, “were both associate missionaries in Papua New Guinea.” That’s an interesting detail. I’m curious to know more.

5. Terry Lindvall says C.S. Lewis had a love-hate relationship with the movies: “He believed there was death in the camera. Meaning, when you translate word to image, the imagination dies.” I am certainly sympathetic to Lewis’s preference for books over films; see also G.K. Chesterton’s essay on how historical movies “blot out” the complexities of historical writing. But I also agree with Carl Plantinga that films stimulate the imagination in ways that books cannot, indeed in ways that books sometimes thwart. Come to that, at that same link, Charlie W. Starr notes that Lewis himself favoured the basic “image” of a myth over the words and pictures that were used to impress that image on the imagination:

What really delights and nourishes me is a particular pattern of events, which would equally delight and nourish if it had reached me by some medium which involved no words at all — say by a mime, or a film. . . . In this respect stories of the mythical type are at the opposite pole from lyrical poetry. If you try to take the “theme” of Keats’s Nightingale apart from the very words in which he has embodied it, you find that you are talking about almost nothing. Form and content can there be separated only by a false abstraction. But in a myth — in a story where the mere pattern of events is all that matters — this is not so. Any means of communication whatever which succeeds in lodging those events in our imagination has, as we say, “done the trick.” After that you can throw the means of communication away. . . . In poetry the words are the body, and the “theme” or “content” is the soul. But in myth the imagined events are the body and something inexpressible is the soul: the words, or mime, or film, or pictorial series are not even clothes — they are not much more than a telephone.

Of course, Lewis was a brilliant writer, so it is not so easy to throw his words away; but I think Lewis would have been happy to see people talking about Aslan, even if they had never read one of the actual Narnia books. So long as the filmmakers get the “pattern of events” right, that would suffice, even for Lewis, I think.

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  • Trent

    Quote: Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch, says: “I’ve never made a children’s film. I’ve never made a film my children can see.

    I found her a rather odd (and oddly erotic) choice for playing the White Witch. It’s a bit like…well, like Ewan “Look at my lightsaber” MacGregor in a Star Wars movie. I’m sure there’ll be some people (probably the Christian Commentators) who make the stretch to relate the character to the movies she’s been in in the past. But I’ve always enjoyed watching her in films: “Oh, look, she’s about to take her clothes off again.”

    I’ve noticed that in the last few years, Hollywood has been aspiring to make all my favourite books into movies: LotR; I, Robot, Narnia, The Lions of Al Rassan….there’s a few books left on my favourite list, but it’s interesting.

  • Anonymous

    You did not just dis The Black Cauldron did you?

  • Trent

    I forgot to Mention Hitchhikers Guide in the list of Hollywood Adaptations of favourite books…

    And if Peter didn’t dis the Black Cauldron movie, I most certianly will; speaking of movie adaptations of fav books, this one ranks near the bottom…

  • I mentioned The Black Cauldron because it was promoted at the time as the big splashy epic that would pull Disney out of its years-long slump — it was the first Disney cartoon to be released in 70mm and 6-track Dolby stereo and with a PG rating, IIRC — and in the end it flopped, for reasons I won’t bother getting into here. Narnia is getting a similar promotion nowadays, but it remains to be seen how well it will do.

    Disney, which was in the middle of a power transition at that time, apparently considered the film an embarrassment. I believe The Black Cauldron was given the green light before Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg came along to usher in Disney’s late-’80s “renaissance”, and I believe the new guard resisted releasing the film on video until just a few years ago, when the DVD market arrived. Until that point, I believe The Black Cauldron had the ignoble distinction of being the only feature-length Disney cartoon that had never been released on video.

    I remember liking the film quite a bit when I was 14 years old — I had not yet read the original Lloyd Alexander books at that time — but nowadays the film definitely seems like a pale, clichéd rip-off of the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings stories, among others.