Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Quick disclaimer - the Narnia books are beloved far and wide by kids 8 and up. Therefore, I went into the theater with a lot of expectations and willing to let a lot of little things slide. Little things like some occasionally whacked-out acting by the actors in the kids' roles (especially Lucy). Like little blemishes in the effects (with Rhythm & Hues, ILM and WETA behind this project, it surprised me how many effects shots looked like ass).

That said, my kids absolutely LOVED it. Kayleigh actually said, in her ever-ebullient manner, "That was the best movie in the history of the world!" Granted, she is the target age for the book series, and I'm waiting a few more years before showing her Citizen Kane. Call me crazy, but she may not always feel that way.

I enjoyed the film immensely (all effects nitpicks aside). It was VERY faithful to the book, and where it does trim, it trims with love. The cast members were well picked for their resemblance to respective characters, and Liam Neeson I thought was a good choice for Aslan. Many would have opted for a real booming basso like James Earl "Mufasa" Jones or the like, but Neeson has a gentleness to his voice that is very appropriate here. The performances are "by the book" - that is to say, the acting is all very faithful to the novel and does not tread far from the page. No one really pushes the envelope (as I thought Viggo Mortensen did in Lord of the Rings). And that's just fine.

Let me just say the gryphons rock the house. They are the one element that really stands on equal footing with the best fantasy movie bits ever. Oh, and seeing Angus from Highlander in the role of Father Christmas was a nice geek moment. The beavers are cool (Ray Winstone & Dawn French are terrific in their voices). Mr. Tumnus the faun is cool. The wolves are ok. Wasn't really digging the White Witch's dwarf henchman, but Tilda Swinton was quite good in the WW role. Jim Broadbent (a BBC veteran of such comedy as Blackadder) was really charming as the professor. The centaurs are probably the weakest in terms of facial appliances - their makeup was not as well done as it could have (or should have) been. Production design was otherwise beautiful. Score was adequate, if uninspired. Cinematography was lovely. It is perhaps more fair and accurate to equate this film adaptation with the Harry Potter movies, in scope and execution. I've heard many comparisons with LotR, and it's really not even the same ballpark.

Bottom line, if you like the Narnia books and sparkly, fairy-tale fantasy, I recommend it. I wouldn't take a kid under 7 or 8, as there are some pretty intense moments. But it's a nice escape from the bustle of holiday shopping and will eventually go on my DVD shelf alongside LotR and Harry Potter.

Now let me vent about the two things that almost ruined the experience. The lesser of the two was the Star Jones wannabe Montel renegade in the track suit who, in the middle of the climactic scene, decided to get into a loud argument with the patrons around her. She finally did exit in a huff, telling everyone who shushed her, "y'all be trippin'!" I hate it when stereotypes come true.

The second and more irksome thing was that outside the theater were a handful of Christian fundamentalists passing out these cute little cards with some nice graphics from the film and C.S. Lewis - The Chronicles Collectible printed on them - as if to indicate some kind of official connection to the film. On the back, however, was a hardcore tract about how if you'd broken any of the Commandments, you were going to hell. Now, I understand that C.S. Lewis was Christian, and that The Chronicles of Narnia is a Christian analog. HOWEVER... it is also just plain classic fantasy literature, and shame on those hucksters for using it as a bully pulpit to scare children, a most un-Christian act. I'm sure Disney would love to know their film, for which they paid huge license fees to make, was being co-opted by some of the same zealots who urged a boycott of Disney due to their gay-friendly corporate culture. The hypocrisy here is simply astounding.

Fortunately, some of the more clear-thinking parents complained to the theater staff, and the hucksters were driven from the premises. Parents taking children to the film may want to be aware that this is going on, in case you don't want your preteen being threatened with eternal damnation before you actually have a chance to discuss theology with them.

Other than that, a pretty good day.

For the record, I was raised Presbyterian, briefly went to Catholic school, married a Pagan, and wound up with a Deist philosophy (like most of this country's founding fathers). I have nothing against a person's faith, unless it becomes invasive and used as a weapon against others. If more proponents of a given faith would actually live their lives by their own religion's doctrines, we wouldn't have nearly as much strife in the world. Thank God I'm a Deist. Amen. ;)


LL Cool P said...

Calling out a bunch of freaks, who obviously haven't even read "Mere Christianity" very closely, does not count as disrespecting someone's religion out of hand. At least not in my book. :-)

Anonymous said...

The wolves in the movie looked like they just walked out of The Day After Tomorrow and into the land of Narnia which makes me sad because computer graphics have improved so much so shortly, yet they seem to be using the same ones as they were a few years ago.

The film was fantastic however. And I was also mighty impressed with the griffins and the wonderful voice of Neeson for Aslan.

They did justice to the book. It was very enjoyable.

But Citizen Kane still tops my list too! However, I just watched Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc and it is a close contender.


Tracey said...

I don't know you, I have read your blog from the link provided on Lynnae's blog. I just wanted to say that with all you have been through this past year, thank you for blogging. I really enjoy reading about your day to day triumphs and tribulations. Thank you for listing your wife's blog, it has given me insight into cancer that I would have not known...a good family friend who is 3 was just diagnosed with cancer and Sam's blog/journal has helped me to see what lies ahead in Ali's journey.

tbone said...

Thanks, Tracey. I appreciate the feedback. Sam received many notes like yours while she was still alive. She touched a lot of lives indirectly, and if I can continue that, even in the smallest sense, it will have made my life more worthwhile.

My prayers on behalf of Ali. I'm very sorry to hear about the diagnosis.

Darth Jim Scott 4th said...

>and shame on those hucksters for using it as a bully pulpit to scare children, a most un-Christian act.

I reply: Speaking as a Traditional Catholic I'd have to read the tract in question before I agree or disagree with you Todd. Since in principle I no problem with warning people about Hell or inviting them to believe in Jesus.
OTOH I would (unlike these Fundamentalists) also want people to believe in Jesus & join the actual Church He founded 2,000 years ago.;-)

Anyway I like the film too. It was sweet. I took my eldest daughter to it & that made it the more sweeter.

tbone said...

Thanks for the comment, Jim! :)

As you probably know (you being Catholic and all), the Catholic Church has softened its view on children and sin. It's mostly the fringe groups using the scare tactics - the mainstream denominations mostly steer away from high pressure sales to the young. ;)

That being said, I will pose the following opinions (it is my blog after all), and I will pose them in terms that take the argument to those I have the issues with:

1) if we were created by God to have reason, we must be intended to use it. Furthermore, if we are created in the image of God (however literally or figuratively), God must possess reason as well.

2) by using such reasoning, it would seem that any dogma which eschews the use of reason must be against the will of God, for faith is not true if it is blind - faith is only true when it is tested, questioned and honestly arrived at.

3) It's nice that fundamentalists and evangelists feel so much pity for the rest of us that they try to warn us about the danger our souls are apparently in. However, accosting me in a public place with a pamphlet that tells my children they are lying thieves and the fires of hell await them is abusive and infringes on my right to worship as I see fit (and that of my children). Just as freedom of religion allows these folks to do their thing, it also allows me to do mine without being subjected to theirs.

4) Sneaking their tract onto the back of a postcard with unlicensed graphics, making it appear as if it is official film merchandise, is illegal (theft) and dishonest (lying). So who here is the lying thief?

There's the hypocrisy. That's where I take the greatest issue. It's supposed to be "practice what you preach", not "convert by any means necessary, and we'll conveniently forget a couple of commandments"...

Fortunately, I know several TRUE Christians (you among them, Jim). Those who follow the teachings of Christ, not bend him to suit an agenda. UNfortunately, too many of his followers are Christians in name only, and it gives the good ones a bad rap.

Darth Jim Scott 4th said...

>As you probably know (you being Catholic and all), the Catholic Church has softened its view on children and sin.

I reply: Actually it hasn't changed at all except the theory of Limbo *might finally be said to be untrue by the Holy Father. Technically Children (according to Church teaching) are still born in a state of Original Sin (of course don't confuse Original Sin with Actual Sin or Calvin's doctrine of total depravity). Which simply means unbaptised children who die would be saved from Original Sin by an act of ExtraOrdinary Grace imparted to them by God instead of them going to Limbo (a place of reputed perfect natural happyness less than Heaven).

Ironically some might consider Fundamentalist Protestantism less harsh than Catholicism since they believe all babies & young children go to Heaven anyway & they
reject the doctrine of Original Sin. I very much doubt the theory of Limbo but in case I'm wrong I would always baptise a child in danger of death.

>It's supposed to be "practice what you preach", not "convert by any means necessary, and we'll conveniently forget a couple of commandments"...

I reply: If they where as you said doing anything unethical or illegal then what they where doing is objectively a sin. St Paul has a lot to say in the NT about speading the Gospel ethically.
Lying, stealing & acting against reason are all sins. God be merciful to them & correct them. Amen!

Cheers Todd! God Bless!