E1 Entertainment // 2009 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // January 27th, 2011
Well since everything's got some kind of secret code behind it, including the liner notes to my CD of Flash Gordon, might as well throw C.S. Lewis on the bandwagon.
To be honest, I figured this documentary was going to reveal the huge super secret idea that Christianity forms a strong basis for many of the themes in the Chronicles of Narnia. This is something most readers find out pretty early in life, so isn't really a revelation, much less a code.
So I was surprised when the documentary accepted the Christian overtones as fact and delved into the true "mystery" behind the series. According to some folks, the entire Narnia saga seems to hint at some kind of order in its wide variety of characters, settings and themes. Is it possible to reconcile Greek mythology, Santa Claus, fairy tale creatures and a lamp post? Or was Lewis just being sloppy and throwing together random elements to create a fanciful world?
According to Michael Ward, the writer of Planet Narnia Lewis did have a governing plan, one that fed into nearly every stylistic element of his series. Yes, many of the themes and plots have strong elements of Christian thinking, but there is something else, an extra bit of color that is derived from a unique source. And once you know what this source is, the whole series suddenly has a fresh coat of paint. Things seem to flow and according to the documentary, "everything you know about Narnia is changed forever!"
Okay, that's a lofty statement. But I will say that the inspiration for these themes and ideas is pretty unique. Ward's theory is that Lewis was inspired by the Medieval view of the planets. Now, these seven planets are each given a book to influence based on the concepts and cosmology medieval philosophers believed in. We're talking pre-telescope here, so you're dealing with seven moving "stars" including the sun, the moon, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Mercury and Mars.
The documentary starts off with a pretty in depth look at Lewis's life, exploring his youth, his atheism, and his eventual belief in Christianity. Christian philosophy is linked closely to the stories as well as this medieval cosmology, so this biography helps support Ward's theory. Lewis ended up being a scholar of medieval literature and philosophy, and was well versed in this cosmology. So it's not far fetched to believe that this influenced the books in some form.
Here's the deal, this "code" is nothing revolutionary or jaw dropping. Its interesting, and I'm curious to find out more. The documentary doesn't go into too much detail about how these elements were turned into the themes of the stories. They briefly go over The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and stop at The Silver Chair leaving three books to our imagination. But what they do explain is a nice appetizer to get you interested. They aren't blatantly advertising Ward's book, but he is all over this documentary and it mostly consists of people praising his "discovery." We don't hear much from folks who disagree with him.
I grew up with these books, love fantasy literature, and as a scribe of fiction I always find it interesting to know more about how a writer is influenced and inspired. But Lewis isn't around to ask if this theory was really what he had in mind. So what we are left with is a nice "what if" scenario for hard core fans of the novels and academia who love this kind of thing.
The last fifteen minutes or so the documentary goes a bit off course. In an effort to convince you that Lewis had a deeper point of involving medieval cosmology in his series, they delve into a science vs. religion debate. Well, delve is too strong a word. They touch on it with nearly all the arguments coming out for a religious view of the universe and a dark look at those who use pure science to explain their side. It gets a bit too preachy for my tastes, and maybe that's hard to avoid when talking about someone like Lewis. But honestly it came across more like a desperate attempt to add weight to the idea that this theory is a game changer. I remain unconvinced.
Entertainment One's disc is a good presentation. The picture looked a bit soft, but I'm guessing it may have something to do with the camera used. The sound was nice and clear. For extras you get forty minutes or so of additional and unedited interview footage. This is nice to have in a documentary, especially when you are left wanting to know more about the subject.
The production values are good and I did learn quite a bit about Lewis' life and what influenced him as a writer. I'm not sure if this will end up appealing to casual fans of the novels or movies. And when you get right down to it, this is really an hour long build up for Ward's book.
Guilty of being interesting but ultimately fluffy.
Review content copyright © 2011 Roman Martel; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Chronicles of Narnia