Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
December 2005

Witchy Woman Highlights Narnian Magic

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Andrew Adamson
Screenplay: Ann Peacock & Andrew Adamson and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, James McAvoy and Jim Broadbent; and the voices of Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Rupert Everett and Jim May
Rated PG-13/2 hours, 20 minutes
Opened Dec. 9, 2005
(out of four)

The time of the sweeping, large-scale, fantasy epic is here. No, big-budget fantasy is nothing new in Hollywood, but in this century alone, we have had all three installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first four of Harry Potter, next week's re-make of King Kong and now the first of C.S. Lewis' seven-volume The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

With the advancement of modern technology, it's finally possible to believably create the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth, etc. And who knows? With as much money as all of these movies seem to bring in, we might see even more popular fantasy series hit the silver screen in the coming years.

But it's been a long time coming for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Forget the cheesy mini-series we all watched when we were kids. While that may have been more all-inclusive of the novel, it was limited by the fact that it was made 17 years ago. It simply can't compare to the sensational production value and strong special effects of this new cinematic version. Directed by Andrew Adamson, in his first live-action feature after helming both Shrek movies, Wardrobe follows in the footsteps of Peter Jackson's Rings trilogy in both its scope and its attention to detail.

Most people know the story - the four Pevensie children are sent by their mother from London to an old country house belonging to a professor (Jim Broadbent, in a small, thankless role) in order to escape danger in the midst of World War II. There's bossy Peter (William Moseley), prudish Susan (Anna Popplewell), bratty Edmond (Skandar Keynes) and the youngest, Lucy (Georgie Henley), who is like that precocious little sister we all know and love. It is she who discovers, during a game of hide-and-seek, that through a mysterious wardrobe lies the snowy, magical land of Narnia.

There hasn't been a Christmas in Narnia for 100 years, thanks to the tyranny of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who as the so-called Queen holds sway over all of Narnia. And from the looks of things, she loves her job, and just won't have four little English brats throwing a kink into her plans.

The arrival of the Pevensie children into Narnia sets into motion an ancient prophecy, in which Aslan, the lion (voiced by Liam Neeson), along with the children, will save Narnia from the witch's grasp, culminating in an ultimate battle between the armies of good and evil.

Even if you haven't read the books, if you've been paying attention, it's fairly obvious that the story is an allegory of the story of Christ, with Aslan playing the role of messiah. Adamson and his team of screenwriters don't preach or pander, but actually do a nice job making the allegory work for its cinematic purposes.

The biggest question mark going in to this project - and perhaps the one aspect that would make or break the movie - is the talking animals. But I could breathe easy once the film began. The CGI animals and the way they talk are very nicely done. It's obvious that a lot of effort and care were spent on the effects - they actually took time to get it right, instead of doing what too many other movies do and rushing cheap, terrible-looking digital imagery onto the screen.

And it's a good thing they got it right, considering how big of a role the animals play. The children are helped along by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French) -- though I wonder what the two furry little animals think of the kids' precious fur coats -- and they are pursued by a fang-laden group of wolves. Winstone, in particular, does a great job with his voice performance.

But as a film critic friend of mine said, it is hard to emotionally connect with the computer-generated Aslan, simply because his face isn't very expressive. Maybe the filmmakers could have done a better job with his face, or maybe not. It's hard to tell, but it is a bit of a problem considering he is our hero, our Jesus prototype (although Neeson does a nice job).

The White Witch is a much more engaging character. Swinton absolutely steals the show, playing the witch with icy tranquility and affection that can suddenly burst into fury and hatred at a moment's notice.

The film also has some pretty significant pacing problems - it isn't as tight or as congealed as it needs to be. But oh well. It's an impressive film, especially the final battle scene. Once again, the filmmakers took their time with the scene - the battle is crafted with visceral detail and gives the movie an involving climax, especially considering how much is going on all at once.

The violence is kept somewhat tame - perhaps tamer than it should be - but it works. That's the movie in a nutshell - yes, there are problems. But nonetheless, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is fine storytelling, told in grand, expensive fashion.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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