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Why Movie-Makers Don’t Want To Deal With Christian Subject Matter

Why movie-makers don’t make a lot of movies with content written by a Christian or adapted from Christian stories is undoubtedly a complex issue. I’m going to offer one reason I think contributes. In short, I think the Christian market […]
| Dec 20, 2010 | No comments |

Why movie-makers don’t make a lot of movies with content written by a Christian or adapted from Christian stories is undoubtedly a complex issue. I’m going to offer one reason I think contributes. In short, I think the Christian market has become unforgiving.

Take the latest of the Narnia series as an example. Weeks before Voyage of the Dawn Treader released, I began to hear the rumblings—this part was changed, that scene was left out, those lines were altered.

Instead of joy and anticipation, enthusiasm and excitement, the mood seemed to be turning into one of skeptical show-me. Fans of the books didn’t want to go to a movie—they wanted to critique the job the movie-makers did.

And of course we should critique what we see, but I couldn’t help but wonder if we first shouldn’t actually see the movie.

I also thought maybe our expectations for this beloved story are too high. I have an idea that fans of Lewis would not be satisfied unless his story went to the big screen unaltered.

Except that’s unrealistic.

I think we’ve forgotten that movies are not books. Some things translate well from one medium to the the other and some do not. Especially with books like Narnia that employ an omniscient narrator, movies must find another way of conveying some of the information. To do so is not easy, and it often changes things.

I think we also may have forgotten how short the Narnia stories are. I question whether a full-length movie could be made without some addition to the original plot.

Then too, I think we may have forgotten that the movie-makers aren’t concerned with retaining Christian symbolism. They may not even be aware that some of the lines or scenes or even the character arcs they changed held spiritual implications.

Finally, I think we may have forgotten how storytelling has changed in the last sixty years. The books Lewis wrote don’t follow the nice, neat, three-act structure modern movies seem to require. Hence, the movie-makers did some “adjusting” apparently, to create what today’s stories need.

To be fair, other classics have not been rendered as well as fans of the original would like. Off the top of my head, I can think of Beowulf and Pride and Prejudice as two movies that didn’t meet fan expectations.

But it seems to me, we Christians may be harder to please than most. Some would say we are easier to please because we go to see amateurish performances of sweet and sappy stories that render the Christian life in two dimensions. Maybe that’s true when Christians make Christian movies. However, when Hollywood makes them, we are ready with our sharp criticism and even our suggestions that they Stop Making Our Stories Into Movies.

Say what?

Are critics, Christian critics, really saying they’d rather see more Lion King or Pocahontas than Narnia?

Here’s what I think we need to do after we’ve taken a deep breath.

1. Hold criticism until we’ve actually seen the film.
2. Judge the movie as a movie.
3. Resist the temptation to compare the movie to the book.
4. Re-read the book.

I think one of the very best things about the Narnia movies is the increased sales of the Narnia books. They’ve been reprinted any number of times, and I suspect another generation of readers has developed in large part because of the movies.

As for me, I want to see all seven stories made into movies. And I can hardly wait to see what they’ll do with The Last Battle. But we may never get there if Christians discourage people from seeing the latest Narnia movie by focusing on the negatives.

After all, movie-makers care about sales, and if Christian content doesn’t meet their expectations in dollars, they undoubtedly will stop making the Narnia movies—and other Christian stories, too.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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Millard
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I think you definitely have some legitimate points. Books to movie–movie to book is not going to be a direct translation. It won’t.

Something though, it didn’t feel like you actually gave reasons for Christians not to be hard core critique? And overall, I feel like what the world watches, and what the Christian community watches, is becoming starkly similar as a whole.

Do you see this critiquing going away with time? Do you see the issue to be more book focused than faith focused? And should Christians lay down if faith based things are compromised then, To make sure the other movies get made?

Krysti
Guest

Becky,

I’m tempted to blow a few raspberries your way! Yes, I like my movies-made-from-beloved-books to be “PBS-style,” completely unabridged. Of course I do.

If I didn’t LOVE the books, I wouldn’t, grumble-mumble, care!

Yes, Dawn Treader is a really good movie. But it’s a sad disappointment if you love the book, and you go looking for that book come to life in all its glory and find–well, a very good movie, but really just not–SIGH–the book you knew and loved. And not at all the book new readers are finding every day and still falling in love with–even if the writing style is umpteen years out of date!

Movie producers need to recognize that a major reason they’ve got an audience for these types of movies is because there is already a fan-base out there dedicated to every little inconsistency and slow scene in the books. Maybe the producers don’t know why the movie script should follow the book, but if they’ll pay attention, I feel certain that there are people available to them (like Doug Gresham) that could tell them why.

chrisd
Guest

It is difficult to translate a book into a movie. Something will always be left out. This was my favorite book of the series (including, yes, the end) and I can’t wait to see it.

Most Christian reviewers were quick to critize it and I guess I understand why. They want more theology from Hollywood.

One thing you didn’t mention – does Hollywood get the theology, especially if it’s subtle?

I will be seeing the movie this week so I’ll have to throw in my own 2 cents.

Good thoughts on this.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

One thing that sunk Dawn Treader so horribly was that the adaptation did not simply miss a few minor points. Instead, the entire reason for the voyage in the first place. What had been a quest to rescue seven lords, find honor and adventure, and discover Aslan’s Country, became a mission to find seven magic swords to defeat a vague, unsourced “darkness” that did not even make sense as a separate storyline. Disappointing.

Moreover, the film doesn’t even work apart from adaptation considerations. The movie moves too abruptly, often telling-not-showing, and makes it very difficult for any viewer — even a previous “Narnia” fan — to get emotionally involved.

Thus, my suggestion: lessen expectations, and perhaps you might not be as disappointed as I was. After some initial reservations several months before the film, I was prepared to love it, and had not even thought to recommend anyone, “Narnia” fan or not, avoid seeing it. Now I cannot honestly recommend the film to others as a good adaptation or a good movie altogether, as much as I would like to recommend it. And I also can’t hope that the rest of the films get made, which sadly seems less likely anyway.

susanne lakin
Guest

Thanks for those great observations, Becky. I read the post in Novel Journey this morning that slammed the movie as well. I find it very annoying that many Christians get on their high horse and love to condemn things like this–the movie isn’t exactly like the book, the movie doesn’t preach Christianity and hit viewers over the head with the gospel. Excuse me, but I loved Dawn Treader and was VERY impressed and grateful for much of the very subtle nods to Jesus and Christiainity. Because what many Christians don’t get is we are trying to woo a lost world back to God. And you DON’T do that by slamming them hard with the gospel. There’s a time for planting seeds and a time to reap. And sometimes we need to plant gently, in order to coax seedlings to sprout and grow.
We are not in a reaping age where poele are running in droves to the church. People are angry and disillusioned by much rightwing Christianity that judges, meddles in politics, and approves of things like violence against pro-choice people.

I’m not trashing Chrisitianity–I am a devout follower of Christ, and I write allegorical fantasy that subtly tries to lead people to God and truth. BUT I really would encourage Christians to remember that God is in control. He can and does use everything to his glory. How do you know he didn’t lead the makers of this movie (and the top brass are Chrsitians) to make the movie JUST like this because it is perfect for what it needs to accomplish? If the movie was all preach and Jesus, who in the world (yes, and I mean that spiritually as well as literally) would go see it?

We use our talents, gifts, and calling to be powerful in message but there is a place for subtlety, discerment, making compromises (not in faith) where we can for a greater good–to reach the lost. Look at Lord of the Rings. How much Christianity, really, is being preached there? There was more blatant Christianity and gospel in the last episode of LOST than in those wonderful films. I was blown away by the Christian message in Lost–so right in your face and so perfectly in line with Scripture. Were the producers trying to preach Christ? I doubt it. But they did, inadvertantly. And God used that show with a gazillion viewers to get a very powerful message across. Was the rest of the series in line with truth? Absolutely not. But the metaphor and allegory hit home.

Sorry to rant, but I really do get so sick of Christians denouncing and judging and condemning works of art if they do not meet their spiritual standards. If they don’t want to go see movies like that, then they can stay home and let the rest of us enjoy the experience and find ways to talk about the gems in the movies with those who don’t know Chrsit, using it as a vehicle–which is surely what it is meant to be–a means to reach a destination–true faith.

Amy Timco
Member

I must be missing something here. What I’m getting from your post is that we should lower our standards so we aren’t unhappy (!). And that reading about an adaptation’s flaws is pointless — we have to experience it for ourselves before we can formulate an opinion.

“Are critics, Christian critics, really saying they’d rather see more Lion King or Pocahontas than Narnia?”

Is Apted’s Narnia really Narnia, though? And what about Adamson’s PC? He said in an interview that he didn’t reread the book because he wanted to tell the story that he “remembered.”

It’s not Narnia anymore in my book. Not creatively, not theologically… not ecumenically or grammatically! Just because someone used the Narnia Franchise™ name doesn’t mean I’m going to buy into it. Would you apply the same reasoning to books in the Christian bookstore? Someone says this is a Christian book, therefore it must be biblical? I doubt it.

What was done to VDT is not a problem of book-to-movie adapting. The theology and the underlying ideas were radically changed to be more in line with the filmmakers’ and writers’ views. I have a real problem with this because it’s not just entertainment anymore. It’s a theological statement, a terrible one, and they put CSL’s name on it. Not cool.

I’d echo Millard’s questions… should Christians lower their standards (creatively and theologically) just for the sake of more mediocre movies being made? Because that’s what you seem to be advocating, and I simply cannot agree.

Amy Timco
Member

The Christian message of LOST, Susanne? Did you not see the stained glass window at the end with symbols of all the various world religions? It was displayed prominently throughout the entire scene of Jack is having everything explained to him. That is hardly “perfectly in line with Scripture,” as you claim!

It isn’t about our personal spiritual standards. It’s about truth.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

(Near-immediate edit: cross-posted with the above comments. I knew that would happen if I wrote a long reply. I’m enjoying the discussion!)

Susanne, merely speaking for myself, my opposition to Dawn Treader was not because it failed to “hit viewers over the head with the gospel.” Rather, it simply failed to respect the book’s central themes of storytelling and worldview in so many crucial areas — including, as you likely already read in my last column, the themes that one does not work to earn or deserve Aslan’s Country.

Moreover, apart from any spiritual critique, the whole “be yourself” thing is simply trite and hackneyed, and doesn’t at all capture the book’s much-higher messages. Whether “Christian” or not, any movie that does that makes me roll my eyes and wish that others had been in charge of adapting the material, writing dialogue, adding plot details, etc.

And I have to issue gentle challenges regarding these next (though I do recognize you are very passionate about these topics, and Godly Christians can certainly disagree!):

People are angry and disillusioned by much rightwing Christianity that judges

To be sure, many professing Christians (real and otherwise) have judged others in anti-Biblical ways (yes, I’m thinking of the stereotypical but too-often real “culture fundamentalists” who condemn most movies, music, etc.). Yet it’s also true that many non-Christians complain about Christians’ “judgment” even when the Christian is simply and graciously preaching the Gospel: repent and believe in Christ. “Believing in Jesus” often doesn’t offend; it’s the “repent” part, under the Law, that is offensive to them, but rightfully so. (Perhaps we’re on the same page here! I just wanted to check.)

meddles in politics

A la Romans 13? Sure, some Christians are guilty of valuing politics and political causes above the Gospel and evangelism, yet that doesn’t mean any Christian’s involvement in political issues is “meddlesome” and wrong right? (Again, just wanted to check!) I know some people who legitimately question why some Christians value politics above the Gospel, and to be sure, I want to correct for that problematic perception. At the same time, other people fake “offense” merely to get the Christians to shut up. Going along with that would be wrong, un-Biblical, and ultimately hurtful to the other person (as well as to the nation that will suffer from lack of involvement by moral people, Christian and otherwise).

and approves of things like violence against pro-choice people.

Perhaps you meant something I’m not picking up on, but really now, which Christians do that? Can you name names? (I can only think of the Phelps clan — a fringe cult.)

we are trying to woo a lost world back to God. And you DON’T do that by slamming them hard with the gospel.

Actually, sometimes we do, don’t you agree? Frequently in the Gospels Jesus confronted people head-on with who He was and what He came to do — especially His disciples, for whom He had a special role. Other times He obscured His truth, especially for those who had already made it clear they only wanted bread and circuses from Him.

So it’s difficult to draw, from those different “methods” throughout the New Testament, that we only use one “method” — “slamming” versus “wooing” — or the other. It depends on the person, and one’s personal calling.

For example, a Christian fiction writer, or anyone working a secular job (as I do) may use the subtle approach, embedding truths and evangelism along with his/her main task of telling a good story, doing business, whatever. Yet a pastor or missionary is charged with more-direct proclamation of the Gospel. He ought not do so brashly or rudely, to be sure — plenty of Biblical emphasis on humility and God’s grace help with that — but the message is indeed direct, Law-and-Gospel plain like it is, and I think some people might dismiss even that as “slamming them hard.”

Whether non-Christian people or the culture like or don’t like what we preach really isn’t the point — that sends Christians off into all kinds of crazy overcorrection, not sure whether people are supposed to like them 100 percent or hate them 100 percent. What do we read in Acts? Mixed results: revival here, hatred there. Instead we ought follow Christ, based on His revealed Word, and not look first at the world and then decide whether to change our tactics to “win” people or go on offending them.

BUT I really would encourage Christians to remember that God is in control. He can and does use everything to his glory. How do you know he didn’t lead the makers of this movie (and the top brass are Chrsitians) to make the movie JUST like this because it is perfect for what it needs to accomplish?

Ha ha, great point — and I certainly do not! At the same time, while we cannot figure out God’s secret will, we can certainly follow His revealed will, and thus oppose, with grace and Christlike character, certain things that don’t line up, such as books and movies.

I simply can’t recommend The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as a good adaptation or a good movie (unlike Prince Caspian which, despite its deviances from the book — and even Pelagian moments! — was at least a good movie). So I can’t out of some pragmatic concern (understandable though that may be!) ignore the film’s faults just because it could be a conversation-starter with non-Christians. Plenty of conversation starters already exist, using, say, The Lord of the Rings, which despite its lack of clear Gospel truth (which doesn’t bother me at all) at least presents Gospel-hints in a more excellent way, with better storytelling (and more respect to the original author).

Finally, recognizing God’s sovereign will and arguing that way can go both ways. 🙂 How do we know God, having secretly ordained that there be a movie like this, didn’t also ordain that there be criticism from Christian critics, snarky or otherwise? Either way, He somehow directed these courses of events. But we have the capability of making meaningful choices in the midst of them. My choice is not to slam the film, call ’em all heretics, or line up on some “side” against those who feel otherwise. But my choice is against feeling that I shouldn’t criticize the film at all, and against recommending it to others.

susanne lakin
Guest

Of course not EVERYTHING in Lost was in line with Scripture. You are missing my point. There was so much that was, that opened doors for believers to talk with unbelievers about the Chrsitian message in that episode (yes, and I did, and it was great), and the producers were NOT claimjing the episode was in line with SCripture. Sure, they were implying the many religions were all a way to get to God. Or maybe they were just showing that all the major religious beliefs had to come to face the reality of the turth in the next room. Who knows what they were trying to symbolize by that? And even if there message was meant to be “all religions lead to God” again, I would argue that without meaning to, there was MUCH in the show that was very right on. I could argue against Harry Potter and how unchristian that is, and I know a lot of believers love those books. Encouraging witchcraft? Reliance of slef instead of God? We then get into that place where we start splitting hairs about what is acceptable and what is not in fiction and fantasy where it does not line up with Scriputre. I could bet, Amy, that you like a lot of books, movies, and maybe TV shows that go against the Bible’s worldview. Hey, I love Star Trek. Man makes a perfect future society on his own–not with God’s help. Does that make me apostate, unchristian. I’ll let God judge me, thanks.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

There’s a difference between enjoying a story or series with non-Christian origins but hints of Biblical truths — such as Star Trek and Harry Potter — and calling something “Christian” that has actually departed from the faith’s essentials (or feeling we must not criticize at all, because at least it’s a conversation starter).

Pieces of Christianity were left in the Dawn Treader film, for example, but again, the movie itself was so haphazardly done as a story that I feel it’s best to admit that honestly. Otherwise, Christians will indeed feel they must support anything that is labeled “Christian,” without discerning either the un-Biblical notions that get in there, or being honest about poor quality of art — and thus striving to do better.

Of course, there is an opposite extreme: expecting every story, song, etc., to outline fully the Gospel, start to finish, then give an altar call, or it’s not “Christian.” However, I haven’t seen anyone in this discussion give that perspective. And I know what it sounds like when more-strict (often culturally “fundamentalist”) Christians start holding that standard. Of course not even the Bible itself fulfills that — because each books tells a part of the greater story, only seen when one takes into account the metanarrative. But again, this is a different issue, overcorrecting to the opposite extreme, than simply pointing out how a movie/story/artistic endeavor has failed to honor God’s truth, or even be well-done art.

Amy Timco
Member

http://blingdomofgod.com/2010/05/losts_multifaith_stained_glass_window_and_the_buddhist_bardo.html

^ Here’s the image I was referring to, btw.

“…and the producers were NOT claimjing the episode was in line with SCripture.”

No, you were :). I agree, the producers were not, and I don’t have the issue with LOST that I do with VDT. LOST is a secular show, and I agree that it’s a great way to open conversations with nonbelievers about where they think they are going after they die, the supposed conflict between reason and faith, etc.

But that’s the thing with VDT… it is well known as a book with strong Christian themes. Its author was one of the great apologists for the faith of the 20th century. And what the filmmakers have done is to take something that promoted a biblical worldview in its original form and twist it to fit their own ideas. And I’m supposed to support that? Just check my brain at the door and go along with it?

“I could bet, Amy, that you like a lot of books, movies, and maybe TV shows that go against the Bible’s worldview.”

Of course! But there is a distinction you’re not making… these secular shows, books, movies, whatever aren’t claiming to be Christian. They make theological statements, but they don’t have the Christian label on them. This isn’t about making everything fit my worldview. It’s about discerning truth from lies.

I don’t expect a secular book to be biblical. But I do expect book that claims to be Christian to reflect a biblical perspective. So I guess I do have different standards for Christian and non-Christian works. One is the product of the world, maybe with some truth here and there, by accident. The other is claiming to represent something far bigger than itself — God’s truth, His Word, His character — and so I think the standards must necessarily be different. There is far more at stake.

I don’t care if a non-Christian movie is theologically poor (what else should we expect? it’s when they are actually good that I’m happily surprised). But when a Christian movie promotes ideas that are directly antithetical to biblical Christianity, there’s a problem. And that’s the main reason I am not a supporter of Walden’s VDT.

Millard
Guest

Admittedly I’m loving the discussion. However I think I have little to add this point and will continue to think hard about the comments made. Something, however, that I do feel justified in adding too.

Of course, there is an opposite extreme: expecting every story, song, etc., to outline fully the Gospel, start to finish, then give an altar call, or it’s not “Christian.” However, I haven’t seen anyone in this discussion give that perspective. And I know what it sounds like when more-strict (often culturally “fundamentalist”) Christians start holding that standard, which of course not even the Bible itself fulfills — because each books tells a part of the greater story, only seen when one takes into account the metanarrative.

(I hope is italics:P)

I agree, that is the opposite extreme, however—I would ask. Is it less dangerous? I cannot make a strong Biblical case for having every song tell the way to Christ, or every book lead people to God directly, however, which is more dangerous? Working with the “allegorical” fiction that is so allegorical I totally miss the message, even as a Christian, or going with the “beat them over the head method”? In fact, they might be equally dangerous, it depends on your viewpoint.

I write fiction, no nothing published, nothing great or awesome, but I’m writing as God has gifted me. I feel it is a personal conflict to write a book length work and not at least have some strong spiritually solid strand. And no I’m not talking just morals 😉 That’s a personal stand, it’s something I am personally convicted on. But before you write me off to fast, or the conviction 😉 Would more people feel that conviction if they sought after the very best for their readers? Perhaps, perhaps not. Your choice.

I won’t touch the LOTR topic, I’ve had that discussion too many times 😉 But…..Spiritual themes? Perhaps, good versus evil, fighting evil, and the evil within—beyond that? It’s the viewer really. I think most LOTR watchers leave it at that.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

I hadn’t considered those questions, Millard. Ultimately I’d say overdoing the Gospel (on every page, etc.) is “less dangerous” from an eternal perspective. I’d rather be guilty of that than guilty of making things so “subtle” that a non-Christian completely misses the truth. However, God surely takes into account His children’s motivation and growth in holiness.

Also, the question of “which is most dangerous” varies according to a Christian’s gifts and vocation. For example, a pastor may be guilty of suppressing the Gospel if he minimizes it during his messages, preferring to teach on “five ways to a happy marriage” instead of “Christ is the only perfect Bridegroom who loves His Church sacrificially.”

But authors (or businesspersons, stay-at-home-moms, teachers etc.) have different sorts of callings. And it is perfectly justifiable — and even God-glorifying — for such Christians not to direct-Gospel-preach 9 to 5, because that is not their primary function when they have on their “secular vocation hats.” Instead they should work respectfully and righteously to honor their employers (Colossians 3) as if working for the Lord, and directly share their faith only when the occasion warrants or when the discussion comes up in the office or workspace.

Millard
Guest

Yup I would definitely agree.

Thankfully as you said, God takes into account our heart, which is good, very good for me 🙂

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

Amen, thank God! And even better, He replaced my sinful heart of stone with a new heart of flesh, writing His Law on that heart, and a surgery only made possible through the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice of the Lamb!

Shawn Lamb
Guest

Having lived and worked in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, I can tell you the powers that be go out of their way to take any Christian reference out of movies.

You were right about Lewis’ writing not translating well from book to screen and that Hollywood doesn’t care about Christians. Thus they feel at liberty to fill in the gaps of Narina with what they thinks makes sense. It takes Christian people with the money and wherewithal to make good movies with a message. Not necessarily “Christian” themed movies, but good movies with sound messages that everyone can enjoy. This is rare in Hollywood.

Yes, Christians need to be discerning in what we read and watch, but rather than complaining, Christians need to support those who do make family fare, sound movies. Otherwise, they the next one may not get made.

susanne lakin
Guest

Great points. I’d wondering, and maybe you all know (really, I don’t)– Do the producers of VDT and the other Narnia movies come right out in advertising, commercials, trailers, and state this is a Christian movie, with a Christian message? I don’t watch TV so I don’t see this stuff, but I did see the trailer to the movie and nothing was stated like that.

amy said : I don’t care if a non-Christian movie is theologically poor (what else should we expect? it’s when they are actually good that I’m happily surprised). But when a Christian movie promotes ideas that are directly antithetical to biblical Christianity, there’s a problem. And that’s the main reason I am not a supporter of Walden’s VDT.

So, I agree–if this is being promoted to the public as a Christian movie representing clearly the Bible’s truths, then they are out of line to be softening, changing, diluting, or contaminating the gospel in any way. I think it’s expected of movies like Facing the Giants and Fireproof, which are small companies clearly claiming to be Christian-based all the way.

But I thought Walden Media was a commercial, corporate mainstream film producer that made lots of different movies, many of them quite wonderful but none that I could see inherently Chrsitian or promtoing that worldview. So, since the author of Narnia was a Christian, does that make the filmmakers beholden to promote the author’s personal theological views, even if they are NOT espoused in the actual pages of the story, the dialogue, etc. ? Even if they were? I don’t see they are under that obligation.

Now maybe if Clive was alive and held the rights and control in contract with the film company, he might insist on certain things. I’m hoping to have my books made into movies and it gives me pause. How much control would I insist on–vetting the final script? Yes. I would make sure nothing came across in direct opposition to my faith. But other than that? If they don’t make the subliminal message of my books (I like subtlely) as clear as I want them to be, or change my overall “message” to something else, do I have a say? Will I be mad? I guess that remains to be seen. I can only trust if God opens those doors for my Gates of Heaven series to be made into films, I’ll find out. And I trust his will for those movies will be done, regardless.

Thanks for all the great comments and discussion. It’s clear we all love God and want to honor him. It’s wonderful God has given us all individual hearts and minds that he molds, uses, and leads to write creative works to his glory.

E. Stephen Burnett
Admin

So, since the author of Narnia was a Christian, does that make the filmmakers beholden to promote the author’s personal theological views, even if they are NOT espoused in the actual pages of the story, the dialogue, etc.

Agreed: no. But I haven’t seen that argued here. Instead (from my view, anyway) I’ve said that the material that was in the book, the main themes of honor, glory, adventure and seeking Aslan’s Country, were rudely shoved aside and given subsplot status in favor of a Quest to Destroy the Evil Green Mist™.

Equally vexing, the themes of being blessed to enter Aslan’s Country, not earning it, were minimized. Despite the polite verbal nods given in that direction that Eustace gives only after the compressed “undragoning” scene, the main message that came through, loud and clear, was a very un-book-like (not simply un-Lewis-like) You Must Discover Your Own Basic Inner Goodness.

Michelle R. Wood
Guest

I’ve avoided this debate for the most part since it’s not one I had a strong opinion on, and I wanted to see the movie first before “putting my oar in.” Now that I’ve had some time to think and process the film, I’d like to first respond to Becky’s post and then offer some observations (warning, this is a long comment).

First, I have no issue with tearing a work of fiction to shreds (as I’ve done from time to time); after all, unlike with people, I’m not required to love all art. Still, I agree that there were a large number of negative predictions, almost reviews, being made about this film before it was released. To be fair, Stephen did an excellent job here at Speculative Faith of providing readers with his thoughts pro and con, clearly articulating what he liked and disliked. But there certainly was a lot of negative build-up, probably due to bad feelings about the previous movie.

Next, the stories are short. Prince Caspian is mostly a flashback and then a big battle. Voyage of the Dawn Treader meanders from island to island with short episodic bursts of action. These stories are delightful to read but challenging for a visual medium like film. In many ways, these novels would make better 90-minute television specials, like the BBC’s recent Sherlock episodes. In fact, while the live-action LWW clocks in at 2hr 15min, a 70’s-era Emmy-winning cartoon was only 90 minutes long and remained incredibly faithful to the book.

Finally, while many have commented on the spiritual “neutering” of the films, with good points made (I especially like the reviews of Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus, who addresses better than I could Becky’s points about adaptions standing apart from their source materials), I don’t quite agree. Oh, I’m quite able to believe the directors or producers missed the point, though I’d read the stories several times and didn’t see some of the meanings people have pointed out to me in critiquing the movies. However, I think there’s plenty of the spiritual and the divine expressed in the movies. In VDT, my mother commented on the line the (again present) Witch murmurs to Edmund about “always being alive in your mind.” As a college instructor, she’s seen first-hand how devastating one bad decision can be, a reminder that even after forgiveness we have to live with the consequences of our sins. Lucy’s temptation was expanded but had clear basis in the novel, and though some quibbled over the “belief in yourself” stuff, I saw it more as God wanting us to see ourselves as he sees us: fearfully and wonderfully made. I also thought it was a powerful message for young girls to watch, since the actress isn’t an anorexic beauty but looks more like a real girl.

Instead I think something else is lacking more, but the only person I’ve seen clearly articulate it is Dr. David Downing over at Ignatius Insight: the films aren’t very British. As Dr. Downing writes, “in too many earlier scenes Lewis’s shrewd, supple prose is replaced by prosaic contemporary Americanisms.” The Hobbits of Jackson’s LOTR always felt rooted to their home cultural mythos, even when speaking words Tolkien didn’t pen, while the children of the Narnia films don’t (accents not withstanding).

The mood of the books is of a reserved and proper but also whimsical and affectionate figure putting on his spectacles to write you a letter, like a beloved grandfather or uncle. As with Jane Austen’s works, the narrator of Narnia is almost an extra character. That’s in opposition to the styles of Tolkien or Charlotte Bronte: those authors chose to have their characters interact and respond to situations without reference to the narrative force. However, Lewis and Austen can’t help but dip into the story themselves, regularly commenting on what’s happening (such as “He jumped in and shut the door, forgetting what a very foolish thing this is to do,”) rather like a good friend you might whisper to at the movies. The problem with adapting these type of books is that narrators don’t work very well in dramatic storytelling (with a few noticeable exceptions), and when that narrative force is excluded from the film it leaves a void. I think with Walden’s Narnia movies, people are missing the style of Lewis. The void his absence left hasn’t been adequately filled.

Mike Dellosso
Guest

Great post, Becky. Here’s my own experience. My book Darlington Woods has been optioned by a producer in Hollywood and a screenwriter will begin work on the screenplay soon. She’s already told me much of the “Christian” stuff in the book will have to be omitted from the movie but the themes will remain. She wants me involved in the screenwriting process to make sure the vision I had for the story remains. But alas, it is Hollywood, a largely secular industry, and it will not be a “Christian” movie, but rather a movie based on a Christian novel with some religious themes. Unless you want a Left Behind or Fireproof kind of movie, that’s how it works.

I have some trepidation about this. If this story ever makes it to the big screen I wonder how my readers will react. I’m guessing it will be PG-13 with some language and violence and horror aspects. But it will have a primarily Christian message.

I think we Christians are the underdogs in Hollywood so anytime we get one of our own making it to the big screen we tend to take ownership of the project. We think that because a Christian book has made it to tinsel town it has to be a witness, change the world kind of stuff, instead of just be a good movie with some Christian undertones.

I’m rambling so I’ll wrap things up. In short, I’m getting a taste for how it is for a Christian to get along in Hollywood. It’s an arena where we have to be shrewd but uncompromising. There are certain things I simply will not allow in the script and the producer is aware of that. You have to choose your battles wisely.

Amy Timco
Member

Yes, Christians need to be discerning in what we read and watch, but rather than complaining, Christians need to support those who do make family fare, sound movies. Otherwise, they the next one may not get made.

I think it’s more complicated than that. The goal should be quality, not quantity. What good is it to have nice family movies if they also promote worldly ideas? What good are family-fare movies if they are mediocre not just theologically, but also artistically? Is the goal just to make more movies?

Sometimes the nice family films that promote unbiblical philosophies are the worst, because they seem so nice on the surface. Satan masquerades as an angel of light. The good is the enemy of the best. I’m not content to support a movie just because it doesn’t have any R-rated elements in it.

Sometimes when fans complain, filmmakers listen. Why do you think Arwen didn’t end up at Helm’s Deep after all, even after they shot tons of footage with her there? The fans made it known that was not okay. (It helped that Liv Tyler recognized there’s more than one way for a woman to be strong!)

I’d wondering, and maybe you all know (really, I don’t)– Do the producers of VDT and the other Narnia movies come right out in advertising, commercials, trailers, and state this is a Christian movie, with a Christian message?

Douglas Gresham does talk about the Christian elements of the stories at times in interviews, and there is definitely a strong push toward marketing to the “faith community.” Narnia giveaways for pastors to use in their churches, events at Christian bookstores to promote the films, etc. — oh yes, it’s all there. They play it carefully because they don’t want to alienate the secular market (and there is much that non-Christians can enjoy in Narnia). But yes, the filmmakers very much count on the faith community to turn out and see the film.

So, since the author of Narnia was a Christian, does that make the filmmakers beholden to promote the author’s personal theological views, even if they are NOT espoused in the actual pages of the story, the dialogue, etc. ? Even if they were? I don’t see they are under that obligation.

I guess I see VDT as C. S. Lewis’ story, not Walden’s. And Lewis’ views, that are espoused in the actual pages of the story, have been directly contradicted by the rewrite. The theological material in the book has been cut or reworked to make way for other ideas and themes, many of which cripple the story creatively and doctrinally (funny how those two go together so often).

Stephen puts it well:

Despite the polite verbal nods given in that direction that Eustace gives only after the compressed “undragoning” scene, the main message that came through, loud and clear, was a very un-book-like (not simply un-Lewis-like) You Must Discover Your Own Basic Inner Goodness.

Exactly! This is just one of the things that directly contradict material in the book itself.

I’m really astonished at how few Christians have picked up on the theological problems of the film — or who dismiss those problems as unimportant. As long as we’re entertained and there is no swearing or sex, they can take all the liberties they want! It’s got the Christian label on it — let’s mindlessly support it. It’s from our side, right? … But what are we being loyal to?

I think you bring up a great point when you consider your own work being adapted to film and wonder how you would react to the kind of revisions that have been made to Lewis’ Narnia. But just because he isn’t here to defend the integrity and intent of his work doesn’t mean that it’s okay for us to maul it, or approve of it being mauled.

It’s wonderful God has given us all individual hearts and minds that he molds, uses, and leads to write creative works to his glory.

Amen! 🙂

Michelle, I couldn’t agree more about the lameness of Americanisms injected into a very British story. Even with LWW, I was just waiting for a good “By Jove!” or “Great Scott!” to come popping out in the dialogue… and there was simply nothing like that. I think in PC, Lucy even says “oh my gosh he’s so cute” (referring to Reepicheep). “Oh my gosh”???!! I’m not objecting to the phrase; I say it myself. I’m objecting to the lameness of the Americanism when a Britishism would have been brilliant.

Really, that example is the problem in a nutshell. Remove the things that make the Chronicles Narnian, rethink the stories’ themes and theology, drop in a trite “oh my gosh” instead of the wonderful British expostulations — dumb it all down.

I think we Christians are the underdogs in Hollywood so anytime we get one of our own making it to the big screen we tend to take ownership of the project. We think that because a Christian book has made it to tinsel town it has to be a witness, change the world kind of stuff, instead of just be a good movie with some Christian undertones.

No, I don’t think so. The root of my distress over the mauling of VDT (and PC) is because I have loved these books since before I can remember, and they have only become more profound as I grow older and mature in my faith. I don’t want VDT to change the world or end with an altar call or something. I simply want the film adaptation to be faithful to the stories that I love. I want the filmmakers to show appropriate respect for the author (rather than basically trashing his story in interviews and gushing about how they improved it).

Instead, the undertones of VDT are hardly Christian anymore. In several places they contradict biblical teaching. Why is it wrong for Christians to recognize and criticize this?

Krysti
Guest

You know, I’ve been thinking about this blogpost all day since I read it.

The whole debate over the VDT reminds me of the man who sat behind me in chapel in Bible College. He was African American. The year before, we’d had an African-American choir sing gloriously for us in chapel! But the year this man sat behind me, the choir that showed up was anything but glorious. They couldn’t hold a tune in a bucket and they didn’t even really have rhythm. There were several words I could use to describe that performance. Glorious is definitely not one of them.

This man sat there behind me in and made loud disapproving comments (he used much stronger descriptive language than I would have dared) and made loud noises all through the performance. As bad as the performance was, HE was way more off-putting!

I also was in a psychology class with him, with the first African-American professor at that school. He grilled the professor mercilessly–every single class period–to the point where the professor had difficulty teaching us his lessons. It wasn’t that he wanted our proff to do poorly any more than he wanted to be disruptive of the choir performance. Oh no! He just really wanted every African American he knew held to a higher, greater standard of competence–because they were representing his race and for better or worse, he was associated with them! (Please understand that I didn’t agree with his attitude on this, just relating what I understood of it.)

In some ways it was very unfair, and in others–well, let’s just say that I don’t know why the church that supplied the choir sent That One to represent them at the college instead of one of their more competent choirs. Even when someone conducted a little research and came back with the answer that the choirs rotate appearances and singing engagements, and there’s no guarantee of which choir you’ll get, letting this choir see the light of day–was more than a little odd! But I figured it fell into the realm of “making a joyful noise,” and was willing to appreciate it as that.

I think I feel somewhat the way this man felt–not about other white people–but about “Christian” movies from Hollywood. I want them held to a higher standard of ethics and theology, and quality of workmanship, and I don’t really care if someone else thinks it’s unfair that I do. I don’t really want them made if Hollywood is going to butcher them and leave out all the things that the author thought was important and throw in meaningless junk that leads nowhere in its place, or worse yet, appalling, misleading “theological” insights. VDT isn’t so bad compared to some of the others, not that this is a whole-hearted recommendation, by any means.

But I’m thinking of that made-for-TV atrocity called The Flood that was inflicted on viewers everywhere during prime time several years ago. How appalling! We were so excited when we heard it was going to be shown. What a lot of hype we heard about how great it was and all, and we even recorded the first segment, and it left us scratching our heads. We’d gotten so excited about this movie to begin with, that we were still in “We Gotta Have This For Posterity” mode the next night. As we were getting ready to record and watch it some more, we stopped and turned to each other, and said, “Hey, wait a minute! WHY are we doing this???”

And we gave it up right then and there. The more we thought about it, the more disgusted we were that we’d wasted precious time for doing better things on that garbage. The producers had even insisted that The Flood was based on the Bible too, but hey, what a shame that it ever saw the light of day. Some things just really shouldn’t.

Rhiannon
Guest
Rhiannon

You know, I agree that it is rather unrealistic to have expected this movie (or any movie based on a Christian author’s work) to perfectly capture the Christian worldview and all that. However, I think that we as fans can legitimately be unhappy and critical of the movie without expecting a non-Christian movie maker to act like a Christian.

Any movie maker who decides to make a movie based on a classic book has some responsibility to try to capture that book’s themes and story well, and in this day of the internet, it’s just good business to make the fans happy. It has been proven time and time again that being faithful to the book (while making the few changes needed for film) is not only financially viable, but also makes a better movie. The Harry Potter films (which did a great job with compressing a massive story into movies while still keeping the story intact), the Lord of the Rings (the movies everyone said couldn’t succeed and yet broke records, and managed to stay faithful for the most part), are good examples of this. Also, the recent movie Tangled, which took a very short fairytale and made a lovely movie with all the basic elements of the original story.

A competent and talented director and writers could have easily turned VODT into a great movie that kept hold of the themes of the books without reference to their theology. As it was, Michael Apted and his bunch thumbed their noses at the fans and and the author, and made a badly written, badly adapted, badly edited, and frankly boring movie out of it. I still wonder why they even tried. It’s like they didn’t want to do the movie at all. They could have titled it “Some People On A Pretty Boat and the Adventure of the Green Mist” and no Lewis fan would have complained. As it was, they conscripted the title to a beloved book to sell their own story which was almost the opposite of that book.

Story-telling has changed, and so has marketing. Directors and writers aren’t free to do their own thing anymore, not since they have invited their audience to watch the process through internet videos and interviews. Therefore I think fans actually have a responsibility to complain and criticize when things go badly, for the sake of the art of movie making.

Now, as Christians we do have a different responsibility than other fans and movie-goers. There is no need to promote something just because it sort of looks christian, it’s dangerous to the spread of the true Gospel for one thing. When we tell the world “This is a Christian film/story!” or “Go see this to see what Christ is like!” about a secular film, they end up with a warped view of Christ and Christians, and it’s our fault. So when we promote a secularly made movie or book, we need to promote it as individuals, not as a church, and because of it’s quality, not because of it’s “message”.

Also, settling for second best only leads to the sort of thing that happened with VOTD, because the movie makers know they can get away with it and we’ll eat it like it’s good stuff. That goes for specifically Christian movie makers and artists as well. While we should encourage those who are obviously doing the most excellent job they can with what they have, it does our witness no good to blindly promote nonsense and lazy work just because it is “Christian”.

My two cents, with a little extra for good measure. 😉

Rhiannon