The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the film itself. I was a bit surprised: the movie felt oddly flat. Perhaps because it suffered from the same problem that the first two Harry Potter films had, an overly literal approach to adapting the book. Here the wisdom of Peter Jackson’s take on Lord of the Rings really becomes apparent, the need to make the source fit to the medium’s possibilities. There was nothing wrong with the film, but it didn’t really tug at me either. It may also be that Lion is itself a somewhat flat book: a modest little fairytale, and not much more. Narnia was and is a favorite place to revisit, but it never quite had the command of my imagination that some other books did. (Please, please, someone make Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books into films, if the rights can be rescued from whatever intricate state they were left in by the animated Black Cauldron.) The other thing that occurred to me is that the battle at the end of Lion so recalled some of the action sequences of LOTR that it lost some of its ability to surprise. A few particular things: Lucy and Edmund were superbly cast. Liam Neeson’s voice works as Aslan, and they managed to animate Aslan very well, to get the warmth and richness of his look right. I liked the portrayal of the Witch, but her costume designer really seemed off, especially with the outfit she was wearing early in the film, which looked more like it belonged on an NFL player. The Beavers were very well voiced, very appropriately amusing.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Nicely done, though I didn’t care for it as much as the film version of Prisoner of Azbakan. I found I had forgotten the book somewhat, which made it more fun to see the film; it was one of the weaker books in the series, I felt at the time. At first I didn’t care much for Fiennes’ Voldemort, but I realized that was just the short bit immediately after his resurrection–after that he became much more suavely and interestingly menacing. Michael Gambon needs to dial down his Dumbledore somehow: the only time he really works as the character is when he’s speaking to the assembled Hogwarts’ students. Mad-Eye Moody was very nicely acted and visualized.
A Feast for Crows. It was interesting to see Martin get some notice in the New York Times the other day. I’m still enjoying this series but the bloat is starting to become noticeable. I understand that adding viewpoint characters is meant to enrich the central theme that no one is good or evil, and that adding “cul-de-sac” storylines is meant to deceive us about where the story is going. That’s been one of the great virtues of the books so far: without cheating or breaking the coherence of the narrative, Martin has frequently pulled off feats of misdirection and surprise. Nevertheless, some of the narrative chaff he’s throwing up now to continue that effort is starting to become wearisome. It may be that some of it will pay off in surprising ways later on, I suppose. Equally, some of the characters that I’m interested in who are supposed to be in this volume (Tyrion, my favorite, has been pushed off to the parallel Dance With Dragons) felt to me as if they got short shrift, particularly Arya. The big thing that worries me, though, and makes me feel as if Jordanesque bloat is creeping in here, is that not nearly as much actually happens in this book, by comparison with the other entries in the series. It still has a lot more plot movement than most other gigantic series of its kind, but there is a bit of a sense of interlude in Feast, and I don’t think that’s a healthy thing.
Avatar. The season finale for this series was just amazing. Here’s a show where I think there’s some clear thinking ahead about the narrative arc, that has a finite vision of the story it intends to tell. My daughter and I feel pretty sure that Prince Zuko will end up being Aang’s tutor in firebending, or perhaps Zuko’s uncle (though I’m guessing he may have a tragic end ahead of him somewhere, perhaps to catalyze Zuko’s realization about what his father and his nation have become). This is now one of the absolute best animated series ever, in my view: by turns funny, sad, wise, and full of potent invocations of the full tapestry of human experience, and yet wholly appropriate for even very young children.