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Oh Narnia, Where Art Thou? *Update*

Filmchat points out that Quint of Ain’t It Cool News has seen and reported on 45 minutes of Prince Caspian. The outlook is grim indeed, although my worst fears about Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep seem to be unfounded. The Pevensie children seem to be departing further than even I expected from the books, and enormous chunks of the story appear to have been completely overhauled or exchanged for shiny new sequences. The descriptions of the new castle raid scene sound more than ever like an attempt to imitate Lord of the Rings rather than the film’s own source material (Helm’s Deep + eagles, anyone?).

I am beginning to wonder as I haven’t before whether the result we see in theaters in less than a month and a half will be remotely recognizable. What is to become of Lewis’s story? Now that cinema technology has caught up to his vision, is it too much of a relic of another time and place to be treated with respect? I still say no, but those in charge of bringing the story to the screen appear to disagree. Prince Caspian remains my least favorite Chronicle, and yet I find myself outraged by what I am reading. And where, in all of this, is Douglas Gresham? I was under the impression that he was very closely involved with the production, and I felt confident that he would be able to protect something.

There is no mention at all of Aslan in the report. Of course, assuming the length of this sequel is in any way comparable to the first movie, that still leaves over an hour and a half of film unseen, but for some reason I feel a bit apprehensive about the omission. Particularly when I remember that filmmakers were belly-aching about the problem of “realism” where Aslan is described in the book as being the size of an elephant at one point. Early rationalizing of unconscionable changes to come, perhaps?

*Update* April 8th

No sooner do I ask, “What of Douglas Gresham?” than CT Movies posts an interview with the man himself. I got the link from Looking Closer, and people over there sound rather unhappy with it. I have to admit that I am less than pleased with the way he comes across there. On the one hand, this man may well be the closest person to the continuing legacy of the Chronicles of Narnia apart from Lewis himself. As the stepson of the author, a fan of the stories and essentially their guardian for some decades, I suppose it is natural for him to across as a bit defensively arrogant when people question his handling of things.

On the other hand, that’s simply not right. The Chronicles of Narnia belong to their original creator and to the fans, all of them, equally, and some of the stuff Gresham is saying is simply dismissive and downright obtuse. As Overstreet points out, that he should deny having heard any criticism of, for instance, the depiction of Aslan in the first movie and claim to be the severest critic is just ludicrous.

Aslan was not awe-inspiring, by and large, and anyone who says that he was, I would suggest, was reacting to an idea that was not fully present on the screen or was merely being polite. And you can’t deny that possibility. I would have a very difficult time criticizing the film (which I very much enjoyed, overall, by the way) to Mr. Gresham’s face.

Then again, he does go on to say, “But I know that when the fans see the scenes, they will understand immediately why we’ve done what we done, and they will also love it.” Perhaps he truly is living in a protected bubble and no criticisms are reaching his ears. With the success of LWW, I’m sure he’s hearing nothing but the highest praise from everyone in the business. And thowing the G card (as Stuff Christians Like would say)? Come on. That’s just bad form, no matter who you are.

There seems to be an idea here that a story which millions of people have loved for decades couldn’t possibly be translated successfully into a movie in anything remotely resembling its current form, which I find to be a perfectly ridiculous idea. It seems to me that when he is talking about the sort of thing that “just doesn’t work in a movie,” what he’s really talking about is adhering to a very narrow and rigid set of sumemr blockbuster conventions, not actual filmmaking. I agree that the story as it appears in book form should not be mapped directly onto the screen, but I see no reason why most or all of the elements of the original could not be rearranged in a suitable fashion rather than practically starting from scratch in many cases.

For instance, I would envision beginning the film in Narnia with Caspian’s escape from the castle, but jump to the Pevensies in England before we know whether he managed to escape. We would see no more of him until the Pevensies have encountered Trumpkin and Trumpkin began to tell Caspian’s story . . . from there it would be relatively simple to have Trumpkin relate Caspian’s story as he travels with the Pevensies to meet up with him, interweaving the two.

It is grossly inaccurate to call the story “basically about a long walk in the woods with a battle at the end,” not only because of the presence Caspian’s backstory (which is cracking stuff), but because the story doesn’t even remotely end with a battle. The end of Prince Caspian is probably one of the most vivid and fun in the series as Aslan and the wild Narnians reclaim the land.

That sequence alone, if done properly, left intact and given its rightful weight in the story, should be the best part in the whole movie . . . and no one (as far as I can recall) dies and nothing blows up during the whole thing! If Prince Caspian has a major flaw, it is in meandering too much on its way to that scene of joyous reclamation. The success of a movie version ought to hinge on streamlining (but not rewriting) our journey to that point, without “punching it up” with extra action sequences and unpleasant character arcs.

In any case, many of his answers during the first portion of the interview are quite off-putting, but the later bits are a bit more balanced. The interviewer seems to have done an excellent job with what was shaping up to be a very unsympathetic chat in shifting the tone of things to allow Gresham a chance to express his commitment to, and love of, these books. I could pick a few more bones with this and that (i.e. that he has seen no need to exercise “veto power” as yet, not even on that wretchedly unnecessary ice floe sequence), but I won’t bother.

I am looking forward to seeing the movie when it comes out, and I will go in ready to appreciate it on its own terms in addition to judging its merits as an adaptation of a source that I am very familiar with. I believe that I can address and potentially both enjoy and critique the result, just as I did with its predecessor.

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~ by Jared on April 7, 2008.

2 Responses to “Oh Narnia, Where Art Thou? *Update*”

  1. Hmm. Quint’s report brings something to my mind. In the first movie (apart from the earliest scenes), the parts that were superficially the most faithful to the text were, in my eyes, the least interesting or persuasive. The movie makers simply don’t know how to get Lewis’ Narnia right. And they seem to recognize that, too. So more and more, they’re giving themselves over to what they can do a little better. It’s faithful neither to the text nor to its spirit, but at least the final product may have some energy left.

    The “springtime in Narnia” nonsense is one illustration of the problem. If you think about it, spring doesn’t mean everything is pristine. It means everything is alive. Spring is muddy and smelly and immature. It’s only in the winter that everything is smooth and shiny. Lewis knew that. He never made the the mistake of depicting the good times as boring and predictable; in fact, that was one of the central themes of his writing career. But the filmmakers seem to think that’s where they have to go. They think the light is supposed to be tame, and they think the darkness is where the excitement and subtlety is. If the good guys are going to be interesting, they’re going to have to bust some heads.

  2. I’m actually not all that concerned about Adamson and company blowing up some of the story events for the sake of more engrandized cinematic storytelling. If they visualized the story straight, the way it is in the book, I don’t think I’d care much to see it. It’s the weakest of the seven Chronicles, I agree, but without expanding on key moments in the story visually, you really don’t have much more than a walk in the woods and a battle at the end. I’m not saying they should push the original book’s intent out of the way completely (I’m positive they won’t and haven’t, but the sounds of that AiCN report), but they can’t ignore the filmic ramifications of leaving the action scenes less impactful than those of the first film (even a Narnia-loving audience member such as myself wants to see the action get bigger and better, particularly where the original story allows it to become so). I mean, even the LW&W battle scenes were blown up from just a couple sentences of Lewis’ original story (”There was a great battle. The good guys won.”).

    Bring on Prince Caspian. I truly hope they do a great job of expanding C.S. Lewis’ original tale into breathtaking new life. Should also be very exciting to see what direction (no pun intended) Michael Apted takes the Chronicles when he directs The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

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