Chronicles of Limitations

Got to see the “Chronicles of Narnia” last night. It was a really good film, really well done, despite the feeling that I’d seen a good many of the shots before — in LOTR, when they were shooting the exact same scenes in the exact same location spots. I think R got a little tired of me constantly saying “…as seen in other films, such as ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’…”. If you get past all of that, and the manipulative emotionalism of the whole Aslan crucifixion scene, it’s really a good film. Sort of a Lord-of-the-Rings-lite.
But here’s the thing. Religious undertones exist in many films — most films, actually, including LOTR. Even “The Matrix” was ripe with religion, and it even had a death-rebirth scene. But if the material is good, and you aren’t constantly being flogged with the message, it’s usually OK. Despite the fact that “Chronicles of Narnia” uses a variety of spiritual mythologies, you still get the heavy X-tian message. It’s omnipresent (no pun). And the film was marketed directly at X-tians, so, like Intelligent Design, we know what the agenda was.
I, for one, am content in laying blame squarely on the source material — and don’t get me wrong, I really liked this story, especially as a kid. It was an easy read, and kids like to see talking animals with swords, and prophecies (look at Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” series, for example). But even LOTR, in all its complexity, is given to children to read. Maybe it’s given to older kids, while the “Narnia” series is read by younger audiences, but it’s a better overall story, imho; it’s more complex, with less emphasis on the single, nebulous message of “love”. Or was it “sacrifice”?
Perhaps the most glaring evidence of the story’s simplicity is how limited one is when making a film based on the story. Strip away the amazing special effects, and the beauty that production money will buy, and you have the exact same film as was done many years back. This was almost identical to the animated television movie, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1979)”, or at least my memory of it. Many of the scenes feel like they used this film, not the book, as the template.
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is far too tidy and simplistic a story to really make a good film. That’s why I’m impressed with the result of the film. It introduces a lot of really subtle and slightly disturbing themes underneath the heavy religious cover. Take, for example the way the encounter with Edmund and the Ice Queen plays out. For a boy who loves his father and hates his mother, this boy is a little too easily trusting of stony-eyed women in blond dreadlocks who offer him candy. She quickly cures him of his non-Oedipus complex. Or the way Mr. Tumnus seduces, drugs, and kidnaps Lucy. I don’t think the word “seduce” is too strong a description for what happens in this creepy scene. When you see him hide his house key on the top of the pantry, a chill runs down your spine, thanks to longtime exposure to serial killer themes in modern television and film media. Should children be encouraged to run off with spritely, shirtless guys who invite them back for tea?
The acting talent is definitely great in this film. Not only did they (finally) manage to find 4 kids who actually look like they’re related, but they found good child actors. They all held to character and were very real in their delivery. Everyone was good, with the possible exception of the voiceover done by Liam Neeson. I know Aslan is supposed to be other-worldly, etc., but my mind kept going back to Jar-Jar Binks, and how hollow that character seemed (and how hollow Liam Neeson seemed when he was interacting with old Jar-Jar). He may as well have been narrating a “Hinterland Who’s Who” spot on CBC.
Anyway, enough of my ranting. It was a good film. The only question is: will anyone want to see any more of the series, or will Disney end up doing straight-to-video releases from here on in? That’s the problem with starting the series off with the most popular of C.S. Lewis’s works — they’ve saved the best for first.