Saturday, December 18, 2010

Save the Dawn Treader-The phenominal film you're probably missing and why you should see it

Those who know me know I am already a huge fan of the work of CS Lewis. The first introduction I had to his works was in the fourth grade when our teacher read the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the class. I know, shock, right? Sadly I know of precious few teachers who would do that now. That teacher was followed by my sixth grade teacher who would then assign us most of the series, as well as the works of Lloyd Alexander and Terry Brooks, somehow we missed out on Tolkein, but what was fun about that teacher is that despite the fact that it was clear she was a committed liberal, she didn’t shy away from the allegory of Lewis’ magnum opus. She still loved those books, as do I.
I have since moved on to other Lewis books, among my favorites, Mere Christianity and the Screwtape letters. Although I am well aware that Lewis was skeptical of Mormonism (an understatement if I ever wrote one.) I am always amazed at the depth of understanding of the gospel he achieved as an Atheist turned Christian. Re-reading his writings in my early tweens is what stopped me from becoming disenchanted with religion. Christianity, and especially the LDS variant, are not easy religions, but Lewis makes the religion beautiful. You really start to see how wonderful Christianity is, but also how the adversary manages to muck it up and what kinds of things to be on the look out for (IE Lewis identified Marxism as one of the devil’s tools in the Screwtape letters.)
After the massive success of Lord of the Rings it was inevitable that Hollywood would go on a search for the next literary epic to translate to the silver screen. There are a lot of fantasy films out there which would make great movies, but I was especially happy to learn that Disney was producing the Narnia franchise specifically because the franchise had been brought to the small screen by the BBC and even for its time the low budget production could have been much better and simply didn’t do the series justice. While true to the book’s dialogue the ham-fisted acting, terrible costumes and low tech puppets made these productions (which ended with the Silver Chair) the worst way to experience Narnia. In fact, those of you complaining about the Disney version of Prince Caspian should go watch these versions if you want to see a true insult to the franchise.
The film franchise is a necessary companion to the books, even if the books are proving difficult to translate to film without sometimes significant changes. Lord of the Rings was a very long book with a great deal of detail that had to be scaled down for the films. Although the changes to Faramir are inexcusable apart from that the movies were a very faithful adaptation to the spirit and tone and for the most part the narrative of the books. Narnia is a bit of a different beast. Where Tolkein oversaturated his works with detail Lewis was short, sweet and to the point. The books centered around just a small handful of big events and a moral point to be had meaning that to translate these films to a full length feature details were necessarily added. Some things work, like the details in Prince Caspian’s raid on the Telmarine’s castle, others don’t like the movie series refusal to let Jadis be dead. Aslan killed her in the first film, yet the film’s directors keep finding reasons to bring her back, and I’m not sure I understand why. In spite of those changes the films have retained the deep spirituality the author infused into the books. The Christian theology and morality shines brightly at the center of these fantastic films.
While Prince Caspian had a much darker tone and feel the third film eschews the darker tone of its predecessor for a lighter, more lighthearted feel and one that includes a lot of Pirates of the Caribbean (the first one) style swashbuckling, albeit mostly at the hands of the fencing mouse Reepicheep.
Some mild changes to the cast occurred Simon Pegg now voices Reepicheep which actually works better,
but the film retains most of the original cast, including Liam Neeson as Aslan who does a wonderful job voicing the Great Lion, even if he completely missed the memo that Aslan is allegory to Christ, and not Muhammad... He’s an actor, we expect him to be entertaining not intelligent. Don’t worry, this is clearly a Christian film, and while that may hurt it with some audiences Christians still make up some where in the upwards of 70% plus of the country and is still (when combining all the denominations) the largest religion in the world, so its not like there isn’t an audience for this movie.
The problem facing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the same one which killed ticket sales for Prince Caspian. The reviews for all of these movies so far have been decent to positive but the relatively good reviews didn’t help Prince Caspian against Iron Man, Hulk, and the Dark Knight. Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in a similar pickle where it is now a 20th Century Fox produced film up against two Disney Megatons and Harry Potter. The odds were against this film just as they were for the last one. To date the film has brought in just under 30 million while Fox was hoping for a 40 million dollar opening weekend. This makes me very sad because of the three this one is the best. The 3D in this film is among the best 3D I have seen to date, though the film avoids literally throwing things at the audience and is more casual and natural about the effects. There is one sequence where the film “splashes” the audience. It was pretty neat to have the water spray off the screen right into your face before vanishing. It is an absolutely stunning experience that one must have, to view this movie any other way is to rob yourself of a truly enchanting experience.
The CGI in this film is absolutely wonderful, although the film’s narrative does indeed add details not found in the book no one with a heart will walk out of the theatre with a dry eye.
Aslan’s time on screen is spent delivering three very powerful messages, the first about the power of the individual and that every single one of us is important individually (a sharp but indirect repudiation of collectivism) and also the scene where Aslan rips away Eustic’s Dragon form is a powerful allegory to the Baptism by “fire” the scriptures speak of when discussing the gift and power of the holy spirit, or even when the Great Lion reveals subtly to the children that He does indeed in our world, but under a different name. Of course Liam Neeson might not know Him, but we do.
The fate facing this film series looks pretty grim right now based on the lackluster ticket sales. This is, I believe, a sorry state of things when a sequel to a 20 year old B-Movie (Tron) is expected to do very well and has helped to burry the one film out there which could help us break down the barriers preventing us from re-taking Hollywood, a battle we must wage if we are truly going to fix this nation. I appeal to Christians of all denominations, especially those of you in the Tea Party and 9/12 groups to please go see this movie. Understand that our victories in November mean nothing if we fail to fix education and entertainment. If Christian themed films succeed at the box office then Hollywood, wanting our money as I assure you they do, will make more, and as more family friendly and Christ centered films succeed at the box office less of the smut they try to sell us as entertainment today will be made and we will win the battle for the soul of the nation purely through the might of the Free Market. Besides, Voyage of the Dawn Treader really is a spectacular film that works hard to make up for the shortcomings of its predecessor, it’s a fantastic family friendly adventure and I can think of few who wouldn’t enjoy it. Personally I am hoping for at least two more films for this franchise, the Silver Chair and the Last Battle. If enough success of these films becomes large enough then we can hope for the Magician’s Nephew as well… and wouldn’t it be wonderful to see that happen?

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