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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Theater, The Theater, The Theater…Whatever Has Happened to the Theater?

I’ve been intending for some time now to blog about the movies I’ve seen so far this Summer, but other commitments have kept me from it until now.

I’m normally not a big moviegoer. Recently, however, I’ve found myself a bit more drawn to the theater. Part of it has been the movies that have come out, and part of it, I think, has just been a desire to get out of the house a bit more. And since the Summer is only partially over, and there are a number of films that look promising yet to be released, I expect I’ll continue to be at the movies on a regular basis.

For now, let me offer a few brief thoughts on the ones I’ve seen so far.

Prince Caspian - I had mentioned in another post that I was planning to see it, and have intended to comment ever since. But I simply don’t have much to say about it, other then that it was a very poor adaptation of Lewis’s book. Better yet, let me state this in a less politically correct way - the movie was crap. Those who travel around the Christian blog world will probably already know that Andrew Adamson, writer and director of both films, isn’t the most Biblically astute individual in the world. I didn’t know that until after I saw Prince Caspian, though, as I was trying to avoid reviews of the movie before going to see it. Now it all makes sense. And the fact that Disney has been involved in both films should have tipped me off about the possible disaster, but I was oblivious.

There were lots of changes made to the storylines. This was done quite a bit in the first Narnia movie, and that drove me nuts. Yet, I could still endure the movie. In this one, however, I was really peeved. Now, it has been a couple of years since I read the book, and though I re-read portions of it before and after seeing it, there is a lot I don’t remember. Nonetheless, I remember enough to be ticked.

There are two major problems that I had with the film. One was the conflict between Caspian and Peter, which never occurred in the book. Much of the beauty of the Narnia books is that while the Pevensie children aren’t perfect, they are what kings and queens are supposed to be, and that is noble. They never would have bickered pettily the way they do in the film. The fight with the boys in the train station at the beginning of the film would never have happened. And most of all, Peter wouldn’t have fought for control of the Narnians just to satisfy his own ego. But modern pagan thinking can’t comprehend approaching life any other way than through power and control. It does seem that there was an attempt to show why Peter’s actions were bad, through the failed battle that resulted. But Lewis knew what he was doing. If you want to teach others how to behave correctly, you don’t do it by showing them how not to behave. You do it by showing how to behave correctly. You show goodness to be beautiful by demonstrating goodness, and by making it enticing. To some degree, this seems like the common modern storytelling obsession with the anti-hero. But while there is a very important place for the anti-hero in storytelling, there really is such a thing as a righteous person, and there is a need for righteous people to be portrayed in literature as well. I understand that this is a reaction to the unrealistic Romanticism of previous decades. Nonetheless, I personally am sick of the anti-hero.

This poor choice of pitting Caspian against Peter led to the ridiculous addition of the offensive against the Telmarine castle and the slaughter of many Narnians, a script choice that looks more like a political commentary on the war in Iraq than anything else to me. I don’t agree with the war, but you can keep your political agenda out of Lewis’s story, thank you.

The other thing that really ticked me off was the “love story” between Caspian and Susan. This ended, of course, with Susan throwing herself at Caspian and giving him a kiss at the end of the film. This didn’t happen in Lewis’s book, of course, because Lewis’s women (the good ones, that is) had both self-respect and self-control. This is something that the modern pagan can’t comprehend. Women today are brash and foolish. In other words, the are willing participants in their own whoredom. This is encouraged for pagan women, and there is increasingly little resistance in Christian circles. No, Susan didn’t sleep with Caspian. But you wouldn’t have gotten an Evangelical crowd out to see the film if she had. (Maybe that will be part of the next film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which, amazingly, has the same title as a book by C. S. Lewis). But a kiss is just a kiss, right? Right. A kiss is just a sacred exchange of affection between a man and a woman who are devoted to one another - that’s all it is. A kiss used to mean something in our culture, just like sex used to mean something in our culture. But neither do anymore. Aslan, in the movie, sighed contentedly at Susan and Caspian’s kiss. But the real Aslan, the Aslan of Lewis’s book, would have put a claw in Caspian’s back for that one, and maybe Susan’s, too.

There are other things I didn’t like about the film, such as the presentation of Trumpkin as a frowny crank, and the failure to portray Lucy relationship with Aslan sufficiently. But the above were enough to destroy the film. I’m glad I have the books to return to in order to enjoy the story once again. As for the Narnia movies, if I go see any more of them, it will be in the two dollar theater.

The next movie I saw was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I was really looking forward to it, but was rather disappointed, for a number of reasons. I have fond memories of the previous Indiana Jones films. Harrison Ford is on up in years, though, so I was a bit in doubt about his returning to this character. My doubts were confirmed. The Harrison Ford I remember, both in the Star Wars films and the Indiana Jones films, was full of life. One of the most enjoyable things about watching him act was the way his facial expressions, especially his eyes, conveyed the meaning of the moment. But in this film, the life seemed to be gone, as his eyes seemed to convey nothing but boredom. The movie contained a number of age jokes aimed at Ford, and rightly so.

Ford’s young sidekick, Shia LeBeouf, is a good actor, but he didn’t impress me here. I’m sure any future Indiana Jones films with him in them will show improvement as his character takes shape. I thought some of LeBeouf’s roles in other films (such as I, Robot, and, especially, Transformers) showed him to be a better actor than this one.

The storyline was considerably uninteresting to me. The link between Mayan culture and the so-called crystal skulls has a long history in popular archaeology, and so it would have made for an interesting story itself. But beyond that, the movie got wacky. The mythology of Area 51 has been overplayed, so I thought it was hokey (though the linking of this film to Raiders through Area 51 was a clever idea). Cate Blanchett as a Commie psychic was too unbelievable. The return of Karen Allen as Marion was a good idea, but her acting was rather uninteresting as well. The linking of the Mayan Skulls (which testing has now proven to be a hoax) to space aliens was bizarre and a bit too George Noory. (Wasn’t this already done in the original Stargate movie anyway, only this time it’s in South America instead of Egypt?) The post-colonialism of the movie was rather suspicious, too. This time, Indy’s returning something instead of stealing something? Give me a break. It was the nineteen-sixties, man, not the two-thousands.

There was one interesting aspect of the film, however, and that was the contrasting of rightly attained knowledge and wrongly attained knowledge. This in many ways parallels Raiders. Blanchett’s character wanted all knowledge, no matter what the cost. This we know to be an attempt a attaining the status of deity. She therefore serves as a foil against Indy’s character, who encourages his son, a school drop out, to gain all the knowledge he can. Some knowledge is meant for man, and other knowledge is not. And there is a right way to attain knowledge, and a wrong way, for even knowledge that it is good to attain can be attained in the wrong way. Plus, even that knowledge that is meant for man is not to be used for self-aggrandizement. While some of the lines in the movie dealing with this theme sounded a bit too much like an Afterschool Special, it was an interesting theme nonetheless. I just wish it had been developed in a better way.

After this came The Incredible Hulk. Since I loved Iron Man, I was excited about this one. Sadly, it was nearly as good as Iron Man. Apparently, there was some disagreement between Marvel Entertainment and Ed Norton (who played Bruce Banner) about the structure of the film. Norton wanted more dialogue and character development, which would have required pushing the film over two hours. Marvel, however, still stinging from Ang Lee’s flop Hulk, wanted more action and less dialogue, keeping the film under two hours. They should have listened to Norton. Marvel won out, of course, and the result was a shallow, fast-paced film. Norton and the others in the film are tremendous actors. It’s just a shame they didn’t get to show off their talents.

The film was not intended to be a sequel of Lee’s film. This is evident from the back-story quickly covered during the opening credits of the current film. Nonetheless, the choice was made to begin the film with Banner living in South America, exactly where the last film left him. A strange choice, I thought, but there it is. The cinematography and the cgi were fantastic. But the feeling was one of a constant hurry from one place to another.

A couple of redeeming aspects of the film were the inclusion of a clip of Bill Bixby from The Courtship of Eddie's Father (with Norton watching it - pretty funny) and theme music lifted from the 1970's Incredible Hulk TV show. The latter was an important part of my childhood, and I didn't realize how important until the familiar theme music, played at the end of every show as the wandering Banner traveled on to the next town, lofted from the movie theater speakers into my ears. The music was very sentimental, after the spirit of the time, and apparently made a greater impact upon me than I remembered. It's amazing how something like that can affect you more than you know, and it's especially amazing considering that I haven't seen the show in probably twenty-five years.

The fact that this film was done in preparation for an Avengers film was evident. In the beginning of the film, we find Banner studying martial arts in order to control his anger. While Banner is in active search for a cure throughout the film, the suggestion from others (such as Betty Ross) of harnessing his “power” through gaining control of his anger becomes a theme. And in the last scene of the movie, we see Banner, now living in a cabin in Canada, inducing an “episode” of turning into the Hulk in a controlled way through the Eastern meditation he has been practicing. The purpose? To prepare the Hulk to be a “good guy” and part of the Avengers. This is confirmed by the appearance of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) toward the end of the film. There are already plans for a Thor movie as well as a Captain America movie before the Avengers film. Hopefully Marvel will work a little harder on character development in these three films.

And the last movie I saw was Get Smart. It was a big let-down. It wasn’t nearly as funny as the trailers made it look like it would be. There were a few good jokes and gags here and there, and the basic storyline was good. The end result just wasn’t impressive. In fact, it was so unimpressive that I won’t waste any more time commenting on it than this.

I haven’t seen any movies in a couple of weeks, so I’m behind. But I plan to see at least a couple in the coming week. So far, the best of the Summer has been the low-budget Son of Rambow, followed by Iron Man. Hopefully, the others I see won’t feel so much like a waste of money as these four most recent films have.

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