It might be a competent and intermittently engaging adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ much loved children’s book, but for the most part this is an average Christmas blockbuster.
The massive box office success of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises obviously alerted Hollywood executives to the fact that there was money to be made in children’s fantasy books and the Christian audiences who lapped up The Passion of the Christ. After reportedly turning down the chance to make Lord of the Rings, Disney (in a co-production with Walden Media) have now invested a considerable amount in bringing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the screen, the first of Lewis’ seven books set in the magical land of Narnia.
During the Blitz, the children of the Pevensie family are sent off to a large country house. There they amuse themselves by playing hide and seek and the youngest, Lucy (Georgie Henley), decides to hide in a large wardrobe. She finds that it is a magical portal to the world of Narnia, a land of permanent frost and snow. After meeting a kindly faun named Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy) who tells her about where she has found herself, she goes back through the wardrobe to her sceptical siblings. Eventually they too discover Narnia and find themselves drawn into a battle between the evil witch (Tilda Swinton) who controls the kingdom and the forces of good led by the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson).
For fans of the original book, there is initially much to chew on here. It is faithful to the source material, the production design is technically impressive and the CGI used to bring animals such as Aslan to life is (for the most part) convincing. The young actors in the lead roles all do a decent enough job and Tilda Swinton brings an icy gravitas to the role of the White Witch. But despite the qualities that will no doubt make this one of the most popular films over the Christmas period, there was too much here that left me deflated. The central problem is that none of the elements really gel into a memorable whole. Although director Andrew Adamson has taken some care to ensure that the details of the book have been translated on screen, there is little here to truly inspire or excite.
The world of Narnia is recreated with an solid attention to detail and the CGI used to create the animal characters is mostly good (without ever being outstanding). However, there is lack of cohesion between the characters and their surroundings that makes Narnia less magical than it should be. When we fist come across Tumnus and the famous lamp post it feels too much like a set and the final battle scenes are nowhere near the standards set by Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings films.
Given the way this film has been marketed to religious audiences in the States, one might expect the Christian themes to have been laid on quite heavily. But in truth it’s not an explicitly religious film, certainly no more than the book. If you object to the metaphors in Lewis’ original (Aslan is essentially a Christ-like figure) then, you will probably object to them here as it reproduces the tone of the story quite faithfully. But the problem with this adaptation is not religion, it is the lack of wonder and magic needed to make a film like this truly memorable.
> Official Site
> IMDb Link
> Watch the trailer
> See what the critics think of the film at Metacritic
> Wikipedia on the original books
> Detailed bio of C.S. Lewis
> The Economist with an article profiling Philip Anschutz – the man behind Walden Media, co-financiers of the film along with Disney – who wants to make films without sex and violence (you mean all the good stuff? – Ed)
> The Village Voice with an interesting article on the way ‘Christian values’ are finding their way into Hollywood films
> Polly Toynbee in The Guardian is upset by the Christian elements in the book and film