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.”