The Chronicles of Narnia
Review Date: 12.13.05
The Chronicles of Narnia is directed by Andrew Adamson who directed Shrek. Without a doubt, Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and, in a lesser role, Jim Broadbent as Professor Kirke steal the show. As for the rest, well, we can enjoy the voice of Liam Neeson as Aslan the lion king, and Rupert Everett's voice as the fox. James McAvoy does a creditable job as the faun Mr. Tumnus for the brief period he acts. And that's the problem: the acting in this film, again with the exception of Swinton, is too brief and falls away as the story gets going. The kids don't have much personality, and although Lucy (Georgie Henley) starts out as a lively and interesting kid, she too loses her personality as she assumes a docile little girl's role and alternates between blubbering and breaking into luminous smiles.
Many of us, even those who have finally and once and for all rejected our Catholic upbringings, still warm nostalgically to CS Lewis's kids' rendition of the Jesus story with fairy dust and medievalism thrown in for good measure. Lacking the darkness of Lord of the Rings and stressing more heavy-handedly the battle between good and evil, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe nevertheless has potential for some psychological depth and soul-searching, potential that is carelessly discarded in this film in favor of the animal kingdom and feats of computer-generated prowess. For example, the story begins with Mom sending the kids away to safety during World War II in England and, from the very beginning, we sense trouble among the sibs in the form of the stormy brooding character of Edmund. And yes, the movie does underline the parallels: there's a real war going on, and once inside Narnia, the other side of the wardrobe, what the children find is yet another war. At this moment in time, that part of the message begins to sound reactionary, since of course the war to be fought in Narnia is, as the allies believed of World War II, the good war, but if we update that idea it's a difficult one to sustain in 2005. Nevertheless, the movie is very careful not to make the mistake that Lord of the Rings makes in drawing the battle lines, for we cannot with certainty say that the forces of evil are primitive, ape-like, regressive, barely humanoid creatures, while the forces of good are fairy-like or beautifully human. Here, both sides have their humanoid and animal oddities, both sides have magnificent creatures, both sides are in white sometimes.
This is a softer story than Lord of the Rings, a story that unfortunately counsels sacrifice in the name of redemption, and yet a story about how we all would like to live in a land of fantasy where the problems of good and evil are clear and can be solved straightforwardly. The best part of it for me was the way the movie successfully conveyed the longing for that world on the part of the children-they keep trying to return-and for a world of benign adults and domesticated wild creatures. The graphics, especially those used to realistically render the various animals, are breathtaking: the lion really does seem to be one, the fox likewise, and the wolves are uncanny in their resemblance to the real thing, even when they talk.
The challenge for the sequels is going to be how to make these characters more interesting even as the movies gracefully display their gorgeous gifts of visual beauty and breathtaking fantasy. I am willing to give The Chronicles of Narnia a chance, in the name of my childhood memories. Let's hope it gets better.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.