Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here)and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, I review the Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Screenplay by Andrew Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely
Tagline: The beloved masterpiece comes to life.
What It’s About:
In the midst of the German bombardment of London during World War 2, four children are sent to the country to live with their eccentric uncle. During a game of hide and seek they pass through an enchanted wardrobe into the magic land of Narnia where they become embroiled in a war between its good creatures, led by the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the White Witch Jadis (Tilda Swinton) and her dark army.
Why I Bought It:
I was not introduced to fantasy by C.S. Lewis, but probably by Rankin and Bass’ Hobbit cartoon and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of The Rings, which in turn led me to the original Tolkien novels, Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and most importantly, Dungeons and Dragons, the roleplaying game that supercharged my imagination early on. I spent untold hours in the basement of a friend’s house rolling dice and eating junk food while the older players passed the Captain Morgan and we took on hordes of monsters and each other in bleary-eyed sessions morning and night. I couldn’t get enough of fantasy.
I had read the entire Narnia series by the time this movie came out, so it was a given I was going to see it, but I remembered Lewis as being a bit bland, and so I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. I saw it with my best friend, a guy who I’d once watched turn his human thief into a fire breathing, flying minotaur trapped for all eternity inside a diamond (a magic Deck of Many Things, a few lucky Wish pulls and a complete inability to quit while he was ahead had culminated in this) and when the final battle sequence began with its dizzying array of Monster Manual denizens, we’d both turned to each other, looking past our wives in nerd-gasmic, bug-eyed appreciation, both of us I think, in that moment, really WANTING to be in Narnia.
Following a cast of child actors can be pretty hit or miss. You can be blessed with Harry Potter or The Goonies, or damned to the ninth circle of Mary-Kate and Ashley Skywalker. The kids assembled to portray the Pevensie kids are winsome and earnest, and don’t come across as the type with a celebrity and money obsessed parent breathing down their necks, shoving them into the closet with St. Sebastian when they don’t hit their marks (or whatever showbiz parents do).
Young Lucy (Georgie Hensley) is a standout, plucky and yet sensitive, with a great gosh-golly-wow face. I’d just had my first daughter when I saw this and she won me over pretty quick. I can’t even hear that Alanis Morrisette song that plays during the credits without picturing her now. The scene where she is betrayed by Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) is a particularly good display of her talent. Her bewilderment at the fawn’s lie (which, under the director’s hand, has an almost unseemly, exploitative feel, like a prelude to molestation in some darker Todd Solondz movie) comes across well.
Likewise Edmund (Skander Keynes) is sufficiently shifty, but doesn’t play his seduction by the White Witch so that we can’t forgive him later. Peter (William Moseley) is as heroic as you want him to be, and Anna Popplewell as the much-maligned Susan….I wish she had gotten the chance to play the character to the end of her involvement in the series, because I think from this (and Prince Caspian, the sequel) she had the chops to make it interesting.
Tilda Swinton is as ever icy and ethereal as the White Queen Jadis, alluring and cruel as first crushes often are, which gets you in Edmund’s shoes pretty well. “I know she’s evil, but dang, I really want her to be good, so I’ll give it a go. Besides, Turkish Delights! So she must like me.” Jadis’ dwarf henchman Ginarrbrikk is played by Kiran Shah, who was the kid who let the monkey poison the dates in Raiders of The Lost Ark. Liam Neeson’s voice rivals James Earl Jones’ as the sound of ultimate paternal love in the form of Aslan the lion. Other recognizable voices include Michael Madsen as the Witch’s rough right-hand wolf who sounds like he’s ready to chew your ear off at any minute, and Ray Winstone as the salty, blue collar Mr. Beaver. James Cosmo has a memorable cameo as the most kick ass Santa Claus ever.
The CG animals are only a little difficult to accept, and even then, only initially. When blended with live action, its practically perfect, particularly as on display in the epic final battle sequence. For the most part the FX are great, and surprisingly bright and four color, eschewing the typical rule of using shadow to obscure the seams. Narnia is a sumptuous land, with bright, beautiful scenery and luxuriant textures, as any storybook land should seem.
Narnia has a reputation as a Christian fantasy series. I guess there is some element of that on display in the character of Aslan, whose arc may be a bit mystifying if you don’t take his origins into account. Yet I wouldn’t say it pushes an agenda. I don’t feel proselytized to watching it. It’s just a pretty straightforward good vs. evil story.
What I really love about this movie is it feels like an 80’s throwback. In the 80’s we had fantasy movies like Dragonslayer, Ladyhawke, Legend, and Excalibur, movies that were never embarrassed of what they were. Even Jackson’s much-lauded Lord Of The Rings movies are peppered with anachronistic winks at the audience (that awful, awful Dwarf tossing joke). Narnia has a bunch of kids from our world in a fantasy realm, and they they aren’t cracking wise and giving us Poochie MST3K commentary. They’re in it, and it’s as real as can be. I like that the kids don’t take a rear echelon Pokemon role in any of the action. They’re in the thick of the fight at all times. It makes their ultimate enthronement more deserved, more satisfying, and their sudden departure back to their own lives (as if they’d never left) more poignant.
The one that gets me is right before the final battle.
Peter has been thrust into the role of commander of this vast army, and he sits atop a unicorn in shining armor with a magic sword, possibly every boy’s dream, and certainly mine. But he has this moment where he looks to his centaur second in command (played wonderfully by Patrick Kake) and asks, as a kid in a bit over his head might;
“Are you with me?”
And the centaur has this great look on his face, a sort of bewilderment at the question. Aslan, for all intents and purposes his god, has chosen this kid to lead them, so there’s not a doubt in his mind. He sort of shakes his head and furrows his brow in an ‘of course’ manner.
“To the death,” he says.
Well I keep talking up that final battle, don’t I? It’s every storybook fantasy battle you’ve ever dreamed of, with the ‘bad’ critters on one side (Minotaurs, werewolves, goat-men, bumbling giants, etc) and the ‘goodies’ on the other. There’s a fantastic shot where Peter in his shining armor, gallops on a freakin’ unicorn at the vanguard of this contingent of centaur cavalry. The centaurs lower their lances and a group of racing cheetahs pull ahead of the army, while on the opposite side, a group of white tigers rush to meet them. There’s a pullback to the whole battlefield and the music (which I must mention is really cool during this sequence, very 80’s Vangelis sound) cuts out to a pre-clash heartbeat. Then these great cats just bash into each other ahead of their respective hoses, and go tumbling. It’s not a bloody battle, but the violence is there, and dramatic. Jadis petrifies enemy combatants, even turning a diving hippogriff to stone in passing so that it crashes into the ground in fragments.
Would I Buy It Again? Yes. And this reminds me to revisit the others.
Next In The Queue: