Sunday, December 11, 2005

Narnia review: Aslan the absent

Some in my acquaintance who will remember that, upon first viewing any of The Lord of the Rings movies, I did not support the idea of a movie about Narnia. I remember while reading the books once, thinking that I couldn’t imagine how someone could adapt it for a movie. Then I heard someone was seriously considering doing just that and I didn’t know what to think. I resolved to reserve judgment. Well, friends, the time for reservation is past.



What book?

Poor professor Lewis.

While it should be understood by all moviegoers that comparing the two would be like apples and oranges, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, failed to deliver in one essential area where The Lord of the Rings succeeded: It did not remain true to the venerable author’s original work.

Exhibit one is unfortunately the tragedy that is Aslan’s portrayal. Compared to the books, the movie makes him into a tame lion. Most readers who saw it might be puzzled by my assertion because of the way the movie ended with Mr. Tumnus’ statement about tame lions and how Aslan was no such thing. Its presence was gratifying but unfortunately seems to replace the lines that should have been said in the beaver lodge. In the book, the question is posed: “Is he safe?” The emphatic “no…but he is good,” in answer is enough to make readers extremely eager to understand Aslan, to meet him, to probe his character. Peter voices this in the book at that point, carrying the reader with him in his excitement: “I’m longing to see him, even if I do feel frightened when it comes to the point.”

In the movie, the Tumnus line is just simply, “he’s not a tame lion, you know…” It didn’t really have any impact except to put a definition on what you already saw, which, quite frankly, was just a talking lion king who killed the witch.



Driven to distraction

It’s quite possible that my negative impression of the movie goes beyond what I consider inadequacies. I’m sure I was more than a little distracted by trivial things like the horrific soundtrack. I was thankful for the times I didn’t notice it. Otherwise I felt like plugging my ears when this or that voice in the music kept trying to take center stage over the visuals.

The good stuff

On the bright side, the animals were awesome. Honestly, if special effects can contribute to the over-all success of a movie, this is the case study. The casting and acting was well done too. The children were just as they should look and feel—although poorly directed many times, causing them too much awkwardness at important moments…like the stone table for example.

Another bright note was the battle scene. More specifically, I appreciated the centaur’s breathtaking moves when he killed the enemy general and challenged Jadis. The children are green at that point and not a little awkward (as it should be), which makes it a little hard to watch sometimes—I expected that, though.

What is left to the imagination in the book tended to find good rendering throughout the movie. All the different fighting styles of so many animals were beautifully choreographed. The witch’s house was dazzling, dark and gave me the creeps—you are left wondering how Edmond can be such a dunce as to think he has a friend in this place.

So that’s a skimming of my thoughts. Yes, I cannot emphasize enough my disappointment over Aslan’s shallow portrayal. One of the most striking evidences is the first conversation he has with Peter. Aslan does nothing to indicate he has any kind of omniscience—you get the idea that He doesn’t know Peter well at all—not where he came from, not what he needs to hear. He even goes so far as to ask Peter the rhetorical question, “You don’t believe in the prophecy?” as if that was a valid question. In the book, Aslan tells Peter that he and his siblings will rule in Cair Paravel and the matter is settled. Peter didn’t respond in protest.



I’m so sorry Professor Lewis. I had hoped people would grow closer to your masterpiece through this movie. I think they will only find themselves more confused. So what is the movie’s point now? If you are looking for a vague allegory of a biblical story as you would in a Veggietales parody, then by all means, this movie is for you—a childish story and nothing more.

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Blogger Kristi said...

I see what your saying, and would agree it is more than a little weak in some areas....
But it certainly didn't prevent me from greatly enjoying it. The portrayal of Lucy was perfect (in my opinion), and the sibiling bond was very moving. All in all, it was good enough of a movie to make me cry at times, and yet, not good enough to leave me with an inspired sort of feelings (lol, if we're talking mere feelings--which I know you weren't).
Oh, did I mention that my cousin's husband helped with the special effects and his name was in the credits :D Just thought I'd mention that.

12:16 AM, December 12, 2005  
Blogger Patty-Jo said...

I don't really know much about the technical aspects of movies, but I did enjoy this one. My husband mentioned how Aslan's personality was downplayed, but I didn't really think about it that much. I thought the characters were perfect. I've seen the other Narnia movies, and this was SO much better!

1:52 AM, December 12, 2005  
Blogger Palm boy said...

The Children were done perfectly, I think Lucy was absolute perfection. The White Witch was just about perfect, and she was TALL, and an awsome fighter. The Beavers were sweet, and the Centataur General was soooooo cool in the battle.

Aslan seemed fine to me, I had just finished the book for the 9th time the day before, and Aslan seemed compleatly in character to me. The part where he wakes up the stone creatures in the castle was great, and his killing of Jadis was really good.

The sound track did reek though. I was hoping for another LOTR or Star Wars style sound track, with that style of classical/epic music. Instead, it was a bunch of wierd 60's singing.

The CGI was spectactular, every bit as good as the War of the Worlds or SW III.

Overall, I think the movie did great justice to the book, and followed closer then I hoped.

5:37 AM, December 12, 2005  
Blogger Gloria said...

Personally I have not seen it yet. (underline the yet) But one family in our church did go see it last Friday. She said it followed the book just fine. I guess I will have to watch it then see what I think.

8:34 AM, December 12, 2005  
Blogger Kimi said...

Mark, I'm afraid I disagree with you. I loved the movie!

Funny that you said you didn't like the music cause once during the movie I leaned over to Kelsey and said "I love the music, let's buy the soundtrack when it comes out."

5:16 PM, December 12, 2005  
Blogger mtdewaddict said...

Good observations Mark......I agree that the movie was a little weak and shallow on some things...but keep in mind it is not a 3 hour movie lkie LOTR. Also it was aimed at a younger audience, making it simpler. I enjoyed the movie greatly.... I am a fan of the books and I think that if the viewer has had previous knowledge of the series, this movie simply adds to an already excellent story, despite its few flaws.

5:37 PM, December 12, 2005  
Blogger Mark R said...

Chris, I respectfully (but strongly) disagree. Length isn't a factor because the book is plenty concise and brief (unlike LOTR).

Like I said, it's really apples and oranges: there isn't any way you can compare this to LOTR except in the faithfulness aspect. LOTR was way shorter than the book demanded but still remained faithful to the sentiments and intent. The LWW covered all the ground in the book but came up short on the real meat of the story.

I found it striking that after watching it, I spent about 3 hours reading and writing (even starting this review) and found myself horribly unimpressed by the work as a whole...it was hard to focus on it for its triviality.

That's just not C.S. Lewis!

Also Chris, do you mean the movie is aimed at a younger audience than the book--because that would be appalling (but what I suspect).

I'll probably be watching it again before the month is out so don't you all give up on me.

2:04 AM, December 13, 2005  
Blogger Mark R said...

Oops...

Upon rereading my comment, I noted there are a few places I may have been vague about whether I was refering to book or movie: when in doubt, think movie.

2:07 AM, December 13, 2005  
Anonymous Ruth said...

A portrayal that misses the main point is like a portrait without a face...
And yet, is it possibe that we may be reading a little too much into Lewis' book? It is, afterall, a kid's book; a simple allegory. Perhaps the book itself is a “childish story and nothing more.” Then again, the series as a whole needs to be considered, and that certainly, is a masterpiece!

8:33 PM, December 13, 2005  
Blogger Mark R said...

I grant it might be my view toward the greatness of the whole series that makes me disappointed.

9:44 PM, December 13, 2005  
Blogger Kristi said...

Well said Ruth. Meaning, I think the fact that I only read "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" leaves me a great deal more appreciative and tolerant of the film than if I had read the whole series.

3:28 PM, December 14, 2005  
Blogger Cassi said...

I just saw the movie last night, and it was ok, but the book was better.
In the book you could feel more of the characters emotions and feelings, whereas in the movie, they were not portrayed very clearly.
And, as you pointed out, Aslan does not seem to be the one in power or the actual ruler of Narnia. This movie seems to focus on the ruling power of the humans moreso than on the sovereignty of Aslan. This just shows how Christianity is portrayed today....with God being a guiding hand, but mostly out of the way, while Mankind in the real rulers of the world.

THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SHOWN BY C.S. LEWIS! NOR IS IT THE TRUTH!

3:50 PM, December 14, 2005  
Anonymous Jackie said...

A review of the "review":
"Mark the 'absent-minded'"

I warned you Mark; now here goes.
As a matter of background fact; I've read the Chronicles of Narnia about ten times total.
You say the movie did not "deliver in one essential area"- specifically, remain true to the original work. How so? Because you failed to see the Aslan of your own mental image? The book, "The Lion, Witch, Wardrobe" did not get any more in depth of Aslan's character than was portrayed in the movie. Lewis did leave further development for his character to extend over the other books.
Lewis DID, I repeat DID, write the Narnia books as simply a child's fairy-tale. I believe you are looking for something profound and deep. Read Lewis' "Till we have faces" or "Mere Christianity" or even the Space Trilogy for that. Lewis had no intention of being profound in the Narnia books. He even said, in a letter to his friend J.R.R.Tolkien that the LWW story is simply a child's fantasy. He didnt even seriously mean to write an allegory. Naturally, a man of Lewis' strong Christian principles and firm grasp of Biblical theology would, even in such a children's tale, portray his christian world-view. The same thing would come out in a book you or I would write because it is such an integral part of our make-up.
One of your critisms I found quite contradictory. "He even goes so far as to ask Peter the rhetorical question, “You don’t believe in the prophecy?” as if that was a valid question." Right. That's why it was a RHETORICAL QUESTION. The point of the question was informing Peter that there's something bigger out there than his own plans or knowledge of his own existence.
You know what Lewis' basis of Aslan's character is. That is what you went to the movie looking to be obviously represented. But Lewis didnt write Aslan so clearly or obviously. The movie did not develop Aslan's character any less or more than this particular book did.
Lewis said himself in that letter to Tolkien. Those who understand any kind of allegorical reference that might be there, will 'get it.' Those who dont, wont. No more, no less. I believe the movie did just that. No more, no less. I believe you went looking for more, hoping that those who didnt 'get it' would. Since you understand the fullness of the Aslan's character, you were hoping to see the movie portray that. Yes, it would have been neat if they had, but in NOT doing that, they HAVE remained true to the book.
I also have to make a minor note on your critique of the soundtrack. Admit it, you were hoping for an epic soundtrack like that of LOTR. In actuallity, Narnia is NOT an "epic" story like LOTR. It IS a children's fairy tale and the soundtrack, I thought, did MUCH to hold to that very idea. It was a soundtrack that matched perfectly with any children's fairy tale. Think Brothers Grimm here. I know Lewis did.

9:28 PM, December 22, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I take a different tack altogether in my criticism of the movie? The problem is not where it deviated from Lewis's original story (though it did in some small but vital details, imho), nor does the problem lie in their inability to capture Lewis's world. In my mind the problem is that, compared to the book, the movie was boring. It may have captured particular things well (the scenery was, for the most part, quite apt, and they didn't really seriously botch anything), but on the whole, I left the theater bored, honestly not caring whether or not I see the remaining six movies.

But then again, I appear to be an anomaly, both here and among all the people I've talked to at home and in Moscow. Go figure.

--> Jason the Frank.

11:38 PM, December 24, 2005  

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