Thu, December 15, 2005

Narnia: An Expanded Beginning

I’ll now continue looking at the differences between the book and movie versions of The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that I began with the introduction. In this installment, I’ll look at how the movie expands the beginning of the book.

The movie opens with the German Luftwaffe bombing London and eventually shows the evacuation of the children into the country. This seems a reasonable change—it takes the single sentence from the book “This is a story about something that happened to [the four children] when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids” and gives it a vivid setting that previous generations may not have needed. It also allows the introduction of the four children. From the beginning of the movie we see squabbling between the children and feel that they are motivated by a sense of loss—despite the bombs falling nearby, Edmund refuses to take cover in the bomb shelter until he has rushed back into the house for a picture of, we assume, their father. There is also a heart breaking scene as the children say goodbye to their mother at the train station prior to going into the country.

The train ride from London into the country seems one of the more joyful moments of the film, perhaps because of the music and colorful shots of the train—or perhaps just because there’s something wonderful about watching a beautiful brightly colored steam engine. We get to see other children being dropped off at a station and like the four children the audience wonders where they will end up. The wondering is underscored in the next scene as we see the four waiting at an otherwise empty station for someone to pick them up. There is a bit of humor as they scramble for their bags when they hear a car approaching and are then disappointed as it drives by.

They are picked up at the railway station by Mrs. Macready in a horse-drawn cart. Unlike the book, they do not meet the professor at the door of the house. Mrs. Macready in giving instructions to the children emphasizes that there is to be “no disturbin’ of the professor.” In the book, it is Mrs. Macready herself who does not want to be disturbed when she is showing people over the house.

The first scene of the children talking together in the house fits the general feel of the book, but the dialog has been changed—as in many other places in the film—to sound more like what children would say. Lucy’s complaint that the sheets of her bed were scratchy felt a bit out of character for her—she does not complain—but honestly she seems the most true to the book of any of the characters in the film. I found the changes in the children’s dialog to be an improvement in most cases. Instead of saying that Susan is always “trying to talk like Mother” as in the book, Edmund sarcastically retorts “Yes, mum.”

While this new expanded beginning to the story flows reasonably and the children come across as realistic, it starts the story off on the wrong foot. We are introduced to the story through a fearful evacuation and bickering between the children. This makes it more depressing and frightening than enjoyable. In contrast, the story in the book is significantly more playful:

They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country …. He himself was a very old man with shaggy white hair, which grew over most of his face as well as on his head, and they liked him almost at once ; but on the first evening when he came out to meet them at the front door he was so odd-looking that Lucy (who was the youngest) was a little afraid of him, and Edmund (who was the next youngest) wanted to laugh and had to keep on pretending he was blowing his nose to hide it.

As soon as they had said good night to the Professor and gone upstairs on the first night, the boys came into the girls’ room and they all talked it over.

“We’ve fallen on our feet and no mistake,” said Peter. “This is going to be perfectly splendid. That old chap will let us do anything we like.”

“I think he’s an old dear,” said Susan.

It is nicer to start the story off on a positive note. Although the evacuation of the children from London is historically interesting and provides a context for their journey, I’m not sure how important it is to the story. What is relevant is that they were sent together into the country. Indeed, I know I didn’t think about the historical motivations for their visit to the Professor’s house until I read some early information about how the movie would begin. Instead I had always viewed it through the eyes of the children, much like a trip to visit my grandma—as an adventure!

Most troubling is that we are introduced to the characters and their motivations through scenes and dialog that were not created by C.S. Lewis. I was shocked to hear Peter condemning his brother “Why can’t you just do as you’re told?!” and see Edmund cowering with his beloved picture. From the beginning the movie goes out of its way to try to create excuses for Edmund’s choices (I’ll return to this in a later installment.)

The movie also changes the characters—in the book, Peter is the leader, a role he grows into completely as High King. In the movie we see more doubts. In the train station, Peter watches a soldier and we get a sense that he is almost old enough to go to war. This was not a motivating factor in the book but is significant in the movie—they leave one war only to be drawn into another. Another noticeable change is that in the book Peter, the leader, is the one who suggests that they explore the house. “And that was how the adventures began.” Instead, after a dull scene with “the worst game ever invented” the movie has Lucy suggest that they play hide and seek.

All of this worked out to make me uncomfortable with the movie from the beginning. While I recognized all of the characters and they somehow fit with those from the book, I wanted them to be more kind and pure. The changes just didn’t seem necessary. Perhaps verses from Philippians were echoing in my head:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

Wed, December 14, 2005

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Differences between the book and the movie

Having now watched the new movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe twice in the same number of days, I decided it would be worthwhile to write down the changes I noticed. A more thorough analysis will be possible after the movie is released on video, but I hope this will be helpful in the meantime. I should say up front that I enjoyed the movie, but as a fan of the book, I was disappointed by many of the additions, omissions, and changes.

Warning: the following contains numerous spoilers. If you have read the book, but want to be surprised by the film adaptation, read no further until you have seen the movie. If you have not read the book, what are you waiting for? Go read it now, especially if you intend to see the movie.

What I love about the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (TLWW) book is its truly beautiful and enchanting story containing a Christian allegory. The movie falters in those moments where it robs the story of its purity and truth. As a child reading the story—or having it read to you—you are taken from an ordinary world into an extraordinary one. As Lewis wrote in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” the reader of a story like TLWW “does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”

I felt like the movie struggled to make the characters more real, more believable, and more like children of our world. This seems a fundamental flaw of the film. In his dedication, Lewis makes clear that TLWW is a fairy tale. I feel the movie almost tries to eliminate the magic of it.

In an interview, the movie’s director Andrew Adamson says “I want it to feel real and for kids today to actually relate to the children. So I’ve really tried to make the story about a family which is disenfranchised and disempowered in World War II, that on entering Narnia, through their unity as a family become empowered at the end of the story.” As admirable as it is to elevate family harmony in a world of broken and hurting families, this is not the main theme of the book. While repentance leads to improved relationships, perhaps most obviously in our families, the film seems more focused on the relationships than on repentance and redemption.

For those that had hoped for a movie more precisely like the book, another interview with Adamson is more revealing: “I actually set out really not to make the book so much as my memory of the book because I realized in reading the book as an adult that it was kind of like the house that you grew up in, much smaller than I remembered. And I wanted to catch the more epic story that I remembered which I think was expanded by my experiences over 30 years, by the fact that I had read all seven books, and that the world had actually expanded C.S. Lewis in writing all seven books.” The option was there for Adamson to hook into the allegory and expand in harmony with it instead of expanding the story to make it more like his memory.

Despite the differences, the movie clearly follows the scenes and plot of the book. I’m saddened that the differences could have made it a more powerful and deeper film, but instead the changes generally do little to advance the plot or enhance the characters, but mainly try to make the film more exciting. Even with the changes, the movie is true to the book and for that I am thankful. I hope that it is very successful and increases interest in all of the Chronicles of Narnia.

In future installments I will talk about the specific changes made between the book and the movie. I expect I will discuss the following (not necessarily in order):

  • Expanded Beginning
  • The Children
  • Edmund’s Journey
  • Aslan
  • Characters and dialog
  • New scenes
  • Omitted scenes

Thu, December 08, 2005

Aslan is on the move

Yes, that’s better. The lamppost is burning brightly and the snow is falling. Did you hear the bells? Father Christmas must have stopped by here bringing a new website look to suit the season.

It is with excitement and some dread that I anticipate tonight’s opening of the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The book has been a favorite since it was first read to me as a child. Since then I have reread it many times and discovered much more to enjoy and contemplate. And the tradition has continued: I’ve loved reading it together as a family recently. I see the delight and enchantment in my children’s eyes that I had when I first heard the story.

It will be a challenge for the film to match our imaginations and be true to the story. All editions of the book have included the wonderful illustrations by Pauline Baynes, so fans of the book will expect a certain “look” for Narnia. From what I have seen from the trailers and “making of” segments, the movie is quite similar to the artwork by Baynes and the descriptions by Lewis, so I expect it will be fine. Having seen the black and white line art for so long, I was at first surprised by the vivid colors of the movie, but the more I think about it I believe it fits.

I’m somewhat concerned about the parts of the story that appear to have been expanded. I find it very interesting that Lewis chose to cut away at some of the most intense moments in the book. I fear they may show more than necessary of the death of Aslan. “The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.” It is almost certain that the battle scenes will be longer than the few words Lewis uses to describe them. In the book only half a page is devoted to the battle and it is over almost as soon as the girls and Aslan arrive. Still, it would be fun to see Edmund fighting his way toward the Witch and smashing her wand instead of hearing it described by Peter afterwards as in the book. Once Aslan rose from the dead, I never had any doubt that all would work out, so perhaps showing this would not take away any suspense.

Despite all this, I’m greatly looking forward to the movie. After seeing the world premiere of the 9 minute super trailer during Narnia Night at Asbury College — which was an incredibly impressive and enjoyable evening with many friends of Narnia — I expect it will be a fantastic film and a box office hit.

Then signalling to the children to stand as close around it as they possibly could, so that their faces were actually tickled by its whiskers, the beaver added in a low whisper — “They say Aslan is on the move—perhaps has already landed.”

Sat, May 29, 2004

U4ia Mods

Writing about Netscape 1.0 yesterday got me thinking about pre-Web computer fun. Set the wayback machine for 1991…

Although university students might have been able to access the Internet at the time, the only online experience most people had was on computer Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). For those without the BBS experience, it’s a bit hard to describe just what it was like. On the Web it is so easy to jump from site to site. For each BBS you would normally need to dial up and connect to each system. Depending on the system, you’d often find message boards, files to download, and sometimes games to play. You could also talk in real-time with other connected users. On a small BBS that would likely be just the SysOp.

I still remember the day I found music online. I’d powered up my trusty 386 PC and 2400 baud modem. I connected to a Lexington BBS and looked through the new files. The description of one surprised me, it said it could play multipart music through a PC speaker (at the time—like many PCs—I didn’t have a sound card).

I believe the program was called ModPlay and I was very impressed that it did was it said. My PC speaker, formerly home to simple beeps, burst forth with stunning four-part sound. Amazing! Apparently the PC processor was finally powerful enough and fast enough that it could process digital music and drive the speaker. I later found a PC speaker driver for Windows 3.1 that could do the same magic with WAV files (by maxing out the CPU.)

The ModPlay program was an impressive feat and it lead me to search for additional MOD files. MOD files originated with the Commodore Amiga SoundTracker program. They contain digital samples and describe how to play them back. Each sample, or instrument, can be played back at a specified pitch and distortion on one of four channels.

The novelty of playing real music on my PC got me to try various MOD files. The most impressive were created by Jim Young, who went by the name U4ia. Sometime last year I got thinking about those MODs and set out to find them again. Here’s all of the U4ia MODs. I’ve grateful that U4ia freely gave away all this music. Surprisingly, WinAmp can play MOD files and they unsurprisingly sound far better than they did through my crummy PC speaker. Cool! I believe my favorite is “i’ll be waiting 4 u” (waiting.mod), although I enjoy many others, like “teddy bear boogie” and “this heart beats 4u”. Check them out. Perhaps you’ll become a fan of U4ia, too.

Sat, January 31, 2004

Look, up in the air…

…it’s a bird, it’s a penguin, it’s a flightless waterfowl flying! It’s hard to believe that Phydeaux and Dr. Bacchus got me wasting time playing a flash game called pingu. It left me and the kids laughing.

Anyway, top this one, guys.

Tue, November 04, 2003

This Old House

I’m sure some of my faithful readers wonder about the eccentric juxtaposition of topics discussed on this site. I occasionally wonder at it myself, but then I run across other truly strange sites and enjoy a good laugh at how odd my site must appear in return. One recent site was The New Wookiee Workshop, a site that combines a love of woodworking, and of the New Yankee Workshop in particular, with Star Wars fandom. It’s a brilliant site that mimics and I’d say improves on the appearance of the original. As they say, it’s “Not Quite the Norm.”

A Sunday family tradition has been to watch This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop. We watch it enough that we were quite surprised to see Kevin O’Connor replace Steve Thomas as the host of This Old House. In trying to find out what had happened to Steve, I noticed that Steve was awarded a Daytime Emmy Award in 1997-1998 and has a total of eight nominations for “Outstanding Service Show Host”. How amusing! It always came across to me on the show that Steve was basically incompetent and therefore asked a bunch of questions. Apparently he’s fairly knowledgeable, has renovated several old houses of his own, and just plays stupid on T.V. He sure had me fooled. Kevin O’Connor apparently doesn’t have that benefit at the moment—he’s asking the questions because he really doesn’t know. Although I’m sure he’ll learn over time, it will be interesting to see how a bank vice president approaches the show. I was most struck by how similar he acts and looks to Steve. Perhaps that’s just because he’s been a long time fan.

I found a number of stories about Kevin joining the show and Steve leaving. This Post-Gazette story provides a nice background on Kevin’s hiring. And this North Shore Sunday article talks about the first episode as well as the hiring.

But what about Steve? In a footnote added to Kevin O’Connor’s new host bio, it says that Steve left voluntarily to pursue other creative opportunities both in front of and behind the camera. How will the fans react? As the Post-Gazette story says:

Steve Thomas fans will no doubt be disappointed at his exodus, but the show has weathered a change like this before: In 1989, when Thomas took over after the contentious departure of Bob Vila, Vila’s fans were slow to accept Thomas, who brought a confident manner and an eclectic background as a carpenter, sailor, writer and world traveler to the show.

In the years since, Abrams, Trethewey and Silva have slowly eased into more prominent on-camera roles than they had with Vila. Each one now hosts different aspects of the show, speaking directly to viewers instead of to the host. By the end of the Steve Thomas era, “This Old House” was almost an ensemble piece, sort of a “Friends” with toolbelts.

Yes, we certainly weren’t watching the show for Steve. I’m sure Kevin will do just fine.

Fri, January 17, 2003

Snood

The 9th most played game in the world is one you’ve never heard of. Read why Snood gets no respect or just go get the game. Warning: Snood is highly addictive.

Over the top

Cedar Point announced its newest roller coaster for 2003: Top Thrill Dragster. With this “strata-coaster”, Cedar Point again blows past the previous coaster records.

Speed: accelerates from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds (Fastest coaster ever).

Height: zooms 90 degrees straight up to 420 feet (First coaster to top 400 feet).

Drop: plummets 400 feet at 90 degrees straight down with 270 degree rotation again reaching a speed of 120 mph.

With the addition of Top Thrill Dragster Cedar Point now has 16 coasters (more than any other park on the planet!) and four of them previously held the record for tallest coaster.

I am so there.

Wed, January 08, 2003

Bigfoot is dead

Really. “Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The reality is, Bigfoot just died,” said Michael Wallace about his father, who died of heart failure Nov. 26, 2002.

Sun, November 17, 2002

Look out Pac-Man, here comes Tract-Man

As you might have guessed, I’m a big fan of what I suppose must now be called classic video games. Games like Pac-Man, Asteroids, Frogger, Galaga, Donkey Kong, and Q*bert are just plain fun. I imagine these Christian Video Games (described in the April-May 1982 issue of The Wittenburg Door) would be even more fun. Their “screen shots” and descriptions certainly made me laugh.

Mon, August 05, 2002

It’s a Pac-Man world

Yes! Somebody made a T-shirt showing the Pac-Man arcade game crashing after someone has played a perfect game of Pac-Man eating every dot and ghost and completing all 256 boards. I want one. It would be an almost perfect (hey, my game play isn’t quite that good) way to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the World’s Fair in Knoxville. Why do I mention the World’s Fair? Well, the biggest thing I remember from it is that Pac-Man was everywhere. There was a special arcade set up and of course people were selling Pac-Man paraphernalia.

Thu, August 01, 2002

Pi and a Beautiful Mind

A mathematician reviews “A Beautiful Mind” and notes its similarities with the film “Pi”. I enjoyed his review and his comments about math inaccuracies in Hollywood films. We shouldn’t be surprised, as Helen points out, Hollywood seems to be inaccurate about every field.

Go much faster, much better

A New York Times article (free registration required) describes the complexities of creating a computer program that can play Go. Unlike the logical play of chess, where computers are able to beat grandmasters, Go is a game of pattern matching and intuition where casual human players can generally beat the best computer programs. Strong human Go players seem to be able to evaluate the board and intuitively make the best moves. The challenge in creating a computer Go player is that processing speeds are currently too slow and that evaluating the board is notoriously difficult:

In the course of a chess game, a player has an average of 25 to 35 moves available. In Go, on the other hand, a player can choose from an average of 240 moves. A Go-playing computer would take about 30,000 years to look as far ahead as Deep Blue [the chess-playing computer that five years ago not only beat but thoroughly humbled Garry Kasparov, the world champion at the time] can with chess in three seconds, said Michael Reiss, a computer scientist in London.

For a computer program to be able to play Go, we will need to greatly improve computer pattern matching techniques and probably create programs that learn from their mistakes. Perhaps someday this will be possible. In the meantime, let’s enjoy playing this ancient game.

The article also reminded me of a scene in the movie A Beautiful Mind (Recommended!). Early in the movie, the mathematician John Nash plays Go and gets frustrated at losing. In a deleted scene available on the DVD we’re shown that the experience motivated the real Nash to create his own game called Hex. He also is responsible for a mathematical proof that the first player should win the game. I need to figure out how to play this, too.

Wed, July 03, 2002

Around the world in a balloon

People seem to find it mildly interesting that a balloonist has managed a solo flight around the world. Perhaps the fact that this is the balloonist’s sixth attempt makes it a bit less impressive.

The recent news about ballooning reminds me of a wonderful book called The Twenty-One Balloons. I first read this whimsical and inspiring tale as a child and it is still one of my all time favorites. The book, written and illustrated by William Pene du Bois, won the 1948 Newbery Medal. The story recounts an imaginative balloon adventure and describes many fanciful inventions which are beautifully illustrated in almost blueprint detail. The illustrations emphasize and expand the story, immersing you more deeply in it. When I think of a creative effort reaching perfection, I think of this book.

Tue, June 25, 2002

Googlewhacking

I’ve managed a few googlewhacks and had some fun collaborating with Basil to come up with a few more. My favorite so far is missiological prawns.

Sun, May 19, 2002

2 for II

I just got back from seeing Episode II for the second time. I was surprised at how much more I found in it than the first time. There are many parallels with The Empire Strikes Back and I enjoyed picking up on some I hadn’t noticed. Perhaps knowing the plot changed my perception, but the acting seemed more nuanced than I thought in my first viewing. I caught echoes of Jake Lloyd’s portrayal of Anakin in Hayden Christensen’s vocal delivery, particularly in the early scene where he complains about Ben. It’s always difficult to be believable when using different actors to portray young and old, so even minor cues help. (Ewan McGregor seems perfect as a young Sir Alec Guinness.)

There’s a line in Episode II that got me thinking about R2-D2. In the diner, Ben says something like “If the droids could think, none of us would be here.” Throughout the Star Wars universe, droids pretty much do what they’re told. This was the downfall of the droid army in Episode I. Non-battle droids are pretty simplistic. R2-D2, on the other hand, appears self-directed, motivated, perhaps even sentient. No other droid seems to be so aggressive or loyal. He seems to be much more than a simple astromech droid. For instance, he leaves the ship after receiving the communication from Ben and surprises Amidala and Anakin by seeking them out. Interestingly, C-3PO does not seem to have this quality; it is amusing how he follows R2-D2 around.

I’ve heard comments that the story in Star Wars is really about the droids. R2 plays a primary role here. If I’m right, and he is sentient, it adds impact to Ani’s line to Amidala about having R2 with them. It’s fun to ponder anyway. I’m just thankful that R2 doesn’t behave like Number Five.

Fri, May 17, 2002

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

I saw Episode II yesterday. I thought it was awesome and far better than Episode I. After the chase at the start of the movie, I realized I had my mouth open watching the stunning visual effects. Very cool movie and fun to watch. Just don’t think too much about it.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead. The following contains information that might ruin your viewing of Clones. If you have not seen it yet, you might want to skip the following.

Some people have obviously thought about the Star Wars movies. The Weekly Standard has a humorous and controversial article suggesting that the Empire is good. The author makes a compeling case, but not without faults. He claims you cannot trust Leia’s claims because she willfully lies to the Empire, but accepts Chancellor Palpatine’s comments despite the fact that he is manipulative and deceitful to the Senators and Jedi.

Jerry Pournelle critiques the silliness of the movie, complaining that the Jedi bring knives to gunfights. Of course, light sabers aren’t just any old knife, but an energy weapon that can reflect blaster shots. Pournelle makes a good point about the silliness of the plot, particularly the knowledge of Ben’s friend at the diner, and the incompetence of the Jedi, Senate, and assassins.

Despite all this, I really loved the movie. The action and scenery are amazing. I found it perfectly believable that Jar Jar caused the galactic war, but cannot fault him too much–the Chancellor would have been able to manipulate someone else if he hadn’t. At least Jar Jar was treated as annoying and his lines were minimized. The one-liners from Threepio were great. Talking with friends after the movie, we decided that R2-D2 is like Batman’s toolbelt: anything he needs he has. It was fun to watch him climb stairs. I definitely want to see it again.

Wed, April 24, 2002

There are some who call me… Tim

Well, duh.


Which “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” character are you?