Monday, May 12, 2008

Will Prince Caspian Make the Cut?

The end of the week will reveal all.

Jonalyn and I are speaking in San Antonio this week where the entire high school will be watching Prince Caspian on opening day. I get to live a boyhood fantasy of actually going to a theater during the school day!

However...... my anticipation for Prince Caspian is quite low. In fact my primary motivation to see the movie is a) to live that boyhood fantasy of seeing it during a school day, b) to debrief about the movie with the students after the movie (we have a large discussion scheduled afterwards followed by a talk on what it means to be 'appropriately human'), 3) to engage in the cultural discussion on the themes of Jesus, virtue, and meaning in general and Lewis in particular.

The first movie on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LLW) was, for me, a disappointment. Jonalyn and I refuse to every watch it again, if we can help it, to keep our imaginations of the stellar story relative free of visual debris. While people speculated on what Hollywood would change, like the age of the Pevensie children or the color of their hair, the larger changes were overlooked by the majority of evangelical movie-goers and critics.

Narnia offered a great hope for today's culture to actually see what a Christian (and Western) worldview means. Instead, we recieved a child-centered false rendition of the classic which, to borrow from Sayers, "pared the claws" of the great Lion. The hero was reduced and our imaginations were betrayed.

Attending a Biola media conference prior to LLW, we heard interviewed producers telling us how consistent the movie was with the books. They assured us Douglas Gresham, Lewis stepson, was a producer and overseeing the integrity of the project. (Since then I've come to doubt whether Gresham really understood the depth and meaning of his stepdad.) And the interviewers told us that there's only one way we will send a message to continue to make movies like LLW and that is by attending and spending our money.

Well, my faith in Hollywood is absent. I spend my money on film to either to relax with a decent story (which is why we make sure the reviewers liked it first as a or to be involved in the cultural conversation. It is a complete waste of coin to simply send Hollywood a message to keep making moral, positive movies, which usually means sentimental movies that barely edge up the cusp of humanness.

Some of you may have read my review/reflection on LLW. For those of you who haven't, here is a link for you. May it aid you to put on a fresh lens in watching Prince Caspian with cultural savvy. My hope is that they got the second book right. Though Aslan's role in the second book shares fewer scenes, he remains a presence throughout.

Here's my article: A Tame Movie (pdf)

Andrew Adamson, the director of the film, does not follow the life of Jesus so I don't expect him "get" Lewis nor the layers of the story. Yet it should make us pause why such an important film is placed in the hands of those who can turn a plot into a cinematic wonder yet sideline the meaning of the text into irrelevance. I think it was poor judgment, though the third movie will have a new director (Harry Potter got a better director for its third movie too, so there may be hope!). Do not expect the cinematic versions of Narnia to have same shelf life as Middle-Earth which, despite some of its shortcomings, held onto the spirit of things.

And don't get me started on who is producing these movies (and the subsequent ones) and the rolls of cash made by exploiting a great story. I'm sure a few Lewis foundations and societies could have benefited from being involved in the producers cut with opportunities to invest (maybe they were, but I doubt it). But so goes the American way!

Have you seen the posters for Prince Caspian yet? Here's one below.

In publishing we are told that covers to books have to match a certain "code" that alert the reader to the kind of book it is. Technical books all have the same kind of covers. Cooking books to too. So do inspirational books. If the above poster were the cover of a book, what section of the bookstore would you find it in? Romance books, maybe? What kind of signal should this movie promo alert us to? The humble and honorable teenage boy is a pompous heart-throb who spends lots of time on his hair. (Did he put the letter "C" in his front curl on purpose?) The marketing is preparing our expectations.

Christianity Today recently interviewed Andrew Adamson, the director of the film in an article called "The Weight of Story" (which is a trivial play on words on one of Lewis greatest essays "The Weight of Glory"). Notice how much Adamson dodges sharing his own spiritual background. He claims his views do not influence the story, whatever they are. How someone can create art without bringing his views to bear is something my own artistic drives find deeply difficult, nearly impossible, and suspiciously dishonest.

Enjoy the show and hope for the best!


Lorijo said...

I agree with you, our safe Christian circles just want safe movies. But was it not CS Lewis who said that Aslan wasn't safe!

I was just finishing my comment...and just turned it into it's own post.

Enjoy the discussion with the kids.

Dale Fincher said...

It was a great discussion... and all the students, to my surprise and delight, found the movie inadequate, Aslan week and an unecessary romance bordering on "what the heck!!!!???"

I've got a review bubbling in me and want to encourage Christians to not encourage Hollywood to continue to make rubbish out of meaningful stories!

patrick said...

i noticed that the makers of Prince Caspian cut out some of that part where Aslan confronts Lucy about trusting her convictions; but this isn't that shocking... after all, what is Disney's #1 priority, children' spiritual enlightenment, or making money?

Dale Fincher said...

Patrick... yes, that's one of my favorite scenes in the book... she tells Aslan that the others wouldn't have followed her and he said, "It doesn't matter!"

Such good stuff, a real moral and spiritual lesson about who to really trust in this world and why!

Thanks for the comment!