Monday, December 07, 2009

“Please don't try to run. We're tired and we'd prefer to kill you quickly.”

Its been a little while since we’ve tossed some good ol’ fashioned whimsy into the mix. I’ve always felt bad about not really getting into C.S. Lewis’ fantasy epic The Chronicles of Narnia, but I had a fairly bad experience growing up watching what I believe were some of the BBC versions from the 80s where the budgets and the acting were not very good and I got bored of it fast. So when a new rendition was released for the new millennium, well, I was hesitantly interested in seeing it. Here’s 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Fleeing the Blitz of London during the Second World War, the Pevensie children are sent to the house of a professor in the English countryside to keep them safe. There, they discover a gateway to a magical world in the thrall of an eternal winter and find themselves in the position of being promised ones who legend says would free Narnia from tyranny.

Lucy Pevensie: Georgie Henley plays the youngest Pevensie sibling, the bright-eyed, innocent, idealist Lucy. She’s also basically the point-of-view character, and her ability to convey wonder at finding a different, magical world within a wardrobe is pretty important.

Peter Pevensie: William Moseley is the eldest Pevensie and the “leader.” Except, he’s kind of a jerk. Sure, he’s the second most skeptical about Narnia existing, but its really in his treatment of Edmund that makes him a jerk. Sure, Edmund’s also a jerk, but he goes through a character arc here. Peter browbeats him at the beginning of the movie for selfishness, then browbeats him later a couple of times, showing the audience that this is something of a habit. When in Narnia, he only gets a few bright ideas to shine in and becomes the de facto general, but he’s never done anything like this before, so its not really a surprise when the battle turns into a rout and he gets completely schooled in a duel with the villain.

Susan Pevensie: Anna Popplewell plays the second oldest Pevensie, and is also “the smart one.” Sometimes a little too smart and not afraid to let others know, she ends up getting a bow & arrow because I guess she’s got the upper body strength to draw back a bow for maximum effect. Or something.

Edmund Pevensie: Skandar Keynes, who’s name indicates he will grow up, build a longboat and raid the North Sea, plays the most interesting Pevensie, the troubled Edmund. Ed’s a jerk in this story, being neither the oldest, nor smartest, nor cutest, so he’s got to be the troublemaker. But he’s also got some nice depth. That first scene where he runs back into the house and Peter drags him back out wasn’t for a selfish reason like Peter said it was. He was going back in to get a photograph of his father, who was off fighting in the war, which is actually a touching, selfless act. Once he gets to Narnia he gets really stupid, selling his siblings out for sweets and a sleigh ride, but the whole point of that dalliance with villainy is to give him some solid character development for later.

Jadis, the White Witch: Tilda Swinton plays up the ice queen of Narnia, a real cold lady with a frigid demeanor- okay, I’ll stop. She’s the villain, a very powerful user of magic. She’s got a staff that can turn people/animals to stone at a touch and her magic is keeping Narnia in a permanent winter. Everybody’s afraid of her for the most part, and as the movie goes on, she gets more and more dangerous. She’s evil, all right. Sexy evil.

Mr. Tumnus: James McAvoy plays a rather timid faun that Lucy meets on her first trip to Narnia. He puts in an incredibly likable performance, and the realization of making the upper half of a character human and the lower half bipedal and goatlike is fantastically well done.

Ginarrbrik: Kiran Shah (who was Frodo’s body double in Lord of the Rings) is the White Witch’s right hand henchman, and a psychotic little guy.

Professor Kirke: Jim Broadbent is the professor who owns the house in which the wardrobe resides. He also seems to have some knowledge of Narnia himself.

Mr. & Mrs. Beaver: Ray Winstone & Dawn French voice two beavers that take the Pevensies under their protection when the White Witch starts looking around for them. The voice acting for both is great, but the CGI is a little bit off on them. Not bad, just…aging quickly, I suppose is the best way to put it.

Maugrim: Michael Madsen plays the wolf that is the head of the White Witch’s secret police. Fairly cool since he’s a vicious psycopath, just not in the movie all that much.

Aslan: Liam Neeson is probably the best option available to voice a majestic lion that is also a clear analog for Christ. He’s an ideal ruler; wise, forgiving, understanding, self-sacrificing and all that good stuff. And interestingly, for all that, he’s not really boring. Also, compared to other Christ-figures in fiction, he’s also capable of eating people’s faces off when he needs to. Now that’s a badass Jesus analog.

Oreius: Patrick Kake is Aslan’s general, and a centaur. Only shows up near the end for the big battle, but he’s a stern, capable warrior that was my runner up for badass of the film. He’s certainly more competent in the battle than Peter.

Directed by Andrew Adamson (who also directed the first two Shrek movies) does an interesting job of trying to capture the sense of wonder required for a world of talking animals and all that. Its very well shot, but the beginning half of the movie feels very light and fluffy and inconsequential compared to the second half, where the stakes get raised dramatically and the story picks up the pace. The second half is incredibly dramatic, and goes into some pretty dark territory what with the heroic sacrifice involved amid a nocturnal ritual that is genuinely creepy. There’s one battle scene, at the end which does some very nice inventive things with armies that include minotaurs, fauns, centaurs, dwarves and griffons. Speaking of which, the special effects on the fauns and centaurs are incredibly well done, as are the effects on Aslan. Some of the other talking critters don’t quite mesh well with their surroundings, but its nothing bad.

Book by Clive Staples Lewis, adapted for the screen by Andrew Adamson, Ann Peacock, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. A sense of wonder and discovery pervades the movie, and this is of course a good thing. The pacing does feel a little bit uneven though, and I’m pretty sure Peter isn’t meant to be thought of as a jerk.

The score by Harry Gregson-Williams does a great job of conveying both wonder and ADVENTURE! However, its not quite up there with some of the other fantasy themes we’ve had in the last ten years.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a fine little film that is a very good kids’ fantasy (which it was intended to be ever since Lewis wrote it). Still, it does feel fairly light and slightly uneven in places. However, when the movie clicks, its magical, and the hybrid special effects of makeup and CGI are incredibly convincing. Its definitely worth a watch.

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