Susan's Blog

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Narnia, Then and Now

For the last two weeks, my evenings have included a reentry into C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, courtesy of my two younger sons, Max and Ben. Ever since taking them to see the newest movie version of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Max (13) has been reading the books to Benj (7). They are using the paperback series that belonged to me when I was 13 and I first discovered the Narnia books.

I suppose the movie has been both panned and critically acclaimed, but I will add my two cents here, as a former communication major. The problem with the mode of film is that except in two very outstanding circumstances (Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz) it will always be a hopelessly distant second, in my mind, to a good book. When I read, I am free to visualize the faces, imagine the voices, the smells, the feel of the characters and places. But a movie is more often than not imprisoned rather than set free by the director’s vision. Narnia, for example, was one of my all-time favorites. It was an entire universe created for me, I felt. I knew exactly what Lewis meant when he said that Aslan was too terrible to look upon. (By the way, I did not think, “Oh, yeah, like the face of God.” I took this for what Lewis wrote: Aslan was good and great beyond imagining, and I loved and looked forward to any mention of Aslan in the books. Did this make me a God-fearing Christian? No. I never knew this was a Christian allegory until I was an adult, and I still prefer my own interpretation to that one.) So how does the movie version portray Aslan? A huge lion with the voice of Liam Neeson. ‘Fraid not! And you could look right at him — no problem! Well, what did I expect, that they would use some blinding special effect? That would have been worse! But that is my point: a movie always has to choose between some lame special effect stunt or some overt recreation, the latter of which is what they did here. It is more the fault of the medium rather than the directors.

To the directors’ credit, the movie was a fairly literal adaptation of the book. Maybe that’s why I can’t say that I loved it. It had none of the book’s magic, and again, that is not the movie’s fault, but the medium’s constraint. For Disney, they showed admirable restraint in use of special effects, except for the overly-cutified talking Beaver couple; I practically expected Mr. Beaver to turn and wink at the audience at one point! Using Tilda Swinton for the White Witch was brilliant, however, because she had a very quietly seductive evil about her which was perhaps even better than Lewis’ own White Witch. I wanted to see far more of the White Witch, and was disappointed with how quickly she lost her hold on the world — literally the whole place dissolved into mush fairly rapidly once the four Pevensie kids showed up (and what was with that earth-toned Santa? My poor overly-literal Benji reasoned, “Maybe he is just the Narnia Santa, not the real one.”)

Max, who is a moviemaker already, has been fairly silent on the matter of the new film. Two years ago, he worked out and then described an entire trailer, shot-by-shot, of what his Narnia movie would be. Something with just flashes of a snowy world, a wardrobe opening, and the very last shot was a hint of Aslan. Just a hint. It took my breath away. I wanted to see Max’s Narnia movie so badly. To me, his version carried with it exactly the mystery, thrill, and magic that a Narnia film should have. His intelligence and sensitivity are just right for transferring this complicated imagery and plot onto film and I just could not wait for him to be old enough to make that movie. When he found out that Disney now owned the rights, both our hearts sank. But who knows? By the time he is grown up, perhaps he will have a shot at a remake.

The best thing about the Narnia movie is that it got my two boys to read the real books, together. And I get to listen, be my young self, and fall in love with one of the greatest stories ever, all over again.

1 comment

Hope Max makes his version one day.

Tilda Swinton is definitely the Snow Queen–and she would be the perfect Mrs. Coulter in the movie being made of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

— added by kristina on Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 5:29 pm