Narnia goes to Hollywood

narniaSince I first saw clips of what is now becoming the first installment of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia last February, I maintained a level of skepticism as a means of protecting myself from disappointment. I was concerned that the film would deviate from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's explicit Christian themes. I was afraid the directors and producers would deviate from the film's original plot. I was also afraid that they would attempt to make the fourth installment of The Lord of the Rings. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (I am even preparing to do my second marathon this Christmas season). Thing is, J.R.R. Tolkien's books are not Lewis' books, and any attempt to imitate the hugely popular films would be an utter disaster.

Well, my skepticism appears to be unfounded. Newsweek reports, based on a sneak preview, that rather than subtracting from or altering the story, director Andrew Adamson has stayed to the original plot and has even expanded some elements, such as the German bombings of London.

I am also pleased to hear that the film will not be a gore fest. Some of the previews have shown the potential for some Rings-like battles, but apparently the "gentleness" of the movie "may frustrate some bloodthirsty teenage boys." That's all I needed to hear.

As for media concerns, because that is what this blog is about (forgive my straying away into movie analysis), watch for how they cover the issue of The Message of the film. This is key. Julia Duin of The Washington Times dubs the film a cross between The Passion of the Christ and The Lord of the Rings in the way it is being pitched to churches.

In an excellent piece of journalism that out-reports both Newsweek's and Time's pieces on Lewis (Newsweek's article strangely fixates on his love for beer, though I did find that interesting), Duin covers the territory with remarkable efficiency, though Newsweek has the better photos and got a sneak preview. Nevertheless, here's an example of excellent newspaper journalism:

Dennis Rice, Disney's senior vice president of publicity, hedged on whether the film reproduces the Christian character of the book.

"We believe we have not made a religious movie," he said. "It's just a great piece of cinema that is true to a great piece of literature."

However, Zondervan, the evangelical imprint for publishing giant HarperCollins, is calling the film's release one of the season's "biggest religion stories."

"It is the product for the fall," spokeswoman Jana Muntsinger said. "In the Christian world, they are just salivating over this. C.S. Lewis is the evangelical gold standard."

narnia2Newsweek takes on the issue and finds the movie "as Christian as you want it to be":

Will the movie be too religious for a wide audience? Might it not be religious enough for Lewis's Christian fans?

The speculation is understandable, partly because the climax of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" can be read as an allegory for Jesus' death and resurrection -- though how many of us read it that way when we were 8? -- and partly because, after "The Passion of the Christ," movies are increasingly regarded as things to play tug of war with, rather than share.

While Newsweek jokes around with the Pevensie children about girls' underwear, Duin deals with the cultural issues that I believe will have a huge impact on American society:

Key to the film's success is a fan base of several generations of evangelical Christians who have grown up reading the Narnia books. Motive Entertainment, the same company that promoted "Passion," was hired by Disney to promote "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" among the church set.

Dozens of churches around the country are listed at narniaresources.com as "sneak peak" sites for presentations about the movie from co-producer Douglas Gresham, Mr. Lewis' stepson, or from contemporary Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman.

The site also is hawking group tickets and "customizable church outreach tools" such as DVDs, door hangers, specialty e-vites and posters.

Mr. Gresham spent six months on the set ensuring that the story line stayed true to its Christian values. In his new book, "Jack's Life," Mr. Gresham described his stepfather as "influenced by the Holy Spirit of God."

These three articles lay the groundwork for Lion. Previous articles could do little but uncover the basic facts of the film (note tmatt's post on The Palm Beach Post's coverage and on the money issue). For a movie that could have a huge impact on culture and society worldwide, the media coverage will be key.

Will it be fair? Accurate? Newsweek says the movie is "as Christian as you want it to be." Lewis remains the foremost Christian writer, but will his ideas translate well into the foremost means of communication in the world today?

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