THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (2005): My Review

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Written on 3:58 PM by Jack B.


When I was a little child in school, our class had a reading competition with gold stars given to those students who read the most books. I wanted to do really well in this thing so I asked my mother to get me some books to read. The next day she came back with seven books from the library - C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series. I zoomed through the books so quickly that within a month I had finished all seven and was disappointed there was to be no more. I had no idea who this C.S. Lewis guy was (other than a children's book writer), and any Christian allegory or symbolism went way over my head. I had no idea it even existed until years later. That was my introduction to world of Narnia though - and I never forgot it.

So I, like many others, was interested in what Walden Media/Disney would do with a movie adaptation of the books. Would they water down the themes? Would they change the story? Would Narnia look like how many millions of readers had imagined it? After watching the film I can safely call the film version of "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" is a success. It achieves what it sets out to do - bring Lewis' vision to the screen intact. There can be some nitpicks; perhaps the child actors don't look all that comfortable and perhaps sometimes the CGI effects seem just a bit off. But those kind of complaints are most likely derived from comparing Narnia to the movie version of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series of films. But those comparisons don't really fly. Yes, Narnia is filmed in New Zealand and uses special effects provided by WETA - just like Peter Jackson's LOTR movies. And yes, Narnia focuses on British children like Harry Potter and yes all three are grounded in fantast - but that’s pretty much it. The Lord of the Rings is an epic mythical world set in a very different Earth than our own. Harry Potter is about modern day wizards and warlocks who have their own culture and structure right next to the normal "Muggle" world. Both of those stories get darker, more complex and (in Harry Potter’s case) longer and more drawn out as they go along. The Chronicles of Narnia, by contrast, while dealing with universal themes of good vs. evil, the books are short (my paperback copy of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is less than 190 pages) fairy tales meant distinctively for children’s eyes. It neither pretends to be set in a mythic world or in our own modern one but in a magical world separate from our own into which the pure of heart (like Lucy Pevensie) can sometimes stumble. In that sense, it a British Oz.. But judge it by the other two series and it may appear lacking. Lewis was content to leave a lot to his reader’s imagination and just tell a story without appendixes (like LOTR) or scenes of intermittent angst (like Harry Potter).

It is perhaps unfortunate then that Andrew Adamson, director of the two Shrek movies and making his live action debut, decided to make his film resemble that of LOTR as much as possible from the majestic landscapes to the epic battle sequence. Trying to duplicate a film that is so very different from the story you are trying to tell is not a recipe for success. Despite that Adamson does succeed though by letting the story speak for itself and even adding action where there is none. Lewis, like Tolkien, was a bit retieicent in describing battle scenes and the like so Adamson’s focus on the preparations for the big battle vs. the White Witch help flesh out the film, as does adding the added threat of the White Witches’s wolves (perhaps the scariest creatures in the movie) on the heels of the Badgers and Peter, Susan and Lucy at every moment. This creates added tension in a sequence in the book where there is none. Also Adamson pulls off the almost impossible by making the appearance of Father Christmas/Santa Claus halfway through the film seem not that ridiculous as one might have thought.

For me there were three performances in the film that stand out. One of course is Tilda Swinton as Jadis, The White Witch. Like all good villain must, Swinton dominates every scene she is in, presenting a White Witch that is both compelling and frightening. One that is evil enough that she presents a viable enemy to Aslan, the Lion-King of Narnia. Another actress who has rightly been getting raves for her performance is Georgie Henley as little Lucy Pevensie, the youngest of the children and the first to discover Narnia. Henley’s inexperience and age help her in that it makes Lucy seem like what she should be (and so few child characters in films actually are) and that’s unaffected, innocent and trusting. Her first step into to Narnia and her meeting with the faun, Mr. Tumnus, is one of the high points of the film and Henley pulls it off effortessly with just the right touch of awe and acceptance that only innocent children or those who are childs at heart can have. James McCavoy’s Mr. Tumnus was a revelation to me because the only thing I had seen him in previous to this was as the teenage Leto Atreides, future God-Emperor of Dune, in Sci-Fi Channel’s "Children of Dune" mini-series just a few years ago. Here, in an entirely different kind of role, he creates a faun who is both lovable and sympathetic - even when he is drugging Lucy with the intention of kidnapping her for the White Witch! The relationship between Tumnus and Lucy also is a rare chance in modern film to see real chemistry between a grown male Actor and a child actress without a hint of sexual suggestion or immuemdo. The other child actors playing Peter, Susan and Edmund also worked well in my opinion - some reviewers, including my own mother, thought they were wooden but for me it was a relief to see Teenagers who actually looked like they could be the child next door (although Peter did somewhat resemble Prince William) instead of too good looking to be believable and who acted like squabbling kids instead of the oddly adult Dakota Fannings of the World. The CGI Beavers were also an extra plus added much needed comic relief to many scenes which some children might find frightening.

Of course the movie will not work if Aslan is not perfect and here he is. He not only looks like a real lion but a majestic one and also one who doesn’t look fake when he talks (always a worry when dealing with animated animals). If Liam Neeson’s voice isn’t exactly what one imagines when reading the book, that is soon forgotten. Aslan is how he should be...and anyone who doesn’t feel horror and sadness at the scene of Aslan’s sacrifice at the Round Table hasn’t a heart. As far as the Christian Themes that have so many Christian groups hopeful and so many secular reviewers and media types in a hissy fit at the mere thought of (positive) potrayals of Christianity in big-budget studio movies (seperation of Church and State is one thing, but when did Hollywood become the state?), well the Christian themes and the Aslan/Jesus similarity is there and its obvious. More obvious than perhaps in the book, so anyone going into the theater knowing about it will see it instantly. However it is not so overwhelming that people who have never heard of Narnia will neccessarily make a Christian connection to the story. Millions of young readers (like myself at one time) haven’t, what makes the Christo-phobes think a 2-hour movie will?

Yes there are flaws in the film. Edmund’s continued betrayal after seeing the White Witch for what she is doesn’t exactly work (in the book he catches on quicker), nor do we know why Aslan gives the children the titles they do if we do not have to the book to tell us how they ruled - calling Edmund, "Edmund the Just" or Susan, "Susan the Gentle" makes no sense based on how we’ve seen them at this point. But those are minor nitpicks. What do you expect in a two hour film? Thank goodness at least the ending of the book is kept intact and don’t leave your seat after the credits start rolling as there is an extra scene that sets up the next Narnia film.

In the end we have a major studio film that is made from a classic children’s book, can be enjoyed by the entire family, in which there are no romantic entanglements or blood (even in the battle scenes) and which only the bad guys die for good. It also celebrates both courage and sibling love - with a dash or two of Christian moralism for the observant. How rare is that? With all the talk of how bad Hollywood is these days, The Chronicles of Narnia is the kind of film concerned film-goers should be championing with both their dollars and their voices. Want to send a message? See the film.

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