Book vs. Movie Match-Up: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe #2

score2

Last time, we looked at the heart of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with our four lead characters, but today let’s take a look at all of the remaining colorful characters that pepper the story. Let’s start with the supporting heroes.

BEST ASLAN

As the obvious Jesus figure without any signs or hints of being anything else, Aslan should be a tough character to pull off. I mean, you can count on one hand the great portrayals of Jesus in film (Willem Dafoe, the guy from Life of Brian, that’s it), but all four of these portrayals work.

aslan

There’s a duality to the Aslan character, as he has intimate conversations with all of the main characters while still being described as “not a tame lion.” He admits his feelings of fear and loneliness to Susan and Lucy before his death, but then he destroys the White Witch in an almost anti-climactic moment after he comes back to life.

The BBC version presents the least-interesting version of this character, but Alisa Berk’s soothing voice adds a good bit to the character, and the puppetry is actually not dreadful, especially compared to the horrific special effects of the rest of the series. That said, like so much of the series, it comes off feeling a bit bored and uninspired.

Steven Thorne and Liam Neeson play Aslan in the cartoon and Disney film respectively, and both bring similar gravitas to the character. Thorne’s voice is a bit more commanding and powerful, while Neeson’s has more of a calm but confident tone. You know both of them are in complete control of the situation, but the scenes they share with the human characters are also incredibly effective. That said, there’s just something about the book Aslan that leaves a bit to the imagination. We feel utter calm just reading about him, and even the best actor in the world can’t portray it, because everyone sees him differently. Simply put, it’s a character that just works better in book form. The point goes to the book.

BEST TUMNUS

Although he only has a few scenes in the story, Mr. Tumnus is easily one of the most memorable characters in the Narnia lore, partially for being the very first character anyone meets in Narnia. In fact, C.S. Lewis said, “The Lion all began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.”

tum

Tumnus meets Lucy almost immediately as she enters Narnia, and while he originally plans to turn her over to the White Witch, he quickly changes his mind after learning what humans are like.  When all four of the children enter Narnia together, they discover he has been taken by the Secret Police, and saving Tumnus is most of their motivation for staying in Narnia.

You would think that appearance-wise, the cartoon would have the least trouble pulling this character off, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. For some reason, the cartoon took the goat-like features and just went all out in making him look like the Devil, giving him a red face and emphasizing the horns that jut out of his head. It’s an odd choice to say the least. The BBC version also skimped out in the costuming department by simply giving Tumnus over-sized wool pants. It shouldn’t bother me so much, but it’s one of the many things about that version that constantly takes me out of it.

The Disney film, on the other hand, takes the book character and expands on him in the best way possible. James McAvoy plays the part to a t, and we see every ounce of turmoil he is going through. From the opening seconds, he is clearly a character at war with himself. Plus, we get an additional scene with him and Edmund at the Witch’s castle, where he finds out Edmund is the one who told the Witch about him meeting Lucy. It’s another small change that helps the film a lot. I have to give the point to the Disney film.

BEST SUPPORTING HEROES

From talking beavers and giants to Father Christmas and a character based on the author himself, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is full of lively characters fighting for the forces of good. The characters serve as the gateway between the human children and the strange world of Narnia. Tumnus is half-human and half-goat, beginning the transition into the new land. After that, the children encounter two talking beavers, which even with everything they know of Narnia so far, is strange.

The beavers serve as little more than 1) Expository characters who tell the children about the prophecies regarding themselves and Aslan and 2) Plot devices to get the children to Aslan. In spite of this, they’re still memorable, mainly on the basis of being talking beavers. Sometimes they’re memorable for bad reasons too.

beavers

This is one of those things about the BBC version that just made me think they didn’t care. The book and cartoon show them as a loving couple who go out of their way to help the children, with the cartoon going the extra mile to show them as very loving. The Disney film shows the beavers (voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French) as helpful but constantly arguing with each other. It’s funny at first, but it does grow a bit tedious after a while.

The Professor is a minor character in all versions, although he is expanded upon in the later book The Magician’s Nephew. C.S. Lewis based the character somewhat on himself, and frankly every version pretty much does justice to the somewhat eccentric character. He’s even voiced by the great Leo McKern (The Omen) in the cartoon. I enjoy Jim Broadbent’s interpretation in the Disney film, but it is perhaps a little too on the stereotypical weird side.

professor

Father Christmas also makes an appearance for… some reason and gives the children weapons for the battle. Okay, it’s justified because it shows that the curse of “always winter and never Christmas is ending,” but why is there Christmas in a world where the Christ figure is named Aslan? Whatever, I’m overthinking a kids’ book. The Father Christmas in the book is painfully sexist, even for the day. Sure, the “women not being in battles” thing was a popular notion of the day, but he says “Battles are ugly when women fight,” as if they weren’t otherwise. The BBC and Disney versions try to awkwardly dance around this, but the animated film cuts the character entirely. Characters mentioned he has come, but we don’t see him, and Aslan gives the children the gifts instead. He tells Susan and Lucy he has other plans for them during the battle, which turns out to be gathering more troops, which is a much better way to handle this.

Lewis also loved to include one-shot characters, who only spoke a few lines of dialogue but were nonetheless memorable. The book has one of these in the Giant Rumblebuffin, who is freed at the Witch’s palace and helps lead the charge back to the battle. He is included only in the BBC version, showing why adapting these kind of characters just doesn’t work. It’s a painfully awkward and forced cameo, although it works fine in the book. There’s a fox voiced by Rupert Evans in the Disney film who is memorable in his short screen time, but overall the cartoon does the best with the minor heroes.

BEST WHITE WITCH

A villain so fascinating that Lewis immediately began a book showing some of her origins, Jadis is an impressively rich villain for a simple tale like this. Her motives of power are typical, but the mythology is surrounding her makes her much more interesting.

witch3

The beavers say she is descended from Lilith, who was Adam’s first wife in some Jewish traditions. (Can you imagine the controversy if a Christian author published something like this today?) It may just be a singular sentence, but it adds an air of mystery and other-world evil to her character. In addition to the obvious diabolical allusions, she is also reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen.

There is a tendency to play this character as bombastic and incredibly over-the-top, which she is not necessarily in the book. The cartoon plays this up a bit, but Barbara Kettleman’s performance in the BBC is downright hilarious. Every single line is shouted and you can see the veins ready to burst in her face.

At first, Tilda Swinton’s Jadis is underplayed so much that it’s unsettling. Her conversation with Edmund is disturbingly flirtatious, and she gradually become more unhinged as her empire begins to fall apart. I can’t even separate the book’s witch from the movie’s anymore, because they are one and the same to me. They are the exact same character, so I have to give a point to both.

BEST SUPPORTING VILLAINS

There are no major villains outside of Jadis, but there is a memorable slew of evildoers who make appearances. She does have a dwarf who always accompanies her, unnamed in the book but named Ginarrbrik in the Disney film, which is a name Lewis would have probably approved of. He’s fine in all versions, but it’s strange that the cartoon one has no beard, since Jadis asks Edmund if he is a large dwarf who has cut his beard off.

Maugrim is the only villain who gets any kind of character, but even then most versions have him be basically an obstacle for Peter to overcome. I really enjoy Michael Madsen’s performance in the Disney film, though, as he’s genuinely threatening and his voice sounds exactly how you would expect a wolf to sound if it was to talk. Thankfully, he does not cut anybody’s ear off.

The other villains don’t make an appearance until the end, when Jadis summons them all to kill Aslan and take over Narnia. The book describes all kinds of monsters, and Lewis even refuses to name some of them (a classic storytelling trick). The cartoon and Disney version do a fine version of bringing these characters to life, but the BBC version looks like that Halloween party one guy was really excited about but nobody else wanted to go to.

hall

Ultimately, when you get down to it, the Disney film just shows more of the forces of evil. It expands on the battle sequence and shows all kinds of creatures, making us wonder what kind of part they played in the witch’s reign. That’s why I give that version the point.

score

Next week, we’ll get to the final categories, including the biggest one of all (story) and see which version is the best overall.

HOME

 

 

Advertisements

Book vs. Movie Match-Up: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Welcome to Book vs. Movie Match-Up, my new series where I will see if the age-old belief that “The book is always better” is true. Sure, books can develop characters and tell a more intricate story, but movies can create an experience that cannot be had simply by reading words on a page. Let’s break it down and see if the book or the movie (or the other movie or the TV miniseries) is better with my first entry—C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Background

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950, and is the first book in C.S. Lewis’ most famous work, The Chronicles of NarniaLion tells the story of four children who, while staying in the countryside during World War II, stumble upon another world in a wardrobe and help the forces of good defeat the unworthy queen who has taken power. Before long, Lewis’ story was a modern staple of children’s and fantasy literature.

The first adaptation was in 1967 on BBC, but seeing as that version is not available anymore, I will not be looking at it here. A cartoon adaptation aired on TV in 1979, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Production, and has since been released on home video. Another TV version aired on the BBC in 1988 as a six-part serial, which was also nominated for a slew of Emmys. Finally, the most famous adaptation came in 2005, when Walden Media and Disney created a big budget blockbuster featuring the talents of Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, and others. It’s time to take a look at which of these versions does the best job of immersing you in the world of Narnia for the first time. Let’s begin the Match-Up!

narnia match

Just for clarification sake, since there are four versions, I will refer to them as 1) The book, 2) The cartoon, 3) The BBC version, and 4) The Disney film. Today, I will be breaking down the similarities and differences between our four lead characters, the Pevensie children.

BEST LUCY

lucy m

The youngest of the four children, Lucy is the first to enter the wardrobe and discover Narnia, which she does during an exploration of the house. While in Narnia, she meets the faun Tumnus, who plans to turn her over to the White Witch, but can’t go through with it when he discovers how kind and loving she is.

The book describes Lucy as having blonde hair, and her defining characteristic is a sense of childlike wonder. It’s important to remember that the novel is pretty much an extended fairy tale, so don’t expect complex characters or even that much growth in characters outside of the most basic arcs. (To be fair, the later books actually do mature in themes and character arcs.) Lucy pretty much begins the book as a kindhearted girl with a sense of adventure and stays that way throughout the whole thing.

The cartoon portrays her in very much the same way, although the poor animation leads to her making some very strange expressions.

lucy o

Animation aside, Rachel Warren’s voice work brings a lot of life to the character, wonderfully portraying both the wonder and the concern for others that make up Lucy’s character. Sophie Wilcox in the BBC version is either bad casting or just a bad performance, which I don’t like to say about child actors, but this was just wrong. Anytime she tries to show emotion, she just gives this look like she’s confused. I wondered at first if perhaps the child they cast was too young, but nope, she was thirteen. I don’t like blaming children for performances like this, but the director has some explaining to do. Also, why did the costume designer give her the haircut of a 65 year-old woman?

Then we come to the Disney film. Georgie Henley was only ten when this film was released, and while this was her very first film, she knocks it out of the park. She feels nothing like a “movie kid,” but rather an actual child. She’s vibrant and fun-loving, while still caring deeply about everyone she meets. Henley takes the character from the page and brings her to life. The Disney film gets the point.

BEST EDMUND

EDMUND

Edmund is probably the most difficult of the four children to pull off, even though he has the closest thing to an arc. The difficulty lies in the fact that he sort of just goes from being a traitor to suddenly being purely good. There is definitely some sympathy that can be given to Edmund at the beginning, though, because like Lucy, he simply trusts the first person he meets in Narnia. This person just happens to be The White Witch.

Unfortunately, both the cartoon and the BBC version portray Edmund as an unbearable jerk for the first half. It really makes you wonder if the production team of the BBC series hated children. There’s also a strange scene in that version where Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott) steps outside of his own body and talks to himself, because why should we just have Edmund narrate his thoughts?

self
In a deleted twist ending, it was revealed Edmund was Edmund the whole time.

The novel tries to some extent to establish that Edmund has been acting rebellious for a while, but the Disney film takes it to another level by showing Edmund’s (Skandar Keynes) constant fighting with Peter being a result of him not wanting to accept his brother’s authority while their father is away at war. It’s a small change, but it’s crucial enough to once again give the Disney film the point.

BEST SUSAN

susan

Easily the least developed character in the book, Susan is often sort of just there. She sometimes acts as the voice of reason, especially compared to Lucy’s sense of adventure, but it’s not a defining characteristic of her literary version. She is very caring for her siblings, and is especially protective of Lucy, and she is with Lucy during Aslan’s death and resurrection. The cartoon more or less portrays her in the same way, again with some strange expressions due to the animation.

The Disney version tries to expand her character, with Anna Popplewell bringing a lot of dry humor to the part, but unfortunately the script makes her a little too much of a killjoy, always denying what she sees even when animals are clearly talking in front of her. Honestly, the only version that does something interesting with the character is the BBC version. Sophie Cook’s Susan is responsible, but also seems to be enjoying herself throughout the adventure. She seems to be younger than the other interpretations of the character, but there’s a joy to the performance that is sorely missing in the others. The point goes to the BBC version.

BEST PETER

peter

Peter is an interesting character, because while he is a good leader, he also has hidden power he isn’t aware of. By the end of the story, he has shown himself to become a competent warrior and someone who will be a great king. His first sign of inner strength is his killing of The White Witch’s chief henchman, Maugrim the wolf.

All versions portray him as kind, although with more conflict with Edmund in the BBC and Disney versions. The cartoon Peter is fine, playing up the kindness and wisdom of the character, but he wears that sweater the whole time, even in the final battle. It’s cheap animation, but he’s wearing a sweater and no armor in the middle of war.

The BBC Peter is good, but Richard Dempsey is clearly not old enough to assume any kind of leadership. While Susan being younger is alright, it really doesn’t work for Peter. At least he doesn’t fight the battle in a suit and tie.

William Mosely is memorable as Peter in the Disney film, bringing a similar sense of humor that Popplewell does and getting an additional scene showing his fear of Maugrim. It’s a more upfront way of showing his hidden strength than in the book, and it works pretty well. However, this Peter never stops trying to send his siblings home, even after they’re at the Stone Table preparing for battle. It makes sense that he would want to at first, but after a while, it just doesn’t make sense or add any dramatic tension. The book’s Peter understands that he and his family have a part to play in Narnia’s history and he steps up to the plate magnificently when he needs to. This is why I give the point to the book.

At the end of the first part of this Match-Up, let’s see where we stand.

score2

Next time, I’ll be taking a look at all of the remaining characters and seeing which version portrayed them best.

 

 

 

My Favorite Movie Scenes: #1

#1

We’ve been through a long list of all kinds of movie scenes, but I am finally ready to reveal my #1 choice. It is only appropriate that for #1 favorite scene that I talk about, what else, reveals. It’s easy to write a twist, it’s harder to write a good twist, but the biggest challenge is creating a brilliant scene where said twist is revealed. The Usual Suspects and Primal Fear immediately jump to mind with their massive endings that are equally shocking to the viewers and the characters, and both of their final scenes are chilling. There’s the rock dropping through the poster in The Shawshank Redemption, the revealing phone call to Hamilton Bartholomew in Charade, the box scene in Se7en, and of course the final scenes of The Wicker Man and Planet of the Apes (the originals, obviously). The list of great big reveals goes on and on, but my favorite reveal is one that is not really a reveal to the viewer, but only to the characters. It’s my favorite movie scene of all time—”Man of Constant Sorrow” from O Brother Where Art Thou?

sorrow

Throughout the entire film, convict Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) has been trying to get home and reunite with his ex-wife Penny (Holly Hunter) before she re-marries. To do this, he convinced his fellow prisoners Delmar and Pete (John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson) to break out and look for hidden treasure that he buried. Along the way, they have come across all kinds of things, including a guitar player who sold his soul (Chris Thomas King) a KKK rally, an evil Bible salesman (John Goodman), and a Sheriff who may or may not be the Devil incarnate (Daniel Von Bargen). They also managed to make a quick buck by stopping to record a song. Now, they are at their last straw, and Everett’s friends have made it clear this is the last time they will trust his scheming. Dressed up as old-timey bluegrass musicians, they enter the rally for gubernatorial candidate Homer Stokes.

During the first song, Everett tries to convince his wife to dump her fiancé who works for the Stokes campaign, but she is still unsure. Then, Delmar and Pete begin “Man of Constant Sorrow,” the song they recorded along the way, with Everett on lead vocals. What Everett and the boys don’t know is that “Man of Constant Sorrow” has become the biggest hit single in the state. The crowd goes absolutely wild as Everett steps up to sing.

confused

Watch Clooney’s face in this scene, as he goes from shocked that they’re starting the song, to confused at the enthusiastic applause, to the moment where he finally pieces together what is happening, to his final expression of “Oh yeah, I should probably sing this song.” He even looks like he’s about to start crying tears of joy as he starts singing. It’s such a brilliant little piece of acting, and it’s even more impressive that he can express so much hiding behind a fake beard.

If we the viewers didn’t know “Man of Constant Sorrow” had become a hit, this would still be a great scene, but the fact that we know it lets us completely soak in the joy of something finally going right for Everett. Had we been left in the dark, we would probably run the gamut of emotions that he runs here instead of just being able to watch.

On another level, we get to think about it from the audience’s perspective. O Brother Where Art Thou is set during the Great Depression, so a lot of people probably don’t really know what their favorite musicians look like anyway, but the mysterious Soggy Bottom Boys walked into a studio, recorded a smash hit, and left. The man who produced the song (Stephen Root) was blind. Until this moment, there is not one person in the entire state who knows the full truth about the band. I’ll always love that one random audience member’s enthused delivery of “Hot damn, it’s the Soggy Bottom Boys!” There’s also this great little snapshot where Penny figures out what is going on as well.

hunter

The Coen Brothers are big fans of karmic stories, but let’s be honest, a lot of their films deal with bad things happening to people who make mistakes. Here, we get to see one good thing that Everett did come back and reward him. I love the rest of the scene too, where Homer Stokes is forcibly removed from his own campaign rally and incumbent Pappy O’ Daniel pardons the lead characters, but it’s this singular moment where we know for sure things are finally starting to turn around. Everett’s redemption doesn’t even fully come until a later scene, but we know we’re on a good track the second “Man of Constant Sorrow” starts.

It’s a scene I can go back to and watch over and over again, both because of the brilliant acting and the incredible emotion I feel every time I see Everett realize why the audience is cheering for him. The Coen Brothers create a brilliant contrast with the over-the-top antics of the band and the political candidates set against the subtlety and nuance of Clooney’s acting. It’s a truly brilliant moment, and it’s my personal favorite movie scene of all time.

I have really enjoyed working on this special series, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. Perhaps I will have to do more of these top ten lists in the future.

HOME

My Favorite Movie Scenes: #2

#2

Like in real life, movie characters often hide their true thoughts and motivations behind facades, but today I want to look at the rare times when characters are completely and unabashedly, even painfully, honest with each other. Scenes like Ed Harris explaining his moral code in Gone Baby Gone and “Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying” from The Shawshank Redemption show characters finally opening up fully about themselves. The final scene with Luke and his father from Return of the Jedi and basically any scene between Bela Lugosi and the title character in Ed Wood add heart to already-great films. However, there is no scene of pure honesty as good as the crumbling house scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

house

After almost entirely erasing Clementine (Kate Winslet) from his mind through experimental surgery, Joel (Jim Carrey) has only the memory of their first meeting left. After following her to the abandoned house, he admits he’s scared and begins to leave, just like the first time. When Clem says, “So go,” Joel regretfully responds with “I did.” There is no beating around the bush, no fancy wordplay, just “I wish you’d stayed” and “I wish I’d stayed too. Now I wish I’d stayed.”

We’ve all been in situations where we wish things could have played out differently, whether it was a relationship, friendship or even just a discussion. Who hasn’t looked back on an important moment in life and wished they had done it better? Here, finally, Joel gets too, even if it’s just in his mind. He admits to wishing he had stayed and admits how scared he was, but Clem—always the more adventurous one—says “What if you stayed this time?”

Sure, Joel has been trying to stop the memories from being erased for most of the movie, but it’s usually by running away, something he often does. Here, he tries to hold onto his memory by staying. I did a double-take the first time I heard Clem say that line about staying, but it’s the first time where Joel is really in control of his mind. Since Clem has already had the procedure done, it’s kind of implied that this moment went the same way for her. This is clear when Clem tells Joel to meet her in Montauk, where they again meet for the first time.

The acting in this scene is just perfect. Jim Carrey, best known for over-the-top comedic antics, is as subtle and restrained as the best of them as his character pours his heart open to Clem.

carrey

Obviously, Kate Winslet is great too, but that wasn’t surprising to anyone. It’s Carrey’s performance, never once breaking into his trademark ham, that is the big surprise of the film. Without one so raw and personal, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would not have worked so well.

The crumbling house is such a poignant image for this scene. Walls fall down, waves rush in, and beautiful piano music plays in the background. It’s a sad image, yes, but it’s also happy, because not only are they looking back on a loving memory, but they are reliving it exactly how they want to. It even shows some character development on both of their parts. Joel is finally ready to open up and tell Clem exactly how he feels. Clem finally realizes she scared Joel the first time and probably throughout their relationship, and she apologizes to him. Does this mean they will end up together and be happy in the future? The movie doesn’t give us an answer, but surely they have both become better people.

Tomorrow, we get to the very top of the list as I unveil my #1 favorite movie scene of all time.

HOME

My Favorite Movie Scenes: #3

#3

For every other scene on this list, there are a whole group of scenes I can compare my choice to, but this one is different. It’s not a dream sequence, but it feels like a dream, and while it’s a chase sequence, it’s slow and drawn out. When you get down to it, there is no movie scene quite like the river scene from The Night of the Hunter.

river

After Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) murders their mother, John and Pearl finally make their escape down river. Harry chases them through the rushes but isn’t able to stop their boat. John and Pearl find themselves all alone on the river at night, surrounded only by nature. The combination of the way this scene is shot, the music, and the ambient sounds all lead to an amazing experience. It’s incredibly dreamlike, but it’s not an all-out nightmare. In fact, a lot of it is even soothing. The children know Harry Powell will try to find them, but for the moment they are safe.

Sort of like my #5 scene, this one creates a feeling unlike any other. We are completely enveloped in the world that director Charles Laughton creates. We hear frogs croaking, we take in the stars in the sky, we see the water sparkling. Laughton referred to Hunter as a “nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale,” which I suppose is as good a description as any.

We get the best contrast of the soothing sort of feelings with the nightmarish ones when John and Pearl stay overnight in a barn. They see a shadow of a woman in a window (a brilliant choice that we never see her in full) angelically singing “Rest, little one, rest” to her baby literally, but also to the children symbolically.

uhsh

John and Pearl are now at complete peace as they climb to the barn to sleep. A few hours though, John awakes and looks off into the distance to see Harry Powell, riding his horse and eerily singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” The song about being “safe and secure from all alarms” creates an obvious contrast with John and Pearl’s present situation, and the a capella singing of Robert Mitchum is downright creepy over the dead silence of the night. The film perfectly captures that feeling of being a kid and waking up startled in the middle of the night, whether from stress or a bad dream.

leaning

There’s a grandness to the whole thing, as we’re often given wide shots of nature, and oftentimes characters are not in the shot at all. Even so, it’s an incredibly personal scene, and we feel like we are in the position of the characters. We feel every single emotion that runs through them, from fear to peace to urgency. It’s a scene that could have very easily been rushed in favor of more plot or something conventional, but instead we got one of the most beautiful and unique film scenes of all time. If you love The Night of the Hunter, I have talked more about it here in my first What Makes It Great?

We’re getting down to it now, and I’ll be taking a look at my penultimate scene tomorrow.

HOME

My Favorite Movie Scenes: #4

#4

It would be a crime to talk about my favorite movie scenes of all time and not mention great dialogue. Sure, a great story idea goes a long way, but great lines push movies into the timeless category. Classic movie lines like “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” and “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up” come from incredible closing scenes in their respective films. Sometimes, the most famous lines are improvised, like Dustin Hoffman’s “I’m walkin’ here” from Midnight Cowboy and Tommy Lee Jones’ famous “I don’t care” from The Fugitive. Mickey Rourke’s “I know who I am” monologue from Angel Heart is drastically underrated, as is Ralph Fiennes’ “I have flown too high on borrowed wings” from Quiz Show. However, the best scene of classic dialogue unquestionably comes from the airport scene in Casablanca.

airport

Frankly, I could have picked almost any moment from Casablanca for this list, and the La Marseillaise scene is particularly poignant, but this is the scene people remember most, and for good reason. Casablanca is basically the Hamlet of film, in that so many lines have become cliches in our modern language. In just the scene between Rick and Ilsa alone, we get “Do the thinking for both of us,” “We’ll always have Paris,” “I’m no good at being noble,” “Amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world,” and of course “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

We as an audience wouldn’t blame Rick for going through with what everyone thought he was doing and staying with Ilsa. When they were together the first time, she thought Victor was dead. However, Rick goes above and beyond what we expect him to do and commits a completely selfless act. Rick describes himself early on in the film as someone who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” but throughout, we see him helping people constantly.

Rick keeps everyone in the dark about what he plans until this scene, and while that is necessary for him to get away with it, it also adds to the poignancy of it all, because he and Ilsa’s affair is ending now. The camera zooms in on their faces so we can see every emotion running through their minds—Rick’s nostalgia, Ilsa’s shock, Rick’s commitment to joining the cause, and Isla’s ultimate acceptance. The score switches to “As Time Goes By” right after Rick says “We’ll always have Paris,” cementing the memory in their minds forever.

Rick and Victor have a brief but respectful conversation, and Rick says his final line to them, “Better hurry or you’ll miss that plane.” Just look at the pained expression on Bogart’s face as he delivers the line.

plane

He knows he’s doing the right thing, but he also knows if Ilsa doesn’t leave now, he’s going to start rethinking it. In just a quick line and expression, we see a man at war with himself, trying to choose between his own desires and the greater good. The fact that he does choose the latter is one of many reasons why Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made.

I will be away for the next few days, so I’ll be revealing my #3 scene on Sunday, but I guarantee it’s one unlike any other.

HOME

My Favorite Movie Scenes: #5

#5

Yes, you read the last post right, today I’m talking about my favorite animated scene. The best animated films draw us in differently than a live-action film, because the rules are all different. Animated films get to zig where others zag. Sure, there are plenty of great animation studios, but the most imaginative animated scenes almost always come from Disney and Disney/Pixar.

disney

Where else can you see a scene quite like the gorgeous first ten minutes of Up? Who can create a musical number half as fun as “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book (not Jon Favreau)? No other scenes can enchant as much as the “Bella Notte” sequence from Lady and the Tramp or the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast. You could pick any scene at random from the first half of The Lion King and it would be great (not that that rest is bad), but the opening “Circle of Life” sequence is particular awe-inspiring. Disney even creates incredible tense horror with the Headless Horseman scene from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. However, there is no animated scene quite like the “Night on Bald Mountain”/”Ave Maria” sequence that closes out Fantasia.

bald mountain

Just look at how much is going on in that opening shot. There’s smoke passing over the ominous Bald Mountain. The village looks minuscule compared to the looming mountain that overshadows it.  Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” starts with its enormous sound, led by the strings.

chern

As we zoom through the smoke to the very top of the mountain, we get the reveal of one of most imposing Devils ever put on film. Yes, he’s officially called Chernabog now after the Slavic deity the animators based his style off of, but the narrator who introduces the sketch outright calls him Satan. He makes spirits rise from the ground, and the way they fly seamlessly through the air is both creepy and strangely beautiful. The backgrounds of the village are so fully realized in their depth that we completely forget we’re watching a movie. It’s tough for any movie to do this, but it’s even more amazing that an animated film can shatter this illusion.

spirits

The Devil toys with the tortured souls for a while, showing perhaps the darkest imagery ever used in a Disney film. It’s grotesque and pure evil, matching the sounds of the music perfectly. Then, church bells ring out. The Devil tries to continue torturing the souls, but the sound literally stops him, eventually turning him into the mountain as morning comes.

mtn

Schubert’s “Ave Maria” starts out slowly as we gradually see lights shining through the early morning fog. We soon see it is a group of people holding lights and walking through the woods. It is hard to describe the feeling that the animation and music creates here, but the closest I can come is saying that the viewer literally feels morning. It’s the washing away of everything evil and dark, replacing it with pure goodness.

reflection

Just look at the beauty of that shot. It captures that feeling right before the sun has fully come up, and again, the music is suited perfectly. You could argue it’s just scenery and music, and in a way it is, but as The Sopranos‘ Little Carmine Lupertazzi would say, it’s “the sacred and the propane.” (Yes, I know it’s profane.) Like the end of basically every Disney film, it’s good defeating evil, but it’s subtle and runs solely on emotion.

At the end of this scene, Fantasia just ends with no closing narration or credits, but just a fade to black. The scene is just so powerful that anything else would have lessened it. It’s probably the most beautifully animated film ever made, and the closing scene is a perfect way to end it.

We’re past the halfway point, and tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at my #4 scene.

HOME

Introduction: Movie/Book Matchup-Narnia

Instead of comparing ten films this time around, I want to mix it up by comparing adaptations. Sure, books can expand on characters and story arcs, but movies can tell a story visually and through incredible performances.

I’m going to be comparing the novels and adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Of course I’ll look at the Disney/Walden Media films, but I’ll also be looking at the BBC miniseries from the ’80s and ’90s, as well as the lesser-known cartoon version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I want to break down what changed from the book to the movies, but also which version has the better characters, story, and overall experience. There will be a lot to breakdown, so I’m going to take multiple weeks on each book (with the exception of The Silver Chair of which there is only one adaptation.)

It’s something a little different, and I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll start with part 1 of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a week from today.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

PART 1

PART 2

PART 3

HOME

My Favorite Movie Scenes: #6

#6

Unlike a novel, a movie has very little time to set up a character and get us interested, particularly a villain in a hero-driven work. There has to be a singular scene that defines our villain and makes us as the audience learn all about their character and see the threat they truly are. It doesn’t have to be their first scene, but it has to come fairly early in the film (barring a twist in which a character is later revealed as the villain). There’s a reason people still remember The Joker’s pencil trick in The Dark Knight, the chestburster scene in Alien, Ghostface’s horrifying murders in the opening scene of Scream, and Captain Hadley beating a new prisoner to the point of death in The Shawshank Redemption. From the original Star Wars, there’s Grand Moff Tarkin blowing up an entire planet or Darth Vader choking one of his own men for insulting his belief in the Force. There is no better scene, though, to tell us who we are truly dealing with than the coin toss scene from No Country for Old Men.

toss

By this point, we’ve already met Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), and we’ve even seen him kill. He’s broken out of police custody, but this scene teaches us more about Anton’s motivations, if you can call them that. He simply walks into a gas station and forces the unassuming owner (Gene Jones) to predict the outcome of a coin toss. Even after Anton says the famous “What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?” it doesn’t seem that the man behind the counter truly understands that his life is on the line.

Anton never outright says why he kills, but his lines throughout the film seem to imply he feels a requirement to do it. Listen to the sigh he gives before he says “Call it.” He doesn’t really get any enjoyment out of it, but he sees himself as the hand of fate, saying “You need to call it. I can’t call it for you. It wouldn’t be fair.” We know Chigurh is a killer, but now he has been set up as a truly strange one indeed, a man who believes he has to be the Angel of Death.

The Coen Brothers set up incredible tension in this scene, accentuated by absolutely no music. It’s deathly silent in the background, so every noise makes an impact. We are so on edge that a candy wrapper coming unwrinkled on the counter is unnerving.

candy

What is truly amazing about this scene, though, is that the man doesn’t die. So many filmmakers after setting up this Grim Reaper killer would have had the man call it wrong and die, just for impact, but the Coens truly show us who Anton Chigurh is. When the coin toss is called correctly, that’s it

The scene is also helped by some incredibly dark humor, mostly from the man not understanding what’s going on, which has led me to deem this “The Scariest Who’s On First Scene in History.” It’s strange that later in the film, a bounty hunter describes Chigurh as having no sense of humor, when this scene clearly shows that he does. He makes an incredibly wry joke when the man tries to put the quarter in his pocket, “Don’t put it in your pocket… Or it’ll get mixed in with the others and become just a coin, which it is.” He even gives a goofy smile as he leaves.

smile

No Country for Old Men is an amazing film, one of the best thrillers ever made, but it is this scene that makes you realize you’re in for something truly different. It leaves an impact on you long after you’ve seen it, one that arguably would be lessened if Chigurh had actually killed the man.

Tomorrow, we break into the second half of the list as I take a look at my favorite animated scene of all time.

HOME

 

My Favorite Movie Scenes: #7

#7

After three consecutive dramatic scenes,—two of them very dark—it’s time to talk about some comedy. Narrowing the field on this one is quite a challenge.Do I pick a huge, overblown musical number like “Springtime for Hitler” from The Producers or the innuendo-laden “Let’s Duet” from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story? Does the best humor come from a meeting of three different comedic actors like the Harvey Manfrenjensen scene from A Fish Called Wanda, which mixes Kevin Kline’s quickness with John Cleese’s hilarious faces and Maria Aitken’s dry wit? What about a character who is just so over-the-top that much of the humor comes from the other characters reacting to him, like the first meeting with Franz Liebkind, also from The Producers. There’s the hilarious constrained laughter in the Pontius Pilate scene from The Life of Brian, and the breakfast scene from Grosse Pointe Blanke is very underrated (as is the whole movie), but the scene that is both the smartest and makes me laugh the most is the phone call from Dr. Strangelove.

call

In a movie full of crazed and hilarious characters, it seems that President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) is one of the only sane characters, but it’s actually his level-headed manner that becomes the joke. He is so polite and patient, which is great in an everyday situation, but not when a bonkers general literally named Jack T. Ripper has ordered an airstrike on Russia, turning the Cold War hot.

The brilliance of the scene is that we only hear one end of the conversation. President Muffley talks with the leader of a foreign country as if he’s talking to his ex-wife, with great lines like “Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello? (pause) Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello.” There are also hints throughout this and other scenes that Premier Kissoff is drunk, which leads to the hilarious clarification of “The bomb, Dimitri. (pause) The hydrogen bomb.”

We can imagine the rightfully impatient Russian premier on the other line, trying to get to the point of the conversation as the President runs through formalities, like trying to find a nice way to say “Thanks to an insane general, we’re bombing you.” It could be my 100th time seeing the movie, but I’ll still get a kick out of, “Well now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little… funny.”

These two men are on the brink of nuclear war, and yet they’re arguing about who’s sorrier. Just the way Sellers says, “Alright! You’re sorrier than I am! But I am sorry as well,” might be the single-funniest line delivery ever. He sounds like a teacher correcting a prideful student.

As if this wasn’t enough, throughout the scene we get hilarious shots of General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) reacting to what he’s hearing.

face

Scott’s performance isn’t just over-the-top in his line delivery, but also in the way he is constantly contorting his face. It’s just the right amount of ham for this kind of film.

There will never be another Peter Sellers, and while there are plenty of scenes that show off his incredible talents, none compare to this one. It has become an iconic film monologue, and it just gets funnier every time I watch the movie.

Tomorrow, I’m going to take a look at villains and the scenes that tell us all we need to know about them.

HOME