g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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  4/4/2005 -  4/10/2005
 3/28/2005 -   4/3/2005
 3/21/2005 -  3/27/2005
 3/14/2005 -  3/20/2005
  3/7/2005 -  3/13/2005
 2/28/2005 -   3/6/2005
 2/21/2005 -  2/27/2005
 2/14/2005 -  2/20/2005
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 1/31/2005 -   2/6/2005
 1/24/2005 -  1/30/2005
 1/17/2005 -  1/23/2005
 1/10/2005 -  1/16/2005
  1/3/2005 -   1/9/2005
12/27/2004 -   1/2/2004
12/20/2004 - 12/26/2004
12/13/2004 - 12/19/2004
 12/6/2004 - 12/12/2004
11/29/2004 -  12/5/2004
11/22/2004 - 11/28/2004
11/15/2004 - 11/21/2004
 11/8/2004 - 11/14/2004
 11/1/2004 -  11/7/2004
10/25/2004 - 10/31/2004
10/18/2004 - 10/24/2004
10/11/2004 - 10/17/2004
 10/4/2004 - 10/10/2004
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 9/13/2004 -  9/19/2004
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 8/16/2004 -  8/22/2004
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 4/19/2004 -  4/25/2004
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  4/5/2004 -  4/11/2004
 3/29/2004 -   4/4/2004
 3/22/2004 -  3/28/2004
 3/15/2004 -  3/21/2004
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 1/26/2004 -   2/1/2004
 1/19/2004 -  1/25/2004
 1/12/2004 -  1/18/2004
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12/29/2003 -   1/4/2004
12/22/2003 - 12/28/2003
12/15/2003 - 12/21/2003
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11/24/2003 - 11/30/2003
11/17/2003 - 11/23/2003
11/10/2003 - 11/16/2003
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10/27/2003 -  11/2/2003
10/20/2003 - 10/26/2003
10/13/2003 - 10/19/2003
 10/6/2003 - 10/12/2003
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 9/15/2003 -  9/21/2003
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 8/25/2003 -  8/31/2003
 8/18/2003 -  8/24/2003
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 7/28/2003 -   8/3/2003
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 5/26/2003 -   6/1/2003
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 4/28/2003 -   5/4/2003
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 3/31/2003 -   4/6/2003
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 1/20/2003 -  1/26/2003
 1/13/2003 -  1/19/2003
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12/30/2002 -   1/5/2003
12/23/2002 - 12/29/2002
12/16/2002 - 12/22/2002
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11/25/2002 -  12/1/2002
11/18/2002 - 11/24/2002
11/11/2002 - 11/17/2002
 11/4/2002 - 11/10/2002
10/28/2002 -  11/3/2002
10/21/2002 - 10/27/2002
10/14/2002 - 10/20/2002
 10/7/2002 - 10/13/2002
 9/30/2002 -  10/6/2002
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  9/9/2002 -  9/15/2002
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 8/26/2002 -   9/1/2002
 8/19/2002 -  8/25/2002
 8/12/2002 -  8/18/2002
  8/5/2002 -  8/11/2002
 7/29/2002 -   8/4/2002
 7/22/2002 -  7/28/2002
 7/15/2002 -  7/21/2002
  7/8/2002 -  7/14/2002
  7/1/2002 -   7/7/2002
 6/24/2002 -  6/30/2002
 6/17/2002 -  6/23/2002
 6/10/2002 -  6/16/2002
  6/3/2002 -   6/9/2002
 5/27/2002 -   6/2/2002
 5/20/2002 -  5/26/2002
 5/13/2002 -  5/19/2002
  5/6/2002 -  5/12/2002
 4/29/2002 -   5/5/2002
 4/22/2002 -  4/28/2002
 4/15/2002 -  4/21/2002
  4/8/2002 -  4/14/2002
  4/1/2002 -   4/7/2002
 3/25/2002 -  3/31/2002
 3/18/2002 -  3/24/2002
 3/11/2002 -  3/17/2002
  3/4/2002 -  3/10/2002
 2/25/2002 -   3/3/2002
 2/18/2002 -  2/24/2002
 2/11/2002 -  2/17/2002
  2/4/2002 -  2/10/2002
 1/28/2002 -   2/3/2002
 1/21/2002 -  1/27/2002
 1/14/2002 -  1/20/2002
  1/7/2002 -  1/13/2002
12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Saturday, December 17, 2005
16:12 - Googlin' my heart away

(top)
Google for "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego."

(This (via Chris) is cool too.)


12:32 - Give the gift of reduced choice

(top)
It's amusing to watch the sudden proliferation of gift cards this year. Every retailer is doing one, it seems—not just REI and Macy's and iTunes and Barnes & Noble, but Safeway and Chipotle and McDonald's. Can you imagine getting a McDonald's gift card? (Their ads try to make airy and vague claims about how you get more than food with one—you also get fun, somehow. I don't get it.)

It's a retailer's dream come true, though. There's nothing they have to make in order to sell one. They can be stocked effortlessly in checkout counters anywhere. And best of all, like rebates, a significant number of them never get redeemed. I noticed that a Borders card I got a while ago proudly said, "No fee for non-usage!" Yeah, like they're going to complain that someone paid them for a gift card that nobody ever used to claim any merchandise. That outcome is in their interest, you know.

This isn't to say gift cards don't make a good gift. What I find funny, though, is the premise upon which they're based. Let's see... you're buying someone a card... that's worth a certain centrally stored amount of money... good only at the retailer advertised on the card.

The card doesn't have to exist at all for a person to give someone else exactly the same largesse. The only reason gift cards exist is the fact that society has declared it gauche to give money as a gift.

The only benefit that a gift card provides over money is a dubious one—that the fact that it's for a certain store will suggest to the recipient that that store might be a good place to buy something he might want, which he might possibly not have considered before. I might get a Fry's gift card and use that as an excuse to go buy some piece of computer junk at Fry's rather than just going ignorantly without. If I'd just received money, I'd have simply put it in my HELOC and forgotten about it. But at least with a gift card you're likely to buy an actual gift with it.

But the bottom line is that gift cards provide all the benefits of money except the LEGAL TENDER FOR ALL DEBTS, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE part. If it weren't for the fact that giving money is considered bad form, gift cards would be laughed off the shelves, because what they really represent is a restricted form of money—money without the choice of where to spend it.

In fact, I even saw an American Express gift card at Safeway the other day. Apparently the idea being that you buy someone a certain chunk of credit on their American Express card. Its slogan? Give the gift of choice..

As opposed to all those other gift cards, of course, with their implicit lack of choice. But if you really wanted to "give the gift of choice", you'd write a check.

Now, again, I'm not saying gift cards make bad gifts; I certainly don't mind receiving them. In fact, for the aforementioned psychological reasons, I would prefer them to getting money, because I know I need to be able to get frivolous items once in a while in order to stay sane. A man cannot live on mortgage payments alone. It's just probably a good idea to retain no illusions about what gift cards actually are.

...Wait. No... actually, scratch that. Sometimes illusions are good things. They sure make shopping easier. I mean, at least a gift card gives the recipient more choice than an actual gift, right?

Friday, December 16, 2005
15:41 - He who laughs last doesn't get the joke
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-gutfeld/stop-sitting-on-santas-l_b_12361.html

(top)
Wow. They sure are making lucid "9-year-olds" these days.

And apparently they're all writing comments on posts like this one. Yeesh! (Here's another example of commenters proving the author's point.)

Via JMH.

Thursday, December 15, 2005
01:33 - Tongue-tied

(top)
Before I had the chance to change the channel to something else, I saw the first few minutes of Attack of the Show on G4, whatever it is. Its two hipster anchors led off with a self-consciously earnest-sounding "history in the making" editorial about the Iraqi election that seemed to sort of catch one of them off guard—the guy suddenly went off on a bit of a tirade, out of nowhere, about the Iraqi purple fingers and what significance they have, what a momentous day this is, and so on. The girl picked up on it quickly, kept trying to spin jokes off it, but the guy was focused and serious about acknowledging how huge a milestone this is for Iraq and how exhilarating it is and ought to be for anyone whose pulse quickens a little at the thought of seeing a new democracy being born. "Even after all the Bush-bashing and jokes we've made," he said, "you've just gotta step back and realize what an amazing thing this is." (He then castigated whoever it was who'd created a t-shirt and ad slogan called "Vote & Dye", railing against its tastelessness in exploiting a genuine revolutionary moment for the sake of a silly pseudo-political joke.)

His co-anchor concurred thus: "Yeah... even if you disagreed with... with it, you just have to agree that this is just a tremendous thing to observe..."

And I just had to chuckle ruefully. Even if you disagreed with... what? The elections taking place? Their legitimacy? Whether any of it existed outside the studios producing this sequel to the moon-landing hoaxes? No, just it, apparently. Yet it's an amazing thing to have happen.

Oh, sure, she could have said even if you disagree with certain aspects of the conduct of the war or the idea that this can last or the general idea that war solves global problems, and then the statement would make sense. But you could tell what she was trying to avoid saying: Even if you disagreed with fighting the war to free Iraq, it's still great to see them bringing that freedom to fruition.

Because then she'd have to say In spite of us.

It's a tough rhetorical position to be in, and I don't envy her. It's certainly possible to register a valid opinion that the war shouldn't have been fought, but that seeing parliamentary elections is still a stirring sight. It's just not easy. There aren't too many ways to finesse such a statement, to convey simultaneously that this was a desirable outcome, yet that we were wrong to pursue it. And hipster pseudo-news anchors don't really seem up to the challenge.

Yet I wonder how general in appeal the male anchor's loud, defensive-sounding rant might turn out to be. This might be an opportunity for people in positions like his to start saying "enough is enough"—to back the cause of Iraqi freedom because it's the right thing to do, not because it implies something about your political standing. Now that the Iraqi people have spoken, standing with them doesn't have to mean you're a Bush supporter anymore. Not that it ever did, really. But now there's an excuse to say so out loud.


16:17 - Vhen ve voke up, ve had zese... woddies
http://www.hollywood.com/news/detail/id/3472202

(top)
Oh boy!

I sure hope they write in a scene where by some amazing bit of serendipity, they go back in time to the beginning of the 21st century, in an area of what was then California known as "Burbank", just miles from an ancient movie studio called "Universal".

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
02:10 - Incentives

(top)
Best Buy is running an ad where a robot rocks out to a whirling circle of MP3 players from Creative and iRiver and various other companies, advertising a $30 gift card for other store merchandise you get when you buy "select MP3 players".

Tiny text at the bottom says Excludes iPod.

Something tells me they aren't having much difficulty keeping the pseudoPods in stock. Dang customers just don't know any better, I guess. (Link via Steven Den Beste.)

This is just like those car commercials where great across-the-board discounts and rebates are offered on all of a manufacturer's models (except Corvette) or (except Viper). Yet again it's been illustrated where things in the market stand...


14:31 - Eat the rich
http://coldfury.com/index.php/?p=6100

(top)
Key word in this story is "mansion".

I'm all for giving people every opportunity and incentive to get rich. But I can't help but be saddened to see that so often it makes people into raving nutters who couldn't relate to another human being if their lives depended on it.


13:56 - My Mac's in Jeopardy, Baby
http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.ars/2005/12/14/2097

(top)
The stock price isn't quite there yet, so here's the only place you'll hear "Apple for $100" anytime soon:

According to a post on DTGeeks, the game show Jeopardy! featured Apple as an entire question category during yesterday's (December 13th) airing of the show on national television. If there was ever a sign that Apple has finally seeped its way into our everyday pop culture, I guess this is it.

The questions are pretty wussy, though. But maybe only for Apple geeks...

Via Kris.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
02:05 - DOOM doom doom DOOM doom DOOOM
http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_51/b3964063.htm?chan=tc

(top)
Wow! Average weekly rates of legal music downloads fell by 0.44% in November—and BusinessWeek says it means Apple is "holding back the music biz" and "hurting song sales".

The bad guy? "The villain in the story is the iPod".

The source? The CEO of Napster.

Nice reporting, guys. Real nice. Wall-to-wall iPod buyers in malls and iTunes gift card sales "off the charts", but Apple is "hurting the music biz" and Chris Gorog is the next prophet, joining the ranks of visionary and level-headed CEOs like Creative's and Motorola's. Yuh-huh. But, hey! It's the tech press. And if there's any law of tech punditry, it's that if you make a prediction and you're wrong, nobody ever remembers—you were just presenting creative speculation and thinking outside the box. But if you make a prediction and by dumb luck you happen to be right, they'll hail you as a visionary. So just say everything about everything—there's no downside!

Except judging by the reader comments (there seemed to be more of them earlier in the day) and their overwhelming disdain for the non-reporting in this article, there may start to be a downside for publishing dumb articles like this after all, as journals efficiently trash their own reputations in front of viewers' disinterested eyes. For that matter, so many of the commenters (reacting to Gorog's peevish sniping that Napster music can't play on the iPod) seemed to believe that stores like Napster and Yahoo sell MP3s (rather than DRM'd WMAs) that the inevitable conclusion is that nobody's using rental-style stores. Otherwise they'd know stuff like that.

Ah well—they'll surely know soon, because Microsoft is about to launch its own music store, in partnership with MTV. And as everybody knows, MTV is the respected source when it comes to music, right? That'll undoubtedly be what rockets Microsoft's music-download business to preeminence even though its MSN-based one has been around and spectacularly failing to gain any market share for months now. Integration with WMP (presumably in an iTunes-like sort of interface) will be one benefit that other music stores haven't been able to boast (it's a genuine consumer value to have your music store, your music organizer, and your music player all made by the same company and operating as a seamless unit), but it still won't work with the iPod. And oh, is it going to rankle Microsoft that such a thing will stand in their way...


20:38 - The Japanese invent Tom & Jerry
http://iyasakado.com/steel/steel04.htm

(top)
Well, not quite. It's its own thing. But it is good.

Via Chris.


20:19 - Shut up, Brian

(top)
I heard from a friend the other day that a research group from MIT had conclusively proved that cow-tipping was impossible.

"Yeah," I thought, "but at least you get lean meat from it."


08:59 - FireWire at will

(top)
The more I think about it, and the more details are pointed out to me, the more I think the rumors that Apple will be dropping FireWire in its upcoming computers have got to be wrong.

First of all, as a friend reminds me, every DV camcorder on the market is FireWire-based—especially the ones made by Sony, who's an even more staunch backer of FireWire than Apple is. iMovie is still a major selling point for the consumer Macs (iBooks, iMacs, Mac minis), and they're the non-upgradeable ones—shipping them without the ability to support DV is just ludicrous. Hell, even Windows Movie Maker is pretty much useless if you don't have one of those grudgingly named "IEEE 1394" ports. And besides, as it turns out, not even the pro-grade video gear is FireWire 800 yet—nothing is, really, except for some external hard drives. The video industry is FireWire 400 and that's where it's going to stay, so Apple had better be planning to keep its hand in.

Oh, and as for USB 2.0 being faster than FireWire 400, it bears repeating that that's not true either. Yes, USB 2.0 is nominally 480 Mbps to FireWire's 400—but that's the burst rate. USB's sustained rate is much lower. FireWire is at 400 all the time. Just look at the numbers:

Read and write tests to the same IDE hard drive connected using FireWire and then Hi-Speed USB 2.0 show:

Read Test:

5000 files (300 MB total) FireWire was 33% faster than USB 2.0
160 files (650MB total) FireWire was 70% faster than USB 2.0

Write Test:

5000 files (300 MB total) FireWire was 16% faster than USB 2.0
160 files (650MB total) FireWire was 48% faster than USB 2.0

Which just makes the USB-only iPod all the more mysterious a decision. Is it really worth taking that kind of a speed hit in the interest of saving a few bucks? I'd been under the impression that the FireWire/USB2 connectivity in the iPod was a single-chip solution, so dropping FireWire won't have saved them any space in the enclosure; it can only have been about simplifying the cables, if Apple's not actually phasing out FireWire. And that seems like a strange compromise for Steve to make.

Just the same, though, they're selling bazillions of iPods this Christmas, and will probably reap an even higher profit margin than they did last year—not just because of the higher volume thanks to the ever-increasing mindshare and the Next Big Thing that persists in not showing up, but because of the fact that they've greatly streamlined the packaging this time around. iPod boxes aren't the cubes anymore, they're about half the thickness—which means they don't come with Docks anymore or a lot of the other doodads they used to put in the box. That undoubtedly saves them quite a bit of cash on every box—not to mention getting the iPod's price down into the sweet spot below their competitors. Simplifying the cable to USB-only probably saves them another few bucks, and multiplying that by however many million units they move this season probably means whoever came up with the idea earned himself a nice bonus. Just because Steve's in charge doesn't mean Apple doesn't have stockholders to answer to, too.

(Meanwhile, speaking of sweet spots, it sure looks like Apple has cracked all but the toughest nuts, huh?)

Killing FireWire now would be a pretty dumb move, it seems to me. So far the only real evidence we have for it is the iPod's USB switch, and maybe we can attribute that to the fact that the iPod's just not a Mac product anymore.

Monday, December 12, 2005
13:56 - Old operating systems never die, they just smell that way
http://www.applematters.com/index.php/section/comments/singularity/

(top)
Here's something I did not know (via Kris):

Though most people don’t know it, Microsoft has, not one, but two new operating systems that it is working on. The first, Vista, many people have heard of. Currently scheduled to ship just after the second coming of Christ, Vista has garnered most of the spotlight. However there is another OS lurking in the basement in Redmond and its name is Singularity. For more information go here: Singularity details. In creating Singularity Microsoft set out to answer this question:

"What would a software platform look like if it was designed from scratch with the primary goal of dependability?" (question found in the MS Singularity research report)

Why, it would look like . . . UNIX.

Creepy. But it could very well be the only way forward for Microsoft. Needing a successful blueprint for a desktop OS built on a UNIX-style foundation, they might just find themselves building a platform along the same model as OS X... and we'd be living 1985 all over again. Lawsuits and all.

So if we're watching Windows wedging itself gradually into a corner, growing faster and faster as more features get added, yet at the same time requiring more and more testing and longer and longer schedules, bloating up more and more to the point where it can no longer escape the clutches of QA... doesn't that make it the "singularity"?

For that matter, if this is where all of Microsoft's best-intentioned efforts have led them, what does that teach us about the dynamics of a software company producing commodity operating systems? Is this an inevitable result for anyone in Microsoft's position? Could they have avoided this situation? What lessons should "the next Microsoft" be absorbing right now?

Seems to me that a morbidly stagnant Windows would leave open an opportunity for Apple to make a play for the larger consumer desktop world—if it wanted it. As we've seen before, I don't think they really want it all that bad... just the people already on the cutting edge, the ones susceptible to the ego-petting of the "Switch" campaign. Apple probably wouldn't want to try to make OS X play in the commodity software/hardware market. ...But maybe they could write a crappier, buggier version of OS X and sell it for generic computers? They could call it "OS Y".

Naahh. That would be silly.

UPDATE: Dylan N. writes:

I stopped reading that white paper when it said that two processes can't access the same object at the same time--everything has to be explicitly passed. That's not an operating system built for "dependability" that's an operating system built for DRM from the ground up. Think Sony's rootkit was disruptive, in that it got between the OS and the CD-ROM device driver? Well, with Black Hole, only Microsoft's DRM'ed device driver can get hold of your media... and don't even bother trying to replace that driver through any sort of system extension; only "verifiably safe" code can run, and only in a separate process and separate memory space. If Microsoft's device driver doesn't "trust" your process, it won't pass the data across. And forget about streaming anything to disc... that's controlled by another Microsoft driver, and you can't bypass it!

Dependability, my ass. This is an OS built for Hollywood. And the day it's officially announced, look for MS to buy up several movie libraries and a studio or two with the cash they've got lying around. Now that media will only be offered in Microsoft's proprietary "PlaysOnlyWhenWESayIt'sOkay(tm)" format, over HDMI to secured sets, and unless you point your video camera at the screen, you're not copying it.

That does seem like a given in any brand-new operating system developed from the ground up by a large corporation these days... I doubt even Apple would be able to avoid building OS X that way if they were starting it now, in the post-iTunes era.


10:34 - What do they teach in these schools?

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I saw Narnia last night, and I can honestly say I'm blown away. Way, way better than I'd been expecting. But of course it's difficult to do any kind of cohesive post about it so soon after ingesting something like that; so even though I don't really feel any particular need to judge this movie as though it's in competition with Lord of the Rings (though Narnia's director in various interviews I can't find online seems to think he does), I guess I may as well take a page from some of my very earliest blog posts and just spew out a bunch of discontinuous and random observations.

First of all, let's get the inevitable "religion" stuff out of the way, because it's become an unspoken requirement that every reviewer has to spend at least a couple of paragraphs talking about it, either because he's a learned academic type analyzing the allegory, or because he's an avant-garde modern entertainment pundit who's never read the books and is shocked, shocked to see such a horrifying bit of ham-handed dogma in a kid's movie, of all things. So: Yes, it's the Jesus story. Congratulations for picking up on that. But it doesn't bug me. Really. I mean, we all know by now what C.S. Lewis' theological background was and why he wrote the Narnia books (he wanted to repackage the Christian mythos in a story that would appeal to his goddaughter). And sure, lots of Christian groups are urging a get-out-the-viewing campaign reminiscent of what happened with The Passion. But the way the allegory is handled in the movie is, to my great satisfaction, very subtle and tasteful. I'm sure many of my friends who will have been enjoying the movie up to the point where the Stone Table cracks will suddenly point and shriek Body Snatchers-style at the screen, allergic as they are to any form of Jesus except for this one. At one time in my life I would have been right up there with them, too. But you know—I really don't mind anymore. And besides, it's so well handled here—and so carefully true to how it was done in the book—that it works no matter on what level you choose to enjoy the movie, whether you're there with a church group or with a bunch of postmodern fantasy nerds. They let the story be what it be, and didn't play up or tone down the religious aspect for one audience or another, so potentially everyone who liked the book can enjoy the movie. I think that's a great accomplishment from a storytelling point of view.

So, yes, Narnia is a religious story, and a specific allegory, whether Lewis intended it as such or just let his personal devotions inevitably seep into the story. Lewis certainly claimed, though few believe him, that he didn't mean to write Narnia as religious propaganda—merely that he wanted to try to recreate what he considered to be a good story, only with animal characters. That's as may be. But the idea that good atheist children will see this movie and suddenly come over all aflame to go to church—I don't buy it. I didn't buy it with the book, and I don't buy it now. When I read it as a kid, I didn't even make the connection—I just thought it was a fun story, with some odd language toward the end about "Deep Magic" that I didn't really understand because it didn't seem to contribute to what I at the time thought was just an interesting adventure tale. Later, when I had the parallels pointed out to me, my first reaction—rather than revulsion and outrage at having been hoodwinked into reading indoctrinational tracts or anything like that, which was the other alternative—was to simply ignore the allegory, because I just liked the story. However I'd have reacted, it wouldn't have been to fall to my knees in testament, and anyone who worries about that happening with the Narnia movie is just a wee bit paranoid, to my way of thinking. (Besides, there are probably worse things that can happen to a kid. Just throwin' that out there.)

Still, it's hard to ignore newly added lines like "It is finished", except when it seems the director was clueless:

Question: What about the religious references in the film's climatic final battle and that line, 'it is finished.' That's taken straight from the bible.

Adamson: No not intentionally.

Question: It is Finished are words from the Cross.

Adamson: I actually honestly didn't know that. Seriously, I can't believe I didn't know that. The thing that I wanted and the thing I was really going for is for Aslan's sadness and having to get to this point -- there's a moment where Aslan and the White Witch stare at each other at the end as if they're both accepting their fate. He's going to have to kill her. She accepts that she's going to be killed. And to me I didn't want to send home the message that war is an ideal solution. I wanted Aslan to actually regret the fact that he's going to have to kill the White Witch. I wanted a line that he could turn to and really just say -- it's over. It's done.

I say we take him at his word, and afford Lewis the same courtesy.

So, apart from all that:
  • One reason why comparisons to Lord of the Rings will ring hollow is that this movie sticks to the book like glue. Whereas Peter Jackson made significant narrative changes to the story up to and including removing whole characters and rearranging major plot points and rewriting the dialogue so that hardly a single word remained verbatim to the book, Narnia seems to have preserved every last page for the screen, and the only significant changes the screenwriters made were to add bits here and there to flesh out the narrative and the character development (the WWII-context prologue, the escape through the beavers' tunnel, the Rupert Everett fox, Edmund meeting Tumnus in the Witch's prison and having to endure her "outing" his betrayal, etc). Almost nothing was deleted, and most of the dialogue and even the action (like Peter's fight with the Wolf) is straight off the page. Yet sticking to the text seems to have worked really well in this movie, whereas past attempts to do the same thing with Tolkien have always fallen flat. I think maybe this is just a result of Lewis' writing being more visual and less ponderously historical, as well as his universe-building being far more whimsical. Though some might lump them into the same general bucket, Narnia makes Lord of the Rings look like Saving Private Ryan.

  • The attention to detail and preservation of every little atmospheric observation in the book was astonishing, right down to the dead blue-bottle on the windowsill. (I guess part of this is the fact that there's so little text to work with in this movie—you can pretty much read the book in three hours, which is certainly not the case with Tolkien; so they could afford to leave everything in this time and even linger a bit over details.)

  • I'd been interested to see whether they would have used the British or the American version of the book as their original source material; the way to know this was the name of the chief wolf, which in the British version was Maugrim, but was changed inexplicably to "Fenris Ulf" for the American version. They used Maugrim in the movie. If they do the sequels, they might have to confront additional editorial changes between the versions.

  • Speaking of sequels—they seem to be fully on-board to do them, but I can't imagine how it'll work. Some of the books are so episodic and provincial that they hardly contribute to the overall storyline, and I can't see a story like The Silver Chair being marketed with anything like the same name-recognition or iconic vigor. (Aslan is barely even in that one, and the characters are all new.) I'd almost rather see them not do the sequels at all rather than risk them turning into low-budget direct-to-video releases. Besides, can you imagine them producing The Horse and His Boy today—or even The Last Battle? Forget the Christian significance, CAIR would be all up on Adamson's ass over the Calormenes.

  • I'm very impressed with the handling of the tone of the story from scene to scene. Tension is built up expertly and defused at just the right moments. Tone is what would make or break this movie; it's what would make the Stone Table scene either uplifting or overbearing, or Edmund's betrayal of the others either poignant or infuriatingly petty. But it's all done with just the right touch. The perfect illustration of this is the Santa Claus scene, which I'd been anticipating they'd cut out entirely, just like Tom Bombadil—who ever heard of trying to make a serious fantasy movie with Santa Claus in it? —And yet they made it work, largely by never mentioning his name, and making him look very different from the usual American pop-culture vision of him (more of a medieval Father Christmas figure). Reading that scene in the book was jarring enough, and I thought seeing it on the screen would make it all the more ludicrous; but I found myself taking in the scene without any cognitive dissonance at all. Kudos to the director on this one.

  • And kudos as well to the cinematographer! I don't know if it's just that New Zealand looks that way or what, but there seems to be something about it that lends itself to these extreme telephoto establishing shots from helicopters, which Narnia has in spades, especially during the battle scenes. (I can only guess at how they kept the shot so steady.) Pretty much any still-frame in the whole battle sequence could be made into a calendar shot. Gorgeous, gorgeous work. Peter Jackson used shots like this, only more sparingly and more spread out; but they're all over the place in this movie, and I couldn't get enough of them. I only worry that that kind of telephoto composition will become a cliché, just because it worked so well here that now everyone's going to use it.

  • Speaking of clichés, it's getting so it's hard to do an "And then the armies collided" scene in a new and unique way, isn't it? Lord of the Rings already had the sturm-and-drang-style cavalry charge full of yelling and hoofbeats and clanging iron; and it also did the artsy "no sound but someone singing sadly in the foreground while a salvo of arrows descends on the vanguard" style, too, both within the same movie. But Narnia tried its best to go its own way, with the swelling music fading away into silence just as the front lines met. Very effective. Unfortunately, someone also decided that that very moment was also the perfect time to do a reel switch, which kind of ruined the effect a bit. This will be something to see on DVD.

  • Great casting all around. I can't think of a character who didn't perfectly match my expectations—which may owe something to the fact that the character designs seem to have been modeled on Pauline Baynes' original illustrations, so that everyone—right down to the Witch's dwarf—looked how I expected them to. The Professor didn't get much face-time in the book, but he was expertly fleshed out on screen, and his last line before the coda is a perfect end to the episode. (I'm a little lukewarm on the stinger scene in the credits; it seemed a little unnecessary, or at least the trailing roar was.)

I wasn't sure whether to root for this movie or to hope it flopped. I certainly didn't go into it with any towering expectations. But in retrospect, I honestly can't think of anything I'd have preferred they'd done differently. I hate to sound like a shill for rampant CG animation taking over the domain of the now-evaporating 2D animation market, but it certainly seems as though it's made it possible for the first time for directors with real storytelling vision to bring to life classic fantasy stories that until now had been impossible to visualize anywhere except in the mind. And though I still would rather not so blatantly compare this movie to Jackson's, it seems that in both their cases they've made film adaptations that are going to be very, very hard to top thirty years from now when the inevitable remakes are proposed.

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© Brian Tiemann