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

Edmund, in chain mail, swinging his sword, looking determined.

“Look, mummy! I’ve a sword and a funny metal hat! Aren’t I convincing?”

We saw this flick over opening weekend, and I agree with my friend Steve Laniel, the first hour is an interesting and shaded experience with some intriguing characters, then it it flattens out and is about as plausible as a 10-year old in chain mail armor leading an army…wait.

Spoilers alert: If you haven’t read the books, you’ll read big plot points here you don’t know. But, honestly, how do you think this thing plays out?

The film is, as you probably know, based on a children’s book. Well, the film is for children, too. The story starts out with intrigue and interest, mystery and potential, then pretty much dumps it all on your head and says “OK everyone, let’s wrap this narrative up!” It’s been a looong time since I read the books (most of them), so I can’t personally vouch for how closely it holds, but others have told me that it sticks closely to the novels and the depth and pace are the same there. However, I get the feeling that the film medium takes what are acceptable devices in the book and makes them seem, well, a bit ridiculous.

Tumnus the satyr faun plays the pan flute.

We’re introduced to Mr. Tumnus in the earlier, more paced parts of the film, and he’s played very well, making him one of the enjoyable points of the experience.

The first part of the problem is not in the premise (children in magical world, prophecy, destined to rule, lead army of good against evil, etc.), it’s the transition from set up to fulfillment. I get the impression that C. S. Lewis was relying heavily on children’s much higher tolerance for suspension of disbelief and the fact that the real world makes little to no sense to them, so why should a fantasy world? The second part is the visual execution of the transition. Children are not meant to tromp around in armor. They look ungainly and not intimidating. None of the child actors pulled it off, unfortunately. Also, this quality in their bearing and movement was almost forcefully ignored. As though director Andrew Adamson was yelling “Look at the armor and the swords! Look at the armies! They’re kings and queens now! They’re intimidating! They don’t look ridiculous!” from behind the camera. Watching Peter wing that sword around and Edmund clomp around with that armor on just amplified how ill-equipped and underprepared they all were. Seriously, they had, like, 20 minutes to take over and fight a war whose general just died. Apparently, Aslan’s battle strategy was pretty much plug-and-play, because things seemed to run pretty smoothly.

Aslan emerges from his tent

Aslan, the lion savior, inventor of the ’Leave When Most Needed’ strategy of warfare, as we first see him.

Also, the kids go from scared of bombs in London to swinging swords at huge mythical beasts while riding a horse into an army of thousands pretty much because a beaver told them they were royalty and a lion dressed them up and said “go get ’em!”

Peter charges forward on foot, sword in hand

Imagine you’re a 10 foot tall minotaur with a sword. Now imagine stepping on this kid. Now you know one reason why I had such a hard time with this film.

But, like I said, this is a movie for kids. And I’m sure that children and those more willing than I to embrace that will enjoy the film. But if you’re looking for any sort of narrative depth, look elsewhere. This movie (and the book, I guess) pretty thoroughly strip all of it out right before launching an entertaining but not stunning battle sequence. All of the character tension is ironed flat so as to not wrinkle the presentation of the world and mythology of Narnia, which quickly (and awkwardly) becomes the focus of the film. The film succeeds most where it tries least to be Lord of the Rings: by focusing on its characters.

A gryffon lands behind Peter, who's in front of the army of good.

Peter looks to his right and learns more about the army he’s leading: it has flying things.

The design of the film is quite good when it feels free to break from the hyper-typical fantasy English military/royal design. The costumes and mythical creatures are quite good and the CGI is very convincing throughout. Also, Tilda Swinton, as one would expect, is one of the highlights of the film as the White Witch.

The white witch in her ice crown and fur.

The white witch leads a dark ceremony with a raven's wing on her shoulder.

The white witch leads her dark army in a chariot driven by polar bears while she wears the shorn mane of Aslan.

The White Witch, one of the more interesting and well-played characters also had the most interesting costume designs. She plays the ice queen, the dark priestess, and the conqueror and subsumer of Aslan the lion.

Oh, and as for the Christian overtones. Only adults will see them, and even then they’re pretty thin. I really don’t get all of the noise about this aspect. I believe the book has some more religious overtones, but the movie is pretty well whitewashed. Aslan still has connections to Jesus, but it’s not like any kid will suddenly find Christianity appealing because of some vague connections. If anything, they just serve to make the story even more nonsensical.

In short, unless you absolutely loved the books or have kids, skip this one until it’s out on DVD. Or just skip it altogether.

MPAA Review: Battle sequences and frightening moments.
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