Must Christians Ensure That the Narnia Films Succeed?

by Mike Duran · 21 comments

Apparently, early ticket sales for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader were not promising, which led to some consternation among Christian fans of the series. And a plan of attack. From 10 Things You Can Do to Ensure Narnia 3 is a Success:

The opening weekend of Voyage of the Dawn Treader is critical to the film’s success, but we can do something to make sure that low predictions of a $26 million dollar opening weekend don’t become a reality. The only way that Narnia books like The Silver Chair or The Last Battle will be made into films is if the Narnia Fans join together and ensure that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a success.

Some of the suggested things Narnia fans can do to make the Dawn Treader a success are:

  • Change your Facebook profile image to the image of Aslan.
  • Ask your church to have an announcement about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in their Sunday morning services and provide them with a list of Sunday afternoon showtimes.
  • See the movie again.
  • Call or e-mail 10 friends and tell them about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
  • Make a flier about the Christian themes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and include the local Sunday afternoon showtimes. Pass out copies of this flier at your Sunday morning church service and encourage your friends to take their entire family to see the movie on Sunday after church.

The author concludes, “The future of Narnia films depends on you.”

It’s understandable for fans of anything to want to see those things prosper. But should Christians have a vested interest in seeing the Narnia films succeed? And if so, why?

I have long contended that when it comes to “Christian art” — Christian films, books, music, etc. — believers tend to turn a blind eye. We will suffer mediocrity and poor theology provided the “Christian” brand is furthered. I fear that this may be the case with the Narnia film series.

For the record, I have not yet seen The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, (our family will be going during the Christmas holiday), so I am not qualified to opine about either its quality or the theology. However, if fan sites like the one above are any indication, once again many believers seem averse to critically addressing either quality or theology when it comes to their “art.” Who cares that a Christian film is critically panned, as long as it makes money, God be praised.

Which is why I find articles like the following so helpful. In Narnia: Hollywood vs. C.S. Lewis (my thanks to E. Stephen Burnett for the link), the WSJ author highlights a noticeable gap between C.S. Lewis (the author of the original Narnia series) and evangelical supporters of the films.

American Christians, especially evangelicals, have embraced Lewis as an adored, avuncular lay pastor since he began publishing apologetics in the 1940s, but the love affair has always required a certain willful blindness.

…Walden Media, the film-production company responsible for the movie versions of Lewis’s children books, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” is therefore in the unenviable position of triangulating three distinct and not always compatible factors: what Lewis actually wrote; what American Christians would like to believe he wrote and what large numbers of filmgoers want to see onscreen.

I blogged about this subject years ago in a post entitled How Christian Was C.S. Lewis and Why is He an Evangelical Hero? Among others things, Lewis believed in evolution, purgatory, and a sort of “soft universalism.” To this, evangelicals have, apparently, developed “a certain willful blindness.” However, it is Narnia’s rather un-family orientation that the above author calls into question.

But an even bigger wrench than the source author’s beliefs, may be the filmmaker’s. John Nolte, Editor in Chief at Big Hollywood, noted a brewing controversy regarding two of the franchise’s most notable players

Unfortunately, two of the main players involved in “Dawn Treader,” appear to disagree, not only with our interpretation of what the Narnia series is all about, but also with C.S. Lewis, the creator of the source novels. Saturday we reported that Neeson, who portrays Aslan, the lion and obvious Christ figure in the story, said the following:

Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.

And Wednesday, no less than “Dawn Treader” producer Mark Johnson told the Hollywood Reporter he wasn’t sure if the “Narnia” novels were Christian:

But Dawn Treader producer Mark Johnson agrees with the, shall we say, more inclusive analysis from [Liam] Neeson, telling The Hollywood Reporter that “resurrection exists in so many different religions in one form or another, so it’s hardly exclusively Christian.”

“We don’t want to favor one group over another … whether these books are Christian, I don’t know,” Johnson added.

So what are we in for this weekend. Has Hollywood twisted “Dawn Treader” into just another touchy-feely, multicultural, PC production that pleases no one in an attempt to please everyone?

These are good questions and ones, frankly, that more “fans” need to be asking.

Does it matter that the voice of Aslan (Liam Neeson) is channeling “Mohammed, Buddha” and “all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries”? Should it worry us that Mark Johnson, the producer, wonders if Narnia was really even “Christian”? Has Hollywood “twisted” Lewis’ original Dawn Treader and replaced its theology with “touchy-feely” multiculturalism?

Or are we more worried about ensuring a good opening weekend?

I don’t slight fans of anything for wanting to keep their “thing” alive. That’s what fans do. I just wonder if the Narnia film series really needs our help and if this movie really helps our Christian witness or elucidates a Christian worldview. Yes, I think Christians should support films with “family values” and “Christian themes.”  But is the Narnia series worth such a concerted grassroots effort? I have my questions.

Amy @ My Friend Amy December 12, 2010 at 5:52 PM

I’m not actually a huge fan of Narnia but I’m also not too concerned with having different theological ideas than C.S. Lewis (or in some cases the same ones) I don’t only support people I agree with. I do think great art transcends its creator.

It could be a great chance to talk about some of those idea though. And I do think Liam Neeson is saying something very politically correct, which is unfortunate, but doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have value.

I won’t be trying to get people to go see the movie though as I’m unlikely to see it myself. (prince Caspian was terrible) I’m more interested in seeing great films get made.

Katie Hart December 12, 2010 at 8:02 PM

I wasn’t aware that NarniaFans was a specifically Christian site. I viewed the “10 Things” post as fans of a series trying to make sure it doesn’t die, which has happened for countless movie franchises and TV shows. Sure, many Narnia fans are Christians, but the only sentences in the article that even hinted Christians should help the movie succeed because it was a “Christian movie” were the 2 suggestions related to church services.

Did you see this response to the controversial statements made? http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/jjmnolte/2010/12/10/exclusive-inteview-walden-media-president-michael-flaherty-on-dawn-treader-the-liam-neeson-controversy-and-the-franchises-future/

While several parts of Dawn Treader didn’t live up to my expectations, it preserved the themes of the book and kept important lines from the ending. I want it to do well in theaters, not so a “Christian movie” can succeed, but because I’d love to see the entirety of my favorite series come to life on screen.

Mike Duran December 13, 2010 at 5:25 AM

Katie, to clarify, I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis and the Narnia book series. However, that does not automatically make me a fan of the movie series. Should it? I’ve seen the first two film, and will see this one. However, I don’t view that as “doing my part” to keep this series going or “ensuring” that the movie has a good opening week. That’s kinda where the rub is for me.

I don’t know that the Narnia site is explicitly “Christian,” but being a fansite for C.S. Lewis means there’s probably not a lot of atheists who are members. And from the references about “the Christian themes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” I think it’s pretty clear who they suggest targeting. So I think I’m justified in inferring that it’s (mainly) Christians who are making this push. (In fact, I got wind of the fansite through another Christian author).

I don’t slight fans of anything for wanting to keep their “thing” alive. That’s what fans do. I just wonder (1) If the Narnia film series really needs our help and (2) If passing out tracts for the film is a good use of our time, and (3) If this movie really helps our Christian witness or elucidates a Christian worldview. And having not seen the film yet, I can only speculate. In the long run, Narnia will make its money. So I’m not sure what the stress is anyway.

Either way, my point in this post is to challenge Christians about uncritically viewing art and to be cautious about jumping on bandwagons. Hey, thanks so much for commenting, Katie!

R. L. Copple December 12, 2010 at 9:18 PM

Just returned from seeing the film. Overall, I thought it was well done, and kept key parts of the book’s themes. They did make a few changes to personalize it, and provide more of a plot with a definable climax, including a more overarching “villain” (and thankfully, it is not the White Witch that the trailers seemed to suggest). All of that was something I expected them to do, in order to make it more of an experience for the reader. Some purist won’t like it, but while it may weaken Lewis’ points at a spot or two, the majority of it was kept intact.

They did about as good a job of trying to hit all sides of the expectations on this. And they were taking a risk doing this movie. The last one wasn’t as popular as the first, overall, and that may have lost some people. And in my opinion, this is one of the harder of Lewis’ books to make a movie of, due to the more journey nature experiencing a string of adventures, lacking a clear definable movie plot and climatic moment.

As to quality, I’m probably not the best judge of what the critics are saying or have said (I’ve not read any, so I have no idea what they are saying). But just your average movie goer, I was more pleased with it than I expected to be. The characters were all played well, and though they made changes, as is to be expected, all the scenes I remember are in there. Even the more overtly Christian themes.

I enjoyed it as much as any other movie I’ve gone to see. If it is any consolation, they made fewer changes to the book than I felt Peter Jackson did with the LOTR films.

As far as the actor channeling other religious figures, sure, that’s his interpretation. And is one of the things about allegory. One can interpret them as they see fit, no matter the author’s intention. One can’t get specific and say, “But this is Jesus.” But the Christian themes are still there to find. The actor simply says the lines, unless the director allows him to make changes to the script, what he believes matters little. Others who are not Christians will probably read into the movie what they want to see them say.

And I think the producer and actor almost have to say that, no matter what they really believe inside, because they fear getting branded as making a “Christian movie,” and so alienating potential viewers of the movie, and reducing box office tickets.

I’m wanting to see this succeed simply because I would like to see at least the Silver Chair make it in to the mix. And while these movies could spark interest in Christianity among viewers, I don’t see them as a great evangelistic tool. Allegory and such is all about for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. If they do, they’ll get it. If they don’t, they won’t.

But like you, they first have to have good quality, that can’t be sacrificed and prop it up simply because it is Christian. But I do think these are good quality. Whether others will agree, I don’t know, but I’m hoping these make enough money to see the next one. And while I won’t be doing specific things to “spread the word,” other than maybe posting a review on my blog, I do hop they succeed, because the movies themselves are done well, and I like the stories, and want to see more.

Deborah December 12, 2010 at 9:24 PM

I haven’t gone to see it yet (i’m going on Tuesday). I loved LWW but while PC was pretty good, changes in the story made it a bit unbearable (Caspian & Susan = GAG). My only consternation in the low numbers is that I really would love to see the rest of the books made into movies. The Horse and His Boy is a particular favorite and i would LOVE to see that made into a movie.

Noel December 13, 2010 at 8:41 AM

Speaking as a pathetic fan of Jack and his novels (when I was a teenager, my six siblings and four cousins and I spent 18 months filming our own version of LWW), we were disappointed with the quality of this film, and don’t really want Hollywood dipping their fingers into any more of the series. Eustace was very good, his scenes as a human are the glue that holds the film together. But the overall tone was quite didactic, in an ambiguously moral sort of way, and only a few small scenes gave us the thrill of a Lewis Story. Our love for the triumphs of each character is tied to our love for the characters themselves, so when a film focuses on deeds and seven-point goals, there is an inevitable loss. Thank God for the nonpareil awesomeness of the Radio Theatre’s Narnia.

Mike Duran December 13, 2010 at 9:10 AM

Thank you, Noel. I was beginning to feel outnumbered.

Eric P. December 13, 2010 at 9:26 AM

Here’s what intrigues me…

“Unfortunately more accurate results of $8.2 million are in that are even worse than expected. … NarniaFans.com has over 1.1 million readers and if everyone joins together we can make sure that the film’s opening weekend is better than expected.”

I know correlation does not equal causality, but if movie tickets average about $8 apiece, and there are about 1.1 million Narnia fans online, and $8.2 million in ticket sales is “disappointing”… how is this supposed to work, again?

To your larger point, it seems to me that a “concerted grassroots effort” is more the domain of an indie project rather than a franchise film produced by a major studio based on a bestselling book. Also, if a movie’s own fanbase has to be urged to see it, something’s wrong somewhere.

Haven’t seen the movie yet, btw, but am planning to over Christmas. My expectations are low but optimistic.

Eric P. December 13, 2010 at 9:34 AM

Forgot to mention–Synchronistically, there is an excellent discussion on “Can Christian Films Be Good?” here: http://thehogshead.org/can-christian-films-be-good-5917/ The first comment, by a Christian Hollywood screenwriter, is especially noteworthy.

Mike Duran December 13, 2010 at 10:17 AM

“…if a movie’s own fanbase has to be urged to see it, something’s wrong somewhere.”

Great point, Eric. My daughter is a Harry Potter fan and she needed little coercing (Okay — NO coercing) to don her Harry Potter shirt and stand in line at midnight for the first showing of the latest film. And thanks for the terrific link!

Mark December 13, 2010 at 11:37 AM

I guess I’m really in the minority, but this book has always worked for me, and I think it could have made a great movie as it was. The plot is finding and freeing the seven lords with exploration thrown in along the way. You want theme? Temptations galore along the way with Eustace and Lucy being the biggest. If they had stuck to the book, it would have made a great film.

Instead, they introduce a green mist that must be defeated. And it created so many plot holes it isn’t even funny. Plus there are new characters that add nothing to the story.

I loved the first movie because they made a good movie version of the story, with the changes they made strengthening the story. Prince Caspian has always been my least favorite, so the added battle scenes made it a better film. Could have done without the romance. This one is hardly recognizable, and the changes don’t help things.

Do I want to see movie versions of all of them? You’d better believe it, especially LAST BATTLE, which is my second favorite. But I’m not sure I trust these people to do any of the other books justice after the mess they made of this one.

(Not sure I answered the question in there anywhere. No, Christians don’t need to make sure these films succeed if the films aren’t going to be good.)

Chris Curzon June 30, 2011 at 8:53 PM

I agree with your comments. Dawn Treader (the book) is excellent on its own. But for the movie they hammered and twisted its plot out of all recognition because, I believe, they bought into the idea that only a block buster would sell tickets. Very disappointing.

Paul Martin December 13, 2010 at 3:05 PM

I’m the creator of that website, and also a Roman Catholic. Not just that but I’m a big fan of the movie series, including this new one.

I just wanted to point out something that many are missing – at least four members of the crew of the film became Christians while working on this film. This is because the content that they were shooting brought up questions that they began to seek out answers to. If only ONE person is brought to Christ, from each film, then each film was worth every penny that I have spent running this website. The fact that at least four members of the crew of the film were brought to Christ while working on the film makes it all worth it.

Denying that the series continues to completion ensures a number of things, and frankly I never understand the attitudes that say “if it’s not done my way, then they may as well not make them at all.” If each film has the potential of bringing only one person to Christ, then it is worth it. Put 100 Narnia fans into a room, give each a copy of the book and a notebook, and ask them all to write a screenplay. You’ll have 100 different screenplays.

When it came to the story of the seven lords… we know nothing of the seven lords, other than the fact that they are lost. We, the audience, don’t care who they are, or why we should care that much about them. We aren’t emotionally involved on the journey to find them. If the journey was to save Caspian or Trumpkin, then we’d have some characters that we know about to rescue, but the audience is also emotionally involved.

The Green Mist is much the same as the Dark Island. In fact, it is an extension of the Dark Island. Both come out of nowhere, and if one is to claim that the green mist doesn’t make sense, then I would ask what sense does the Dark Island make? The fact that Lewis wrote it in doesn’t make it logical, because Aslan created the Narnian world, and would not put a place of evil into that world. That evil has to come from somewhere, and if that is made manifest in the Dark Island, it can also be made manifest in the Green Mist. I look at it as a sort of Screwtape Letters thing. I imagine the Green Mist as sort of a Wormwood type character.

As to Grassroots promotion, this is not limited to only independent movies. Every movie requires word of mouth to have legs. Word of mouth made Tangled more popular at the box office, the Sixth Sense did better in its’ second week, and Titanic stayed at the top of the box office for months… all thanks to word of mouth. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was in cinemas for roughly a year, something that is unheard of these days, because of word of mouth.

I did not write the article about 10 things to do, one of my writers did. I saw that single item that this entire article is based on (tell your pastors) as more of an inclusive thing, than an exclusive thing.

One last thing before I go. Every time there is a Narnia movie, I post a review engine so that fans can post their own views on the movie, as well as rate everything from 1-5. I moderate each review for language and to make sure that it is all properly filled out. In doing so, I see the full spectrum of views on the movies, and have my finger on the pulse of what people are saying. One thing that is true of all of the movies so far is that all of them are said to be “great adaptations” and “the worst adaptation ever made.” And these comments are all made by people of all ages. There are a great many well thought out and very lengthy reviews from fans from all over the world. To say that any of these movies are unrecognizable from the book is rather foolish to me. I make it a point of not reading the books before I see the latest movie, spending at least a year away from the source material. Then I make sure to see the movie at least twice. The first time is because I remember the books so well that I am looking at what is different, the second time to watch the film on it’s own merits. I’ve seen this one four times now, and it has everything that I remember from the book as being important. My point is – some find the book in these movies, and very few do not. If you want to see a book to film translation that is very poor, check out The Dark is Rising.

Mike Duran December 13, 2010 at 8:02 PM

Paul, thanks for visiting! I’d be interested in any documentation / links regarding the conversion of the four crew members. However, I’m not sure that the “if just one person gets saved” argument holds up… unless you’re suggesting that the ends justify the means. I don’t doubt that God can use the Narnia films. But they just don’t strike me as having enough specific “Christian content” to convert anyone. As far as evangelistic tools go, the Narnia series would be way down the list.

As I said, I don’t slight fans for wanting to get the word out about Narnia. But for a franchise that big, and with a readership that huge, it does seem a bit odd to be worrying over a poor opening week. Besides, if God is actually “behind” the films, shouldn’t we trust Him to make them grow? Appreciate your comments, Paul!

Katie Hart December 13, 2010 at 9:04 PM

About worrying over opening week – I think fans are more on edge about this movie because Disney bailed on the franchise after Prince Caspian’s lower numbers. Who knows if Fox will do the same?

And not to get into a discussion over evangelical methods, but most fiction (books and movies) with a lot of “Christian content” tends to turn off unbelievers. I’m not sure what all is included in your long list of tools, but the Narnia series seems to strike a great balance – not too blatant, not too subtle – as a conversation starter for spiritual topics.

Mark December 15, 2010 at 11:12 AM

Since you seem to be responding to me and my comment on the Green Mist not making sense, I’ll respond.

It is highly different from the Dark Island. The book is really a series of adventures held together by the quest to find the lords. As such, a one chapter story involving a mysterious Dark Island is fine.

But they tried to make the Green Mist a villain of sorts. They don’t really give us enough to make it into a comprehensive plot devise.

Why has no one in Narnia heard of it before if it is strong enough to almost destroy Narnia?
Why does it want sacrifices, especially if it is just going to keep the people alive?
Why do the swords being laid on Aslan’s table defeat it?
And don’t even get me started on the three locations Eustace finds himself at during the climax.

Furthermore, they still have to find all the lords, but that becomes secondary to getting the swords. Why even have the swords and the mist if the end goal of finding all the lords is the same?

The Green Mist seems like a half baked plot devise that no one thought through.

As I said before, if they wanted to raise the stakes some, that would have been fine, but this wasn’t thought through enough to become a true part of the story. Instead, it feels self-consciously forced in.

Guy Stewart December 13, 2010 at 6:03 PM

To answer the question: Nope. God could make rocks shell out $8 ($12 for 3D) to see it if He wanted them to. And there’s lots more rocks than people.

Mark December 15, 2010 at 11:13 AM

Must be nice. It’s $15 for 3D here.

Guy Stewart December 19, 2010 at 12:05 PM

Our rocks is cheapskates here…won’t pay more’n’at ta see them fancy pi’tures

Rosslyn Elliott December 21, 2010 at 1:10 AM

Mike, I wonder if you’ve seen it yet?

Personally, I think the screenwriters did a great job of dealing with an original narrative structure in Dawn Treader that is not friendly to film.

I think this film is far better than Prince Caspian, and far more Christian. The audience on opening night in my theater was noticeably weeping in the closing scene–pretty powerful for a kids’ story. Admittedly, they were probably almost all committed Christians…

This is my take on it: the Narnia books after TLTWTW are for *Christians.* To think that these movies will find an audience on the level of The Lord of the Rings is foolish. The reason the Christian audience wept at the end of Dawn Treader is because we understood what Reepicheep was doing, and what its parallel would be in the human life of faith. Similarly, the Silver Chair has a few scenes that would be deeply meaningful to Christian audiences and perhaps not so much to non-Christians. The Narnia series after its first installment derives much of its power from playing out theology. If you don’t know or don’t care about theology, the movies may seem weak. That does not invalidate them as art. It just means their art was aimed at a very specific audience educated in a certain spiritual language. For that demographic, they are masterful.

All that being said, I’m glad they won’t make The Silver Chair or The Last Battle. The Silver Chair is not gripping enough and The Last Battle is too sublime to be captured on film.

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