CT at the Movies: Aslan Roars into Theaters

Biblical perspectives on contemporary cinema
Friday, December 09, 2005

 Aslan Roars into Theaters
The long wait has ended. Aslan has bounded into your local cineplex in all of his big-screen glory. Well, most of his glory, anyway. More on that in a moment.

We've given 3½ stars to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the cinematic adaptation of C.S. Lewis's beloved children's book. We like the movie a lot, and as Jeffrey Overstreet's review notes, it is a "delightful fantasy" and "an admirable success." Indeed, it's a visual feast and a rollicking adventure for the whole family, a well-done movie that remains reasonably faithful to the book.

It's that "reasonably faithful" part that kept us from giving it the 4 stars we had hoped it would deserve. The children—especially Georgie Henley as wide-eyed Lucy—are marvelous, and the White Witch, though given a bit more power than in the book, is played splendidly by Tilda Swinton. But Aslan, the central figure in the story, is somewhat diminished.

USA Today gives Narnia 3 stars (out of 4), referring to Aslan as the "kindly lion who sacrifices himself." Perhaps unintentionally, USA Today has nailed it by referring to him as a "kindly" lion—and not a "kingly" one. He looks great; the CGI animators did a brilliant job with him. But as Jeffrey notes in our review, the filmmakers have "severely altered Aslan's presence and power."

For example, when the Pevensie children first learn about Aslan from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, they're supposed to hear that he's a king, and that he's even a bit dangerous: "'Course he's not safe. But he's good," Mr. Beaver says in the book. But those lines are inexplicably omitted in the film. (Mr. Tumnus utters a variation of the "not safe but good" line at the end of the film, but by then, what's the point?)

Jeffrey's review notes that the scriptwriters "consistently skirt the issue of Aslan's authority, eliminating most references to his history, power, and influence. Aslan's father, the Emperor-beyond-the-sea, is never mentioned. Instead, the lion waxes philosophical like Obi-Wan Kenobi, mentioning the Deep Magic that 'governs' his 'destiny.' Huh?"

Huh indeed.

Valid criticisms, for sure, but they don't ruin the film by any means. People who haven't read the book should love the film, and those who have embraced the book for years—I think I've read it 25 times—will still find much to enjoy.

We encourage you to go see Narnia for yourself, and then let us know what you think. We might compile reader comments into an article to run next week.

Also on the Narnia front, executive producer Perry Moore, a self-professed Narnia geek, says the movie is a lifelong dream come true. Check out my interview with Moore, who challenges moviegoers to find a more faithful book adaptation on film than this one. And if you haven't seen any previews for the movie—or you're just hankering for more—see the 9-minute "supertrailer" we reported in Reel News.

Finally, Narnia is great discussion fodder for the whole family. Our Resources department has put together a terrific Bible study based on the film, the latest in an excellent series of Movie Discussion Guides.

In non-Narnia news (yes, there is some!), we've reviewed the new political thriller Syriana, though it's not as politically explosive as the mainstream media might suggest. Film Forum rounds up what other Christian critics are saying about Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, and a few more movies. And finally, check out our two latest Movie Discussion Guides on Kingdom of Heaven and X-Men.

See you at the movies,
Mark Moring
Mark Moring
Online Managing Editor/Music & Film

P.S. A drama documentary on the life of C.S. Lewis will be shown on the Hallmark Channel tonight at 8 p.m. (Eastern). The special is directed by Norman Stone, who also helmed the acclaimed BBC TV production of Shadowlands in 1985.

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