Monday, November 21, 2005

Interview with Narnia's writer-director leaves me a bit concerned

When I heard that Andrew Adamson was selected to write and direct The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I wasn't thrilled. He was a director on Shrek and Shrek 2, neither of which is a favorite of mine. Both movies are a bit too smug and cynical for me to love, though some of the scenes are wonderful.

And then there's the Disney involvement in Chronicles. Brr-r-r-r-r-r! How would they ruin it?

On the other hand, almost everything I've seen about this production since then has impressed me, and has all been good. The trailers send chills up my spine, they're so good; the kids look perfect; C. S. Lewis' stepson Douglas is an enthusiast; all the pre-screenings have been positive. Everything looks good.

And then I read this interview with Adamson on Dark Horizons.

I can't imagine anything making me not go, and all the other reasons still are solid reasons for being optimistic -- but some things Adamson says... just yikes.

Start with something relatively trivial, yet still disconcerting.

Adamson: ...when Father Christmas gives weapons to the kids, and says to the girls, I don't intend you to use them because weapons are ugly when women fight. I just came off doing two films which I think were empowering to girls -- the Princess Fiona character I think is an empowering character -- and I said to Doug [Grisham, Lewis' stepson], I understand that C.S. Lewis might have had these dated ideals, but at the same time there's no way I could put that in a film . . .
"No way," Adamson says. Why "no way"? Because they aren't politically correct, and don't fit in well with Adamson's own version of feminism. In other words, they may very well be the worldview of the classic, internationally-adored works themselves, but Adamson's ideology trumps that. He doesn't like it, so he won't do it.

An aside: I wasn't thrilled with Peter Jackson being chosen for Lord of the Rings, either. Nothing in his filmography nor lifestyle suggested he was up to it -- yet he did a wonderful job. Having said that, though, I think his worldview and those of his associates did stop them short, in several respects, from doing Tolkien's story the full justice it deserved. But it is far, far better than I feared, and I remind myself of that in re. Adamson.

Nor is this particular item (what Father Christmas says) of any great moment in the story. It isn't that which concerns me. It's Adamson's unhesitating decision not to do something because it offends his worldview. Yet directors all the time put out horrible, repulsive movies, and defend them as being bold, uncompromising, or demanded by the source material. But Adamson can't bear this little passing ding on his feminist creds by a passing remark from a relatively minor character.

How might that willingness to impose his template on Lewis affect greater plot points? Maybe a lot.

Consider these remarks, emphases added:
Question: What about the religious element?

Adamson: I think the ideas of good, evil, forgiveness and sacrifice are very present in the book, and I think that's what makes it so universally appealing. I think the idea of forgiveness is a human condition regardless of your belief or religion . . . it's just something that -- it's an easy thing to say that the world would be a better place with a lot more forgiveness. I didn't think a lot about the religious aspect of the film. I know people have interpreted the book in many different ways over different years. ...I don't know if C.S. Lewis really intended it to be allegorical, but he definitely wrote from a place of his own belief. And a lot of people get that from the book. ...[People] can apply their personal belief and interpret the movie the same way they interpreted the book.

Question: What about the religious references in the film's climatic final battle and that line, 'it is finished.' That's taken straight from the bible.

Adamson: No not intentionally.

Question: It is Finished are words from the Cross.

Adamson: I actually honestly didn't know that. Seriously, I can't believe I didn't know that. The thing that I wanted and the thing I was really going for is for Aslan's sadness and having to get to this point -- there's a moment where Aslan and the White Witch stare at each other at the end as if they're both accepting their fate. He's going to have to kill her. She accepts that she's going to be killed. And to me I didn't want to send home the message that war is an ideal solution. I wanted Aslan to actually regret the fact that he's going to have to kill the White Witch. I wanted a line that he could turn to and really just say -- it's over. It's done.

So, Adamson clearly does not seem to know the first thing about the Bible or Christianity, and feels free to impose his worldview on Lewis' work. These aren't happy discoveries.

On the resurrection factor in the story:

Obviously C.S. Lewis wrote from a point of view based on his own personal beliefs. And the resurrection story is there. But I think it's open to interpretation. I think it's really up to the individual and their own personal beliefs as to how they will receive this film.

How classically post-modern. Adamson generously allows that Lewis had his beliefs and worldview -- but then says that his own story is "up to the individual," and "open to interpretation." In other words, there is no doubt what Lewis meant by his story -- but it's okay for us to make it mean whatever we want.

What troubles me is the lack of humility in approaching such a source. When Adamson produces a body of literature that are still touching, changing and helping hearts and minds after five, six decades -- then maybe I'll accept his right to make such pronouncements. Doing the Shrek movies doesn't even make the needle on tha gauge tremble a little.

Peter Jackson was at his best when he and his partners respected the source, which they mostly did. Listening to their comments on the DVD's, this attitude stands out. When they felt that they had to vary, they really struggled with it, and even occasionally express some misgivings about having done so (i.e. the extreme change to Faramir's character).

Adamson, in these remarks, doesn't display such humility or reverence. He read the books when he was eight, and he feels it's his right to impose his memory and his current template on the books.

To what degree he does so, and with how much violence -- these will determine the film's quality. Grisham's interviews reassure me. Adamson's remarks do not.

POSTSCRIPT: Why does Adamson's hubris in "improving" Lewis remind me of this scene in Braveheart?

Prince Edward's homosexual "lover" has just spoken up and told Longshanks (King Edward I) what he should do. Longshanks asks,

"Who is this person who speaks to me as though I needed his advice?"

Then the king throws him out the window.

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