Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe / *** (PG)

Lucy: Georgie Henley
Edmund: Skandar Keynes
Peter: William Moseley
Susan: Anna Popplewell
The White Witch: Tilda Swinton
Mr. Tumnus, the Faun: James McAvoy
Prof. Kirke: Jim Broadbent

And featuring the voice talents of:
Aslan: Liam Neeson
Mr. Beaver: Ray Winstone
Mrs. Beaver: Dawn French
Mr. Fox: Rupert Everett
Maugrim: Michael Madsen

Buena Vista presents a film directed by Andrew Adamson. Screenplay by Ann Peacock, Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; based on the novel by C.S. Lewis. Running time 139 min. Rated PG (for battle sequences and frightening moments).

C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia is a play on the fantasies of children. Lewis used his series of fantasy books to progress Christian ideals into a tale children would want to visit and return to again, and in the process he created a mythology, much like his friend and fellow Oxford alumnus J.R.R. Tolkien did with The Lord of the Rings, that became a lasting fascination in British literature. In this, the first live action version of the second book in the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, audiences will find a world just a fleshed out and magnificent as the recent Lord of the Rings film trilogy and much more grown up and frightening than the children’s book upon which it is based.

LW2 (as it has become known on the web and is much easier to type out) tells the story of four siblings – two girls, Susan (Anna Popplewell, Girl with a Pearl Earring) and Lucy (new comer Georgie Henley), and two boys, Peter (William Moseley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) – who are separated from their parents due to World War II. They are sent to the stuffy mansion of a Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) under the care of the cold Mrs. MacReady (Elizabeth Hawthorne, The Frighteners). In this kid unfriendly environment the children are left to their own devices when it comes to being kids and eventually a game of hide and seek leads the youngest, Lucy, to a wardrobe that hides in it the doorway to another world.

The world on the other side of the wardrobe is a land called Narnia. It has been cast into an everlasting winter by the White Witch, Jadis (Tilda Swinton, Constantine). Jadis has falsely claimed the throne as Queen of Narnia, and her tactics of terror keep her in power over the woodland creatures that populate Narnia. Lucy is lucky to stumble upon Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy, Wimbledon), a Faun – half human, half goat – who helps her escape detection from the White Witch to his own peril. When Edmund follows Lucy into the wardrobe, however, Jadis is the first being he meets. She convinces Edmund to bring his siblings to her, and when all four children enter Narnia they learn of a prophecy, which foretold their coming and states that their fate and Narnia’s are intrinsically intertwined. When it is learned that the great lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson, Batman Begins) is on the move again, the children must choose a side.

Director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) is certainly a student of the Peter Jackson School of Glorious Realizations of Fantastical Lands through Digital Effects and Grandiose Natural Settings. His Narnia could come directly out of Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth in the Rings trilogy. Narnia is not quite so gloomy as that world, but it is no coincidence that Jackson’s Weta effects and costume shops were responsible for much of the look and atmosphere of the film. Narnia is world of talking beavers and centaurs (half man, half horse creatures) more so than the trolls and orcs of Tolkien’s world, but many of the latter do slip in to Lewis’s as well. This gives Narnia a much more severe and dark delivery than it has ever received before, something a little heavier than Lewis’s young people’s literature naturally suggests.

Much has been made of Narnia’s religious allegory nature, which is obvious to people who know anything about C.S. Lewis. Aslan’s Christ-like sacrifices for his people and subsequent resurrection and Edmund’s Judas figure betrayal of his loved ones are fairly thinly veiled, but nothing is so blatant as to overshadow what is really a children’s fantasy. This is as it was in Lewis’s book and is presented here with no greater emphasis on the Christian themes, but they are there for those who want to look.

What stuck me the most about this adaptation of LW2 is how much more adult it seems than the story I remember reading as a child. Since the adaptation is fairly faithful to the original material, I am tempted to think this has more to do with the fact that I am no longer a child than the material itself being changed. Adamson has said that he took liberties with the final battle in the film, which takes up twenty minutes of the film. He stated that Lewis only devoted about a sentence to it in his book, which is more of an exaggeration than his film’s version of that battle actually is, but he does allow much of the brutality of war show in this depiction of the battle. This could be a little harsh for younger viewers.

Whatever the maturity level this film is aimed toward, it is a good movie. It retains both the details and adventure of its source material and tells a good story for people who may not be initiated into the world of C.S. Lewis. It doesn’t present something quite so epic or far reaching as The Lord of the Rings, and perhaps that is the difference between Tolkien and Lewis right there. Lewis was trying for something simpler and perhaps more accessible. His work was inspired by a more personal attempt to deal with World War II; Tolkien was a little more interested in the nature of man and his place in the world as a whole. The Lord of the Rings rose to the level necessary to tell that story, the same is true of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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