Friday, December 09, 2005

The Lion, The Witch, and the "Meh"

Full Disclosure: I am not a professional movie reviewer . . . which you might know from my recent reviews from the last month of Netflix selections. Also, I haven't seen any of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (easily the most ridiculously long movie title in, like, forever . . . even in acronym form--TLTW&TW . . . someone get me a macro and a new type of punctuation).

But, what's up with TLTW&TW? Are YOU excited about it? Can you gauge the hype level? Usually I'm relatively up on these things, though, again, I'm not a professional.

I can't gauge opinions on TLTW&TW. I read the C.S. Lewis books when I was a kid, alongside Tolkien's work. I enjoyed them both, but I had a stronger love of Tolkien. However, there are obvious similarities between both book series and the authors. Tolkien and Lewis were Oxford University dons, both critiqued each others' work. But while Lewis' work always had a link to Christianity, Tolkien's Christian influences were buried deeper. His works reflected his academic leanings (linguistics and ancient myth) moreso than his faith. And Lewis' work was built to appeal to children much more obviously than Tolkien's grim tale of the One Ring.

So, is it the whiff of Christianity that has lessened the hype for TLTW&TW? I don't quite think that works, because not everyone knows about Lewis' faith--and it isn't overwhelming in the books.

I haven't been able to come up with a satisfactory answer until tonight when a interesting coincidence of situations combined together to provide a possible theory. The new issue of Entertainment Weekly reached my doorstep with a cover featuring TLTW&TW. Inside the issue is a story on the movie, alongside a review of Peter Jackson's new movie (and follow up to his blockbuster interpretation of Tolkien--King Kong.) The fact that TLTW&TW didn't get a cover until the day that the movie releases says a lot about the failure of marketing for this film. I don't have exact numbers, but I know that Jackson's LOTR and the Harry Potter franchise got at least one, more like two covers in the weeks approaching the release date.

But, back to figuring out why TLTW&TW hasn't' quite captured the public's imagination. The movie reviews of each film provide a clue--here are some excerpts:

On Narnia: "In the lavish, spirited, at times naggingly literal movie version of the hugely popular first Narnia film you're often aware that you're watching child actors roam through a land of concocted creatures and special effects."

On Kong: "The new King Kong is a virtuoso demonstration of the industry's most astonishing advances in computer animation--Kong himself . . . appears as fully real as the luminous, earthy Watts . . . . But what resonates is the story, which is a very human tale of compassion, greed, loss, bravery, creativity, foolishness, and love."

Let's pause for a moment and think about what you've just read. One movie fails to capture the wonder of a children's classic because the artifice can't be overcome by the story. The other movie succeeds mightily, even though it is essentially about a huge monkey tearing shit up. How can this be? I think the answer is, partly, Peter Jackson . . . or more precisely, the people he works with.

Both movies demand and rely upon massive amounts of special effects. But Jackson succeeds where Andrew Adamson missed because Jackson's co producers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens don't care about technical stuff. These two women (that condensed and simplified Tolkien's 1000+ pages) helped create the story for Kong along with Jackson and they create story that Jackson finds a way to bring to life.


While everyone is lining up to praise King Kong, I've got to criticize the insane commercial for the movie that features the Coldplay song "Fix You." It is strange to see a movie set in the 1930s that is accompanied with a decidedly modern song. But, maybe the message is what matters. (Though Jack Thunder helpfully pointed out that it's not the only one.) I tried to link to a clip of the song, but couldn't do it. Go to the official movie site, click on the bottom menu item called Media, then click on TV spots. Select the one entitled "Alone" and revel in the weirdness.