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Gearing up for Prince Caspian

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Scanning through Evangelical Outpost, I came across this little gem over at BeliefNet highlighting 12 Spiritual Lessons from Prince Caspian, the novel as opposed to the film. 

I think I had started to feel a little lethargic in regard to Narnia lately.  After going through the list and getting a little refresher on the story, I’ve gotten amped again to see it.

The latest trailer did not really impress me – the film looks a little too much like a riff on The Lord of the Rings, something I think Tolkien and Lewis would be the first to agree that Narnia is most definitely not. 

Fans have nearly driven themselves ape over images from the trailers, most of which are merely quibbles.  Film is a different medium than a novel – an adaptation will sometimes involve embellishments, subtractions or additions, to make a literary story work visually.  Since Lewis left so much to the imagination in his narratives, such development is almost required. 

I make no predictions about this one.  The previous film hit more beats than it missed, but the ones it missed flew wide of the mark.  I would hate to see similar results this time around.  The strength of Caspian rests on the story.  The closer the filmmakers stick, the better the film will be. 

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Written by taj

May 6, 2008 at 10:58 am

A question for you scholars, lay or otherwise…

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Back when I went to school in Missouri, I remember attending a lecture given by a calvinist theologian who equated the first eleven chapters of Genesis with mythology, and generally held the belief that evolution was God’s means of creation. 

That’s a terribly written generalization of the lecture, but I’m writing this on the fly.  Since I started reading up on C.S. Lewis’s understanding of myth (as in story, not mythology itself), I’ve been curious to delve a little more into those first eleven chapters, and wanted to know if anyone knew of some good books to start with. 

Andrew, I feel like I remember you tried to tackle this issue before.  Any ideas?  All other readers, you’re welcome to voice your views/suggestions too. 

Written by taj

April 16, 2008 at 1:00 pm

Star Trek Moved to Summer 2009

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According to Variety, Paramount has shuffled some release dates, including J.J. Abrams franchise reboot. 
 
I like Paramount’s confidence that the film would work well in the summer.  The article doesn’t say, but the change might have something to do with the end of the writer’s strike. 

Abrams has said he had wanted to rewrite a few scenes, and now that he can, he might have convinced Paramount to give him the time to make the changes.  But that’s all speculation on my part.  I’m not yet a total Abrams devotee—he writes well and he has a sound eye when it comes to direction, but he’s unproven.  
 
The move to May 2009 puts the Enterprise, up against the Wolverine/X-Men Origins film, and the Ron Howard directed prequel to The Da Vinci Code, Angels & DemonsWolverine might be a contender—I doubt the film can bring it on Hugh Jackman’s talent alone. 

I’m actually reading Angels & Demons right now, and Dan Brown’s pseudo-historical fiction is just as laughable as Da Vinci’s. If Akiva Goldsman is running the adaptation (as he did on the previous installment) the film might be watchable.  I actually enjoyed Ron Howard’s film over the book, save for his treatment of the albino assassin.  That was one aspect of the novel where Brown transcended his own plot, and I felt Howard blew the nuance by taking the villain-always-dies route. 

At any rate, a 10 month wait has now become 15 before Enterprise takes flight. 

HT: Libertas

Written by taj

February 15, 2008 at 5:52 pm

New Review

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I have a much amended review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix up at Infuze.

In the original review, I camped too much on the adaptation quotient. I still think turning an 870 page book into a 130 minute film cannot capture the essense of the author’s story, but it can come close. Phoenix just about gets there, even if it does play like a highlight reel.

I tried this time to focus on the more positive aspects of the artists involved. However, some of them (I’m talking to you, Michael Gambon) deserve their criticism.

***

Before anyone ever sat down to adapt the 870-page Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the franchise already faced considerable challenges. Film franchises begin to tire once they reach their fifth installment. Many of the artists, writers, and designers who helped to tell a successful story in the beginning have started to check out, and creative endeavor splinters under the pressure to deliver another $100 million hit.

The immense popularity of the books, and some wise decisions on the part of Warner Bros., kept “the boy who lived” above water for four films. Steve Kloves, who adapted the first four films, had already proven an immense story could condense well onto film and still run under three hours. The Goblet of Fire, however, carried many visual elements that transitioned well to the screen. Phoenix — a darker, longer, and much more cerebral tale — does not.

After witnessing the death of a student and the return of Lord Voldemort last year, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) ambles along the streets of Little Whinging to pass the summer days before he can return to school. Dementors interrupt his cousin Dudley’s (Harry Melling) cruel taunts, propelling the boy wizard into another cauldron of trouble. Soon he’s whisked into hiding by the Order of the Phoenix — the underground resistance formed by Headmaster Dumbledore in the first years that Voldemort terrorized the wizarding world — now reestablished to counter the looming threat of the Dark Lord’s return.

Back at Hogwarts, Harry endures eerie visions in his sleep, and struggles against the accusations of lies alleged in the papers and shared by many of his friends. A new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (Imelda Staunton as the devious Professor Umbridge) only fortifies the Ministry of Magic’s suppression of Harry’s version of events, and refuses to instruct the students on how to defend themselves. In an effort to prepare themselves for the coming war, Ron and Hermione (Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) convince Harry to teach the students how to fight.

With a new director at the helm (David Yates) and a writer needed to develop a script after Kloves’s departure, screenwriter Michael Goldenberg stepped in to handle the chores. Goldenberg, who had already proven his ability adapting Carl Sagan’s Contact in 1996, manages to capture the rage that hovers within Harry for much of the film. Certain elements from the novel had to go to keep the running time down (leaving those of us wishing for a rousing rendition of “Weasley is Our King” mildly disappointed), but Yates and Goldenberg keep the gargantuan plot moving and manageable.

Much of the novel’s more visual elements make it into the film. The growth of Dumbledore’s Army, edited to taut precision by Mark Day, make up the finest moments of the film. Yet where film is more concerned with telling a visual story, many of the character elements that moved the fans of the novel never reach their fullest potential.

Harry’s relationship to Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) receives enough attention to endear the greasy haired rebel somewhat to the audience, but it’s far from a homerun. The same goes for Harry’s relationship with Cho Chang (Katie Leung) and the development of Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis). Dumbledore, whose humble power roared in the novel, receives a terribly underwhelming treatment from veteran actor Michael Gambon. The dénouement in the headmaster’s office that so powerfully resonated in the book gets a scant minute and a half of screen time, feeling more like a highlight reel than an actual resolution.

Imelda Staunton, however, captures the cringe-inducing Delores Umbridge to near perfection, reading Goldenberg’s lines as though they were scratched from the surface of a blackboard. Nicholas Hooper’s score rises in places to the level John Williams set on Prisoner of Azkaban, creating a subtle and charming theme for the oddly amiable Luna Lovegood, and sweeping the audience through Harry’s sessions with Dumbledore’s Army. Director Yates wisely keeps to the same design and atmosphere established by Alfonso Cuaron on Azkaban, and adds more handheld camera work to breathe frenetic energy into the film’s climactic action sequences.

At its finish, however, the film feels stretched between creative trims and cuts to produce an entertaining movie, and the studio’s fiscal concerns to produce a film that can play enough times in a day to earn enough money.

DVD special features include an electronic version of the film for your PC or portable video device (sorry, iPod users, the file won’t play with Apple’s iTunes software). Deleted scenes add little to the experience and fortify the editorial choices in the film, although Emma Thompson does get to show off her comedic genius in an extended cut of the opening feast. Following Tonks actress Natalia Tena around the movie set will score some chuckles (keep an eye out for the refrigerator — turns out Tonks has an affinity for Coca-Cola). Two other documentaries are included: “The Hidden Secrets of Harry Potter,” which makes for an entertaining recap for those only familiar with the movies, and director Yates and editor Day walk through the Dumbledore’s Army sequences.

Phoenix would likely have played better had certain elements received their due attention, but that would mean a running time perched dangerously close to three hours. And Order of the Phoenix is not The Lord of the Rings.

(edited by Sam Gaines)

Written by taj

December 14, 2007 at 5:59 pm

The Sin of the Adverb

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Some time ago—I am not sure when, but just like death, taxes, and Starbucks raising its prices, it is now an established certainty—adverbs became taboo.  I go along with the trend just like any savvy writer.  Adverbs perch themselves right on the nose, and infringe upon a reader’s imagination like a misplaced colon.  For example…

“I love you,” she said sincerely.

I should not, under any circumstances, have to be told how she said it—I should be able to pick it up through her actions.  “I love you,” she said, and touched his hand.  Or, “I love you,” she spat, and slammed the door. 

I am told that the adverbial sin can squash a writer’s chance at publication.  Editors will not take you seriously, they say.  Among the stack of authors guilty of this shameless act, J.K. Rowling receives much of the flack for some reason.  And for no other reason than that I can, I wanted to highlight another egregious sinner…

Take Terry Brooks.  Brooks has earned scads of money on what he openly (see, sometimes you just can’t avoid it) admits was a riff on Tolkien.  Here’s an excerpt from page 3 of The Sword of Shannara:

A low-hanging branch brushing against his head caused Flick to start suddenly and leap to one side. In chagrin, he straightened himself and glared back at the leafy obstacle before continuing his journey at a slightly quicker pace.  He was deep in the lowland forest now and only slivers of moonlight were able to find their way through the thick boughs overhead to light the winding path dimly.  It was so dark that Flick was having trouble finding the trail, and as he studied the lay of the land ahead he again found himself conscious of the heavy silence.  It was as if all life had been suddenly extinguished, and he alone remained to find his way out of this forest tomb.  Again he recalled the strange rumors.  He felt a bit anxious in spite of himself and glanced worriedly around.  (Brooks, Terry.  The Sword of Shannara.  NewYork: DelRey, 1977.)

That is, count ‘em, four adverbs in a single paragraph.  From a book that not only stayed a while on the NY Times Bestseller list, but spawned 15 other novels. 

Please do not take this to mean I think Brooks a terrible writer—there are some places where his prose really shines.  He spins a great tale.  But adverbs, even in their excessive use, do not always spell doom for the aspiring writer.  They are still something to avoid, but not something on which to pin your talent.  Like ending a sentence in a preposition, like I almost did. 

Written by taj

September 5, 2007 at 8:57 pm

Thoughts on Kid Nation

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This fall, unless critics get their way, CBS will air a new reality show called Kid Nation where 40 kids between the ages of eight and 15 are cordoned away without adult supervision to try and build a society on their own. 

Several have called for CBS to pull the plug and cancel the show due to various ethical and safety concerns. 

While there is a part of me that finds the concept intriguing, I understand and sympathize with the criticism.  Whether it ought to be aired or not, I don’t know.  I wasn’t going to watch it anyway.

Between the ages of eight and 15, there are not a lot of acquired social skills that can even contribute to a society, let alone build one.  Just look at your average middle school. 

I spoke with CalvinDude about this earlier, and he, like many other critics, highlighted the Lord of the Flies comparisons.  William Golding’s novel paints a brutal parable of animal youth that, when looked at through a theological lens, offers profound insights on the concept depravity.  Between the ages of eight and 15, kids are still figuring out their moral compasses.  And their experimentation tends to spiral into disaster without moral and temperate guidance.  Maybe you’re right, CalvinDude…maybe it is a stupid idea. 

My feeling remains, however, that if they pull the plug on this, they ought to pull the plug on half the middle schools in America too. 

Written by taj

August 29, 2007 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Books, Television

Growing by Doing

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There are many times when I sit down at the keyboard to write that I just end up sitting there, staring at the cursor.  I can’t write because I just don’t feel like it.  The words just aren’t there; the familiar rhythm of the narrative is nowhere to be found. 

The same thing, I believe, occurs in other disciplines, whether it’s reading the Bible or exercising your abs.  It’s why so many people drop their resolutions three weeks after New Year’s. 

A friend of mine approached me once, Bible in hand, a smile on his face, and he said, “You know, you can’t hunger for the Bible unless you read it.” 

Good point there.  Especially in light of the attention Mother Teresa’s legacy has received over the recent revelation of her struggles.  The struggle to believe is something every sincere believer faces at some point.  John Wesley suffered for years pondering whether the Gospel he preached every week was even true.  J.K. Rowling has illustrated her own struggle to believe through the final volume of Harry Potter.  I struggled similarly about three years into college.  And the difference, I believe, comes in the exercise of doing.  Just believing.  Just reading.  Just writing.  Usually, you can emerge on the other side free of the struggle, hungering for more. 

Remembering that encourages me.  After all, John Wesley made it to Aldersgate.  Harry made to King’s Cross.  I made it too, though the place doesn’t really have a name.  And I still struggle at times.  But I keep going.  Because when I do, like when I write, I can feel His pleasure. 

Written by taj

August 28, 2007 at 3:50 pm