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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

[The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe] The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Walden Media, 2005
Rated: PG
Running Time: 135 minutes
Director: Andrew Adamson
Producers: Mark Johnson & Philip Steuer
Amazon.com: NTSC DVD
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Amazon.co.uk: PAL DVD
Christianbook.com: NTSC DVD
Recommended by: Greg Slade

The Chronicles of Narnia have been my favourite fantasy books since I was old enough to read, and, while The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe isn't my favourite of the Narnia books (that place being reserved for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), it's still right up there. Therefore, I looked forward to the release of this film with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I looked forward to having one of my favourite stories of all time coming out on the big screen, and hopefully being introduced to a whole new generation of readers. But on the other hand, I feared that the story would be mishandled in the process. Hollywood has a long history of making movies based on popular books, and then making so many changes during the transition to film that the original story is nearly unrecognisable. For that reason, any number of films which were highly anticipated by the fans of the books ended up bombing at the box office, because the core fan base was offended by the violence done to "their" story.

There were reasons for both my anticipation and my dread. On the positive side, I knew that the technology of special effects has advanced sufficiently that Lewis' fears about having the Narnia stories made into films (that the talking animals and other mythical creatures would be so poorly represented as to make the stories into unintentional comedies, as happened, sadly, with the BBC miniseries) was no longer an issue. It was clear that this was going to be a "big budget&34; effort, and therefore technically, it should be able to carry the story. Then, too, the director, Andrew Adamson, was responsible for a couple of my favourite movies ever (Shrek and Shrek 2), and Douglas Gresham, Lewis' stepson, was acting as a co-producer, so there shouldn't have been too much violence done to the essence of the book.

On the negative side, there was so much talk about the various companies involved in doing the effects, and their previous efforts (which were definitely notable) that I began to fear that the makers were going to focus so much on the effects that the story would get lost. Then, too, while I loved the Shrek movies, they were definitely very different from the original children's story, with lots of extra elements added in for laughs. Had I read and loved the original story, I may well have found the additions much less funny. Even those films in recent years which have been notable for sticking closer to the story than Hollywood has normally done in the past (like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies) have been fairly revisionist, and not always to the benefit of the story.

As it happens, both my hopes and my fears were met, but not all of either. On the positive side, the effects are so good as to be nearly unnoticable. The various creatures as so well rendered that the average viewer is more likely to accept the wonders being portrayed as "real" (or at least real enough to carry the story) than to dissect just what methods were used to represent them. Thus, we can "ignore the man behind the curtain" and get on with the story. The acting is solid, and the child actors who, of necessity, have to carry the story throughout most of the movie do an excellent job in their characters.

On the negative side, the filmmakers just couldn't resist twisting the story around. This begins in the opening sequence (which doesn't come from the book), which begins laying the foundation for Edmund's betrayal of the others not really being his fault. Just like so many "life of Christ" films (which give revisionist views of Judas as a helpless victim, or even a misunderstood hero, rather than the greatest traitor in history), this film shies away from the historical reality that perfectly ordinary people can do perfectly evil things. Essentially, Adamson didn't trust his source material, and couldn't resist the temptation to meddle. This is seen again when Lucy first enters the wardrobe. Adamson couldn't believe that she would go into the wardrobe of her own free will, and thus puts the game of "hide and seek" out of place, to give her a motivation to go into it (as if small enclosed spaces didn't attract young children like magnets – isn't that the real attraction of playing "hide and seek" in the first place?) And, of course, there is climactic music and slow motion photography as the wardrobe is revealed, even though the book deliberately portrays the wardrobe as apparently quite ordinary. Other differences are, apparently, due to ignorance. Had Adamson had a classical education, he would have know that it would be quite wrong to put any kind of flute other than a panpipe into Mr. Tumnus' hands, what with him being a faun and all, even though, in those pre-Zamfir days, Lewis couldn't call it that, because Lucy wouldn't have known what it was.

The most serious problem is that Adamson puts a speech into Aslan's mouth which firmly identifies him as a creature, rather than as a type of Christ:

Peter, there is a Deep Magic, more powerful than any of us, that rules over all of Narnia. It defines right from wrong, and governs all our destinies. Yours... and mine.

The closest thing to this in the book is during the negotiation with the witch, during which the following exchange takes place:

"Oh, Aslan!" whispered Susan in the Lion's ear, "can't we – I mean, you won't, will you? Can't we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn't there something you can work against it?"
"Work against the Emperor's Magic?" said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again. (p. 142.)

The difference may not appear to be important, at least to an unbeliever, but where the book portrays Aslan as willingly submitting himself to his father, the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, the film makes him into a creature like any other, subject to a destiny ordained by the Deep Magic itself.

Still, despite its flaws, this is an enjoyable film, and hopefully it will inspire people to read the original stories in all their depth and power. (November, 2006)

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