PG for battle sequences
and frightening moments
December 9, 2005
Fiction/Fantasy, and Adaptation
Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy,
James Cosmo, Jim Broadbent, Elizabeth Hawthorne
The Chronicles of
Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by.
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The Chronicles of Narnia: The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
By Nathaniel Bell
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the long-awaited adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ beloved children’s fantasy, the first installment in his series of seven. Set in a bomb-ravaged England during World War II, the film opens with a harrowing evocation of the London Blitz before relocating to a lonely country manor, where four children take refuge from the looming threat of Nazism. While playing a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy (the delightfully expressive Georgie Henley), the youngest of the four, discovers a portal to another world via an enormous wooden wardrobe. She and her siblings (played by William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, and Skandar Keynes) eventually discover that the inhabitants of this magical kingdom are under the spell of the White Witch (an icy, scene-stealing performance by Tilda Swinton), whose powers have kept Narnia in a state of perpetual winter. With the help of some friendly beavers (Ray Winstone and Dawn French provide the voices), the children seek the wise counsel of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), a majestic lion who, according to an ancient prophesy, will lift the spell forever.
Published at annual intervals throughout the 1950s, Lewis' Chronicles are marvels of brevity and imagination, often packing more into a brisk 180 pages than most fantasy authors manage in a thousand. If comparisons must be made to J.R.R. Tolkien (a friend of Lewis and a fellow Oxford don) and his Lord of the Rings trilogy, it would be fair to say that Narnia emerges as the superior piece of storytelling. A scholarly linguist and a compulsive researcher, Tolkien was perhaps too preoccupied with delineating the history of his created order to fuss over things like narrative thrust.
The irony is that Tolkien proves more durable as cinema while Lewis’ work, for all its richness, somehow loses some of its savor from the journey from page to screen. Perhaps we have been glutted with too many Harry Potters and Lemony Snickets to fully appreciate the sight of dwarfs, giants, and centaurs charging into combat, but the climactic battle between good and evil lacks the requisite gravity. (Andrew Adamson’s direction is competent but detached all the way through.) The film’s most audacious sequence, however, is a startlingly graphic set piece that immediately recalls last year’s The Passion of the Christ. At this juncture, the Christian allegory at the center of the movie is the least veiled, and, as with The Passion, will almost certainly stir contradictory feelings of discomfort and appreciation. Perhaps any metaphor of sacrificial atonement should do no less. Even so, it stands out amid the temperate, PG-rated gentility of the rest of the piece.
There is also the matter of the Disney aesthetic to contend with. For the most part, the notably secular studio has bravely quashed the urge to meddle with Lewis’ wondrously vivid—and inherently Christian—vision. On the other hand, they have saddled the movie with an overbearing soundtrack (which introduces an unwelcome air of modernity) and a collection of prosaic talking animal performances.
Nevertheless, the myriad beasties (inspired by Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, among others) that populate Narnia reveal a chivalrous attention to detail. (WETA Workshop, the same creative team behind the Rings trilogy, conjured up the armor, weapons, and creature design.). There is also much to enjoy in the physical handsomeness of the production (budgeted somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million), the vibrancy of the characterizations (especially by James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus the faun and Keynes as the troubled Edmund, lured by promises of cocoa and Turkish Delight), and the thematic implications of the story (which are likely to be cherished by Christians and glossed over by virtually everyone else).
Though it lacks the cinematic brio of Peter Jackson’s Rings movies, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a fitting introduction to the world of Narnia, and kids will probably adore it. Even in his grownup state (he was 52 when the first book was published), Lewis showed a remarkable aptitude for how children process signs and meaning. The incarnation of Aslan is perhaps the most enduring example of his genius. At once fearful and intimidating, but also gentle, loving, and above all, good, Aslan immediately inspires feelings of affection while maintaining the essential reverence and mystery associated with his character. In this way, Lewis was able to modify the figure of Jesus for younger audiences while still upholding all of Christ’s attributes. The first time we lay eyes on Aslan, there is a certain rush of feeling that accompanies the moment. Like all great fantasies, Narnia is firmly rooted in something very certain…and very real.
Read more about The Chronicles of Narina in our special
Watch CBN.com's Narnia Roundtable:
Four -- The books vs. the movie
Three -- The writings of Lewis and Tolkien
Two -- The fantasy genre and message behind Narnia
One -- C. S. Lewis and his impact
Nathaniel Bell is a film critic in Southern California. Review
used by permission.
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