The hype machine is getting cranked up for the upcoming movie, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, set to open Dec. 9. The dramatization of C.S. Lewis' classic tale, with its clear symbolism of the gospel, is being marketed to and through churches, in the same way as The Passion of the Christ.
WORLD caught one of the "Sneak Peeks" the promoters are staging for pastors and other Christian leaders across the country. (Go to Narniaresources.com for a schedule and ticket requests.) Though the producers of The Passion showed a rough cut of the whole movie, Disney and Walden Media are showing only clips of the Narnia movie. The event also included a walk-through of the plot, presentations from the production companies, suggestions from the evangelistic group Mission America for how churches could use this film, and a presentation from co-producer Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson.
Judging from the preview, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe looks very promising, both as a movie and as a Christian testimony.
First of all, will it be a good movie? The clips are stunning visually, showing magnificent snow-covered vistas, epic battles, and startlingly realistic talking animals. The set design, costumes, and cinematography are very satisfying. The special effects are from the same team that worked on the Lord of the Rings movies. The young actors playing Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmund seem exceptionally well-cast, and their performances-at least in these clips-are outstanding.
Will the movie be faithful to Lewis' novel and to his Christian themes? The plot elements are all there, including Aslan dying in the place of the sinful child and rising from the dead for his redemption.
The film is a joint venture between Disney-with its expertise in animation and movie-making-and Walden Media, which billionaire Philip Anschutz bankrolled to make positive, Christian-friendly movies. The Walden representative said the company considered this project "a sacred trust." Mr. Gresham said his role as a producer was to be "to blame" if the film was not faithful, thus taking responsibility for preserving his stepfather's legacy.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the first in what may be a long-running franchise. Walden plans to film all seven of the novels. Mr. Gresham told WORLD that Prince Caspian will be next, if this first movie proves successful.
And there is every reason to think it will be. The book has sold 85 million copies, with legions of devoted fans, young and old. Fantasy and science-fiction fans are also eagerly awaiting this movie, just as they did the other pillar of contemporary fantasy, Lord of the Rings. The Passion of the Christ was rated R, but the Narnia movie will attract all ages, with families buying multiple tickets at a time.
Should churches allow themselves to become part of the marketing juggernaut of this movie? The promoters are offering churches posters, customizable fliers, even bulletin covers, as well as the chance to buy tickets in mass quantities. Churches should not allow themselves to be used commercially, though there is nothing wrong with companies trying to reach a Christian audience. And churches may well be able to use this cultural moment as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel.
That will take more than just going to the movies. Walden is offering a whole array of downloadable study guides, but, as we were told at the Sneak Peek, they are designed for public schools and so are not "faith-based." Churches will have to do their work of preaching, teaching, and evangelizing. But it can only help to have an imaginatively appealing presentation of the Fall, Christ's atonement, and the Christian life making its way through the popular culture.