A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 539 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) – August 21st, 2011

I cannot tell you how excited and nervous I was when I heard that new versions of the Chronicles of Narnia stories were being made for theatrical release. I’d read the books when I was a child and I’d loved them, overwhelmingly obvious Christ allegory aside, and then I’d watched the BBC adaptations over and over and over until I knew every line (we’ll be watching those this weekend). So a new version? With a new cast and new sets and new director? Done for the big screen? Well, it could have gone very well or it could have gone very poorly, hence the excitement and the nerves. Fortunately, I was not disappointed by this new adaptation. And I knew I wouldn’t be as soon as I saw the children cast as the four Pevensie siblings.

Casting can’t carry a movie on its own, it has to be backed up with a number of other successful factors. That being said, the casting here was excellent, especially Georgie Henley as Lucy. Lucy, as you might know if you’ve read the books, is a pivotal figure in the story. She has to be young enough to be believable as the baby of the family, but the actress playing her has to shoulder a ton of scenes and a lot of plot. Lucy, after all, is the one who first discovers that there’s a whole other world accessible through the back of a mysterious wardrobe in a spare room of the house she and her siblings are staying in. She’s the first one to go through the wardrobe into Narnia and she’s the first one to meet one of its people and she’s the most vocal about its importance. And Georgie Henley is fantastic in the role. I cannot say enough about how awesome she is.

The rest of the Pevensies are also fantastic, which is such a relief. Skandar Keynes as the initially duplicitous Edmund, Anna Popplewell as elder sister Susan and William Mosely as eldest brother Peter are all wonderful and thoroughly believable both as siblings and as children of the time period the movie takes place in. I couldn’t be more impressed by them and therefore I’d like to offer some thanks to the casting crew. The story needs its four leads to shine and shine they do. Of course, it helps that they’re given a whole lot of faithful-to-the-book material to work with. I’m not going to get ahead of myself by commenting too much on the next two adaptations, but suffice it to say that this one, at least, kept things very close to the book that I remember. There were some fairly hefty changes made to the next two, but whatever changes were made to the first one, they didn’t alter the main characters or main story enough to draw my notice.

I’m assuming most people who might find this review will have read the book already, even though I know that’s an optimistic assumption. After all, I know my Hoot review routinely gets views from kids trying to do compare/contrast assignments without reading the book. Fat lot of good it does them. So I’m not going to do a point by point comparison. I’m just going to go over the basic story. Which is that four children, while staying in the country to avoid London during World War II, discover the magical land of Narnia after going through a portal in the back of a wardrobe. Narnia is under the control of an evil witch who makes it winter all the time (but never Christmas, since the Christ allegory has been banished for the time being). Only four human children will be able to save Narnia from the witch and end the long winter, allowing the lion Aslan (the aforementioned Christ allegory) to return to the land. So they embark on a quest, meeting talking animals, centaurs, fauns, dryads and so on and so forth, all of whom have been waiting for the day when Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve arrive to save them. Told you the allegory was obvious.

Of course there has to be more to stand in the way of the witch’s downfall than a bunch of snow and a missing lion. One of the siblings, Edmund, wanting to be more important than his older brother, is tempted by the witch and betrays his brother and sisters, eventually leading to Aslan’s sacrifice at the witch’s hands. Aslan being a Christ allegory, I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail about how well that ends up working out for the witch. So then there’s a big climactic battle and the four children are named kings and queens of Narnia.

Now. I could go into all sorts of discussion about the story and the allegory and how since they’re all siblings and the only humans in the kingdom clearly they’re never meant to have kids or anything and how looking at it as an adult I can come up with lots of Things To Say. But since the book this movie is based on was required reading in at least half of the freshman English classes at my high school. It’s been around for a while. I’m sure it’s all been said. And when it comes to this movie that’s not really the important point. The important point here is that the movie was able to take the spirit of the book, the tone and mood and feel of the book, which is full of this sense of wonder and magic and destiny, and put it on screen. It is an absolutely gorgeous movie that uses CG to wonderful effect to back up some fantastic acting. It feels right.

I really don’t know what else to say about this movie. It’s a lovely story that I remember fondly from my childhood. It’s got that whole vibe of kids who’ve got no power over their lives suddenly finding that they can save the world, which I love (and really, I should have written my thesis on in college). It’s got a fantastic cast, with the amazing Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and Liam Neeson as Aslan’s voice, plus James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the first Narnian Lucy meets. And the visuals are fantastic, from the setting to the animals to the costumes. I am still in awe at Tilda Swinton’s outfits, which are all amazingly sculpted felt dresses that I’m sure were a bitch to wear but suit the character amazingly. It is simply an excellently made movie from top to bottom and it is a pleasure to watch it again.

August 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005)

August 21, 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (2005)

From the Chronicles of Riddick to the Chronicles of Narnia. We had been postponing watching the Narnia films for two reasons. One was that we didn’t yet own all of the old BBC adaptations from the Eighties. We wanted to do Narnia as another of our week-long projects but we didn’t own them all yet. Well We finally got the last films we needed to complete our collection but then there was another slight glitch. We had to figure out the timing because the BBC versions – being television miniseries – are all quite long and we couldn’t possibly review them on a Thursday or Tuesday. We’ve resolved that by deciding to watch a couple un-related films between the modern theatrical adaptations and the BBC made-for-TV ones, so now we’re off to spend some time in the mythical and magical land of Narnia.

This was another series that my father read to me and my sister when we were children. It’s perfect reading for a child like myself who was obsessed with fantasy realms. I loved any tales of people able to go into other worlds. For years afterwards I would try to walk through mirrors or wardrobes, and I was always disappointed when i found no Narnia or Oz or other lands beyond them. Of course as a child I didn’t understand anything about allegory and thank goodness for that because having my fantasy worlds polluted by Christian propaganda frankly sickens me.

Still – this movie and its brethren are probably the closest I’ll ever come to being a King of Narnia. The land is in good hands, though. Weta effects, the people behind the spectacular special effects and props for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings have been tasked with making Narnia real on the big screen and they do not disappoint.

Do I really have to go over the plot of the first Chronicles of Narnia story? This book was so much a part of my childhood that i can’t quite imagine not knowing how it goes. Durin World War Two children were sent out of London to estates in the country to get them away from the German blitzes. The children at the heart of this story are one such family. Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy find themselves in a huge country home belonging to a reclusive and somewhat peculiar professor. For the most part they are left to their own devices but the house is huge and old and filled with historical artifacts they are not allowed to touch.

Things seem pretty dull for them until, during a hide-and-seek game, Lucy hides in a wardrobe and discovers a magical land inside it. She walks through the wardrobe and into a land filled with snow that has been cursed by an evil witch so that it is always winter and never Christmas. She befriends a timid fawn named Tumnus, who is under orders from the White Witch to turn any humans he encounters over to her secret police but instead he decides to let Lucy go.

Lucy’s siblings don’t believe her wild tale of a magical realm inside a wardrobe, of course, and she is crestfallen to discover that it isn’t there for her to show to them. Soon she’s able to return to Narnia though, and Edmond follows her in. Edmond meets the White Witch and she charms him with promises of Turkish Delight and the possibility of being a prince and her heir if he will bring his siblings to her.

When at last all four children find themselves in Narnia they find themselves on an epic adventure. There is a prophesy that four human children, two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve, will defeat the White Witch and break the curse on the land. They find themselves on the run with a couple of talking beavers from the queen’s secret police, rushing to reach the Stone Table where they will meet the rightful ruler of Narnia – the not-at-all tame lion Aslan. Except that Edmond, ever the selfish third child, skulks off to the witche’s side in an attempt to curry her favor. So Aslan and the Narnian army raised in secret don’t have all four of the human children required to fulfil the prophesy. The witch, seeing her power fading in the face of that of Aslan, makes a desperate deal for Edmond’s life. She will release him if Aslan will sacrifice himself.

Of course this is the Christ allegory that C.S. Lewis made no attempt to disguise. Aslan’s whole death, rebirth and promise of emancipation for his kingdom and those faithful to him makes for a grand fairy tale and gives the story a grand and epic scale, but Lewis intended it as a way to introduce children to his faith and beliefs. That kind of indoctrination sits very badly with me, but I enjoy this tale nonetheless. If I hated a Christ allegory after all I couldn’t enjoy movies like The Matrix or Dark City. I like the power of the story, but even so that wasn’t what I was watching this movie for. I was watching it as a visit to Narnia, and on that level it is absolutely perfect.

The countryside is gorgeous. The large cast of digital talking animals look fantastic. The fawns and centaurs, being a blend of real human actors with digital legs, work perfectly. And what a stellar cast! The child actors they found to portray the Pevanzies embody the characters so well that I can’t imagine Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy being played by anybody else.

There’s a melancholy to this movie. At the end, when the children have to go back to Britain and leave Narnia behind after being kings and queens for years it breaks my heart. Those poor kids are me at the end of the movie – an adult who grew up believing in wonderful fantasy worlds rudly expelled back into an uncaring world. At least now that I own this on DVD I can go back to visit Narnia any time I want.

August 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment