Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Narnia movie a minefield for Disney

The Life section in today's USA Today has this lengthy article (lengthy for USA Today anyway) on the new Narnia movie which Disney studios hopes will be the first of a seven-film franchise. The first trailer for the movie will air Saturday night during ABC's showing of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and a longer trailer will be attached to this summer's most highly-anticipated film: Revenge of the Sith. The film itself won't arrive in theaters until December.

I'm looking forward to seeing the film, but it will be interesting to see if Disney can avoid all the pitfalls that accompany bringing a book like this to the screen. Consider:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an enormously popular book: Until HarperCollins got the US Publication rights, LWW was considered the first book in the series (it was the first Narnia book that Lewis wrote, and really should be read first even though HarperCollins numbers it second), and as such, it's the book most people will have read if they read any of the series at all. Fans of the book will want to see a film version that's faithful to the story. Even minor detractions will cause an uproar from some quarters.

The story is a parallel of the death and resurrection of Christ: C.S. Lewis was one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last century. His books are read, reread, quoted, excerpted, and passed along almost like religious tracts by many Christians, and Christians -- who already have a love/hate relationship with Hollywood -- will want to make doubly sure that a film version of one of the best-loved novels in Christendom remains faithful to its message of sacrifice and redemption. If the film downplays or dilutes the Christian message in any way, count on an outcry.

Actually, count on an outcry anyway, because no matter how faithful the film version is, some people won't be happy unless there's an altar call at the end. And other people will reject it because a) it's a fantasy, b) it's got a witch in it, and c) the Christ figure isn't Jesus himself.

Disney has been repeatedly targeted by some Christian and pro-family organizations: In recent years, Disney's managed to alienate the very audience it seeks, so this is a big risk for Disney. If they don't do it right, they will only be confirming for some Christians how seemingly out of touch they are.

The first trailers will be telling. A positive reaction from Narnia fans will likely result in an overall positive feeling toward the filim as the release date approaches. Negative reaction will dog the film until December.

I'm hoping Disney manages to pull it off, if only because I want to see film versions of the later books in the series. But I'm already wondering how Disney will handle "The Last Battle," which is essentially the Narnian "Revelation" with all that end of the world heaven and hell stuff. If the Narnian worship of Aslan is Lewis's parallel to Christianity, what will Disney do with the Arab-like Calormenes who appear in later books, and whose religion is Lewis's parallel to Islam?

In spite of the changes to the source material, Tolkien fans were so pleased with the first film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that their initial outcry turned to fevered anticipation for the next two films. But because the Narnia series has such strong religious symbolism, Disney's going to be walking a minefield with each release.

11 Comments:

At 1:28 PM, Blogger David said...

Great points. This is a bit more of a dangerous undertaking than LOTR was.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger James Wigderson said...

I think there's a good cahnce they'll get it right. They saw how Peter Jackson's trilogy made money by remaining as close to the story as Hollywood possible. The other example for them is Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ which also made money. They can actually have the best of both worlds while still hitting their target family market. But then, I saw Hudson Hawk in the theatre.

 
At 5:31 PM, Blogger Nehring said...

Valuable points made.

Hoping that the film(s) will honor the orignial work, (and more importantly the inspiration of the work) is like hoping the scorpion will not sting you.

I am trying to hope for the best, but I am fully prepared to be let down.

 
At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Christof said...

Just want to say that the movie is not made by Disney (they are only distributing it) but by Walden Media.

Your points about the dangers of adapting such a book are still valid though.

 
At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Alison said...

I am looking forward to this movie so much. I fell in love with aslan from the begining and I'm half way through the series. As long as Adamson stays true to the original story their shouldn't be a problem. If they dilute it...like you said I will be so terribly upset. What made me a little mad was that fact that on the movie's website there was no mention of christian affiliation. All I ask is HOW can you miss it? aslan is christ and is the holy spirit talking through C.S.Lewis so that we may better know him through the books.. I have more about C.S. Lewis in my blog

 
At 11:11 PM, Blogger walker said...

Alison, think again. The only reason Lewis' story is so timeless, widely loved, and powerfully potent is specifically BECAUSE it makes no direct mention of Christ, christianity, or other flush. The Chronicles of Narnia are a masterpiece example of applying the LESSONS of christianity to a broader spectrum of life. If the wisdom are Christ's teachings can't be applied to situations outside a church's walls, they have no value except to the a closed community. The amazing thing about Narnia is that everyone can get caught up in those stories and recognize who the admirable characters are and find the flawed qualities in others. Readers (and hopefully viewers soon) are drawn to revere what is most noble in humans - even though it's being modelled by creatures that aren't human! It's not the symbol of the cross nor the name of the church nor some particular affiliation with some religious group which makes Christ's teachings worth a shit, it's the teachings themselves. It's the morals and lessons of how to treat one another in our brief time here on this rock that need to be more closely embraced by humanity, not language or skin color or symbols or any of that crap. It's that sort of superficial, materialistic labelling and categorization that so dangerously tempts people to think less of something/someone simply because they don't see the "Christian" label clearly stuck to their bumper. That is the path of division and prejudice and intolerance and hate. The world would be a much better place if christians (and muslims and jews and atheists etc.) would look for the qualities that others posess and not the brand they wear. If one can recognize that a lion can provide a wise example for humans to follow, why would there need to be a cross around his neck for a christian to embrace the relevance?

 
At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Ashley said...

You said christians wont like the movie because a)its fantasy b)it has a witch in it and c) Aslan isnt Jesus himself. Let me clear this up for you.
a) Christians don't mind fantasy as long as it doesn't make evil look good.
b) Yes, theres a witch in it, but the witch is obviously evil, which is fine. No one would mistake her for someone good or want to be like her. If the witch was potrayed like witches are on "charmed" or "Sabrina" that would be a problem.
c) Aslan isn't Jesus himself. There is a tricky answer to this. Everyone ten years old and up will know that Aslan is supposed to be Jesus. And in the end of the "Voyage of the Dawn Treader," after he turns from a LAMB into a LION Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that on Earth he goes by another name. Its would be kind of hard to miss the meaning of all that.
I think the movie will be awesome and I have just one thing to say. If you don't have the books and you want to read them, go buy them now because after the movie comes out, there wont be one left on the shelf of any store.

 
At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps this movie will send people to Christ. If the movie character captures their hearts, perhaps they'll want to know the truth behind it.
It would be a better place if everyone were spirit filled christians. There would be no prejudice or racism and everyone would love each other. Jesus said that the world would know you are his disiples because you love one another.

 
At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Drew said...

You said christians wont like the movie because a)its fantasy b)it has a witch in it and c) Aslan isnt Jesus himself.

Yep. Because I've actually spoken with such people. Of course, I think they're full of it, and as a Christian I have no problem with the story at all. But for some Christians, the mere presence of a witch in a story -- or for that matter any mythological characters like fauns and centaurs -- automatically brands the story as EVIL EVIL EVIL. I have had well-meaning (but confused) Christians tell me that Lewis himself was causing Children to go to hell because of his Narnia books.

I think they're absolutely wrong, of course.

 
At 6:29 PM, Anonymous Vanessa said...

I agree with Ashley. The problem with certain movies is that they make evil things look disirable. Look at Harry Potter for example. Harry Potter has young characters that kids look up to, and now all the kids are trying to cast spells and are meddling in dangerous evil stuff like that. Now the Lord of the Rings, even though it has a wizard in it, is okay for kids to watch because it doesn't temp them. And I highly, highly doubt any christians would shun a movie because it has an evil villian. What movie doesn't? And whats more evil of a villian than a witch?
As for the fantasy part, I don't see what you think is wrong with that, and I don't see why christians would not like the movie because Aslan is not Jesus. And anyway, in some of the books Aslan basically says he is Jesus.
I belong to a pentecostal church filled with extremely spirit filled, dedicated christians. Some of them have read the chronicles or bought them for their kids. I don't see anything wrong with the books and Im sure all the other christians won't either. If disney does leave all the biblical symbolism in the movies than they'll be extremely succesful.

 
At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Drew said...

The problem with certain movies is that they make evil things look disirable. Look at Harry Potter for example. Harry Potter has young characters that kids look up to, and now all the kids are trying to cast spells and are meddling in dangerous evil stuff like that.

I like Harry Potter. Good stuff. Lots of excellent lessons in it for kids.

Now the Lord of the Rings, even though it has a wizard in it, is okay for kids to watch because it doesn't temp them.

I think you're failing to see your own double standard. What difference do you see between Dumbledore and Gandalf? Both are wizards. Both cast spells. Both offer excellent guidance and counsel to those in their care.

And I highly, highly doubt any christians would shun a movie because it has an evil villian. What movie doesn't? And whats more evil of a villian than a witch?

Believe me when I tell you that I have spoken with and corresponded with people who believe that any bad behavior depicted in a book makes that book (or movie) fit for the burn pile. Forget Harry Potter or Narnia; I've had parents tell me that they won't let their children read "Little House on the Prairie" because Laura occasionally misbehaves, and therefore sets a bad example for children.

Then again, I've met other people who won't let their children read any sort of fiction because it's a made up story -- in other words, not "true" -- and reinforce this believe with scripture that counsels us to "dwell on what is true."

They fail, of course, to see that a story can be both made up and "true." I have attempted to gently explain this by pointing out that Jesus himself taught in parables -- made up storeis that contained "truth." Undaunted, they replied that "We don't know that the parables were fictional."

With some people you just can't win.

 

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