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

I have to admit that I’ve never been able to get through The Chronicles of Narnia. I don’t like being preached to when I’m reading fantasy. It draws me out of the story when the author’s agenda is so transparent. I did read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, considered at the time to be the first in the series. I don’t remember much about it though.

Here’s the plot of the movie: During the war, four young siblings are sent away from London to live in the country estate of a stuffy academic with a wicked housekeeper who rabidly protects the staid atmosphere of the house, issuing the children strict instructions to remain quiet at all times. They set about exploring the cavernous house, and the youngest, Lucy, played by Georgie Henley, discovers a portal into the magical land of Narnia. The inhabitants of this land, which include talking beavers and other intelligent animals, are suffering a neverending winter due to the ascendancy of the White Witch, played by Tilda Swinton, over Aslan, a CGI lion voiced by Liam Neeson. Lucy drags all her siblings into Narnia where they seem to fit an ancient prophecy about the eventual overthrow of the witch, and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by reporting that they are successful. Narnia was never a particularly original tale.

Fair or not, the books have always been classed with and compared to The Lord of the Rings. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein were collegues, mainstays of an informal literary society at Oxford called the Inklings. Ironically, a movie version of Narnia would never have gotten off the ground if not for the success of Peter Jackson’s LOTR. Consequently comparisons are inevitable.

Tolkein always accused Lewis of not putting enough internal consistency into Narnia, of not putting enough work into his creation. Of course to Tolkein, this sort of background work was the point. His notes on LOTR and the Silmarillion are far longer than the books themselves.

It’s interesting how that difference in approach has translated to film. Narnia isn’t nearly as substantial as Middle Earth in either book or celluloid form. Take, for one example, the costumes. In Narnia, the armor is clean, simple and almost generic. In LOTR the folks at WETA have designed intricate metal work in which you can see centuries of whatever culture produced it. Then they distress it lovingly to give it a lived in look. The comparisons are like that all the way down the line. Even the cinematography in Narnia isn’t as rich and sumptuous as LOTR.

And yet, if you accept these limitations, Narnia isn’t a bad film. The performances are good, even the children. Georgie Henley as Lucy is adorable with her healing innocence.  Skandar Keynes plays Edmond, the put upon middle brother who can’t seem to do anything right in his oldest brother’s eyes and is therefore tempted to the other side. Anna Popplewell does a great job as Susan the middle sister who tries to bridge the gap between the two brothers.  And William Moseley plays Peter, the oldest who feels responsible for the welfare of the others. These are all first rate performances. Shining especially bright is the talented Tilda Swinton who turns in an appropriately chilly performance as the White Witch.

The best part about the movie is that the preachiness of the source material has been downplayed. Oh, it’s still there. Aslan dies for our sins, but Lewis’s heavy handed metaphors are not in the forefront. This is a film everyone can enjoy.


1 Response to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe”

  1. 1 pawprintz89 July 26, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    This is my favorite movie and I must admit any bad comments are hogwash.

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