Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christ And Aslan

I saw "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" last night. Before I discuss what I think of the movie, I should say that I've never read any of C.S. Lewis' books, the Narnia books or anything else. And I rarely watch movies. I had heard many positive comments about this movie from Christians like Hank Hanegraaff and Albert Mohler. I'd read a lot of reviews, most of them positive, and the negative reviews often seemed to be motivated largely by opposition to Christianity, so I was expecting the movie to be good.

I was disappointed. It is a good movie, but it isn't as good as I was expecting. Albert Mohler wrote that "The audience will know that something of earth-shaking significance has taken place when the character of the beaver announces, 'Aslan is on the move.'" Actually, we don't know much about Aslan or Narnia in general when that line appears in the movie. Rather than coming across as something of "earth-shaking significance", I think that the line Albert Mohler mentions is an example of how underdeveloped the movie is. Most of the movie seems to move too fast, and some of the portions of it that had the most potential come and go quickly and disappointingly. Sooner than you expect, and without much leading up to it, Aslan is going off to be sacrificed. There isn't much to the resurrection scene, and the battle between Aslan and Jadis doesn't consist of much.

From the quotes of C.S. Lewis that I've read on this subject, one of his primary concerns with any adaptation of the Narnia stories, which would include any movie versions, seems to have been that Aslan be portrayed well. He is portrayed well in this movie in terms of graphics, and I think that the voice acting is generally good. But not enough is said about him, he isn't portrayed as being as powerful as I would expect a Christ figure to be, and scenes such as his sacrifice, his resurrection, and his battle with Jadis aren't presented as movingly as they should be.

The whole movie, not just the segments directly involving Aslan, tries to convey too much in too short a period of time. This is a movie, not a book, and I think it's likely that the Narnia series will always be better in book format than as movies. Books allow you more space for imagination and thinking through issues before you move on. A movie doesn't allow that. A movie makes you keep going forward without much reflection or development within your imagination. A movie fills in blanks for you that a book allows you to fill in yourself.

I've seen reviewers of this movie comment on how the locations in Narnia seem too close to each other. That's probably partially because the movie isn't effective enough at conveying lapses of time. I think they should have had the screen fade to black more often and should have more frequently used other methods of conveying the passing of time. As it is, the Narnia world seems too small. The development of the characters and the development of the storyline seem too small as well. For example, Peter and Edmund quickly go from entering Narnia as normal children to being skilled warriors who can carry out sword battles with Jadis.

Something everybody who goes to see this movie ought to have in mind upfront is that this is a children's story. Much of it seems underdeveloped, simplified, and softened for children. Over and over, there are scenes where characters ought to die, but they don't. The wolves don't kill the fox, but instead just hold him in their mouth. Jadis repeatedly lets people live when you would expect her not to. Characters change too quickly, a notable example being the children's quick adaptation to the world of Narnia, as if finding a new world in the back of a wardrobe is something to which you would quickly adapt. Edmund just happens to meet Jadis along the road, and this queen who is ruling over Narnia is traveling with just one guard. Then Lucy happens to come across Edmund just after his conversation with Jadis. The thawing lake scene comes to mind as something particularly unnatural. The children escape some wolves chasing them and survive something like a waterfall coming down on them, and Lucy somehow makes it to shore on her own. Scenes like these occur often in the film, and I assume in the book as well, so that the story comes across as less believable than it should be.

Though I hadn't read the book before seeing this movie, I had read many descriptions of the storyline. I think it would be difficult for people to follow some of the storyline if they hadn't read the book or summaries of the book ahead of time. I don't know how much the book explains to people, but the movie leaves a lot unexplained. Why didn't they have text at the bottom of the screen explaining the World War II setting at the beginning? Why didn't they include more dialogue about Aslan and his significance to Narnia before having him make his first appearance? Why didn't they have more discussion about the laws of Narnia that required a sacrifice and led to Aslan's resurrection? Maybe some of these problems are present in Lewis' book as well, but the producers of the movie apparently thought it appropriate to improve upon the book in some other places, so why not in these places I've mentioned?

Most of my disappointment with this movie is in the failure to portray Aslan as well as he could have been portrayed. And I think that a lot of other elements of the story are underdeveloped. But there is a lot about the movie that's good. Though Aslan doesn't reflect Christ as well as I'd hoped he would, there is still a faint reflection. And many of the less significant aspects of the movie are well done. The graphics are good, the battle scenes are often impressive, a lot of the acting is good, and I appreciate the addition of the "It is finished" line.

I came away from this movie with the thought that I prefer Christ to Aslan. As I said, Aslan is a reflection of Christ, but only a faint reflection. I'm glad that this movie is giving people a faint reflection of Christ and the gospel. Compared to the usual dross that Hollywood produces, this is a good movie, and I hope that it does better than "Brokeback Mountain", "King Kong", and these other more immoral, more trivial movies it's competing with in the theaters. Judging by the involvement of some Christians with this movie and the inclusion of elements like the "It is finished" line, it seems that there were a lot of good motives involved in putting together this movie, and that's commendable. I'm grateful for the work of the many Christians involved in producing and promoting this movie. I hope that many children and others, though I'd expect it to be children primarily, will be brought closer to Christ through this movie.

It is just a movie, though. And for a Christian, life is greater than any movie. But how many parents effectively convey to their children the fact that the Christian life is far greater than Narnia or any other fantasy world they may think of? Sadly, most children in professing Christian homes probably will come away from this movie thinking that it's much more interesting than real life, and that this movie makes Aslan seem more appealing to them than their parents and other people have ever made Christ seem. How many Christian adults have the sort of joy, enthusiasm, and wonder they ought to have if they believe what the Bible teaches? Why are so many professing Christians so interested in reading about or watching movies about a fantasy world like Narnia, yet they show so little interest in living the Christian life, which is greater by far? "I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems / Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams." ("I Love to Tell the Story", A. Katherine Hankey)