Friday, January 06, 2006

The Narnia Chronicles: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

My mission when seeing the Narnia film was to determine at what point my sister would have to remove my four-year-old niece from the theatre. Having read the novel as a family, my niece is relatively prepared for the primary events of the novel: people frozen by the evil witch, a family betrayed by one of their own, and a brave leader’s sacrifice of his own life. Yet as a disgruntled mother commented in the row behind me during a particular scary scene involving a mix of real and CGI wolves, “this wasn’t in the novel!”

The battle scenes are pretty graphic as well, with some shots echoing Lord of the Rings exactly. The film is, in essence, LOTR light, as many critics have noted. Unfortunately, it is lighter in terms of its emotional impact, as well. As the Harry Potter films have demonstrated, child actors often falter during strong emotional scenes. In fact, only the most recent Potter film has offered the same level of powerful catharsis as the novel upon which it is based.

The actors portraying the Pevensie children are beautiful and their performances are sincere. Yet being children, they seem able to deliver only emotions as basic as fear, anger, and joy. Everything in between, all the shades of gray that complicate human relationships and bring a story its resonance, elude them. The movie is entertaining, but somehow, I couldn’t quite connect.

As the children discover the wonderful land in which they have found themselves, the music soars to grand heights of feeling. Yet what the children have discovered is nothing more than a winter wonderland: does it snow so rarely in London that the sight of white tipped pine trees has the power to amaze? Similarly, when Santa arrives to present the children with magical gifts that help save the day, I couldn’t quite echo their awe. Is this the sad reality of being an adult? I can no longer appreciate wonder?

Gender roles are restricted in some sense by the source material. Whereas Santa gives the male Pevensie children weapons to lead everyone to victory, the females receive more feminine presents: a horn with which to call for help and a vial containing a healing lotion. But quibbling about this is like quibbling about the dearth of female roles in Lord of the Rings. I may want to see Susan and Lucy stop their mourning and get into the game, but it is difficult to fight a gender war with a deceased author who wrote over fifty years ago.

That said, on the whole, Narnia is enjoyable holiday fare. Even I can chill out and just enjoy a film once in a while.

By the way, my niece and nephew loved the film, and little Susie only had to leave the theatre once.


At 6:18 PM, Blogger Jimski said...

"Yet what the children have discovered is nothing more than a winter wonderland: does it snow so rarely in London that the sight of white tipped pine trees has the power to amaze?"

Dude: they're in a closet!

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Robert said...

At least the good guys had the flying weasles, and the crucifixion scene wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been....though as a kid, I would have been terrified. I think Tilda Swinton had to play it serious/scary, the least bit of camp would have turned this film into the Muppet Show (or maybe "Time Bandits"). Because the women had yet to demand their place in combat (though it was awfully close to WWII, and the kids ended up ruling together), regardless how true to the source material that is, the film gives the audience a dose of religion of the old-time variety, which is why it is still a top-5 film in the U.S. No shortage of stuffed lions will now be sold to promote Jesus, phooey.

At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Nick said...

I think the thing that made some of the scenes that should have been emotional . . . well, not, is less a function of acting and more a function of the restrictions placed on the story by the medium. Two hours just didn't give the filmmakers enough time to establish the childrens' characters enough for us to really care about them the way I would have liked to.

The book obviously contains more material to familiarize us with the characters, and thus a betrayal in the family is much more shocking, the forgiveness demonstrated more compelling. At the end of the book we see righteousness and bravery (however defined by the gender roles) rightfully rewarded. At the end of the movie we see a group of kids who stumbled into a war they really had no part in get crowned, for little reason beyond racial ones (sons and daughters of Adam and Eve). Oh snap, I just played the race card against a movie I actually enjoyed.

In any case, I found the movie less brilliant than my memory of the book, but more enjoyable than I might have feared from a movie adaptation. The on-fire Christians I saw it with were blown away by the allegorical context. I was blown away that mere Christians hadn't read all of the C.S. Lewis they could get their hands on.


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