A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 544 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC) – August 26th, 2011

Back to Narnia for the weekend, which feels rather fitting. There’s something about traveling to an imaginary land that seems perfect for a stormy day and we’re expecting a hurricane to arrive this weekend. I’ve probably been influenced by Wizard of Oz. Regardless, staying inside and watching a trio of three hour long fantasy serials seems like a fantastic way to spend a nasty weekend. And these three are straight out of my childhood, much like The Box of Delights and A Little Princess. All BBC adaptations of classic children’s books. All shown in the US on PBS’s Wonderworks series. All long and incredibly faithful to the books.

It’s a shame, really, that the budget for this wasn’t higher. These Narnia serials were made to be shown in six episodes each, covering just under three hours. That gives an enormous amount of screen time to a book adaptation and that’s one reason why they can afford to be so faithful. Much as I love and adore seeing books I enjoy on a big screen, I admit that when it comes down to it, I think a television miniseries is a hell of a lot more effective. Just look at Dune as an example. Think about the David Lynch adaptation, then, if you’ve seen it, think about the Sci Fi Channel miniseries of the same book. They’re very different creatures, and while I enjoyed the Lynch version, I thought the miniseries did a far better job of bringing the world of the book to the screen. I’m saddened to hear that the planned Dark Tower movies are in limbo now, but I honestly hope that someone like HBO picks them up and gives them a good miniseries treatment. Because a miniseries allows for a lot more exploration. And so it is with this series. If only it had been given more money.

Granted, the effects aren’t terrible. I’ve seen far far worse. But anyone who’s seen older Doctor Who episodes will understand when I say that it is distinctly obvious that this adaptation is a BBC production. Which personally, I find charming. I grew up with this stuff. It’s nostalgic for me to see the 2D animation for many of the animals and the not-quite-matched-up torsos and bodies on the centaurs. It’s the spirit of the thing that I find important, and I really do think that this adaptation manages to capture that even with a budget that is a tiny fraction of what the newer big screen adaptation surely had.

The story is, of course, much the same as the book. I mentioned already that it is impressively faithful as adaptations go. The Pevensie children, sent away from London to the safety of the countryside during World War II, discover a passage to Narnia through the back of a mysterious wardrobe in a spare room of the country house they’re staying in. Again, Lucy is the first in. Again, her siblings don’t believe her. Again, Edmund follows her then lies to Susan and Peter after having met the White Witch. And again, he sells them out for a pile of Turkish Delight. Again, the children all end up going into Narnia and again, they discover that they are to lead a revolution against the White Witch. The basic story doesn’t change from version to version. But in this adaptation, it feels as if the writers went through the book page by page to decide not what to include, but how to include it. At times, it works very well. At times it’s obvious just how far beyond the means of the adaptation some things were. And that isn’t necessarily a budget issue every time. This was made in 1988. Even the highest budget couldn’t have made some things technologically possible.

Still, I’m not criticising it for its shortcomings. The acting isn’t winning any awards, though I always did like the children who played the Pevensies. Barbara Kellerman as the White Witch chews far more scenery than I ever would have thought possible had I not seen this as a child. I compare all other scenery chewing to this, really. But that works. She’s over the top and incredibly dramatic and I love it. I think my only criticism is Aslan himself. The huge fake lion is well done and all, but there’s something a little too ponderous about his line delivery. It makes everything he says feel like he’s trying to put people to sleep. Which is frustrating, because I like the vocal quality of the person doing the lines, but the delivery is so slow, like they were directed to speak more deliberately to communicate authority or something. Whatever the reason, it just sounds drowsy, not powerful.

Other than that, however, I really do enjoy this version of the story. It’s not lush or epic or spectacular, but it is thorough and sweet and it feels right. It’s faithful, which I’ve mentioned, but it’s also respectful of the source. I’m not saying the newer version isn’t, just that it’s readily apparent here that this was made by people who knew the story and knew the source and who wanted to take everything on the pages and put it all up in visual splendor. And if that meant some awkward bits that didn’t translate perfectly from one medium to another, then so be it. Those bits would still be there so there’d be no doubt that this is the story in its entirety. And I appreciate that.

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August 26, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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