Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What's it mean when you can't tolerate even pretend good defeating pretend evil?

The critics agree: the Narnia movie is a rip-roaring success of a film. Here, for example, is the San Francisco Chronicle reviewer, a guy who tends to like movies that have women with big breasts and speak artsy words:

Like "The Lord of the Rings," C.S. Lewis' "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was the product of a Great Britain that had just been through a war of survival. The story neither was about World War II, nor was it an allegory for it, and yet it was informed by the moral absolutes and challenges of the wartime period: There's the presence of darkest evil, which can't be avoided but must be faced head-on. There's the grim understanding that sacrifice is necessary, that whole worlds are riding on the actions of a handful of individuals. And, in the presence of a wickedness so complete as to be supernatural, there's faith in absolute goodness. It's a work of profound ambition, and, in adapting it for the screen, the makers of "The Chronicles of Narnia" don't shy away from its demands. Rather than reduce the novel to a fairy tale, they take up Lewis' challenge and make a film that deals with the spiritual underpinnings of existence, i.e., the meaning of life. Except for "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, there's no philosophical precedent for this kind of film in recent cinema: The idea that life might even have an ultimate meaning goes against the modern trend. Yet this film in no way stands in the trilogy's shadow. It may lack the scale of "The Lord of the Rings," but it matches it in emotional impact, and, unlike its big brother, it never once gets lost in its special effects. It's a movie of intelligence and power, of beauty, universality and largeness of spirit.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is equally impressed, this time because of the movie's religious purity and its fidelity to the book:
Thanks no doubt to the guiding hand of Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham (himself a well-known evangelical), the script keeps the faith. Yet the message does not overpower the story (despite Tolkien’s fears), but rather hits the very target Lewis intended. It draws its emotional power from the spot inside that lifts up when we catch the refrain of that “old, old story,” in which a supernatural battle is won by glorious self-sacrifice. This is a story, Lewis would say, that God has prepared human beings to recognize when we hear it, and hid inside our hearts from our creation. Everything that is strong and good and satisfying in this movie can be found in the book. The main characters are brilliantly realized, and skirt potential problems by wise casting. The littlest of the four children, Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) is indisputably a child, with a broad face made squarer by a side part, wearing a Peter Pan collar and with a bow pinned in her hair. This is a refreshing change after excessively pretty leads in movies like A Series of Unfortunate Events and Because of Winn Dixie, young actresses who look more like beauty pageant sweethearts than real little girls.
The "I'm afraid religion" Los Angeles Times praises the movie for its fidelity to the book, too, and for the fact that the religious aspects are painted in terms of larger moral issues, without too much threatening Christianity:
There are several things to be grateful for in Disney's adaptation of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which, considering how beloved the source, comes as a relief. Most people who read the C.S. Lewis series as kids recall it with a fierce and proprietary fondness. But aside from an added prologue that kicks off the story in London and helps to ground it in a reality against which to contrast the fantasy to come, the movie remains faithful to the book in both tone and imagery. As soon as I finish this, I'll be sending thank-you notes to whomever it was that managed to avoid conforming to nervous marketers' notions of what "the kids" are into these days. Rather unbelievably — but oh so felicitously — Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) have made it onto the screen as British children (accents and all) who haven't been remotely coolified. They're starchy, polite, dressed in boiled wool and excited at the prospect of sardines on toast. Some evangelical groups have been promoting the movie as " 'The Passion' for kids," which makes it sound potentially like a greater source of lifelong trauma than "Bambi." But the Christian allegory embedded at its chewy center serves less as evangelical cudgel than a primer on morality and the myths we create to explain it. The magical land of Narnia is a place where Western myths and religions (classical, Christian, Celtic, Norse, you name it) are jumbled together so that we may consider their similarities and uses. If it weren't for Lewis' stated intention to write a fantastical story to make the dogma go down, it might even come across as a liberal humanist parable about myth and its function in society, especially during times of trouble.
And then there's the New York Times, which writes a peculiar review that sounds more like a third grader's book review, than anything else. That is, while other reviewers have tackled the movie's scope and beauty, and its moral qualities, A.O. Scott, while calling the movie "charming," has neverthless opted to have a "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened" approach, which fills in the details, without saying anything:
Mr. Adamson, who directed the rambunctious "Shrek" movies at DreamWorks, has nicely adjusted to the technical demands of mixing live action with computer-generated imagery. He also manages a less jokey, more earnest tone and temperament. Stocked with an estimable cast of actors - some doing voice-over, some appearing in wild costumes - "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" suggests that, at least in Hollywood, there is no such thing as too much Englishness. *** Lucy is sent off to the countryside to escape the Blitz, along with Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), a fact mentioned in passing by Lewis and given more thorough treatment here. The opening sequence - German bombs falling on London neighborhoods, sowing panic and destruction - is a premonition of the climactic battle in Narnia, and also a reminder that the war between good and evil is not merely a metaphorical conceit. Exiled to the home of an eccentric scholar (Jim Broadbent) and his stern housekeeper (Elizabeth Hawthorne), the children spend their time playing and squabbling, during which the essential aspects of their characters emerge. *** Narnia's onscreen incarnation is credible enough. Talking-animal technology has made impressive strides lately, and most of the minotaurs, foxes and other creatures share the screen comfortably with the humans. Aslan, the noble lion who commands the fight against the White Witch, shows up late, looks fabulous and speaks in the mellow voice of Alfred Kinsey - that is, of Liam Neeson. The homey, chattering beavers, who provide comic byplay as well as a picture of shopkeeper steadfastness, are voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French.
It's like a laundry list, with no magic at all. This review leaves you willing to see the movie, but not itching to see it. Now this could just be that A.O. Scott was having an off day. Or he could have disliked the movie, but been honest enough to comment favorably on the good things in it. Or it could be, and this is just me filling in the blanks, that the vocabularly of faith and disbelief, and of goodness and corresponding evil, and of morality and immorality is so alien to those who work at the New York Times that he either (a) was unable to see the same concepts seen by others or (b) seeing them, was incapable of giving them voice.