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Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The

dir: Andrew Adamson
[img_assist|nid=896|title=Just like Lord of the Rings, except blander|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=297]
I don’t usually get to watch G or PG rated flicks at the cinema. And it’s not due to the result of any court proceedings or angry parent’s groups with pitchforks and flaming torches. Rarely does a thusly rated movie justify my scant money and precious time. It’s not only smutty hellish violence and lewdness that inspires me to venture forth. Usually, if it doesn’t have at least ‘adult themes’, I’m not always interested in what one of these sappy movies has to say.

It’s a definite, unfortunate bias on my part. It means I miss out on seeing some admirable flicks on the big, unfocused screen. It means I miss out on being annoyed by legions of hyper-animated munchkins in the seats around my position in the cinema.

It means a lot of things. But I decided to breach the conditions of my self-imposed restraining order and make the long journey into a theatre to watch this here epic.

I have fond memories of reading the Narnia books as a child. I read them at around the time where I was in my Enid Blyton-reading prime. So the activities of well-scrubbed, full of pluck, British boys and girls around the time of the second War with the Germans engaging in acts of derring-do and crime solving are part of my upbringing.

To me, Narnia wasn’t really any more special than the Magic Faraway Tree or the Wishing Chair. It’s only in retrospect that the Christian symbolism and allegorical attempts at deeper significance are apparent. Back then, to a child of seven, they were no more meaningful than stories about rude children getting spanked a lot, a whole hell of a lot, for being naughty.

As with the aforementioned concept, some of the stories from the era have left an indelible impression upon many of us, which persists for the rest of our lives. For me, the idea of a dusty old wardrobe leading to a winter wonderland is still a joyous image. Talking lions, unicorns and white witches are a dime a dozen in the fantasy world, but the idea of a gateway from the mundane realm to the sublime appealed to me greatly.

It was with this sense of wonderment that I approached the film, hoping they could get that right, if nothing else. And they did.

The first time Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) walks backwards through the fur coats, further and further back until she discovers pine trees and snow, I knew they had it right. If nothing else, they got this right.

The four Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Lucy have been bundled off by their mother to the English countryside to avoid being blowed up real good during the German Blitz in London. At the gigantic manor of an aged professor (Jim Broadbent), they basically kill time until they stumble through a wardrobe and get to Narnia.
Narnia is a fantastical land populated by fauns, centaurs, talking beavers, gryphons and unicorns. It sounds like every pre-pubescent girl’s greatest fantasy. Unfortunately, instead of lots of pony rides and tea parties, Narnia is ruled by an evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who is so tremendously Aryan that she has imposed a ceaseless winter upon the land for the last hundred years. And not one Christmas.

Humans, referred to as Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, don’t exist in Narnia, so when the kids arrive they are pretty popular. A prophecy indicates that four humans are destined to vanquish the White Witch and end her reign of terror forever. She runs a fairly fascist state, with wolves and a few other animals acting as her secret police / death squads. Naturally, just to sound like an early 90s rapper for a moment, the White Bitch doesn’t like the idea of being ousted, and sets about protecting herself by corrupting one of the children whilst hunting for the others.

Tilda is quite excellent as the Queen. There’s only one moment where she goes way too over the top and seems too much like the Queen from Snow White, but other than that she is superb. It’s a testament to either how well she plays it, or how different a person I am now compared to when I was a child, that at the end of the film, as she battles one of the children, I actually wanted her to win instead.

Of the four children, all of them could have died without many tears being spilled apart from Lucy. Lucy, or at least the actress that plays her, makes the film. Without her it all would have seemed awfully dreary. She brings an unaffected joy to her performance, enhancing the film as a result beyond anything special effects or talking lions can manage.

The other three kids are really, really annoying. I can’t blame the actors, because unless they were improvising, their dialogue is as given to them. It’s just a shame their characters are whingeing little gits for most of the film. They get better towards the end, but I can remember at some points hoping some of them would actually meet painful ends so I wouldn’t have to hear them nag each other anymore.

Speaking of nagging, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) is the leader of the forces for goodness in the land of Narnia. He is also the very obvious Christ figure in the flick. The thought of sitting down to a two and a half hour serving of steaming Christian dogma is enough to make anyone want to flee screaming, except those who want that stuff, I guess. But for the rest of you godless heathens, fear not. Most people unfamiliar with the thrills and spills of the New Testament won’t differentiate any of the fantastical thematic elements as to whether it’s been lifted from the Christian, Greek, Roman, Celtic or Norse mythologies respectively.

The themes of sacrifice and resurrection are no more trademarked by Christianity than they are by any of the other ancient mythologies / faiths that have it as a central theme, which most of them did. If anything, this flick is less of an obvious Christian lift than the Matrix films were.

Aslan is cool, but he could have done with a deeper voice. It would have been obvious and redundant to use James Earl Jones, but that’s the kind of deep, resonating voice I’d imagine from the stories. Maybe they could have used me. After a night on the whisky, with two or three cigarette packets smoked, I would have been able to generate a voice so deep and growly that the kids and adults in the audience would have shat themselves. Which, I think, should have been the director’s objective.

On that point, Andrew Adamson does better here than he did on the Shrek flicks, which, like unpleasant sex, get worse the longer they go on. Doubtless there’ll be more Shrek flicks, and more Narnia flicks as well. I still don’t think he achieved that epic feel he may have been going for by shooting on the Lord of the Rings sloppy seconds locations. I don't think Lion etc really needed to be epic. When it’s ‘big’, it still looks appropriately cheesy, which is okay. Our expectations for CGI special effects to be flawless are a sure path to perpetual dissatisfaction. The day is far distant when we’ll be able to forget the provenance of an image on the screen, and not notice the CGI amidst the ‘real’, as the amount of ‘real’ shrinks.

Still, the CGI here has its corners cut, clearly on the slightly cheap, and is noticeably jerky. It looks a bit dated before its time, but I don’t think it’s that big a deal. The White Witch and the kids aren’t CGI, and presumably they’re the ones that matter. The quality varies throughout but it isn’t too distracting.

It’s funny that C.S. Lewis himself, in a letter to someone at the BBC in the 60s, thought a live action version of his books shouldn’t be done because they’d be terrible, especially when it came to representations of the talking creatures, and especially Aslan. He also specifically said Disney should have nothing to do with it, since he hated Uncle Walt’s work and didn’t think they’d do Narnia justice.

In case the irony escapes anyone, yep, Disney were all over this production.

You’d think kids would be the primary audience for this, but it’s probably not. Really young kids, the same age I was when I first read these thinly veiled evangelical tracts, probably wouldn’t be seeing the flick if they had responsible parents. The large battle scene at the end is quite violent, in a bloodless way. And the film is PG rated, which means kids under twelve would probably either be too scared or too profoundly bored to really enjoy it.

Still, it succeeds more often than it falls over, and I think its target is more adults who remember the books with fondness rather than kids weened on Harry Potter. And, just to put the boot in a bit, it’s a far more straightforward and enjoyable (for me) flick than any of the Potter films that I’ve seen thus far.

Then again, I have more of a connection to the Narnia books, not that I’m comparing the two franchises. They both have some similar virtues and many of the same flaws that plagues fantasy fiction. Especially the crap about people being chosen ones prophesied to do whatever whenever the author decides it’s time. And the whole romanticising of feudalism, hereditary rule, and ‘divine right’ (characters are heroes, kings and queens simply by virtue of being born, not by achievement alone). You’d think we would have moved past such crap a while ago, regardless of how much the zero-to-hero concept appeals to lazy people.

Don’t forget, none of this changes the fact that it’s a movie mostly aimed at children. If the thought of children’s flicks fills you with a dangerous, unspeakable rage, then definitely steer clear. Wouldn’t want anyone popping an artery over this.

It brought me some joy, it recalled for me the childhood wonderment with which I beheld a whole new world existing in the least likely of places. And that’s all I asked for.

6 dreams and cherished memories of childhood NOT raped and mutilated by Disney (this time) out of 10

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“I think you've made a mistake. We're not heroes” – I agree, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

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