Adventures In Church-Going

Those of you who know me and my “bad mojo” will not be surprised to hear that our adventures in power were by no means restricted to home this past weekend.
My wife, Will and I arrived at church Sunday morning and proceeded through our routine only with the normal roles reversed: she stayed in the theater lobby talking to folk while I took Will to the nursery. We grabbed coffee and donuts and then headed in to the theater. We sang along during the worship time and then settled back into our seats (well, I settled back, as my wife had to sit through worship because of her foot…) to listen to the sermon. Our pastor began to preach on Psalm 2 and the sovereignty of God when, at that very moment, the power went out and with it the lights, the sound system and the Power Point projector. The emergency lighting kicked on and, after making sure that we could hear him without his mic, our pastor continued with his sermon. He preached a very good sermon in the almost-dark, although his normal roving, pacing preaching style was a bit constrained, as he had to wander into the halo of light emitting from the emergency lights in order to read the scripture passages aloud. The theater manager snuck in up one of the side aisles and informed our pastor that someone had hit one of the power poles out in front of the Wawa across the street from the theater we meet in, thus taking out power to a good portion of the surrounding area. PECO must have some devoted employees, because around 2/3rds of the way through his message, the lights came back on. We were able to close out with the worship band having full access to their amps. *grin*
All in all, it had to be one of the more memorable Sunday services I’ve been to.

Lileks, Environmental Trusteeism And Parental Responsibilities

From today’s Bleat:

Actually, it was a reminder of another obligation and duty of parenthood: to teach your kid to believe in something – in this case, conservation & ecological good-citizenry – based on rationality and facts, not emotion and anecdotes and sad pictures. It is bad to hurt birds with oil, yes, but the final lesson isn’t “oil is bad because it hurts birds.” Oil is God’s way of saying “your house should be warm in winter and fresh green produce should be available in February, and never mind the birds. Oh look! I just made another billion birds! Like that! Because I can! So shut up and go drive somewhere. Floor it! I command you!”

I so envy that man’s talent with words.

A View We Infidels Were Never Meant To See

There is apparently a prohibition on cameras at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia, supposed final resting place of Mohammed, and, since the entirety of Mecca is off-limits to kafir (Arabic for “infidel”) such as myself, there’s precious little visual record for me to soothe my curiosity with. However, by way of Little Green Footballs, I came across a 360° panorama of the courtyard of the Mosque taken by an intrepid hajji. I’m a bit surprised that they actually used his name, as I would imagine it would be easy to get in trouble for this sort of thing.
Still, it’s a very interesting shot worth taking a gander at.

I’m Not The Only One!

I’ve been a bit put off by the generally positive reviews of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by other Christian bloggers, thinking that perhaps I was too harsh on the movie. However, having stumbled across Steven Greydanus’ review, I feel vindicated.
To quote from Greydanus’ review:

Other changes are even more ill-advised, and sap Lewis’s story of much of its underlying meaning and thematic richness. Most seriously, Aslan, the great and terrible Lion, is robbed of much of his awe-inspiring majesty — not by inherent limitations in translating the story to the screen, but by specific alterations in the screenplay that consistently eliminate references to Aslan’s power and his effect on others.
No longer do the children and the Beavers speak tremulously at the Beaver lodge about how intimidating it will be to meet a Lion, or hang back at Aslan’s camp before approaching him, nudging one another and trying not to be the first to step forward. No longer does Mr. Beaver utter what is arguably the single greatest, most resonant line in the entire book: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.” (The “But he’s good” bit is revisited at the end in connection with Tumnus’s line about Aslan not being “like a tame lion,” but the crucial notion of Aslan not being “safe” has been jettisoned.)
No longer does the Witch find the mere mention of Aslan’s name unendurable and threaten to kill anyone who uses it. Nor do Aslan’s enemies repeatedly balk in terror before venturing to bind, muzzle and shave him at the Stone Table.
The screenplay systematically elevates the role of the children and the Witch herself at Aslan’s expense. In the book, when Father Christmas arrived, he said, “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.” In the film, a curiously un-festive, brown-clad Father Christmas (James Cosmo) offers a contrary explanation, attributing his arrival to the Pevensies rather than to Aslan: “The hope brought by Your Majesties is starting to weaken the Witch’s power.”
Perhaps the single gravest change to the story is one that greatly empowers the Witch at Aslan’s expense. It is simply the eradication of the whole motif of the Witch’s overt fear of Aslan. This is absolutely crucial to the book’s emphasis on the utter lack of parity between the omnipotent Aslan and the powerful but limited Witch. The whole vision of good and evil at work in the story turns on the fact that the Witch is never even close to being a rival or threat to Aslan, any more than Lucifer to Christ himself.
The filmmakers, perhaps motivated by a misguided dramatic notion of needing the villain to be a credible threat to the hero, eliminate practically every indication of the Witch’s fear of Aslan from the story — in the process jettisoning much of the point Lewis was making about the nature and relationship of good and evil.

Skipping a bit:

Perhaps most inexplicable is the film’s half-hearted approach to the reanimation of the enchanted statues in the Witch’s courtyard. So vividly does Lewis describe this scene that the last time I read the book to my kids, I actually had to interrupt the reading to take them outside and set fire to some crinkled-up newspaper to show them what it looked like (to see why, see this review of the 1988 BBC version of the story, which quotes the relevant passage). This is precisely the kind of scene for which God created special effects. One can hardly imagine a filmmaker coming across that scene and not yearning to linger over all those statues gradually coming to life. Why, then, does Adamson give us only one token onscreen reanimation, and consign the rest to off-camera action? What was he thinking?
These aren’t the objections of a purist unwilling to accept departures from the text. The problem is not the filmmakers’ depatures from the letter of the book, but their insensitivity to its spirit, not to mention the sometimes slapdash quality of their storytelling even on its own terms. I don’t mind early scenes establishing Lucy’s apprehension regarding the unseen Professor at whose country estate the children are staying. Yet, having established that dramatic tension, shouldn’t the film have somewhere to go with it? Didn’t anyone notice that it makes no sense to introduce the Professor by having Lucy actually cling to him for comfort during a quarrel with her siblings?
All these missteps add up to the difference between what could easily have been one of the greatest family films of all time, and what is, instead, merely a good one. Though the film misses greatness, even in this diminished form Lewis’s story is still well worth seeing, and the film adds enough to the experience to keep things fresh.

Thank goodness I’m not the only one that was so bothered.

Aslan Is On The Move, But, You Know, Who REALLY Cares?

As I noted yesterday, I went to an advance screening of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe put on by my church last night. In brief, here’s my one sentence review: I don’t know how it’s possible, but I both loved and hated it simultaneously.

The Good

Let’s start with the good first so as to avoid drifting into sheer and utter cynicism and downheartedness. First off, the visual effects were (mostly) some of the best I’ve seen in a film. Weta Digital has really set the bar extremely high for rendering on-screen animals – the CGI’d animals were virtually indistinguishable from their real life counterparts. The opening of the film, which I will not spoil for you, is an addition to the story and helps to set the stage quite effectively for those who may be unfamiliar with what was going on in Britain during The Blitz. The acting ranged from good to passable, with the Pevensie children being played almost perfectly by the actors chosen to represent them. I was a tad unsure of the lad they chose to portray Mr. Tumnus at first, but his turn as the Faun eventually won me over. I also came into the film worried at how the Professor would be presented, but left pleased – he was treated as a kindly old man with a keen sense of wonder and knowledge of Narnia with a soft spot in his heart for children, precisely how Lewis made him out to be. The White Witch, on the other hand, was nowhere near what I was hoping for. She was portrayed as having no real motivation for her evil and at her most intense, she seemed more “pissy” than “dread-inducing”. The voice actors, however, were routinely excellent, with Liam Neeson sounding grander than ever before as Aslan, although it was a bit off-putting to have the single Americanized accent in the film coming from Maugrim the Wolf. The two actors tasked with portraying Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are spot-on and one of the brightest facets of the movie. There was a distinctive lack of blood, which seems appropriate for a movie based on a children’s fairy tale book, which is nice to see in this day and age.

The Bad

Now, on to the negatives. They’re filled with spoilers, so I’m going to hide them with the <spoiler> tags. If you’ve seen the movie, or if you don’t care about me spoiling the movie, feel free to click below.

I have no idea how the producers managed to pull it off, but the movie felt rushed. If a ~350 page Tolkein novel can be made into a 2.5 hour movie and still retain a sense of pacing, why can’t a ~180 page Lewis book be made into a 2 hour one? Though the actual pacing of the events in the film plodded along, critical portions of the story were glossed over or simply left out entirely. Gone is the merry Christmas banquet frozen by the Queen, although it is touched on obliquely, as is the “hunt” for stone Narnians through the halls of the Witch’s castle, meaning that both Rumblebuffin and the second lion are left out of the story with the exception of two brief on-screen moments for each, which leaves me to wonder if there won’t be screentime for the two of them in some “director’s cut” DVD edition. Tumnus’ recounting of the tale of the White Stag to Lucy is dropped (it is conveyed visually and briefly in a CGI flame), meaning that the hunt for the actual stag at the end of the movie is given precious little context and ends up being more than a little confusing.
The film features extended battle scenes, which are as notable for their Jackson’s-take-on-Tolkein flavor as they are for their lack of bloodshed. Disney seemingly desired a Battle of Pellenor Fields of their own and attempted to craft Peter and Edmund’s battle into such a beast. Also added are a scene in the Witch’s dungeon between Edmund and Tumnus and a “Faramir-takes-Frodo-to-Minas-Tirith” moment in which Peter, Susan and Lucy track Edmund directly to the Witch’s doorstep, a simply unconscionable addition to the film, as it further degrades the dread one is supposed to feel about the Witch herself. How sovereignly evil can a dictator be when she cannot detect the presence of shouting children at her very doorstep? A chase scene involving wolves and a melting river is also thrown in for good measure
All of these flaws pale in comparison to the film’s portrayal of Aslan. Simply put, they neutered him. He is made to seem a very powerful lion and is described as the King of Narnia, but no one in the film seems to treat him with the full measure of respect such a status would necessarily require. Gone is the following exchange:

Is — is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

…And with it, much of the awe that is due Aslan. This lack of awe of Aslan, I think, is the film’s single greatest failing, followed shortly by its mirror image, the lack of dread conveyed by the Witch.
Also gone is any discussion of Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. Aslan, in his post-resurrection conversation with Lucy and Susan, credits his miraculous return to life to a misinterpretation of the Deep Magic on the part of the White Witch. This betrays a critical portion of Lewis’ narrative, namely that Aslan died to fulfil the requirements of the Deep Magic (the Law) but was raised because of the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. This turns Aslan’s sacrifice into a simple legalistic act, instead of one of extreme sacrifice and majesty. Thus, I believe that the movie adaptation of Lewis’ work effectively neuters a goodly portion of Lewis’ original message and thus ceases to be essentially a Christian story. If that was what Disney was aiming for, then they’ve succeeded, and the whole affair is the worse for it, in my opinion.

The Conclusion

So, when all is said and done, I think the question of whether you will truly enjoy this movie depends on a few simple factors:

  1. Are you a Lewis purist? Do you hate it when a movie deviates from its source book? You will have problems with this movie.
  2. Are you a Christian who was hoping to see an essential recreation of Christ’s story of sacrifice in a fantasy setting? I believe you’ll be disappointed in this movie.
  3. Are you a moviegoer looking for a movie in the vein of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series? You will likely enjoy this movie, although you may end up confused at points, given the fact that many events aren’t given their proper context.
  4. Are you a parent looking for family-friendly fare at the movies this Christmas? You will like this movie, although the battle scenes may warrant some eye/ear coverage.

Ultimately, my opinion doesn’t matter all that much for Disney’s bottom line, but if anyone at the Mouse is listening, please consider this Lewis fandisappointed in the movie adaptation of TL, TW & TW. And if anyone from Weta is reading this, good on ya’. Excellent work on the fur, lads.

Aslan Is On The Move

Our church meets in a movie theater, which means it is in a bit of a unique situation at certain points. For instance, in the past, we were able to get an advance screening of The Passion of the Christ; once again, we managed to get an advance screening of another “Christian-themed” movie: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The showing is tonight at 7pm and I will be attending with Aron and Heather as well as my nuclear family, including my brother’s brand new fiance(!).
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a long time and I’m really hoping it doesn’t let me down. From what I’ve read, the producers at Disney were emphatic about making it more Harry Potter/LotR-like, meaning that several additional scenes have been added that never appeared in the book. As long as it stays true to the overall story, I think I will be able to overlook it.
I’ll post my reaction/review tonight if I get a chance, tomorrow if I don’t.
Also, to keep yourselves amused in the meantime, give a listen to Marty Moss-Coane’s Radio Times (the show that Terry Gross wishes she could produce. You hear that, NPR? Dump Gross, promote Moss-Coane!) from today’s second hour, where she interviews an author and a playwright/author who have specialized in studying and adapting C.S. Lewis’ works in the past. Very interesting stuff.

A Question For My South Carolinian Readers

What the heck is wrong with your governor? First, refusing to recognize Pope John Paul II and now, Rosa Parks?
I don’t believe that the South is inherently more racist than the North, as many of my fellow Yankees seem to. (It did strike me as a bit weird when I visited S.C. that the central tourist attraction in Charleston seemed to be the market where slaves were traded…) There’s actually a lot of racism here in the North, but it’s generally of the passive-aggressive, underhanded, “soft bigotry of low expectations” variety (recent attacks on conservative African Americans notwithstanding). I’m left scratching my head over Sanford’s actions, though.
Anyone care to explain what the heck is going on?

There’s Regular Crazy And Then There’s Moralizing Crusader Bat Guano Crazy, Apparently

For those of you not in the know, Jack Thompson is a man-on-a-mission, a ragin’ crusader set to save us all from the Evils Of Video Game Violence and Ourselves, of course. Personally, I think he’s a flaming idiot, but that’s beside the point. The point is that he has apparently descended into some bizarre reaches of his subconscious and reveled a deep-seated need for some serious counseling.
Now, I can admire a man with a cause just as much as the next guy, but when your cause drives you to dream up stupendous death, murder and mayhem fantasies and then offer to pay other people to make those fantasies into a game, well, I just don’t know what to tell you. He’s obviously emitting so many Cuckootrons as to permanently peg my Crazometer and, while I generally find paranoid ramblings and delusions of grandeur funnier than a fart in a spacesuit, it does begin to worry me when said paranoiac posesses a law degree and shows no compunctions about using it.
Messr. Thompson apparently believes that we Americans are helpless automatons, incapable of discerning Right from Wrong, Reality from Fantasy. Apparently, my PlayStation2 is liable to unplug itself one night and crawl its way up the stairs to perch itself on my cranium and begin pumping me full of homicidal fantasies so sweeping in scope as to make Josef Stalin’s dead corpse blush and I’m helpless to do a single thing about it.
This man needs to be stopped, and soon. He’s dangerous as long as anyone actually listens to him (and powerful people apparently are listening to him and his intellectual brethren); he needs to join Fred Phelps on everyone’s List Of Certified Wackadoos To Ignore In Perpetuity. Maybe then Mr. Thompson, esq. can quit bothering people and return to his valuable crusades against decade-old rap “stars” and his priceless ad hominem attacks on various and sundry persons of fair-to-middlin’ repute.
That’s just my $.02.

Photoshop Funnies In “Hail The Swirly Cone” Land

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are an organization tasked with putting a positive spin on your medieval religion so as to make its largely anti-democratic, misogynist and xenophobic tenets seem almost palatable to Western audiences. However, you’ve also got to save face with your co-religionists and so you can’t be seen showing too much freedom and liberalism in your official communications.
As a part of your misogynist religious policies, you have found it’s useful to keep women “modest” by forcing them to cover all portions of their bodies not immediately needed for breathing, eating, etc. You then hold a press conference where *gasp* a few females’ hair can clearly be seen in official photographs! What to do? The vile female scientific hair rays might inflame the passions of passing viewers! I know, Photoshop hijabs on those rebellious women!
(Robert Spencer has higher resolution images of this insanity.)