IT HAS SOMETIMES SEEMED ALWAYS winter and never Christmas for Narnia fans loyal to C.S. Lewis's crystalline vision.
First, the publisher HarperCollins announced plans to churn out more titles in the Narnia franchise, books not written by Lewis and purged of their Christianity to accommodate contemporary secular tastes (see WORLD, June 16, 2001).
Then came reports that a new company, Walden Media, had a big-budget, live-action Narnia movie in the works, and new questions arose: Will the movie be faithful to the books? Will it include C.S. Lewis's Christianity and his evangelistic symbolism? Or will it water down the theology and turn Lewis's allegory of redemption into just another fuzzy children's tale about talking animals?
So far, the message from Walden Media is positive. "We will do a faithful adaptation," Walden President Micheal Flaherty promised WORLD. He says he even distributed WORLD's article on the betrayal of Lewis's vision to everyone working on the project, with the HarperCollins plans as an example of what not to do.
The first Narnia movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is scheduled to hit theaters around Thanksgiving of 2005. Filming is slated to begin in December or January. The scheduled director is Andrew Adamson, who co-directed the computer-generated fairy tale parody Shrek. Grant Major-who was responsible for the look of the Lord of the Rings movies-is in charge of production design. Mr. Major scored two Oscar nominations for his work with The Fellowship of the Rings and The Two Towers.
The script is done and casting has begun, although no announcements have been made about who will star in the film. Meanwhile, some sense of the likely production values can be garnered from Walden's first mainstream theatrical release, Holes. The movie arises from the novel by Louis Sachar that was wildly popular with junior-high kids in that dialectical, questioning stage who tend to think themselves overworked, victimized, and misused by the world.
Holes depicts Stanley Yelnats, a star-crossed middle-schooler (Shia LaBeouf) who is accused of a crime he did not commit (stealing sneakers). He is sent, along with some real juvenile delinquents, to a camp in the desert to dig holes. The idea is to build character. As nefarious supervisor Mr. Sir, hilariously played by Jon Voigt, explains the theory, "You take a bad boy, make him dig holes in the hot sun all day, and it turns him into a good boy."
But the adults in charge-Mr. Sir, the touchy-feely camp counselor (Tim Blake Nelson), and the Warden (Sigourney Weaver)-have a different motive: excavation of a mysterious treasure. Holes is no Disneyesque bit of escapism. It is the kind of story English teachers love, filled with ancestral flashbacks, multiple intersecting plot lines, and hidden meanings. The movie combines gritty verisimilitude with imaginative humor, pathos, scary bits, and serious moral symbolism.
Holes is not for very young children, since disturbing moments include a gypsy curse that plagues Stanley's family, a murdering female outlaw, and authority-figure adults as bad guys. But Christians, at least, can recognize that we are under a curse (until redeemed by a sacrifice), that sin is real and has consequences, and that false authorities need to be brought to real justice. The movie also includes touching depictions of friendship, and displays the importance of reading, family solidarity, and bearing one another's burdens.