THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE
Director: Andrew Adamson
Cast: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, the voices of Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Rupert Everett, Michael Madsen
MPAA Rating: (for battle sequences and frightening moments)
Running Time: 2:20
Release Date: 12/9/05
Review by Mark Dujsik
The world of Narnia looks exactly as I had imagined it as a child and, more recently, when I reread C.S. Lewis' cycle of allegories again a few years ago, and that is perhaps the more substantial half of the battle in cinematically translating The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. For that, director Andrew Adamson (making his live-action film debut after directing the two Shrek films) deserves a solid bit of credit. From the wintry forest just within the magical wardrobe to the evil witch's castle to the sacrificial platform where a major character meets his doom, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe looks just right. The material behind it is the stuff of pure fantastic whim with some darker elements popping up to the surface more often than one would expect, but that, unfortunately, is not the tone I immediately associate with Lewis' world. Lewis' writing takes a fantasy world but sets it on a very solid religious and philosophical base, and while the most overt representation of that foundation is here, screenwriters Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely have lessened the substance of the story to the point that the film operates almost exclusively as a visual adaptation. It's the skin of Narnia without the meat.
The four Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are leaving World War II era London after a series of German bombings on the city. To stay out of harm's way, they make a train trip to the countryside mansion of the reclusive Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent).. There, they encounter lots of rules about maintaining Kirke's privacy, keeping from disturbing him, and abstaining from touching his things. Kids will be kids, though, and the sheer boredom of living in such a huge house with little to do begins to set in. During a game of hide and seek, young Lucy discovers a room with only a wardrobe in it—the perfect hiding spot. Upon entering the wardrobe, she slowly inches back through lines of coats and into a wintry forest where she meets a faun (part goat, part man) named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy).. He tells her she has found her way into the world of Narnia. After taking her to his home, he admits that he has been trying to kidnap her for the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), but he has changed his mind and sends her on her way home. Her siblings are skeptical, but events soon have them all entering Narnia.
As I've alluded, the world of Narnia is exactingly realized. From the moment Lucy walks through the forest and discovers an oddly placed lamppost, Adamson establishes his visual understanding of and control over the presentation of Lewis' fantasy realm. Production designer Roger Ford gives us wonderful sets from the dam home where the children find refuge to the stark interior of the White Witch's castle where Edmund and Mr. Tumnus find themselves prisoners. Cinematographer Donald McAlpine captures an almost otherworldly realism in bringing the slow rise of Narnia from desolate winter wonderland to its former summertime glory. Adamson has a fine command over visual effects that have the children interacting with a wide assortment of anthropomorphized animals and fantasy creatures. The beasts are well detailed but clearly exist on screen as effects, although that seems more a creative choice here than a failure. In addition to Mr. Tumnus, we meet wolves who act as the witch's evil secret police, a sly fox who works for both sides, and a plucky pair of married beavers who help the kids escape Narnia's first manhunt and meet the long-awaited savior of Narnia.
That savior, of course (for anyone familiar with Lewis' world), comes in the form of a lion named Aslan (voice of—who else?—Liam Neeson).. With Aslan's introduction, Lewis begins to provide his creation with a clear spirituality, which he refers to as "the Deep Magic." Considering the circumstances in which the Pevensies find themselves, a spiritual centering seems a necessity. Lewis' tale is slightly darker than one would expect from a children's tale. Father Christmas (James Cosmo) arrives in one scene, but while toys fill his bag of presents, for the Pevensies he has weapons. Edmund serves as a hero, but he is also betrayer to his family and, as an unforeseen result, Aslan. Lewis has him turn Judas for Turkish delight, although the sexual undertones are missing between Edmund and the witch and moved—for some very, very uncomfortable reason—to Lucy and Mr. Tumnus. The final battle between Peter's army and witch's forces is a brutal if not bloody amplification of Lewis' depiction. Aslan (high spoiler alert for those unfamiliar with the material) becomes a martyr for the cause but is resurrected in turn with Lewis' Christian allegory, but this is the extent of any reference to the story on that level—one that could easily be overlooked with the script's simplified let's-leave-it-at-that explanation.
The thing is, the tales of Narnia are reliant on Lewis' spiritual overtones, and that becomes all the more apparent as the chronicle progresses (all of the books are planned to be adapted). Perhaps this first chapter can bypass them, but without them, this doesn't quite feel like Lewis' Narnia. Thankfully, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe looks exactly like it. I'm curious now, though, as to whether or not these books are adaptable to film beyond visual pleasures but hope the next installment helps better prove they are.
Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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