National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Video Picks & Passes

BY STEVEN D. GREYDANUS

March 26-April 1, 2006 Issue | Posted 3/27/06 at 11:00 AM

 

C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia: PICK

(2005)

Au Revoir Les Enfants: PICK

(1987)

King Kong: PICK

(1933)

Content advisory:

Beyond Narnia: Brief war imagery; some marital complications that could be confusing to children. Au Revoir Les Enfants: Adolescent sexual references and objectionable language; youths in deadly peril; Nazi menace. Subtitles. King Kong: Relatively strong violence, numerous fatalities, and ethnographic stereotyping.

Anticipating next week’s release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia (new on DVD) is a 54-minute overview of the life of the Oxford don and Christian apologist whose Narnia stories have delighted generations of children and adults.

Produced by Faith & Values Media and written and directed by Norman Stone (who also directed the BBC version of Shadowlands), the film dramatizes key episodes of Lewis’ biography as if Lewis himself were recounting them, with Anton Rodger as an affable, chatty Lewis sitting in his bathrobe by a flickering fire, and flashbacks to each period in Lewis’ life in turn. Much of Lewis’ narration is taken directly from his biographical works and other sources, though some improvised dialogue is glaringly out of place, and Lewis comes off more sentimental and less intellectually robust than the genuine article.

Still, it’s an okay intro to the major landmarks of Lewis’s life: his halcyon early youth in Belfast, his early loss of faith and miserable stint at boarding school after the death of his mother, his intellectual awakening under the “Great Knock,” his spiritual reawakening, and finally late love lost.

Vatican film list honoree Au Revoir Les Enfants returns to DVD this week from Criterion. Louis Malle’s semi-autobiographical film about life in a Catholic boarding school for boys in Nazi-occupied France has been called an elegy of innocence lost, though in fact the youthful characters are never truly innocent, only clueless.

When a dark-haired new boy named Jean Bonnet joins his dormitory, the young protagonist’s first reaction is a defiant warning: “I’m Julien Quentin, and don’t mess with me.” But Bonnet lives with a secret that Julien can’t imagine, even as he begins to put the pieces together, until a devastating event blows away the petty cruelties, crises and crimes that had until then been his world. After that, his life is never the same.

Malle’s film reminds us that it’s one thing to have to live with past sins, deliberate choices we made that we would give anything to take back. But most of us also live in the shadow of events that we didn’t understand until it was too late. There was no moment of truth, no clearly defined choice. We simply blunder along and then spend the rest of our lives in that next moment, probing it like a sore tooth. We must simply live with it.

Finally, if the over-the-top gross-outs and outsize action set pieces of Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake (also new this week on DVD) aren’t your cup of tea — and if you like the classic Kong story but you weren’t quite ape enough to go for last year’s pricey King Kong Collection (which included sequels Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young) — then this week’s inexpensive, single-disc release of the 1933 King Kong may be just the ticket for you.

The best as well as the first of the great-ape classics, King Kong was also the father of all cinematic giant monster movies from Godzilla and his Japanese ilk, to Hollywood’s 1950s giant bug movies like Them! and Tarantula, to more recent features like Aliens and Jurassic Park. Made only half a dozen years into the sound era, King Kong still has something of the unearthly magic of the silent era about it.