Wookiee Hut Movie Reviews presents:
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Review by MaceVindaloo, Diana, Csillag, Bunchbox, SuSu




































Director: Andrew Adamson

Creator: C.S. Lewis

Writing: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, James McAvoy, Liam Neeson

Rating: Victory Star Destroyer (packs a wallop)

I was never a big C.S. Lewis fan, and especially not of the Chronicles of Narnia. For that matter, I was not a LOTR and Tolkien fan either. In fact, in my upbringing it was a rare occurrence to actually read a book. But that was not exactly uncommon where I grew up, and especially in among the jock crowd. This tendency in my life was cured after my teen years, but I still avoided these books. After all, there was the "religious" stuff surrounding this tale; people go too far to see Christian symbols here, and that simply ruins it for most people. Thus I didn't have any compunction about reading the books till later in my life.

C.S. Lewis came to religion late in his life, and he was inspired to write this book for his goddaughter. The religious parts simply happened, he claimed, and he didn't mean for it to be a Christian allegory. A tale of redemption, sacrifice, good over evil ... hey, that sounds like every tale, ever! And every person we respect who had seen this film frankly did not see any overt symbology or allegory ... meaning, this tale is a good story and anything you see in it is about you. Not that that's a bad thing!

So, it was a good story, but those among us who did read The Chronicles of Narnia often had issue with the books and how they were presented by the publishers. Lewis did not write them with any order in mind; chronologically, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came first, and here they are in order:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Prince Caspian (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
The Magician's Nephew (1955)
The Last Battle (1956)

Unfortunately, due to advice from his stepson, Douglas Gresham, the order was juggled by a later publisher to reflect the sort of chronology which eventually evolved as Lewis wrote one book after another:
The Magician's Nephew (1955)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
Prince Caspian (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Last Battle (1956)

So, are we watching the first book or the second? The traditionalists among us were relieved that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came first. Certainly, this book is the most popular of the seven, and one gets the feeling that it was a trial-balloon, too. After all, if this one didn't do well, why bother with the other (less popular) six?

This movie shares many similarities with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Obviously, since both productions utilized New Zealand as the backdrops, and Weta Studio for the costuming, design, and effects, there was bound to be some similarities. In addition, both tales were written at about the same time in history and Tolkien and Lewis knew each other quite well. Both stories were interpreted for television in animated form, and suffered for the efforts. And both tales are epic- and myth-like stories about good, evil, turn-coats, redemption, heroes, villains, etc. (These are not the province of religion only, so there!)

First off, the visual similarities did make this a more "fairy tale" version of the Lord of the Rings; they even used the same program to create the battle choreography (MASSIVE). The armor of the centaurs resembled that of the elves; other battlewear was blatantly that of the Rohirrim. There were sword battles, a white witch (instead of a white wizard), weather manipulation, and children in lieu of hobbits. The actors showed up again, too; the head of the Harad was the General of Aslan's army, the dwarf aide of the Queen was rather orc-like and he was the stunt-double for Frodo Baggins. It prevented those of us who had seen LOTR from getting completely into this movie.

But there are many virtues of this film, too. The child actors were excellent and perfect for their roles. Eight-year old Georgie Henley plays Lucy Pevensie, the young girl who first entered Narnia via the back of a wardrobe. Her tales is so appealing that we'd heard that in places like Atlanta, there was a wardrobe which young girls could walk through to get to the movie theater! The story is appealing to young children, giving power and righteousness to those who traditionally have the least say in anything. Each of the children played their roles admirably and were totally believable, even when they were being whiney, tearful, or just plain brat and jerks. That, after all, is what children are.

The escapism of this film is unmistakable, and it was totally appropriate to film this movie in New Zealand, where things are not-quite familiar to the average movie-goer. However, since it is so far away and exotic, the "feel" of the woods wasn't quite right. Snow-covered woods in the Czech Republic were filmed for green-screen backdrops, studio sets were built for the lamp post, etc. to give everything the right "feel." They did an excellent job, and it was all seamlessly edited and blended.

The special effects for the animals was done very, very well, again because director Adamson decided to cut live action with CG. This is in contrast with his previous successes in the Shrek movies, where everything was CG and animation. And perhaps because he is a native New Zealander living in the US, his filming was sensitive and helped suspend the dis-reality of this fantastic story. So when the beaver showed up in chainmaille with a tiny bow and arrows, you laughed because it was something that particular beaver would do, no matter how helpless he really was in a war. Lip movements were believable and synched properly, and character development was superb, too.

The voice talent was as good as the live action talent. Liam Neeson played the lion Aslan; he was also the mentor figure in the Phantom Menace, of course. And in Batman Begins ... he's good at it. Like Harrison Ford (who was always Han Solo ever after in any movie role), maybe Neeson is just going to be "Qui-gon Forever"?

In contrast to the animal special effects, many effects for the children — like when they were were running from the White Witch — were obviously greenscreen studio shots. The backgrounds didn't match in terms of focus or lighting and you could see the hard edge around the images of the children. This was also true of the scene where the Witch first meets Edmund. We know white backgrounds are tougher to matte ... so use the Hoth matte! And when Susan and Lucy were riding on the lion's back, their hair or clothing didn't blow back even though they were supposedly moving at great speed, and Aslan's mane and tail were flowing. In fact, several shots with the snow-covered forests showed these weaknesses, too. Apparently, three different studios handled the special effects, and we're curious to know if all of these poorly done shots were from one effects house? Anyway, it's interesting that in this movie, putting CG creatures onto a real landscape was done more successfully than putting a matte behind real actors!

Tilda Swinton deserves kudos for her depiction of the White Witch who claimed dominion over Narnia and crowed herself its queen. She purportedly requested white dredlocks for the queen's hair, and they worked, looking snakelike and dead. Her costuming was well-done, even though the dresses had weird necklines that made us wonder what she was wearing. Her scenes with the lion were good, but she was excellent one-on-one with Edmond Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), the traitorous and foolish younger brother. She is beautiful and evil and could manipulate the young man effortlessly, yet still misunderstand children and their feelings. Swinton also did the sword duel scenes really well, and she looked much more like the Witch Queen of our imagination than any who came before her.

James McAvoy played the pivotal Mr. Tumnus the faun, and he smacked of C3PO! We guess there are limited ways to play that sort of character, and Tumnus is a helpful, weak, but important character in the fight for Narnia. The only problem was the upper half of his costume ... the ears never looked like part of him, and what's with the scraggly hair on his naked chest and the line of fur up his back??? They got the bottom half right, cloven hoofs and all.

Peter Pevensie, played by William Moseley, was the big brother you wished you had or could have been, and he would have made a good Cedric Diggory. He stood out among the many Greek mythology-inspired beasts on the battlefield, and he played the part very straight — you believed, as his brother Edmund did, that Peter would save Narnia and every person who put their beliefs in him.

Despite the "recycling" of battle costumes, the other costuming was done very well, including the World War 2-era civilian costumes. The planes attacking London were also really convincing; some children in the audience cried during that opening scene! The Narnia costumes were predictably fantastic and fit a child's imagination of finery for royalty.

It was a long movie with good pacing, so you hardly noticed. Anyone watching it will get what they sought; it improved the book (some of Lewis's descriptions were frankly dull or ridiculous and dwelled on what were probably personal feelings about some characters), and we hope it launches interest in the tales. We also hope that the book sequence will be rearranged when published as it was likely meant to be read, or at least was as written! There is nothing wrong with prequels, after all.

As for the religious content, you will see it if that's what you want to see. But if you don't care about such things, you will see a good story, told well. And that is how it should be. Just ask Qui-gon ... I mean, Aslan!

Move poster image from Yahoo Movies



Disclaimer: The opinions and observations noted are the property of the author. Neither Wookieehut nor any associates makes any claims or lucre from the posting of this report or review. This webpage is presented by Wookieehut.com.