Saturday, February 27, 2010

Narnia Nostolgia Part 6: Radio Plays Part 2

The following are reviews of both Radio play versions of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (BBC Radio 4 version)

So, do mothballs falling on a wardrobe floor really sound like marbles being dumped out on a Formica counter-top? That’s just one of the sound effects in this presentation which interferes with the suspension of unbelief. But it is certainly not the worst.

While the story itself is well written, the performance suffers from skimping on the technical aspects of the audio. And it’s not like the effects people are not capable. The sounds used to enhance the spring thaw are quite well done. They must have recorded actual birds singing, and, with headphones on, the buzzing bee sounds like it is flying around your head.

But the talking animal noises were created by the actors themselves. The snarls of the wolves are quite unbelievable, and the hoots and howls of the evil beasts and ghouls at the Stone Table make it difficult to take the scene seriously.

The roar of Aslan is just plain lame. After Aslan roars, he says, “My, but that was good.” But most listeners will be thinking, or even saying out loud, “No, it wasn’t.” Would it have been so difficult to include the roar of a real lion and blend it in with the actor’s voice?

With all these annoyances, it is surprising how well the actors are able to convey the story. Credit must be given again to Brian Sibley for a good script, and to the actors for being able to “get into” their roles.

Devoted fans will also appreciate the little details that are included. For example, the video versions of the story (See Narnia Nostalgia: Part 1 and Part 2.) omit the Robin which leads the Pevensies from Tumnus’ home to Mr. Beaver. The Focus on the Family Radio Theater version (See below.) also omits it. The Robin is author C. S. Lewis’s first hint that the eternal winter has been broken and that spring is on the way. But the BBC Radio play is the only dramatized recording that includes the bird.

What is missed, though, is the sense of joy and wonder that is found in the book. The Radio Theater version may be missing the bird, but it captures that sense.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (The Focus on the Family Radio Theater version)

The FotF presentation combines a great script (arguably even better than the BBC version) with good acting and absolutely brilliant sound effects. It also emphasizes the joy and wonder of the book. Not only can you sense Lucy’s awe of Narnia as she visits it for the first time, but the joy of the place before the Witch took control, and after Aslan returns, is accentuated better than in any of the dramatizations (audio or video) of the work from the other studios.

Tumnus’ description of the feasting and bliss of Narnia before the White Witch imprisoned it in perpetual winter is superb. And he is not afraid to mention Silvanus and Bacchus – characters which the other presentations avoid. (See this review of the book Prince Caspian for the characters’ significance: Divine Revelers.) There is also an obvious joy in Aslan’s camp at the Stone Table when the three children are brought there.

The creators of the Walden/Disney movie missed the joy and wonder by interjecting the thought that the Pevencies would have needed to be convinced to stay. In the book, Lewis assumes the children would be caught up in the magic and excitement of Narnia, their predilection for adventure having already been established. (They are excited about exploring outdoors, and resort to exploring the house when it rains.)

In the movie, the adventures they get caught in often seem more inspired by a video game (i.e. riding ice in the river) than any “magic” based on what Lewis wrote. The spirit captured by the FotF production is much to be preferred to any action/adventure presented on the big screen.

The climax of this Radio Theater episode is the sacrifice of Aslan on the Stone Table and his subsequent resurrection. The use of Lewis’s narrative, enhanced with sound effects and dramatic music, is “spot on” in capturing the significance of the scene.

In his excellent review of this dramatization, Greg Wright of Hollywood Jesus concludes that the prolonged death scene is not exactly “family friendly.” However, following FotF’s guidelines (“Not Recommended for children Under the Age of 8″ ) parents should not have to worry.

Another inventive touch comes at the end of the movie when the children re-immerge from the wardrobe back in England – but that should be saved as a surprise for the first-time listener.