Dawn Treader stirs controversy
The studios behind the new Narnia movie are walking a tightrope in their quest to promote the third film in the fantasy franchise to a Christian audience and to general moviegoers.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader doesn't open until Friday, but Fox and family-friendly producer Walden Media have been showing it to influential Christians for about a month, even before a finished print was ready.
That the studios have been reaching out to the faith-based community is an obvious strategy, given that it is based on the Narnia series from Christian philosopher C S Lewis.
But they also are going out of their way not to pigeonhole the film as something that will appeal just to the world's 2.2 billion Christians. There are, after all, an additional 4.7 billion inhabitants of Earth.
Sometimes, it can be quite tricky.
Case in point is Liam Neeson, who voices Aslan, the resurrected lion in the upcoming film. The actor said at a news conference last week that his character doesn't necessarily represent Christ. That might be news to Lewis, though, who wrote the opposite before he died in 1963.
"Aslan symbolises a Christlike figure, but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries," Neeson said.
The comment got some passionate bloggers working overtime to rebut Neeson's analysis by using Lewis' own words.
"The whole Narnian story is about Christ," Lewis once wrote. He said he "pictured him becoming a lion" because it's the king of beasts and because Christ is called "The Lion of Judah" in the Bible.
Aslan, wrote Lewis, "is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question: 'What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia?'"
But Dawn Treader producer Mark Johnson agrees with the, shall we say, more inclusive analysis from Neeson, telling The Hollywood Reporter that "resurrection exists in so many different religions in one form or another, so it's hardly exclusively Christian."
"We don't want to favour one group over another ... whether these books are Christian, I don't know," Johnson added.
The website that Fox and Walden have set up at NarniaFaith.com doesn't hedge in its attempt to appeal to Christians. Pastors who visit the site, in fact, are encouraged to tell their congregants that Aslan is Jesus Christ.
The site provides outlines of sermons based on the Narnia stories and a video message from Dawn Treader executive producer Douglas Gresham, a stepson of Lewis. It even offers video clips from the movie to share with churchgoers. One, for example, has Aslan explaining to the children that, "in your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by it."
That other name is Jesus Christ, we're informed in the "sermon outlines". No mention of Buddha or Mohammad.