Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe -- It's just a movie!

I saw it today! I finally saw the film I'd been waiting for for much of my life. Ever since the fifth grade when I first read The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, I had a yearning for fantasy land of Narnia -- I felt a longing for face to face enjoyment of Aslan's presence. I ached when the children found they couldn't go back through the wardrobe again, and I mourned when I turned the last page of the last book, knowing there would be no further written adventures in Narnia.

Thus, for the past year, I've felt a blend of anticipation and dread while waiting for the film adaptation -- I feared that Disney would ruin it -- they migh strip out some of the parts I loved. But at 10am Saturday morning, I sat in the Springdale theatre(thanks to Tammy graciously letting me go so I could stop whining) and bathed in Narnia again.

A fine and faithful adaptation, for the most part. There were necessary scenes of expostion (like the London bombing scene -- needed for a generation that didn't live through WWII), there were some dialogue changes, mostly for the point of streamlining or for cutting out archaic turns of phrase that would be lost on 21st century American children. Unfortunately, one of my favorite scenes suffered because of this editing: Peter and Susan's conversation with Professor Kirke. The scene barely registers at all in the film, and it serves more to paint Kirke as a whimsical old fellow, whereas the book portrays him as stern, but attentive and wise.

Top honors go to Tilda Swinton who nails her portrayal of the White Witch. In her first scene with Edmund, she captures the seductive danger of evil right on. And her cold malevolence, especially in the battle scene, easily bests the other great villan from this film season: Ralph Finnes' Voldemort (from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

Another winner was Georgie Henley, who played Lucy. She lives the wide eyed wonder, the innocence and the delight that I had always associated with Lucy. And she looks almost exactly like what I had always imagined Lucy to be like. Another inspired casting choice.

I could say a lot about the portrayal of Aslan (who gets far too little build up -- the book seemed to buzz with anticipation of Aslan, whereas the film mentions the anticipation only once). I also don't recall the children debating over whether to leave Narnia and not participate in the battle -- I seem to remember that they all have a sense of being up for the adventure. I could talk about the stunning special effects or the way they preserved the Christian imagery of Aslan's sacrifice to save the life of Edmund (and thus breaking the "old law" of the stone table).

Instead, I'll briefly mention one scene that stood out for me: the meeting with Father Christmas. That has always been a favorite scene in the book -- the Witch was able to shut down the celebration of Christ's Birth, and thus keep Father Christmas (that is, Santa Claus) out of Narnia. But as Aslan comes, he breaks the Witch's power to stop Christmas. Father Christmas gets through. And this Father Christmas is a thoroughly English version, manly and wise, without being saccharine. The inspired casting of James Cosmo (yes, he was Hamish's father in Braveheart) was perfect. He carried the part off without the usual sentimentality that is attached to Santa Claus -- even the costuming reflects that this Father Christmas is an untamed spirit in service to a Higher Power. Right On!

All told, I enjoyed the film. There were moments that I found myself tearing up --all the old emotions that I felt the first time kept coming back. It was like reuniting with an old friend and telling the old stories of which we never tire.

That said, permit a word of caution. This film is not the evangelistic opportunity of the decade. Remember the hype surrounding the Passion of the Christ? There is much the same hype going on in Christian circles. This film, we are told, will be an outreach opportunity like no other. Buy all the Narnia paraphanalia you can, we're urged, so you can effectively reach out to your neighbors.

I humbly remind what few parts of Christendom may come across this post -- it's just a movie. I believe that Lewis would say the same. The story is a story to be enjoyed and told to children -- but it does not take the place of the gospel nor does going to the film replace the work that we as Christians are called to do. It's a movie, an enjoyable and good movie that might spark some conversations. But it is just a movie. Don't get sucked into the marketing machine that sells this film as the sparkpoint of the next great awakening.

Remember that Lewis told the stories as a way of getting us to a greater deeper yearning -- My childlike yearning to go to Narnia was but a preparatory feeling to help me understand the longing for the Living God. Lewis would be shamed if we turned his tale into a false idol -- He'd look at us a little sternly and say "Didn't you actually READ what I had to say? It's not about Narnia, it's about what Narnia and Aslan point us to -- Christ!"

So go, enjoy, soak in the film -- and then let it push you to encounter the living God that is on the move in our midst.

Soli Deo Gloria