Despite a Few Distractions, Narnia Wows
- Thursday, December 08, 2005
DVD Release Date: April 4, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: December 9, 2005
Rating: PG (battle sequences, frightening moments)
Run Time: 132 min.
Director: Andrew Adamson
Actors: Tilda Swinton, Jim Broadbent, James McAvoy, Liam Neeson, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Rupert Everett, Ray Winstone, Dawn French
After months and months of eager expectation, families across America will now finally get to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Based on the beloved children's book by Christian apologist and theologian C.S. Lewis, the making of the film has been one of this year's biggest news stories in Christian circles. Devotees and casual readers alike have been excitedly gobbling up any and all information available on the film's production. The foremost question on everyone's mind: will the movie properly portray the underlying Christian themes of the book?
Lewis fans will no doubt cringe at some of the film's minor variances from the original book, but for the most part, the highly anticipated movie is true to its source material. Pevensie siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy (portrayed by William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley respectively), are evacuated from London to be kept safe from the German bombings during World War II, and sent to live in an old mansion in the English countryside. In a spare room of this enormous house, the children discover a wardrobe that leads them to the magical world of Narnia. Once there, the children discover their arrival was predicted by an ancient prophesy that foretold their coming would end the reign of the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton). The witch, who has set herself up as Queen of Narnia, keeps the land in a state of perpetual winter, and turns those who defy her into stone statues.
In many media interviews in recent months, director Andrew Adamson and others involved with Narnia's production have stated their intention to remain true to Lewis' original story and themes. But, of course, because film is a much different medium than a novel, there are some additions. The movie opens with a more detailed look at the children living through London bombings, and the emotional trauma of being evacuated and separated from their mother. Although this back-story was a mere page of the book, the extra perspective gives the film some additional depth and makes the children's characters that much more realistic. Extended battle sequences and chase scenes later in the film certainly add to the story's tension and conflict. Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis' stepson and manager of the Lewis estate, was on hand throughout the process to see that the film didn't stray from Lewis' vision.
One of Narnia's great strengths is the completely believable actors cast as the four Pevensie children. According to Adamson, it took 18 months to find exactly the right kids to portray the movie's leads. Likewise, Swinton shines as the icy queen Jadis, who holds Narnia in both the literal and figurative grip of winter. At first kind and sweet to the troubled Edmund, the witch wins the allegiance of the wayward sibling turning him against his brother and sisters. He soon learns the true horrible nature of the "Queen" however when he fails to follow her instructions to the letter.
In a theme as enduring as literature itself, Edmund's treachery, and then repentance remain at the core of the story. His redemption by Aslan the Lion, the true ruler of Narnia and the narrative's "Christ-figure," is perhaps the most intense and effective part of the film. Even though these themes are toned down a bit from the book, they are clearly present. Unfortunately the choice of Liam Neeson to voice the Great Aslan was a bit problematic, and often distracting from the story. For all his great talent, Neeson didn't sound like Aslan to me. Although the movie includes the famous line that Aslan "isn't a tame lion," Neeson's voice did not portray any of the formidable wildness you would have expected to hear in the great lion-king.
To attempt to make a movie of one of the most cherished books of the last 100 years is not without its pitfalls. And there are certainly many minor annoyances along the way in "Narnia," the more intense fans of the book will notice. For me, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was not merely a beloved book of my youth, it was practically the first book I picked up and read that I didn't have to. It in many ways started me on the way to a lifelong love of reading and literature. Like many other deep fans of Lewis and the Chronicles, I had some hard and fast convictions on how this story should be portrayed.
It disappointed me that some of the conversations between the children and the mysterious professor who owned the house with the wardrobe, were greatly abbreviated. I can understand that some of this type of material has to make way for the quicker pace of a movie, yet it is in these moments of the book where the great mind of C.S. Lewis shines through. Adding to this concern is Jim Broadbent's rather goofy portrayal of the professor. Those who see this character in the book as a bit of a Lewis cameo will be frustrated.
Technically the movie suffers a bit from some editing problems early on. After the children arrive at the mansion, but before they all discover Narnia, the film drags a bit. Later in the film it felt like key elements went by a little too fast. The visuals and computer generated characters however are stunning. It is one thing to create computer animated mythical beasts for which the viewer has no true frame of reference (and there are plenty of them in this movie), it is quite another to make realistic looking animals. Yet the talking beavers and wolves and even the great lion himself, were completely lifelike. The climactic final battle was convincing even though 99 percent of the participants were CG characters. It lacked the problematic "video game" feeling that so many CG-heavy movies have.
All in all, this film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be considered a success, and it should be. Although it doesn't meet the standard of an "epic" film, it is certainly enjoyable to watch and largely true to original story. Hats off to the film's producers at Walden Media who have shown a movie with Christian themes can reach a high standard of technical and narrative excellence.
- Language/Profanity: There is a good deal of bickering among the children, much more than in the book.
- Drugs/Alcohol: None
- Sex/Nudity: None
- Violence: One restrained character is hit violently in the head. Children in peril throughout most of the movie: Edmund is chased down and threatened by a dwarf with a knife; the children are chased by wolves; two of the children are brutally injured in the battle sequence and although battle violence is somewhat intense for small children, it is completely bloodless. "Stone Table" sequence is particularly intense, with ritualistic elements that will disturb some.
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