The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Lovers of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia can breathe a collective sigh of relief—perhaps, even, a sigh of wonder and enchantment: your beloved book has successfully made it to the screen. Andrew Adamson’s execution of this prodigious task is sure to delight Narnia fans across the board. The story itself remains wholly intact, and Narnia does, indeed, come alive in a way that has thus far been entrusted only to our literary imaginations.
On the whole, the movie is pleasing. The performances of James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, Skandar Keynes as Edmund, and Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan particularly stand out among the highlights of the film.
Likewise, the CGI is well-integrated and, for the most part, realistic (the atomic-bomb phoenix comes to mind immediately as a fascinating addition to the battle scene). And, of course, the New Zealand vistas add to that sense of “other-worldliness” that effectively separates Narnia from London.
The opening sequence, a literarily apocryphal sort of exploration of how the children come to be at the Professor’s house, draws the audience into the story immediately. Witnessing the bombing raids in London and the wrenching decision of a mother to send her four children to a stranger for safety’s sake offers us an early opportunity to sympathize with the children in their displacement.
Edmund, a “still waters run deep” young man, perhaps feels the abandonment most profoundly, yet is least likely to express it in any emotionally vulnerable way. Rather, as they stand on the platform anxiously awaiting their tardy transportation to the Professor’s house, Edmund astutely (and somewhat presciently) suggests that “perhaps [they’ve] been mislabeled,” an indication of his own sense of estrangement, even among his own siblings. This introduction to both the story and Edmund’s psyche engage the audience almost immediately, opening the door to the children’s world before we enter another.
It is this introduction to Edmund and his subsequent transformation that rather significantly remind each of us how easily we justify our rash choices, how effortlessly we forget the needs of others and focus on our own desires. Edmund is no wicked, dark-hearted weakling who chooses evil out of spite or revenge. Rather, he is a lonely, frustrated boy, who (like all of us at some point) desperately wants to be more than he is. The most poignant element of the film is observing Edmund as he becomes more than he was—not because of anything he was able to do—in fact, just the opposite—because of what has been done for him: Aslan’s sacrifice.
Yet the movie’s rather strict adherence to the book seems to be both an asset and a liability in this case. While the film is sure to be lauded as a “faithful rendition” of the novel, there’s something to be said for a little creative license to make a well-known story a little less predictable and a little more, well, art. For example, many die-hard Tolkien fans took issue with Peter Jackson’s artistic interpretations of The Lord of the Rings. But the effect of those changes was that even the Middle-earth experts found nuances in the film trilogy, and the movies themselves were perhaps more engaging because one didn’t necessarily know what was coming next. Such expansions on the original story serve to drive the films from being merely moment-by-moment reproductions of the text to becoming art—that is, an artist’s unique rendition or interpretation of something that already is.
Such judicious departure from the structure of the written word might have made Adamson’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a more interesting and more aesthetically satisfying piece. Instead, it seems that the reins on his creativity were perhaps held a little too tightly, and consequently the land beyond the wardrobe does not meet its full, enchanting potential.
Perhaps the best way to describe my reaction is to say that I had hoped to visit Narnia myself—to go through the wardrobe and find myself in another world. Instead, it seemed I was taken to the edge of the wardrobe, and rather than being pulled that final step into Narnia, I had to settle for spectator status. Now, that being said, being on onlooker in Adamson’s Narnia is no drudgery. Indeed, his Narnia is a delightful, charming world, with fantastically creative creatures, beautiful scenery, and adventures aplenty. In fact, it’s so delightful that I do want to be there—thus the relative disappointment at not quite making that fateful step.
For those whose hearts are yearning to see a consistent reproduction of Lewis’ first Narnia book, the movie will not fail you. For those wanting to see a bit more creativity and personality injected into the muscles of Lewis’ already robust work, you may have to engage your own imagination to supplement the screen.
Images Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Walden Media, LLC. All rights reserved.