Movie-Hype00628 – THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA
I was sitting in the extraordinarily crowded theatre with Marcellus; scaring off families looking for 7 seats together, waiting for my own family to show up. We looked around, taking stock. In the row ahead were 489 kids, all under the age of 5, crawling all over the place like they were in open auditions for Spider-Man: The Early Years. I knew THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (hereafter known as TCONTLTWATW, or simply NARNIA) was rated a mild PG, but having read the book at least 40 times I was fairly certain the film would be somewhat scary, too scary perhaps for the urchins, who would undoubtedly then pee themselves in a projectile manner that would fly back and hit me.
Marcellus had even bigger worries. Looking more and more trapped, he eyed the kids like a trail horse would a pack of wolves. He finally looked at me and said, “Hype, I suddenly feel very old.”
This too became my concern. I have such great memories of reading C.S. Lewis’s classic series that I forgot that the books are geared toward kids. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a kids' movie, but maybe this was a bad idea.
However, before I could attempt to talk Marcellus into checking out something more adult, my family came in and the movie started. The previews were nothing but kids’ films, which worried me even more, but I didn’t have time to contemplate it much, for soon the movie started.
I’m here to reassure anyone out there who might be nervous that NARNIA is not a kids’ movie. Well, I guess it sort of is, but adults will love it too. The seven of us, ranging from twenty to fifty-um-something thoroughly enjoyed the film.
Like I said, the movie is based on the first book in the C.S. Lewis series. If you’ve read the book you already know the plot, and if you haven’t you won’t appreciate me ruining it for you, so enough said about that.
There is this thing that people just can’t get away from: when they have read and enjoyed a favorite book, they want that movie adaptation to be EXACTLY like said book. With all due respect, get a life people. Better yet: try to actually write a screenplay. What you’ll find is that books do not film as written. It’s the weirdest thing. My theory is because—and follow me now, because this is advanced logic—they are books, and not movies. I know; shocking.
A book takes place largely inside characters’ heads. Whether first person or omniscient third person, the reader is aware most of the time what the protagonists are thinking. The only way to replicate this in a movie would be voice-over, and too much of that is lazy filmmaking. In a movie, you find out what the characters are feeling and thinking by their dialogue, their actions, and most importantly, their reactions.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, often in a book the characters will sit around for several pages talking to each other. Done well, it can reveal essential plot points and advance the story line nicely. However, in a movie, that is simply death. You sit around for too long, and one or more of the characters involved better be trying to sleep with or kill the other characters. (Or both.)
I write all that to tell you that no matter what you think of the movie, NARNIA is a fantastic adaptation, in fact one of the best ever for the genre. This is helped greatly by the slim length of the original books; allowing the filmmakers to put almost everything in. Yes, there are a few omissions, and some of the timing is moved around to keep events flowing and ad tension, but only the biggest of ignoramii would nit-pick at such necessities.
The acting is almost all done by kids, animatronics and CGI. I’ll handle the effects in a moment. The kids are fine, especially Lucy. I think they will grow into the parts as the movies go on. (Remember, the first time we see kids in these series we have to cut them some slack. Remember Harry and Co. in Sorcerer’s Stone compared to Goblet of Fire?)
The best acting is done by Jadis, the White Witch (played by the very curious-looking but still yummy Tilda Swinton). She is so good I’d go so far as to say an Oscar Nomination should at least be discussed. By far the best part of the film for me. She adds not only a menace, but also a sultry even sexy haze over every scene she’s in.
This brings us to the computer effects. I hesitate to go into this because the day before I’d seen KING KONG for the second time, and it’s only natural to compare the two, since they are both big special-effect-driven adventures. And that’s unfair. When my brother Achmed and I were discussing it, I likened it to appreciating a brand new loaded Maxima. You can totally enjoy the vehicle, but you recognize that a Corvette is in a different class of automobile, and it would be unfair to compare them. This is how I feel about KING KONG vs. NARNIA.
That said, NARNIA is the first film in a big-budget series that Disney is hoping will rival Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, so maybe it’s not unfair to make comparisons. The point is: by whatever measure you use, NARNIA falls a bit short in the animated department. The effects never bugged me in their relative primitiveness, but I did notice them and couldn’t help but compare. I’m not sure if Disney felt that since the majority of film goers would be families they could scrimp here, whether they were rushed for time to make a December bow, or perhaps what the director wanted to do was simply out of reach, and perhaps better attempted a few years from now.
The beavers are pretty good, although at times it felt like they were cartoon characters on a live-action movie. (Kind of a Mary Poppins feel.) The wolves were good looking except when they talked; very unrealistic. Other creatures like the griffins and centaurs were pleasing, and the Minotaurs were downright fantastic.
But the film lives or dies on Aslan, the lion. For the most part he’s pretty good, with some exceptions. I would have liked him bigger, but I guess then I’d be guilty of wanting them to follow the book more. (Still; what’s wrong with having a larger-than-life lion for it’s own sake?)
The last major subject to address is the underlying themes NARNIA presents. For those who might not be aware, Lewis wove into his tales Christian allegory. In my mind, you write the story for the story, and if there’s deeper meaning let people get it themselves. Don’t beat them over the head with it. When I read the books, I didn’t feel the message got in the way of the story, except for the lamentable book 7. Certainly not THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE.
HYPERION’S RATING SYSTEM
Suspension of Disbelief: 9.5. There’s a giant gorilla out there on an undiscovered island before there is a Narnia.
Genre Grade: I’m putting this in Grand Adventure, with LOTR getting the A+. By that standard; B or B+.
Sex/Violence? There is violence and danger, although it’s done with removed camera angles in consideration of the kids. (Frankly, I’d love to see a more adult cut.) There is no sex, but this is a scene where Jadis woos Edmund that’s quite provocative. Kids will miss all the subtext, though, so no worries.
Can I bring my Grandmother? If your grandmother were Christian I would almost recommend it. Whatever problems Grams has with movies will be outweighed by the allegory.
Wait to Rent? A big no. If you care about the film at all, it needs to be seen on the large screen.
Pantheon Percentile: 82. A very very good film.
But don’t get me wrong; the Christian imagery is there if you want to see it. To my mind it doesn’t intrude on the grand adventure, but some might not agree. I was surprised how moved some of my party was, almost to the extent of last year’s Mel Gibson flick. (In fact, all month at the Institute we’ve been calling NARNIA The Passion of the Lion King.)
Objectively speaking NARNIA isn’t in the same class as a movie like KING KONG. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the film. I did, immensely so. It also doesn’t mean that you might not enjoy NARNIA more, if you respond to the subject matter. That’s a personal thing, one I’ll leave to you. I can recommend the film wholeheartedly, and assure you it’s safe and very positive for all but the youngest kids.
Oh, and one other thing: I was absolutely on fire with my occasional one-liners. If you are going to see it, write and ask me for them so you can use them and take credit, thus making you look good in front of the others.