Friday, December 22, 2006

Three Articles

NRO has three articles of interest today. First is Cathy Seipp on Narnia and His Dark Materials:
Pullman’s a rip-roaring storyteller in the grand tradition of British fantasy-adventure writers Jules Verne and H. G. Wells and H. Rider Haggard, but his characters seem mostly wheeled out of a dusty prop closet; his “Texan” balloon pilot Lee Scoresby, for instance, is no more like a real Texan than Tiger Lily in Peter Pan is like a real Indian. Lewis’s fantasy characters, on the other hand, always have some dryly comical human trait that remind even the youngest readers of real people.

Second is Peter Suderman on Children of Men, the movie based on PD James' excellent book.
The movie is based on a novel by P. D. James, but like so many book-to-film adaptations, it bears only a loose resemblance to the source material, and it suffers for it. James, a former British civil servant with an intimate understanding of the workings of British bureaucracy, imbued her book with a sense of wintry resignation and a fine-grained interiority. The end was coming, but this was cause mainly for reflective sadness, not bedlam.

She foresaw a post-birth landscape in which the British government had stepped in to preserve the dignity and stability of its people — or at least its citizens — offering them tasteful suicide ceremonies, managing infrastructure preservation, and restricting immigration so as not to allow outsiders to freeload on British resources. In her futuristic Britain, calm and tradition would prevail. True, the country’s youths had a wild, riotous streak, and would sometimes wreak havoc, but this was mostly taken in stride. As she saw it, the British people would approach the death of civilization with typical reserve, doing their final duties with diligence and minimal uproar. Her book speculated not only on what society would do in the face of biological calamity, but what individuals might think and feel.

Cuarón, on the other hand, is all external. His future Britain crackles with chaos as society breaks down in its final days. The state has tried to preserve order, and has had more success than have other nations, but for the most part, chaos reigns. Terrorism is rampant. Immigrants are herded into cages and treated like animals. The country has devolved into a militaristic police state. James’s book gave humanity a quiet death; Cuarón’s movie forces the race to expire in violent tumult.

The third is Thomas Hibbs' Christmas Wish:
What do I want for Christmas? A contractual agreement between M. Night Shyamalan and Mel Gibson to make their next five films together. Collaborators on Signs, Shyamalan and Gibson together have, in the midst of a craven Hollywood culture that idolizes superficial novelty, the rare ability to deliver the unusual and the truly novel. It is interesting and instructive that their independence is intimately connected to their preoccupation with the big questions about human existence and with possible spiritual responses to those questions. But they also suffer from certain deficiencies — Shyamalan from increasingly impoverished plots and Gibson, aside from his offensive rants, from an inordinate reliance on explicit violence.
Sounds good.

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