Okay, okay, I threw budget to the wind and went to see “The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe” last night.
I wish I’d kept my budget in check.
A word to all authors of Children’s Classics: If Disney approaches you, RUN. And put stipulations in your will & trust & estate that Disney is not to be allowed anywhere on the same PLANET as the filming of your work.
Visually, the film is stunning. WETA (the folks responsible for the world-building effects in The Lord Of The Rings) works its usual wonders. Narnia is REAL, Fauns & Centaurs & Beavers & Wolves & Gryphons are right there, in your face, believable, awe-inspiring, wonder-some. Aslan? WOAH. Lordly & beastly & Lion-ish, and talking (Liam Neeson’s voice is a great fit). Acting-wise, the actors are wonderful. The young actors fit their roles perfectly — they ARE Peter, Susan, Lucy & Edmund. Tilda Swinton as The White Witch is OMFG bloody AMAZING, catching the role with a subtle, cruel evil absent in earlier TV adaptations of this book; her sacrifice of Aslan is chilling. James McAvoy (Mr. Tumnus) is cool & extremely cute, for a guy with goat legs.
Well, okay. Visually stunning, acting is amazing. That leaves…
Yup. Script & plot.
Shortly before the kids cross into Narnia, I found myself totally disconnected, and discontent, and wondering why. That disconnection, that discontent, soon grew into boredom. BOREDOM, even through the end battle! I couldn’t connect with the characters. I was staring at characters & their trials without any feeling of connection to anyone. Which is really odd — the film started with the bombing of London, the children & their mother running for the bomb shelter as bombs explode & fire around them, and I was with them, I was there, I was feeling with them & for them all the way through the kids being packed out of London to the Professor’s hall, feeling their loneliness as they realize there’s no one to meet them at the train station, their disappointment & isolation when Mrs. Macready is reading them the riot act and laying down the rules for the household…
Then, then…the children are out playing cricket, and accidentally hit the ball through one of the old stained glass windows in the mansion, knocking over an antique set of armor…and start running through the mansion in a panic, **TRYING TO HIDE***, and get chased through the wardrobe & into Narnia.
What crap. Yeah. Show us these kids acting like cowardly, stupid brats…what good is hiding going to do? I’d believe it of the younger two, not of Peter & Susan.
In the books, the children are trying to hide from Mrs. Macready as she brings a group of adults through the house on a tour; they are running from the adult world, they are running from a world that doesn’t want them, in which they are intruders & outsiders & not wanted, so your sympathy is with them, wanting them to find their place. But not in the film, no, that would be too intelligent & subtle for American audiences. So the film has the kids running to escape the consequences of their own actions…
Yeah. What a wonderful way to make me feel empathy for them. And it only gets worse. Gone is the build-up of tension, the building of character & relationships, the charm — in its place are action/special effects shots, a whole-sale rewriting of CS Lewis’s story to hammer it into an ill-fitting miscast LOTR mold.
I’d commented earlier, when I first heard of this film, that there was two ways it could go — WETA was involved, YEAH, it was going to be great…er…but it’s backed by Disney, it’s gonna SUCK. And this film manages both — looks great, script/plot SUCK. WETA builds its stunning world, but Disney’s marks are all over the film; changes are made for no reason, and it is so freakin’ obvious that the Disney Studio Executives told the filmmakers, “Not that, you gotta do it like LOTR, nope, you can’t have that, do it like LOTR.” They opt for trite “we are a FAMILY” tossaway dialogue rather than building true character & motivations. They totally IGNORE the source material, save for a few key scenes. Instead of using CS Lewis’s book as their source…they were staring at Peter Jackson’s LOTR and copying/ripping off as much as they could…and learning all the WRONG lessions.
(this is NOT a rant against PJ’s LOTR — I love those three films. But every single ‘big’ fantasy historical film of the last few years has ripped off LOTR and learned all the WRONG lessons from the LOTR’s success.)
There’s so many points in this film where I was going, “That’s from Fellowship, that’s from Two Towers, oops, Peter’s acting like Aragorn there, yup, that final battle is straight from Return of the King, hey, Edmund’s point-with-the-sword-to-unleash-the-archers is Aragorn from Two Towers…ye GODS, where’s NARNIA in all this?” I could rip this apart, scene by scene, but all I want to do is scream, to rant, to rail at Disney to STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ANYMORE CHILDREN’S CLASSICS.
The Lion/Witch/Wardrobe book is small. It’s nowhere near the length-monster that Tolkien’s LOTR is or even the Harry Potter books are. They could EASILY have done a true adaptation of the book, without changing anything (save for updates to the dialogue to clarify for modern audiences & to speed up the talky-scenes), and kept it under 2 1/2 hours — I’ve seen it done before, in the wonderful BBC adaptation of the books done in the early 90s. The changes made were gratuitous, unnecessary, and jarring. Disney has turned Narnia into an action/adventure piece of fantasy eye-candy, with none of the depth & wisdom that marks the books. They didn’t trust the source. They don’t respect their audience’s intelligence. They’ve tried to “better” it, and ended up only cheapening it. I’m surprised that they left in what they did.
I went into the film wanting Narnia & The Lion/Witch/Wardrobe. I got “The Lord Of The Rings, Prepubescent Disney Version”.
This is leading into another rant, related, but running alongside. I AM SICK OF HOLLYWOOD DECIDING THAT ALL SF/FANTASY FANS WANT IS SPECIAL EFFECTS. I AM SICK OF THEM TREATING US AS PERSONS EASILY PACIFIED WITH CGI. I want intelligent, smart stories. I want characters that resound in heart & soul. I want plotlines that don’t fall apart, engaging, gripping stories that make me think, that make me care about the characters & fear for them & feel with them.
(eyeing Star Wars Fanboys…hell, all SF Fanboys…with true disgust. Thanks, guys, you & your ilk & your panting over Lucas’s last three crap-fests & other SFX eyecandy schlocksters have completely guaranteed that the intelligent, well-done SF/F films will be true rarities. I hates you FOREVER.)