29 December 2005

Just watched Walden/Disney's film version of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I'm a longtime fan of the Narnia books, having read them repeatedly from a young age. I also enjoyed the cheesy late 80s/early 90s BBC television version a lot of us saw growing up. Cheesy effects, admittedly, but true to the book.

This isn't a bad movie. But for the book it was loosely patterned after, it'd be quite a good movie. But for me, its another example of foolish, illiterate screenwriters turning the words of one of my literary heroes into processed, Americanised tripe masked with occasionally tasteless CGI overindulgence. First Tolkien, now Lewis.

Don't even for a moment feed me the wretched excuse that "books can't be translated onscreen". This movie was not just cut, not just rewritten, but it was APPENDED to, it was extended. I can abide parts being cut out, I admit, but the wanton, inexplicably pointless rewritings of the plot and dialogue leave me disgusted. It's as if they wrote it for the bleeding video game. Think I'm joking? It was released November 05 by Buena Vista Games.

The plot changes were not quite pointless, but don't be deceived into thinking they were necessary adaptations for the cinema. It's the screenwriters...they need a job and unfortunately an accurate transcription of an already fairly screen-friendly book would not reflect on them as a worthy or great accomplishment. So, just like Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens thought that they could make improvements on Tolkien's work ("let's have an elf skateboard down some stairs while shooting an arrow!"), these people have dumbed down the dialogue and monkeyed with the plot in the most obtuse and ridiculous ways. And why cast a former Jedi as Aslan? He ended up sounding like some sort of wigged out yoga teacher...all gentleness and no teeth. He's not a tame lion. Or an animated lion for that matter.

Here's the main point. Overall the changes reflected two things...simpler, plainer dialogue and harsher, more brutal violence. In the book Susan and Lucy hid their eyes when the stone knife fell; here you see it fall as well and watch the girls look on in horror. The innocence is stripped away, and you wonder, when it is written so explicitly, why would they make that subtle change? The battle scenes are hardly even included in the book, and are not grandiose, self-aggrandizing exercises in computer graphic-rendering power. We don't need to see thousands upon thousands of centaurs slaying and being slain in the tumultuous horrors of war. Lewis certainly never depicted anything of the like, at least in that book. More on the battle (and my most petty and vociferous protests!) later. But why should the screenwriters make the decision to dumb down the dialogue and the plot, and yet flesh out (literally) the horror, despair, and gore of war? Is that what children are in dire need of? Less vocabulary and more blood?

It's a series of compromises, and a great sell-out (thank you Disney). The BBC versions stuck faithfully to the book and are not exactly flying off the shelves, although they will do better now (I will be purchasing a set of DVDs soon myself). So I can't blame them all that much, but I'd much rather no version be made, than one that is all fluff and glitter with no substance, or much less substance at least.

There's much to praise in the movie, don't get me wrong. Despite the subtle downplaying of the, shall we say, deity of Aslan, it still makes a good faith effort to show the overall themes, however clumsily, and it communicates them well. I also loved the opening scene of the air raid (and the Heinkel HE-111s, somebody did their homework!)...that is an example of how to appropriately make a film adaptation. It explained what would otherwise have to be narrated without making terrible changes. And the children were well cast. So very, very English, pale, freckled, bad teeth and all (I mean that in the fondest way as quite the Anglophile). I was ever so thankful they didn't have Dakota Fanning in a wig as Lucy. They didn't go THAT far.

On to my nit-picking on the battle. They illustrated the great and persisting fallacy of medieval warfare...the chivalric superiority of the mounted warrior. Countless battles were lost by foolish leaders taking their knights into a brave charge against a well arrayed enemy, believing blindly in the superiority of their knights over the plebian footmen. Daft fools, it took them centuries to unlearn it...consider Agincourt, for example, but there are countless others. If I were Peter and the situation was laid out as specified?

First off, his position was terribly poor. He held no real high ground but his army was set with their backs to a high ridge, cutting them off from any real maneuverability. And before you make any protests regarding retreat as never being an option, consider that the famed Scot commander William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) had a preselected escape route for his men at the Battle of Falkirk, which, guess what, he made use of! Should his movie be redubbed Chickenheart?

But the great problem is that he made no use of defender's advantage. The enemy charged, and he charged, losing all formation. Once in melee, missile weapons are no use, so the light infantry (under Edmund) would have been useless, unless to kill as many of their own troops as they did their enemy. The wise leader would have fortified his heavy infantry, erected stakes and formed a tight line with his heavy shock cavalry (himself, centaurs, other mounted warriors) in reserve or on the flanks. Then with his light infantry (bowmen) deployed behind the fortified line, he could have goaded the enemy into charging by firing on them from a distance. The enemy was charging with the equivalent of heavy cavalry. Heavy cavalry is always (ALWAYS) turned away by heavy infantry in well-formed defence. They would have broken on their ranks like water. Heavy infantry could have advanced on the line, but they would suffer greatly under a withering hail of arrows from the Narnian light infantry, and would still be at a disadvantage (though less dramatically so) when they hit the Narnian heavy infantry line. Then once the enemy had reached the line, the heavy cavalry (again, centaurs/knights...mounted shock troops) would sweep out and FLANK the enemy. With the Witch's army advancing without formation or any apparent tactic other than run-at-them-and-try-to-kill-them, a carefully applied tactical plan like that would have completely routed the enemy, even in superior numbers. Again, remember Agincourt!

To quote Professor Digory Ketterly: "I wonder what they DO teach them at these schools."



The Unabashed Blogger said...

Well...they are kids after all. What did you expect?!

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

Hey I read Archer Jones' "The Art of War in the Western World" in 6th grade, and I had an American public school education! I expect these kids to study tactics! :D

The Unabashed Blogger said...

But..they are english...

The Irascible Neufonzola said...

Precisely! All the more reason for them to know of the Battle of Agincourt, where their great-great-etc-grandfathers stood shoulder to shoulder and repelled the Froggy horde!