Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Merry Christmas from the Fibbs'

While our annual Christmas letter awaits you below these introductory paragraphs, I'm afraid, despite the prevailing holiday spirit, it was not the only blog I intended to submit this week.

What I want to write about is the breaking story that the President authorized illegal spying on our own citizens. What I want to write about is the just-passed ban on torture, as if such a thing doesn't call our national integrity into question just because it was ever brought to a vote in the first place. What I want to write about is the monstrous Patriot Act and the brave statesmen who are fighting its reimplementation.

What I want to write about is the culture war's slosh over into Christmas: the Christmas vs. Happy Holiday debate (never mind the fact that the word holiday is derived from "holy day") or the fact that so many churches are canceling their services this Sunday so all their uninterested parishioners can stay home.

That is what I want to write about. However, as this is the season of peace, I thought I'd give my vitriolic blogs some rest and you the peace. I've decided to be perfectly uncontroversial for the rest of the entire year! Isn't that magnanimous of me...

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Happy Hanukkah!

We continue to fall ever deeper in love with one another and are delighted that there is still so much about each other yet to be discovered. For our first anniversary, we traveled to Ouray and Telluride, Colorado, to attend the Telluride Film Festival. We reveled in five days of film going and celebrity watching while tucked into a cabin in the stunning and jagged Sangre de Christo mountain range at the cusp of autumn. The first year of marriage was delightful and challenging as we grow together and learn more about one another.

Our lives together have encompassed one of our shared loves – travel – and taken us to Crested Butte, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Leadville, Aspen, and numerous locales in Colorado; Portland and the coastline of Oregon; northeast Iowa; and Cape Canaveral, Jacksonville, and Pensacola, Florida. Yet we have become happily settled into our little downtown apartment. Since our offices are across the street from one another, we often carpool to work and come home for lunch together. We’ve also started walking across the street to attend Grace & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. While we still consider ourselves part of the family at Radiant Church Assembly of God, we are enjoying our split spiritual personality.

STEPHANIE: One of the true highlights of my year has been the opportunity to visit my dear grandmother in Iowa three times. I was able to combine one of those trips with welcoming my twin sister home from three years in Panama.

I am still at work to promote continued space exploration. One perk of the job is that it keeps me traveling...

In July, I was lucky enough to attend the return to flight of the space shuttle and witness the launch of Discovery and mission STS-114. Even “Wow!” cannot describe what an amazing experience it was. I worked at the press site for both the first attempt on July 13 and the actual launch July 26. Standing approximately foud miles away, I was overwhelmed by the sound waves that rolled through my body and by how quickly the shuttle disappeared into space. We all ran back inside to watch the replays on TV!

Another wonderful trip took me to Seattle in August. I’ve been told I was there during the few days of sunshine, which is probably why I found the city so stunning and beautiful. I loved Seattle, Puget Sound, and Pike Place market.

My extracurricular activities included taking a German class last spring, joining a book club, playing indoor soccer weekly with a fabulous group of women and outdoor in the spring and fall, and, of course, snowboarding. And we love to entertain in our home, having friends over for dinner regularly.

After donating 11 inches of my hair to Locks of Love in May, I am (mostly) enjoying my newly short hair.

BRANDON: This year I got a little older, plunging deeper and deeper into that nebulous world wistfully referred to in hushed tones as thirtysomething. I also got a little heavier—why didn’t anyone ever warn me that getting married would be such a threat to my waistline?

Like last year, this year was one of many new beginnings, chiefly professionally. In January, I began teaching a film class at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. It was an eye-opening and fascinating experience to learn about the jubilation and complexities of college from the other side of the lectern. Part of me suspects I chose the subject of the Hollywood epic just so I’d have an excuse to talk about my favorite film, Lawrence of Arabia.

Despite my scholastic knowledge of film, I also wanted to compliment it with some technical knowhow. So about the same time as the university job, I began as a producer at a video-production company where I have been learning videography and editing and even a little acting.

I continue to stay active in other areas of film. I found a perfect second job as a critic at the Web site, And this will be my third year as a judge, chair, and moderator of UCCS’s Annual Student Short Film Festival, the only such festival among Colorado’s universities.

If that weren’t enough, as I write this, I am currently suffocating beneath graduate film school applications. I very well may be writing this letter from a different address next year. Keep your fingers crossed with me!

It was also a big year for my family. In May, my mother was married to a man whom she has known since childhood but with whom she only became reacquainted after moving back to Oregon. It is wonderful to see her so happy with such a fantastic husband. My sister, who finished her associates degree in criminal justice may soon be moving to Oregon herself to apply for a position with Portland’s finest. This summer my brother was discharged from the Marine Corps after nearly ten years and will be remaining in Okinawa with his wife. We had a wonderful time together as he stayed with us for nine days in August while completing his outprocessing. In the past year, I’ve also had the blessing of becoming reacquainted with my father; we have so much catching up to do.

Other noteworthy events of the year include attending an extraordinary U2 concert; and a trip to Florida to take a special VIP tour of the Kennedy Space Center and see the Space Shuttle Discovery and catch up with family members and several dear Navy friends I hadn’t seen since I left Sicily.

May you find God’s deep peace and scandalous grace this blessed advent, friends. You are in our hearts and prayers this and every season.

“O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen” – The Book of Common Prayer

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy 15th Birthday IMDb!

Every movie, every TV show, every actor and actress and more details than you could ever hope to take in during your lifetime. What used to be the boon of cinephiles like me is now the go-to source for any film question imaginable. Happy Birthday Internet Movie Database!

Monday, December 19, 2005

John Spencer dead at 58

Veteran actor John Spencer, who played former Chief of Staff Leo McGarry on The West Wing has died of a heart attack. He will be greatly missed. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction as a debilitating heart-attack almost killed his character just last season. His death will no doubt send the show's writers scrambling to resolve what had become an ever-increasingly pivital role on the superb series.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

All Beast, No Beauty

If this review seems muddled, incoherent or otherwise grammatically challenged, I beg your forgiveness. I just finished the film. It is 2 a.m. You get the point.

I have two copies of each of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films on my shelf. One is the original theatrical release and the other is the extended Director’s cut. The theatrical versions are already long, each clocking in around three hours. The director’s cut, which inserts deleted scenes, runs nearly four. With the exception of two or three scenes, I felt the deleted segments deserved their place on the cutting room floor. While interesting or entertaining, they all, in one way or another, either slowed the film down or played self-indulgently.

Don’t look for an extended cut of Peter Jackson’s King Kong—the theatrical version is the extended cut. Overlong by half, hedonistically animated and decadently self-indulgent King Kong is beastly to be sure, but there is little beauty here.

This is not to say it’s a bad film. It’s not. But as no one bothered to tap George Lucas on the shoulder at any point in the past decade and say, “Um sir,…these new Star Wars movies you’ve written…well, they’re complete rubbish” so no one was brave enough to confront the new master of smoke and mirrors and insist on the inclusion of the one job that seemed hopelessly lacking here—an editor.

The usual and oft-deserved complaint you hear from many film purists is that the advent of CGI has allowed filmmakers to run afoul of good, old-fashioned storytelling. They complain that the story oftentimes takes the backseat to the effects. On King Kong, they have found the definitive case study in a film that uses its computerized brushes not for the sake of dramatic velocity, but simply because they can. That sort of wild abandon—the impulse to create magic and wonder for its own sake is a perfectly viable and I would argue, necessary element of cinemagic. However, when special effects are presented narcissistically as they are here, when they serve no other purpose than to showcase the bravado of the artist, when they exist solely so that someone can thump their chest as the great ape, and cry, “Look what I can do” they cease being magic and become the very worst kind of cheap parlor tricks.

The effects are naturally fantastic—awe-inspiring even, but Jackson and his incredibly talented team at Weta Workshops do not simply cross the line, they gleefully throw themselves over it. These are special effects as white noise and they will leave your eyes and ears ringing at the expense of doing the same to your heart. This is Jackson at his most self-gratifying. And he simply doesn’t know when to stop.

After seeing Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring, my mother complained that the entire film was simply one climax followed by another climax followed by another climax. Uneven, repetitive and completely forced (to her), she lost any sense of care and concern for the characters, any sense of immersion within the fantasy world. She should stay as far away from King Kong as possible. Here, our characters literally turn around from one crisis to another without a chance to catch their breath, much less utter a line of intelligent dialogue. Dinosaurs stampede, lizards give chase, Kong and T-Rexes engage in a sort of primal WWF Smackdown, giant bugs menace and massive bats attack. And somehow, in the midst of all this, one very large ape and one very beautiful woman are supposed to meet and fall in…well, something.

This is the part that the film does well. Trounces the original and its first clumsy remake, actually. Here we truly believe that Kong could love this tiny human woman. And more importantly, we can believe that Ann Darrow could care for Kong. The movie allows time for the two to create a relationship, such as it is. Kong is digitally rendered with breathtaking realism. Not satisfied with wide shots, Jackson insists on dozens of close-ups on his beast’s face. Not only do these intimate shots come off with absolute believability, but they reveal that the eyes are the windows to this beast’s soul and they say more than any bit of scripted dialogue ever could. (Andy Sirkis, whose bodily movements were digitally captured and became the template for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, here provides the same stunning achievement in bringing the 25 foot tall primate to life with utter realism. Once again, his is the best actor nod that will sadly, never be.)

If Sirkis is fantastic as Kong and Naomi Watts is stunning as Ann, Jack Black is terribly miscast as the egotistical and self-absorbed director, Carl Denham. Going for a caricature, Jackson gets instead, a comedian. And what did he expect? Oh, Black’s a fine enough actor and no one is denying his uproarious humor, but here, in this film, in this role? It doesn’t shatter the believability, it stifles it before it even gets a chance to take hold.

If it seems I hated the film, I didn’t. It saddens me. Like so much in art, it is not the terrible film that bothers me half as much as the great one that squandered its potential. King Kong may be a great blockbuster, but it is not a great film. It has moments of sublime wonder and majesty. And oddly enough, in a film with this much action, they are mostly found in moments of tranquility and charm as when Kong and Ann watch a sunset together or discover the joys of sliding on a frozen lake. There is beauty in this movie. And grace. And, of course, raw, unmitigated power. Kong charges through the streets of New York City like he does through the jungles of Skull Island—smashing everything in his formidable path, tossing both airplanes and dinosaurs like toys. This is not a reimagining, but a loving re-creation. On steroids. Sure, you’ve seen it before and you know what happens, but you haven’t seen it like this.

Jackson has no peer when it comes to this sort of super-sized, otherworldly, enchanting fantasy. But this film does something none of the Rings film did—it exhausts. While King Kong’s last moments are genuinely moving, there is, nonetheless, a palpable sense of relief that the excessive, bloated, shallow, and often illogical film is finally drawing to a close.

And that is a Kong sized tragedy.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Mythology of Truth

“Truth,” C.S. Lewis said, “is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is.”

For Lewis, the late Christian apologist, author and lecturer in medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford and Cambridge, that truth was best conveyed through mythology. Myth, as Lewis saw it, far from being a lie, was the best way of conveying truths which would otherwise be inexpressible. They were the imaginative expressions of the deepest meanings of life – meanings that are illusive when one attempts to express them in concrete, rational, dissectible terms. Myths, which are generally concerned with strikingly similar themes the world over – creation, divinity, and the significance of life and death – affect their recipients in much the same way: awe, enchantment, and inspiration. It was for this reason, Lewis felt that the myths and stories that capture the essence of the human condition are, therefore, the best vehicles upon which to relate meaning.

“It must not be supposed that I am in any sense putting forward the imagination as the organ of truth,” Lewis said. “We are not talking of truth, but of meaning: meaning which is the antecedent condition of both of truth and falsehood, whose antithesis is not error but nonsense. I am a rationalist. For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”

We live in a world shaped by stories. As children slipping into the embrace of slumber, our parents introduced us to realms of enchanted fairy tales. Later, tall tales and ghost stories entertained faces splashed by campfire light. In school, we were charmed by the stories of Aesop or the exploits and machinations of the Greek gods. Even as adults we look to a variety of story forms to entertain, instruct, and sometimes even to transform us.

As spiritual people, we want something even more from our stories. As our origins are from God, inevitably the myths woven by us, though often erroneous, will reflect a splintered fragment of His true light.

Lewis and his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and the man to whom Lewis credited his conversion to Christianity, believed that the story of Christ was the True Myth, a myth that operated in the same way as the others, but, in fact, really happened, existing in the realms of both fact and truth. While myths could be seen as God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, Christianity's sole difference was that the poet who invented it was God Himself, and the images He used were real men and actual history.

Truly, Lewis and Tolkien were the vanguards of the Postmodern movement.

Perhaps, it is these yearnings that help to explain the heightened expectation surrounding the release of the new film version of the beloved classic fantasy tale by C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which has sold more than 85 million copies in 29 languages.

Wednesday night, my wife and I had the opportunity to see a sneak preview of the film.

It has never been a secret that C. S. Lewis composed his great collection of the seven children's fantasy novels the make up The Chronicles of Narnia with the New Testament in mind. It is difficult for people to argue with the author’s own words. “The whole Narnian story is about Christ. Supposing there really was a world like Narnia . . .and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened? The stories are my answer.”

Evacuated from a London besieged by German bombs, four siblings are trundled off to an isolated country manor where they stumble across a wardrobe which mysteriously opens into the icy, magical land of Narnia. The snow and ice, while beautiful, mirror the cold heart of the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton, sumptuously terrifying in the role), who reigns over an endless Narnian winter.

There is a prophecy, that four human children will defeat the witch and return Narnia to spring. The children’s roles are beautifully portrayed, especially that of wide-eyed and open-hearted Georgie Henley as Lucy. The enslaved populace is naturally thrilled by the children’s arrival, while they themselves are decidedly less enthusiastic. After all, they left London to avoid a war, not participate in one. (The comparisons of the fantasy battle and those of a very real Nazi bombardment serve as a reminder that the war between good and evil is not merely a metaphorical conceit).

Things are complicated immeasurably, when one of the brothers willfully betrays his siblings and the army of good to the queen. Fortunately, they have a formidable ally in Narnia's savior, Aslan the lion, voiced by Liam Neeson in velvet and rendered with astonishing realism. Aslan is the Christ-figure--brave, wise, forgiving and willing to sacrifice himself for the boy’s considerable sins.

While much has been made of this story's Christian roots, Director Andrew Adamson's (Shrek I and II) approach ensures that they are only truly evident to those who want to believe. Which is the way it should be. While many can rightly see theological underpinnings to the movie, what most viewers will see instead is a straightforward exploration of good and evil, friendship and family, courage and cowardice.

And if these aren’t the epic themes of every great myth, what is?

To the millions of readers and now viewers, Lewis's religious intentions have either been obvious, invisible or beside the point. Which is part of the appeal of allegory, as Lewis well knew. It is a symbolic mode, not a literal one and it constructs distinct levels of meaning along which readers travel freely. As an allegory, Narnia is both a reflection of the real world and a reality unto itself. One can read the books and see the movie as a Christian allegory or as an ornate story of wonder—or both.

It was once thought that there was no market for The Chronicles of Narnia. Who in America would want to watch a movie about proper British children battling evil? Then came Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings and all such reservations were quickly cast aside. With seven novels in all, welcome to Disney’s newest cash cow. But don’t think this is Lord of the Rings lite. These are distinctly different stories that deserve to be judged on their own merits despite the inevitable comparisons.

The Chroicles of Narnia could not have been made until now. Lewis himself feared of his books ever being made into films because of the inevitable lack of believability. But modern technology has rendered his fears moot. Narnia is a world populated by every sort of mythical creature imaginable: centars, giants, dwarves, fawns, unicorns, mermaids, cyclops, minotaurs, griffins, phoenixes, not to mention a host of talking animals. Thankfully, these creatures are blessedly un-Disneyfied and rendered with hyper-realism. Adamson and his team of magic makers, many who turned from The Lord of the Rings films to Narnia practically overnight, use computer technology to capture both the mythic power of Lewis's tale and, even better, its charm. While there are fantastical creatures and massive battles, they are never allowed to overshadow the overtly human elements of the story.

This is a comfortingly familiar and excitingly original tale which works surprisingly well both as a boisterous fantasia and as the Christian fable that Lewis intended. But generations of readers have found The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe to be a gripping adventure that reaches well beyond its religious underpinnings, and this robust film version respects both aspects and finds the same winning balance of excitement and meaning.

While there were moments when the digital seams show through and the magicians are more visible than the magic, this is a problem, I think, more with me than with the children for whom Narnia will utterly transport. We grown-ups are heavy, sluggish oafs when it comes to recognizing wonder much less embracing it. Children and the children at heart demand no such perfection. For them, the strange, disturbing and delightful experience of being whisked away to a fantastical land is quite enough. This is an utterly enchanted fantasy, one made as though children had their way with every element of its production. It is nothing short of magical.

And for those with the eyes to see its deeper meanings, it is Truth itself.
Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus