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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Narnia 1: The passion of the lion

I left Narnia somewhat disappointed. But perhaps that was my fault. I almost forget it was a children's movie.
I'll just start out and clarify that this movie falls far short of the grandeur and epic-dom of Lord of the Rings. It lacks the rich and incredibly deep, complicated, and fascinating storyline.

The PG violence, while not pathetic, lacks the dramatic intensity. The score, while professional, lacks the memorable themes and tunes, and just feels like classically expected suspense-strings and triumphant-brass.
But let's forget comparisons to that three-movie mega-epic with an obsessive director. After all, C. S. Lewis wrote the book to be a children's story. This one is great in its own right.
There are three requirements for transforming a beloved book into a magnificent movie. First, there must be a good story to tell. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is an excellent story, both allegorically and intrinsically. It's the forces of good vs. the reign of horrible evil, of course, yet there's also a little fun along the way. It has the escapist appeal of an imaginary world of talking creatures, yet it has the realist appeal of ordinary children coming to save the day.

Second, the story must be told correctly. Worries that Disney would corrupt the Christianity will be forgotten. Whether it's because some in charge appreciated the symbolism and vowed to preserve it, or because a post-Passion Hollywood was conscious that a correct telling would satisfy the religious masses and translate into more money, or both, Lion... follows the book, point by point, almost to an extreme, removing items only to speed things up and injecting alterations only to appropriately increase the suspense. (Exceptions are the one-thrust "battle" between Peter and Maugrim and the sometimes-wimpy climactic battle sequence, although as a whole it's probably the best ever in a PG movie.) The dialogue smartly declines to always have the actors quote the book, and there are no complaints here, as audiences will welcome the quotable quips and funny one-liners.

Third, the story must be presented wondrously. Or, in layman's terms, sweet special effects. Obviously, in the technology of 2005, nothing less is expected, and WETA and Co. do not disappoint. Whether it's the witch turning living creatures into stone, or the lion turning them back into living creatures, or especially the realistic-looking and enjoyable beavers, wolves, and centaurs, anyone who has seen the BBC versions will breathe a sigh of relief at the justice that has finally been done. (Indeed, I'm sure someone is already thanking God that there will never be a costumed mouse in Prince Caspian.)

Christians will be more than satisfied. Non-believers will enjoy the story for its own merit, and maybe even come to understand the story at the heart of Christianity a little better. Just don't forget that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is, first and foremost, for better or for worse, a children's tale.



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