Friday, February 12, 2010

Review: "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 179 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Running time:  143 minutes (2 hours, 23 minutes)
MPAA - PG for battle sequences and frightening moments
DIRECTOR: Andrew Adamson
WRITERS: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (based upon the book by C.S. Lewis)
PRODUCERS: Mark Johnson and Philip Steuer
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Donald M. McAlpine, A.S.C./A.C.S.
EDITORS: Sim Evan-Jones and Jim May
Academy Award winner


Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, James Cosmo, Kiran Shah, and the voices of Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, and Rupert Everett

Sent out of London by their mother because of the German bombing of the city (circa World War II), the Pevensie children: youngest child Lucy (Georgie Henley), troublesome Edmund (Skandar Keynes), practical Susan (Anna Popplewell), and eldest child Peter (William Moseley) find themselves at the country estate of Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). Playing hide and seek one day in the Professor’s large home, Lucy stumbles upon an enchanted wardrobe, the back of which leads to a parallel universe known as Narnia. There, at lamppost in the forest of Narnia, Lucy meets and befriends a faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy). Before sending Lucy home, Mr. Tumnus warns her of an evil sorceress that has cast a spell over Narnia, putting the land in the grip of a perpetual winter that has lasted 100 years.

Later, Lucy cannot convince her siblings that Narnia is real, but circumstances eventually lead all four Pevensie children through the wardrobe to Narnia. There, Edmund falls under icy spell of the White Witch Jadis (Tilda Swinton), while Lucy, Peter, and Susan join Narnia’s rightful ruler, the wise and mythical lion, Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson). The Pevensie children must discover their strength and learn the power of family and courage as they join Aslan and lead the forces of good into a spectacular battle against Jadis and her forces to free Narnia of the White Witch’s eternal winter.

Walt Disney and Walden Media, the studio and media entity respectively behind The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ famed children’s book and Christian allegory, have tried to sell this Narnia film as The Passion of the Christ for children. The film, which brings the book’s Christian symbolism, as well as its plot, to the screen, does a have a few Passion-like moments, but this is more a less affluent second cousin of The Lord of the Rings than it is Passion-like. After a listless first 30 to 45 minutes, Narnia becomes an action, adventure epic that can be compared somewhat favorably to LOTR. However, Narnia’s chase and battle sequences, filled as they are with peril and the threat of death, are less like The Passion of the Christ and more like another Mel Gibson film, Braveheart.

What’s bad about Narnia? Some of the CGI and computer animation is of a low quality for a prestige release from a studio like Walt Disney. The opening sequence, which depicts the bombing of London, might be okay for a video game, but it looks painfully phony in the context of a film like Narnia. Many of the CGI animals and creatures would be perfect in a bad Sci-Fi Channel original pitting dueling giant snakes, but here it’s embarrassingly bad. This occasionally looks as rushed as it looks cheap, and the viewer can practically see the seams between computer generated fake reality and real humans and locales.

Also, the film opens too slowly and film feels mechanical early on. It is as if director Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2) is trying, by showing how bad off the Pevensie children were before they discovered Narnia (their father is off at war and their mother sends them away from their London home because of the bombing) to establish that The Chronicles of Narnia is a serious adult drama about the hardships of real people. If he’s trying to tell us that this is more than just a film about kids have a grand old adventure in a magical land, he’s wrong by half. This is as much about imagination and wonder as it is about serious issues and moral imperatives.

The good: First and foremost is the stellar performance of Tilda Swinton as the White Witch. If a monstrously icy persona could be said to simmer, then Ms. Swinton’s portrayal of a stone, cold wicked sorceress is white-hot. I couldn’t get enough of her, and she genuinely scared me.

After a shaky start, the script gives the cast good material with which to play. Each of the actors playing a Pevensie child can give his or her character a unique personality. That’s why the audience will believe that these diverse personalities clash as often as they love. Ray Winstone and Dawn French as the voices of the CGI Mr. and Mrs. Beaver provide light comic relief. By far the best supporting creature character is the live action Ginarrbrik, an assistant to the White Witch, splendidly played by Kiran Shah.

The final epic battle, a lengthy one between the forces of good led by the Pevensie boys against the White Witch and her legions is pretty exciting. However, it is also surprisingly violent for a film rated “PG” by the MPAA. Did Disney and Walden Media influence the MPAA in order to get such a low rating for scenes of battle violence that are at the very least “PG-13?” Perhaps, the ratings board cut the film some slack because so many Christian religious leaders and pundits proclaimed that it was absolutely necessary that children see Narnia, because the film is, beneath the magic and fantastical creatures and settings, Christian. So graphic depictions of combat in film are “PG” when it’s in the service of Jesus Christ?

Ultimately, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a good film. In addition to the movie’s religious undertones, it is an ode to family. That the Pevensie children decide to help a kingdom under siege and learn about sacrifice is second to the fact that, in the end, they have each other’s back. For me, the sibling bonding makes Narnia rise above its clumsiness and the sometimes mediocre visual effects.

7 of 10

Sunday, December 11, 2005

2006 Academy Awards: 1 win for “Best Achievement in Makeup” (Howard Berger and Tami Lane); 2 nominations for “Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” and “Best Achievement in Visual Effects”

2006 BAFTA Awards: 1 win for “Best Make Up/Hair” (Howard Berger, Tami Lane, and Nikki Gooley) and 2 nominations for best visual effects and best costume design

2006 Golden Globes: 2 nominations for best original score and best original song in a motion picture


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