Eric D. Snider

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Movie Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by Eric D. Snider

Grade: C

Released: December 9, 2005

 

Directed by:

Cast:

It's ironic that "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" could brim with religious allegory, yet turn out to be just as soulless as its secular blockbuster counterparts. It's gorgeous and amazing, sure -- every penny of the $150 million they spent on this thing is there on the screen -- but money can't buy emotional connection, and that's what it needs so badly.

Based on the first volume in C.S. Lewis' acclaimed series of fantasy novels, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is about four children who find that the wardrobe in the countryside mansion they're staying in is a portal to another land. The land is Narnia, and it has recently been in a state of everlasting winter -- always winter but never Christmas, we're told -- due to the evil influence of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), an ice-cold despot who has claimed unrighteous dominion over the land and turns to stone all who oppose her.

The first child to discover Narnia is little Lucy (Georgie Henley), who befriends a polite faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy). Lucy's brother, a disobedient scowler named Edmund (Skandar Keynes), wanders into Narnia next and is enchanted by the White Witch, who promises him all manner of treats if he will do her the simple favor of bringing himself and his three siblings to her castle when next he returns. (So she can kill them. But she doesn't tell him that.)

Their older siblings, Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell), function as the family's parents while their father is fighting World War II and their mother is back in London enduring the Blitz. They are skeptical of a foreign land being located in the back of a closet, but kindly old Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent), whose mansion it is, helps them see the wisdom in believing what Lucy has to tell them.

At any rate, all four are soon in Narnia, where a friendly pair of beavers (voices of Ray Winstone and Dawn French) fill them (and us) in on Narnia's history. There's all that business with the White Witch, sure, but there's also the matter of Aslan, a righteous lion who is expected to arrive soon, dethrone the witch, and restore order and balance to Narnia.

Upon the first mention of Aslan's name, the camera pans across the faces of the four children, all with beatific looks, like neophytes hearing about the miracles of Jesus for the first time. Why, just the NAME "Aslan" sounds magnificent to them.

Except for Edmund, that is. While Peter the good son is the very model of angelic Aryan wholesomeness -- fair skin, light hair, blue eyes -- Edmund the bad son has darker features and freckles. He is unimpressed when he hears of Aslan. His loyalties lie with the White Witch.

It eventually befalls all four to aid the creatures of Narnia -- which include regular animals and mythical beasts like centaurs -- in their fight against the White Witch's armies. Aslan does arrive, of course, with the calming voice of Liam Neeson, and a series of events ensues that will seem familiar in its basic outline to all who have studied the New Testament.

The film was directed by Andrew Adamson, who has made an impressive jump from the computer-animated "Shrek" films to "Narnia," which is a mix of live action and realistic-looking computer animation. (You can barely tell that Aslan is not, in fact, a real talking lion.) The screenplay adaptation is credited to Adamson and three others, and it is mostly faithful to Lewis' book. (One interesting mistake: Edmund tells the White Witch that the beavers "said something about the Stone Table," which is true -- except that the beavers mentioned it after Edmund had already left. In the book, he was still present for that conversation.)

But the film fails to bring with it any emotional significance. Some of the action is exciting, but I never had the sensation of actually CARING about the people involved. Part of the problem is that the main characters are played by children, who are notoriously hard to get heartfelt performances from. It doesn't help that Peter is painted as blandly saintly, Edmund is generically misguided, and Susan barely registers at all. Only Lucy elicits a response, and even that is just the "aww, how adorable!" you feel for ANY cute kid in a movie.

The film is over two hours, and most of that is devoted to plot. There are no scenes where the characters stop and reflect on their plight or their mission so far, and that's a shame. In the "Lord of the Rings" films (to cite something similar to "Narnia"), those were the segments that helped bond the characters to each other, and us to them, thus giving the whole affair some weight and depth.

Rather awkwardly, the movie lurches to its finale, set on a battlefield where Peter and the White Witch clumsily swing swords that are obviously too heavy for them. (Realistic, I suppose, given her dainty frame and his inexperience with warfare, but kind of funny to watch.) Next thing you know, the kids are adults, and then they leave the wardrobe and they're kids again, and it all makes sense in the book, but in the movie, what the H?

Also what the H: Santa Claus shows up? And gives everybody weapons?!

It may be possible to create a film version of "Narnia" worthy of the book's reputation and belovedness. But this one isn't it. This comes off as an uninspired fantasy bonanza, no more compelling than your average episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

NOTE: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is indeed the first book in the "Chronicles of Narnia" series, in that it was written and published before the others. There are others in the series that take place before "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," but "Lion" still came first. So to the people who keep e-mailing me to tell me I am mistaken when I call "Lion" the first book in the series: Stop. I do make mistakes, but this isn't one of them.

Grade: C

Rated PG, battle scenes and some scary images

2 hrs., 20 min.

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This item has 10 comments

  1. John Doe says:

    My problem with the movie is that I didn't care about any of the kids (which is what Eric implies). I didn't care when Edmund was captured, nor was I relieved when he was free. When the big battle came around, I didn't feel like the kids had grown since the beginning of the story. All I saw was this scared, weak kid leading a battle and I couldn't see him taken seriously in that position then any more than if that was the first time I saw him. Character development is a good thing, so it's a shame I saw little of it in this movie. However, I'm in the minority on this it seems. I agree with Eric, it's worth a C and nothing more.

  2. Clumpy says:

    Like with the recent "The Phantom of the Opera", I have trouble arguing with friends that this movie is merely above average. I don't know anybody else who doesn't like it, so I'm forced to use Roger Ebert's "ineffable spine tingle" explanation, which works wonderfully for my conscience but does little to sate others demanding an explanation.

    I think some militant "the world is going down the tubes" people like this movie because it's a bland Christian allegory with minimal violence - exactly what they want. I'm sure some people like it on its own merits, but I can't help but think that Lewis was best when he stuck to nonfiction, at least when he wasn't trying to "prove" Christianity through fallacious arguments. Top-notch religious writer except for that. Geez - I'm rambling.

  3. Joe says:

    Lewis never tried to "prove" Christianity through any of his books, not even "Mere Christianity." And CERTAINLY not through fallacious arguments. He was an apologist. He never wrote a fallacy in his life. He showed that Christianity is reasonable, that faith and reason are not enemies, and his critics have never forgiven him for it.

  4. Kimberly T says:

    I actually really enjoyed this movie. It's still one of my favorites. But I read the books first, and maybe that made the difference.

  5. Joy says:

    I give this movie a 10 out of 10, an A+, or whatever other really good rating they have. I love these movies, and Will, Anna, Skander, and Georgie did really great. This girl`s looking forward to the Dawn Treader!!! :)

  6. Jonathan says:

    "Rather awkwardly, the movie lurches to its finale, set on a battlefield where Peter and the White Witch clumsily swing swords that are obviously too heavy for them."

    Well, Peter obviously isn't athletic, so of course he's going to have trouble with a sword. Anyway, I'd like to see you do better...

    "Also what the H: Santa Claus shows up? And gives everybody weapons?!"

    That was in the book too, if you read it......
    "Upon the first mention of Aslan's name, the camera pans across the faces of the four children, all with beatific looks, like neophytes hearing about the miracles of Jesus for the first time. Why, just the NAME "Aslan" sounds magnificent to them."
    That's what Lewis was trying to show, that at the very mention of Aslan/Jesus, people are glad. Duhhhh.....

    It was actually a decent movie.

  7. steward says:

    "Also what the H: Santa Claus shows up? And gives everybody weapons?!

    It may be possible to create a film version of "Narnia" worthy of the book's reputation and belovedness. But this one isn't it."

    I don't understand how you can judge the film by the book, since you obviously failed to read the book. Father Christmas (this IS a British book, you know) does indeed show up, and gives both weapons and means of summoning help and healing.

    And in response to a couple of other comments, while the author did not try to prove Christianity, he did not have to. His style of writing is simply to assume it -is-. 40 years ago, when I was 8 and first read the Chronicles, I immediately recognized the allegory: now, if Peter had been named Horatio, it might not have been so obvious, but "Peter"? There are other clear allegories in the series, one of the clearest ones being Lucy's remark about the stable in The Last Battle.

    It will be interesting to see how the Dawn Treader movie compares with the first two, with Walden media having been ditched by Disney as a partner, and picked up by Fox.

    I would suggest, however, that critics comparing any movies to original books be thoroughly familiar with the book before making any statements about how closely they follow the books. The Narnia series, unlike the Middle-Earth series and the Potter series, has a problem of too -little- material to work with in a modern movie, whereas the other two series have too -much- material (especially when one considers all the notes of Tolkien which have been released.) To make each book into a movie - and, at that, into a movie comprehensible in the 21st century where Americans and Europeans to whom the film is marketed do not have a memory of WWII and its effect on British families - much material has to be added, both to explain the times and to fill the time needed for a movie.

  8. Eric D. Snider says:

    At the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that Santa Claus also shows up in the book doesn't change the What-the-H-ness of it. It's up to the filmmaker it make the story work on the screen. "It was in the book, so that's why it's in the movie" isn't enough of a reason by itself.

  9. Jinglebell333 says:

    I don't care what you say because Skander Keynes is HOT!

  10. Mike Melson says:

    A brilliant film but Prince Caspian is too lightweight a book to be as successful. I'm surprised that it did not mention the 7 exiled lords to act as a lead-in to The Dawn Treader.

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