The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
The human cost of war is illustrated in the opening sequence of the long-anticipated film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ beloved, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. As Peter and Edmund Pevensie flee for their backyard bomb shelter with their mother, the younger boy returns, risking his life to save a photograph of his father who is serving in the military.
The scene heightens the emerging conflict between the two brothers and calls greater attention than did the novel to the life-and-death circumstances faced by the children. By effectively placing their ensuing fantastical journey in the context of life and death, the classic tale of love, forgiveness and sacrifice becomes all the more compelling.
Directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek), The Chronicles of Narnia is an excellent film. Pivotal moments from the tale – the journey through the wardrobe, Aslan at the Stone Table and Lucy’s enchantment by Tumnus the faun – are truly magical. While the film is not without flaws, there is indeed a “deep magic” in a film that is largely faithful to the 1950 novel.
Four children from the Pevensie family are evacuated from war-torn London to the British countryside. Staying in the museum-like home of an old professor, they discover a wardrobe that opens a door into another world. Narnia, a land of talking animals and fairylike creatures, has endured the domination of an evil White Witch. Jadis has cast an icy spell, making it “always winter and never Christmas.” But the children learn “there’s a prophecy that two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve will appear to defeat the White Witch and put an end to this 100-year winter.”
“I think you’ve made a mistake. We’re not heroes,” protests Peter (William Moseley), who slowly evolves into his hero’s journey. The vivid realism of the pre-title sequence also nicely foreshadows the decision by his brother, Edmund (Skandar Keynes), to betray his siblings to the White Witch for all the Turkish Delight candy he can eat.
But just as it was the youngest sister, Lucy, who discovered the wardrobe passage, the portrayal of Lucy by Georgie Henley takes the film into another dimension. She manages to capture Lucy’s tenderness, humor and childlike trust. We experience her wonder with this magical land, her sense of sorrow in viewing Aslan’s plight and her joy when she nuzzles with the lion.
Tilda Swinton is a chilling Jadis the White Witch, capturing both the villainy that inspires fear in other characters as well as her own fear of Aslan, whose power she has faced before. And Liam Neeson provides sufficient gravitas as the voice of Aslan, the great lion who is Narnia’s creator.
Aslan, a word meaning “lion” in a Turkish dialect, is a computer-generated lion two years in the making for this film. The creation is simply outstanding. We see a range of real emotions portrayed in his face. There is an immense sadness in Aslan’s eyes as he journeys toward the Stone Table to settle accounts with the White Witch. When the battle rages between the forces of good and evil, Aslan is on the move and he’s definitely not a tame lion.
The special effects provide an example of the film’s high points and low points. The scenes are breathtaking, especially Cair Paravel, the seat of Narnian government with the four thrones. The mix of live action and CG wolves seems indistinguishable There is great realism to half-human half-animal creatures like the fauns and centaurs. The minotaurs will terrify, as will the creatures the Witch has turned to stone.
Yet there are flaws that mar the film. The CG beavers don’t fit into the film as seamlessly as other creatures. While James McAvoy is a wonderful Mr. Tumnus the faun and his hooves seem quite natural, his prosthetic nose seems to be detaching in several scenes.
Readers of C.S. Lewis’ work will consider this a more faithful adaptation to the screen than either the recent Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings films. (Douglas Gresham, Lewis’ stepson, is a co-producer of the film and contributes his voice as a radio announcer.)
While the film adaptation may not become quite the classic the book has, this Christmas, take your children, or even the child within you, to a world where it’s “always winter and never Christmas,” and watch the spirit of Christmas emerge.