Went and saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe last night with my friend Alex. Not bad; very faithful to the original book, with a few cheesy chase scenes and things thrown in to add excitement. I read the book recently (for the third time–I have a terrible memory for all but summary and major details in literature) and it was pretty interesting to see the whole thing played out on the big screen.
I read recently where C. S. Lewis was strongly opposed to having his books adapted to film. His greatest objection was that talking animals never looked right in the movies. Mind you, Lewis died before CGI special effects, so his reference for talking animals was from “Mr. Ed” and “Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.” Nowadays it seems like they can make almost anything talk, emote, and look convincing–and in this movie, they do. Beavers, a fox, wolves, a horse, a gryphon–even floating leaves talk. All in all, it looked pretty good. I would say ‘cheesiness’ was among the least of the film’s problems.
I should say ‘problems’ lightly. There aren’t many. My biggest complaint was just that the whole thing fell a little bit flat. They were obviously going for a grand “Lord of the Rings” style epic (and rightly so!) and the pacing just didn’t keep up. It takes a special kind of director–Peter Jackson, for instance–to be able to sustain the peaks and valleys of a large-scale narrative, and still build up to one great crescendo. It’s rather like conducting a large orchestra. Narnia is a noble effort, but it doesn’t inspire the same level of awe with its scope and meaning that Jackson’s “Rings” trilogy did. I compare, for instance, the “great battle” at the end of this film with the battle of Pelenor Fields from “Return of the King” or with the MASTERFUL battle of Helm’s Deep from “The Two Towers,” and it pales by comparisson. While it’s cool to see minotaurs, centaurs, griphons, cheetahs, tigers, et al engaging in battle with one another, the emotional investment is just not there.
Mind you, saying “this movie is not quite as good as the Lord of the Rings movies” is hardly an indictment. I definitely enjoyed Narnia, and I think it would work much better for children, whose short attention spans would probably not abide the pacing of Jackson’s trilogy. Narnia is also much milder in its violence (yes, there are creatures killed by swords, but it’s usually off-screen or in a very fast pan, rather than the lingering delight with which Jackson gave us beheadings and eviscerations). Queen Jadis is scary, but I’m not sure if she would have given me nightmares as a child. She comes across as sort of a tranquilized Cruela DeVil–though I couldn’t help thinking of the Cate Blanchett’s Lady Galadriel, a comparisson I’m sure many people will make due to physical and vocal similarities between Blanchett and Tilda Swinton.
Lastly, I was pretty satisfied with the weight the Christian element was given–in fact, even as a practicing godless heathen (in truth, a spiritual agnostic) I thought the film could have safely been a bit heavier-handed with the Christian element. While I’m sure Disney did not want to alienate any potential viewers, and I appreciate the effort at making the film more epic than parable, the Christian element is played down enough to almost be unnoticable. As it stands, only the [spoiler:] ressurection of Aslan and the phrases “son of Adam” and “daughter of Eve” stand to remind viewers of Lewis’s intentions. I think without prior knowledge, it would be entirely possible to sit through the whole film and never notice a parallel with Christian mythology. While I’m not personally a fan of Christian allegory, I do think it’s a disservice to C. S. Lewis to present his masterpiece without honoring his deeper spiritual intention for the work.
So, long story short, Narnia’s a good movie. It’s not as great as I hoped it might be, and if you’re looking for “Lord of the Rings, Part 4,” you’re going to be a little let down. If you’re a fan of the books, however, or just looking for an enjoyable (if maybe a bit defanged) fantasy epic, then by all means go drop your $10 on this movie.