Saturday, December 10, 2005

For Narnia, and for Aslan

There are several ways to look at "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (which will henceforth be referred to as "Narnia" to save me some keystrokes and you a little time.)

Given C.S. Lewis' religious conversion just before starting the "Narnia" series, you can view it as thinly veiled Christian allegory. Given Peter Jackson's epic treatment of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by Lewis' comrade J.R.R. Tolkein, you can also view it in comparison to those movies. But I wouldn't recommend either approach.

"Narnia," which was written by Lewis for four children who came to stay with him during World War II, is best viewed through the eyes of its young heroine, Lucy Pevensie. Through the eyes of a wide-eyed child, which most of us still have hiding inside us somewhere, it's nearly perfect.

Watching Georgie Henley's Lucy go through the wardrobe for the first time, her reaction was the same as mine: sheer wonder. Director Andrew Adamson of "Shrek" fame, with the help of the New Zealand countryside and some very real looking CGI snow, nailed the look of the winter-bound Narnia perfectly. It was just as it looked in my mind, where it had existed until now.

The initial encounter with Mr. Tumnus the faun is also just as I pictured it, down to his legs, which are a technological marvel. Try not to laugh as he stamps his hooves to knock off the snow.

The children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and young Lucy, are refreshingly unremarkable. They're not remotely cool. They're just very believable pasty-faced Brits.

As they journey through Narnia and meet the beavers, I had a fearful flashback to Eddie Murphy's wiseass donkey in the "Shrek" flicks. There's no place in Narnia for such cheap humor, and Adamson luckily holds his worst impulses in check. Instead, we get British actors Dawn French and Ray Winstone as clever but never crass CGI talking beavers.

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch Jadis was a bit of a letdown, getting by mostly on the fact, that, in real life, she looks much like a witch. Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan is, likewise, very one-dimensional, all nobility and little spirit. Lewis saw the world of good and evil in very strict terms, making neither terribly interesting.

Without revealing too much to anyone unfamiliar with the story (if such a person exists), Adamson keeps the action brisk as the Pevensie children make their way to their destiny, the epic battle between the forces of Aslan and those of the White Witch.

The battle is a joy to behold. Think what it would be like to see all kinds of creatures, real and mythological, converging on the field of battle. Minotaurs vs. centaurs, leopards vs. rhinos, and even armed beavers. Then forget all about it, because Adamson makes it crazier than you can imagine.

Because Lewis, and apparently Adamson, intended these scenes to be appropriate for children of all ages, there's no blood and guts. This isn't a realistic battle, it's a fantastic one, in every meaning of the word. Seeing as Lewis gave Lucy a potion that will magically nurse the wounded back to life, the vagaries of war were clearly not really on his mind.

The true test of whether you can swallow all this is how you react to Santa Claus showing up about 2/3 of the way through. It's straight from Lewis' mind, since the White Witch had banned Christmas when she created perpetual Winter, and only the ascension of the Pevensie children to the Narnia throne can bring about its return.

If you're too cynical to believe that, move on. This movie isn't for you. Myself, I'm very, very cynical. But for a little over two hours in the magical world of Narnia, I forgot all that and just let my inner child come out. And he had a blast with this flick.

P.S. I'll be going to either "Syriana" or "Good Night, and Good Luck" tomorrow, and will post something about it in the next couple of days. Check back if you'd like. Everyone's welcome. Then, finally bring on KING KONG!


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