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.
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.