A Cautious Man
March 02, 2004
When It's All a Storybook Story
From the "Good News/Bad News" department:

First the, um, "bad" news, I guess. I usually don't get to the Arts section of the NY Times until the end of the day, when I get home from work. When I opened it up, I found a great big, two page ad trumpeting the fact that Disney and Walden Media will be bringing us the first movie installment of The Chronicles of Narnia at Christmas, 2005. For those who do not know already, the Narnia books were written by C.S. Lewis, a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, and both were members of a literary circle at Oxford known as the "Inklings". Lewis and Tolkien would read to each other, from their "works in progress". In many ways, Tolkien's work influenced the development of Lewis's more overt Christian allegory.

Anyway, the movies would apparently start with (of course) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. According to E!Online:
Disney and Walden are betting that Lewis' fantasy franchise--which also includes the prequel, The Magician's Nephew, and the sequels The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle--will follow Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and New Line Cinema's The Lord of the Rings series by casting a spell at the box office.

"With an exciting and meaningful plot and well-drawn, emotional characters, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has the potential to be just the start of an extraordinary series of films; the exceptional imagination present in the novels follows in the best Disney tradition," said Disney chairman Dick Cook. "I think this is just the kind of movie audiences are looking for, and we're thrilled to be able to bring it to the screen."
The Narnia books are wonderful, but nevertheless I think a little trepidation is in order. I already know that there were several false starts with respect to the dramatization of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and only the extensive and dedicated effort and creativity of Peter Jackson was able to finally bring about the trilogy of films which have been so deservedly honored. So, I think this means that, for fans of the works, who makes the film is an important issue.

For these films, Disney has joined with Walden Media, which has apparently been buying the film rights to "beloved" works. Walden originally optioned the Lewis books in 2001. The company was launched in earlier that year by, among others, billionaire investor Philip Anschutz with the mandate of "marrying popular entertainment and education." Apparently, Anschutz (the 16th richest American according to Forbes) not only owns Walden, but also one-fifth of America's movie screens. According to a September 1999 Fortune article, Anschutz was "working deliberately and diligently" to do "something significant in American Christianity." He also is, apparently, active in conservative circles. Recently, he purchased the San Francisco Examiner, and it has been reported that in the 1990s "Anschutz backed Colorado's Amendment 2, which tried to restrict that state's cities from adopting civil rights protections specifically for gays and lesbians."

I remember reading that the publishers of the Narnia books were trying to figure out a way to de-emphasize the Christian allegory in the works. That would be unfortunate, but it would also be unfortunate to go too far the other way. If the movie-makers can avoid the temptation to "hit us over the head", we can always hope for something as enjoyable as LOTR.

Oh, I said that was the "bad news" part. The "good news" is that there is no indication that Mel Gibson has been signed to direct.



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