Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Warddrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Warddrobe

So, now we tackle the book, the true beginning of the Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, yes, arguements about the way you should read the books are slightly silly, and C.S. Lewis himself said it didn't matter.

But the point is, that I've always thought that chronological order is overrated, and sometimes you should appreciate the middle, then go back to the beginning to learn more, then you'll appreciate the end.

Anyway, the book. First, I didn't remember it being so short and so fast to read. I've read it in only a few days, and I don't get much time to read these days so I'm really surprised by that. I got several chapters in just waiting for my food to heat for lunch the other day.

Second, going back as an adult, I now see some of the criticisms the books have received. I'm surprised by the fact that Father Christmas comes out and says not only that he doesn't want Susan and Lucy to fight, but that, "...battles are ugly when women fight."

Makes me wonder if Lewis was being patriarchal, or just pointing out that women fight dirty.

There's also several hints that he was anti-school. I seem to remember reading that he had a really terrible boarding school experience, so maybe that's where it comes from. But aside from the professor's constant "What do they teach you in these schools?" commentary, there's also the fact that once Edmund returns from the bring of death, the book clearly says he was "looking better than she had seen him look--oh, for ages; in fact ever since his first term at that horrid school which was where he had begun to go wrong. He had become his real old self again and could look you in the face."

And that's the thing with this book. There are little, tiny, almost throw-away moments that say more about Lewis, or the characters themselves, than most of the book put together. He also changes styles often, which threw me some. He actually said "I" but only a few times, and sometimes would address the reader directly, but not often enough for it to be like Series of Unfortunate Events which is constantly talking to you.

In the end, this just made me remember that even when I was younger, I liked the Prince Caspian stories better, but held a special place for the first book because it was the first book.

Another thing that came to mind was something the producers and scriptwriters of the movie said in an interview, claiming that quite a few things in the book were "glossed over" (paraphrasing) and that they fleshed them out. That is actually pretty true. Especially when it comes to the battle, the descriptions of the bad guys, and even character development of the children themselves.

Now that I've re-read the book though, I'll have to say one more disspointment comes to mind for the movie. They made "the trees" talk by not-so-great CGI's of their leaves joining to form people. When in the original, they stuck pretty closely to Dryads and tree-spirits and I've always liked those better.

It's still a very, very good book, and I still encourage anyone to get their children to read it. But I have to admit that it does fall short of what I remember, and that I wanted more detail and description out of it. Maybe not as much as Tolkien, who Lewis is (almost unfortunatly) constantly linked to, but a little more all the same. We can picture Narnia very well, but the actions and the looks of the characters (aside from Aslan and the Witch) are often touched on and left behind.

It is still a dang good story though. I don't care if people think it's Christian propoganda. A moment that surprised me reading it, is when Mr. Beaver tells the children that the Witch is not a daughter of Eve, but in fact the daughter of Lillith. That I think is almost the only blatantly "Christian" part of it, and since as a kid I didn't know what the heck the Beaver was talking about, I just left it alone and forgot about it.

I think the book still stands well as a myth, a morality fable. It's not overly Christian, but actually stands alone and reminds me of the dozens of other ressurection myths throughout the world.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Warddrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Warddrobe

This is a DUAL REVIEW, yay! Why? Because I went to see the movie last week, and then got home and pulled out my copy of the book. Only I'm posting it in two peices.

The film first:
I really, really hate to say this, but I was almost a little dissapointed. You see, my problem with films that are either based on books, or have been made before, is that they need to give me something NEW or I'll just feel like if you see the same play thirty times, with the same sets and director but different actors.

It's just not that compelling, and when you want so badly for it to be amazing, then that causes a little pang. That's what happened here. I know it's not their FAULT entirely that I've been obssessed with this story for years. It's not their problem that I've read the book too many times, and that I've seen the BBC Miniseries several times.

So really, here's a list of pros and cons. First, the pros were obviously, and wholeheartedly, the CGI. It was really brilliant, as advertised, and only a few times did I say "Eeeh, that really needed something better."

There's a story going around that Lewis didn't want the story adapted to a movie because he thought the animals would look ridiculous. In the BBC version, he was really right. The beavers were terrible, as were most of the "animated" things. But this new shiney version? Spot on. All the way down to the way the cats and wolves moved (yes, I know some where real).

The biggest plus was Aslan himself. You see, I said from the beginning that the crucial point for me was going to be Aslan, as I'm a bit of a crazy lion aficianado. The reason that, despite it's shortcomings, I like the old miniseries is because their animatronic Aslan was actually pretty darn good, and made me want to scritch behind his ears.

This Aslan though, went beyond the idea of a "cartoon lion" and was practically a real lion. He very much fit the phrase "not a tame lion." The thing I have to suck up and realize is that lions will never look "right" talking in human speech. Their faces aren't made for it. What Disney did, in both The Lion King and this installment of Narnia, worked out well, but still felt off once in a while.

But there's one moment that for me really sealed the fact that this film felt like it really happened: as they're going to the Stone Table at night, Lucy reaches up to Aslan's mane and his ear, ever so quickly, flicks back. Why does this little movement really blow me away? Because it's the kind of tiny little detail that reminds me of my cat, or of the nature documentaries.

So the movie was beautiful. The film also did a very good job with Edmund, who could have come off much, much worse. But in the end, you really felt his remorse and redemtion. I also really liked Mr. Tumnus. The Witch scared the wits out of me, and really did look ethereal, unhuman, and really wicked. Especially in the final battle.

Which brings me to the cons, and it's a big con. The film was violent, massively so. There were so many things that should not have been in a PG movie, let alone didn't need to be in THIS story itself. The bombings in the beginning? I'm fine with that, because most children these days won't understand the context of the kids being shipped off.

But one of the things I remembered most about the book and the story was that people were turned into stone by the witch, and later revived by Aslan. In the battle, most of the people fell by being turned to stone, and many of the wounded were treated by Lucy. You see, I'm a sucker, I don't think there needs to be massive death on both sides for me to find a battle effective or dramatic.

Lots of the moments in battle, I had no problems with. But there were many, many things that I thought just didn't need to be there, and that fault I lie directly at the feet of a director who openly said that he felt Lewis glossed over too many things. If you want to make a children's film, make a children's film. If you want to make an action movie, do it, but don't try to mix the two.

Aslan's death was done well. The Witch's was not. All we needed was the lion flying through the air at her and knocking her off the screen, and if we get her body lying there later, fine. But instead she's knocked barely off screen and we see Aslan rear back, teeth bared, and lung at what would be the area of her throat, though she's just not quite visable enough to be sure.

I for one never really wanted to think about Aslan as the type of lion who rips people's throats out. It wasn't neccesary, and that's the gist of it. About half the violence in the film was needed for the message, the other half wasn't. This movie was for children, this story has always been for children, and having smaller animals brutally killed by minotaurs doesn't really fit in. While on the one hand, you could argue with me that I'm being too prudish, I think that the telling aspect was that I personally was uncomfortable with it, when I have no history of caring about the violence in many films. I watched Serenity and cheered and cried and never once said it went too far, despite the fact that it did have much worse in it than Narnia ever could.

So in the end, I was and am very much on the fence when it comes to the film. I think the actors and animators all did wonderful jobs, I think the entire thing was gorgeous. I think Liam Neeson was a great Aslan, though I always imagined his voice deeper. I think the parts of the story they didn't include weren't vital, and the ones they did were the ones that needed to be there.

And yet I still can't muster myself up to be gung-ho excited about it, because there wasn't anything there that wasn't already there, except technology. And the opening sequence about the bombings of London, which in fact were the only part that made me cry.

Posting about the book next.