Go See Narnia!

I’ve been, I’ve returned, and I’m a better person for it. How many movies can you say that about?

I wrote a truncated review of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for imdb.com, which is by far the greatest compendium of movie stuff ever. What follows is an expanded version of that review.

Exactly What It Claims To Be, 8 December 2005
aminuteman from Utah

It could have been overblown, but it wasn’t. It could have been “enhanced” or “inspired by”, but it wasn’t. It could have been excellent. And it is.It’s hard for me to separate the movie from the book, the two being so closely mated, and that makes it practically impossible for me to rate this movie, since the book is one of my favorites of all literature. That, and one of my earliest memories is my father lying in the hallway reading this book to me and my brother as we went to sleep. How do you objectively comment on something so close to one’s heart?

I was deathly afraid that the movie would try to be something that the book isn’t. The Chronicles of Narnia are not the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They are also not the Three Musketeers, or the Legends of King Arthur. They are stories for children, stories that happen to be about the most important thing that has ever occurred, but children’s stories nonetheless. The movie preserves this. The animation is excellent but not flawless, and the CGI is good but not top-drawer. This is irrelevant. The story is all there, every bit of it, from Edmund’s snottiness all the way to the mice on the Stone Table. The dialogue is not straight from the book, but it’s organic to the movie.

A word about the acting. Nearly all the characters are very good, with the possible exception of the two older children, Peter and Susan, played by William Moseley and Anna Popplewell. The latter of the two, I think, is unlikely to get a lot of work. Fortunately, the major bulk of the film is carried by Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes – great, great name), and neither of these two seem to have been tutored in acting. They just are. It’s fun to watch. Aslan (voice of Qui-Gon Jin) is very good, grave and powerful, and the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) is genuinely nasty and wholly believable. Nobody is winning an Oscar, here, and the actors know it, and that allows them to just do the story. It’s refreshing.

I was also afraid that no movie in this day could possibly tell this tale and leave intact the mystery and power of Aslan, as representative of the Christ. No review of this movie could leave out this essential point, I don’t believe, for this story is, in its essence, a story about the root of all Christianity. And my fears were not entirely unfounded. There is some skirting of the essential point, but the light touch on it is unlikely to obscure the truth from those who know, while refusing to hit over the head those who would rather not have to face it. In the end, it was dealt with about as well as could be expected.

When Aslan goes to the Stone Table, if you have ever grappled with serious spiritual things, you will beg Him, with tears on your cheeks, not to go. You will see that He knows what he is doing, even if you cannot understand why He does it. That 5 minutes was among the hardest things I have ever had to watch in a movie theater. It was great moviemaking. It was the one piece of the film that simply had to be done correctly. It was.

And I was most afraid that I would leave the theater and find that my childhood memories were overlaid with some sticky Hollywood film that would affect my love for the book itself, that I would see in my head only those images that the movie projected, and that they would alter, perhaps even degrade my love for CS Lewis’s immortal classic.

That didn’t happen. The movie actually is less a recreation of the book, which after all is only about 85 pages long, so much as it is an homage to it. Faithful it is, to be sure, but also there was a tangible joy in the making of the movie that comes clear through it, a bowing before the great tale mixed with a celebration of it. It does not ignore those that have not read the book, instead it asks them over and over to give the book a try.

For me, the movie was a fitting tribute to the book, preserving its character and power while allowing the characters to live and breathe for a new generation that might not be quite as much at home with the printed page.

For Narnia! Long Live the Lion!

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