After many circumstantial delays and much fear and trepidation, I finally saw the new LWW movie. My fears proved mercifully unfounded, and many of my hopes were realized. In visual realization of the imagined world, this film rivals Peter Jackson's LOTR; in faithfulness to the spirit as well as the letter of the story it is infinitely superior. I found very few things to complain about, and none which seriously hindered my enjoyment, or even my ability to be moved afresh.
I agree with most of the people I have read that Lucy was the best thing in the whole film. Most reviewers have talked about her childlike innocence, her sense of wonder, her capacity for childlike faith, all of which were conveyed amazingly well by a ten year-old actress. What impressed me most was the goodness she radiated. It began in the first scene with Tumnus. She was being very polite and proper-my Southern aunts would have said, in voices ringing with approval, "That child has been taught how to do!" But coming through those forms of courtesy was a deeply rooted kindness and benevolence of heart, the reality which the forms are meant to convey but seldom rise to. I think even Lewis would have been pleased.
The essential theological content of Lewis's story was adequately preserved-I choose the word "adequately" carefully-which is high praise for Hollywood. It is perhaps as much a commentary on the level of biblical illiteracy in our society as on the film itself to say, as the studio has said, that it is "as Christian as you want it to be." In one sense, the statement is false. Lewis's book, and the movie based on it, are as Christian as they are, whether we want them to be or not. The Christian symbolism is neither crude nor subtle, words I have heard theologically semi-literate people use of the story. I have known seven year olds who "got" the biblical allusions in the books unaided (and adults who missed them). Only our ignorance allows the story to be "as Christian as we want it to be." Although Lewis was thinking of the series as pre-evangelism, preparing children imaginatively and emotionally to respond positively to the Gospel of Christ when they heard it later, I know people who were converted by reading the books. The movie will be sufficient to perform the pre-evangelism function Lewis envisioned, and that is the most we can, or should, ask for. In fact, it is a lot for Lewis's Christian readers to be thankful for.
The film was not without its flaws. I thought the attempt to contextualize Edmund's rebelliousness at the beginning clumsy and incoherent. Ah, he's really such a rotter because he misses his father so much? As if the other children don't love their father too? Give me a break. That's precisely the kind of psychologizing Lewis would never have put into a children's book (or any book). Professor Kirk should be a little crustier and gruffer on the surface, and he would be better off with Lewis's actual dialogue rather than the vaguer paraphrases he is given. (A friend accurately described him as a cross between the real Kirk and Dr. Phil.) Tumnus' flute is too small to produce such low tones, and his fingers are not moving in ways consistent with the music, as all woodwind players will be unable not to notice.
I would have liked more of the conversation at the Beaver's. "Aslan is on the move" is a eucatastrophic moment in the book that deserves to be played up more, but was slid by much too quickly. The bits of that conversation that were stuck on at the end of the film would have been much more effective in their original context in the story. Why must film writers always think they can improve on the original story? They are almost always wrong. Take out that stupid ice-floe scene you made up out of thin air and give us more of the missing parts of the real story, for goodness' sake!
Father Christmas was the European version rather than the American Santa Claus, as he ought to have been, but I wondered if some American children would even realize who he was. I would have made him a little redder and fatter, something of a compromise between the two. Reducing "Battles are ugly when women fight" to "Battles are ugly [period]" was annoying, but just about the only concession to Political Correctness, and one I can live with. More seriously, replacing "the Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time" with "If the witch had understood sacrifice better" over-explains without actually saying enough to really help those too dull to get the point, while weakening the power of the original-but at least it didn't change the original idea, as Jackson's LOTR sometimes did. These are flaws in my judgment, but flaws in a structure that is fundamentally sound.
Maybe Peter Jackson set the faithfulness bar too low with his changes to the characters and motivations of Aragorn, Faramir, etc., and maybe that explains why I am giving this movie version of LWW an easy pass. I don't think so. I think I would give it high marks in any case: say, an A-.
Oh-and if I ever have to go into battle, I want that centaur on my side!