Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A Voyage to Nowhere?

I've never been a great fan of films adapted from books. That sentiment has only been increased by the current trend towards filming works of fantasy fiction like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles, not to mention the unmentionable Harry Potter series!

Some works of fiction, notably the novels of Dostoevsky, can be quite successfully turned into films, probably because they are written more like stage or screen plays than novels anyway. But novels that tell their story against a wide, panoramic vision seem to me, paradoxically, to resist successful film adaptation (an exception might be Bondarchuk's War and Peace, which is extraordinary, but nowhere near as extraordinary as the novel...but then Bondarchuk took seven years to make that film, had the Red Army as extras, and its running length is 8 hours!).

Stories which portray a panoramic vision of an imaginary world through the genre of fantasy seem to me to doubly resist film adaptation (which doesn't stop producers from adapting them - but they seem to do so not because they should, but simply because they can, especially since the advent of computerised special effects). Case in point The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Perhaps it could be said that it works as cinematic spectacle, but if the criteria for a successful film adaptation of a work of fiction includes, as surely it must, translating the moral vision of the author onto the screen, then I believe the filmed Narnia Chronicles and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in particular have failed dismally. What we have in this latest installment is not so much Lewis's voyage to the dawning East, but a voyage to nowhere - a film adaptation of Lewis's vision for the post-Christian imagination.

Film critic Steven Greydanus explains why this is the case much better than I could with his excellent article in the National Catholic Register.
Check it out by clicking on the post title. Let us at least hope that seeing the film might lead not a few inquiring young people to read the book, where they can be introduced to Lewis's creatively Christian vision of the world in all its unadulterated mystery.

4 comments:

Schütz said...

Graydanus isn't entirely negative about the adaption of Voyage of the Dawntreader though. I was disappointed with the transformation of Eustace (which, you will not be surprised, I see as an allusion to Purgatory! - compare to Lewis' comments on this doctrine in Letters to Malcolm), but otherwise I was fairly happy with the film. I'm not a huge fan of the Narnia Chronicles actually, but think the films do a good job more or less. The Harry Potter films are something else entirely. My kids have been harsh critics of the recent films.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Thanks for your views, David.
I shall check Lewis on purgatory - it wouldn't at all surprise me, as a lay theologian he was very confused!

Pr Mark Henderson said...

Forgot to mention - my 10 y. o. daughter is reading the series at the moment. I'm glad she's managed to finish each book before seeing the film.

Pr Mark Henderson said...

David Schuetz later posted this comment, which I approved but which for some reason has not appeared here:

"That's essential, and a rule in our household. No HP films were seen before they had completed the books. This in part led to the heavy criticism of my children for the latest Potter films: no sooner had they finished reading the books (I had to do a marathon 6 hour reading one Christmas) than they went to see the movie. The vivid experience of listening to the stories read to them and then seeing the pale comparison on the silver screen was a strong contrast for them.

We are reading Lord of the Rings now, and they won't see the films till we have finished."