Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Narnia -- B+

I'm not going to give a full-blown review here. We've already linked to other reviews, and Ken posted his own, so that's been done. Furthermore, I'm a little late to the ballgame, and a review at this point seems pretty meaningless. However, I put a grade up in the title just so anyone who cared would have my opinion. Also, in case you haven't seen the movie OR somehow missed reading the book, spoilers are included below -- so stop reading now!!!

First off, let me say that I do think the movie will age well with me, and subsequent viewings might improve my impression (even though a B+, to me, is a really, really good movie). Certainly I'll be buying the DVD. Will I recommend it to anyone who asks? Youbetcha. I seriously liked the movie, and many parts of it were wonderful.

I went to see the movie with my sons, Carson (7) and Davis (4). When it was over but we were still in the theater, Davis, who probably liked the movie the most of all of us, was asking about playing his Lego Star Wars game on X-Box. As we were strolling back to our car, I asked Carson how he liked it. "Good," he said, which is a child's, at least our children's, token response to anything we ask about. "How about great, Carson?" He thought for a moment and then shook his head. "No, I liked it, but it wasn't great." And then, with me leading the conversation, we all discussed it the rest of the way home. In the end, I agree with Carson. While there was tons to love about the movie, I thought it was really good but never great.

Trying to place my finger on why, I think there were a couple reasons. One is just my own problem, I think, in trying to believe the talking creatures of Narnia were that country's version of human. For example, when the wolves have cornered the Pevensies and the Beavers at the waterfall, and one wolf has Mr. Beaver dead to rights, I wasn't nearly as torn as I needed to be to really care about his peril. Say the wolf had Lucy by the throat -- that scene would have been far more gripping to me. The scene worked for me, but not to the extent it probably should. Same goes for the fox when he was turned to stone -- but that scence posed the additional problem for me in that I really didn't feel Edmund's horror either. Like I said, it's my problem. The larger problem for me pertains to Aslan. When the three Pevensies first come into Aslan's camp, and Peter announces that they have come to see Aslan, all the creatures bow. At this point the kids aren't bowing yet, and neither am I as the viewer. Finally, Aslan appears, and the children bow, which seemed forced to me. And as a viewer -- and Aslan looked reasonably regal for a lion -- I never felt compelled to bow or anything near it, and I really wanted to feel that presence. This was Aslan. Boiling it down, it must be the CGI, and I probably need to suspend my disbelief a little better. Be more imaginative. Yet, I never needed to do that in the LOTR. When Gandalf fought the Balrog and both went down in Fellowship, I felt it. When Boromir died, I wanted to cry. Seeing Gandalf on the morning of the fifth day at Helm's deep, I rejoiced in my soul. Same when he rode out of Minas Tirith to save Faramir. I wanted to stand up in the theater and cheer. I never felt any emotional impact like those in this movie. The closest I came was when Edmund rejoined his brother and sisters after his repentance and seeing Aslan's reaction. Even the death of Aslan, and even more importantly, the risen Aslan didn't do it for me -- although having to take Davis to the bathroom at that crucial point in the movie didn't help matters. And I really expected Aslan's final pounce on the White Witch to be breathtaking, and even that fell flat for me.

I say all this, and I still liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe an awful lot. As has been iterated in other reviews, the adaptation is remarkably faithful to C.S. Lewis' wonderful story -- and let's face it, it is a wonderful story! And the film told it very well. I thought Tilda Swinton as the White Witch and James McAvoy as Tumnus had standout performances, and I enjoyed the Pevensies, although at times they seemed a bit flat. The voices of Rupert Everett for the fox, Ray Winstone and Dawn French as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and especially Michael Madsen for Maugrim worked very well, while I'm not so sure about Liam Neeson for Aslan. I don't know who better, though. James Earl Jones had already been used for Moufasa, so he was out. The realm of Narnia looked spectacular. Adam Adamson had some little effects that were downright cool, for instance the witch freezing the butterfly out of sheer evilness right after turning the fox to stone and chastising Edmund. And the battle scene, especially the onset -- awesome! Lastly, when Lucy first wanders through the wardrobe into Narnia, her expression fit perfectly. Apparently, Adamson hadn't let her see Narnia until then, and the look of wonder on her face was priceless -- well, at least very pricey.

Regarding more Narnia movies, I'm just not sure. Certainly, they'll have a fan base, and I'm sure I'd try The Horse and His Boy or whatever comes out next. However, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, at least to me, was probably the most accessible for movie-making, although The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has some appeal as well. I'm not saying it can't be done successfully, but seven Narnia movies? Hmm.

So stone me now, I suppose, but remember I gave the film a B+. My expectation, fair or unfair probably due to LOTR's success, was very high, and that may have affected some of what I've written. It's probably not fair to compare the two, but I think it's an inevitable comparison. For what it's worth, however, even as a kid, I enjoyed the LOTR more than Narnia, so take that into account if you're taking any account at all.

Don't know what movie I'm really looking forward to next. Is it too early to get hyped for Spider-Man 3?


codepoke said...

Fair enough.

My kids told me I was nuts when I said I liked it better than LOTR. Whatever.

I watch movies for the people stuff. I want to see someone moved to tears, joy, and anger. I am not moved by the excellent/horrible CGI of a movie, but by whether the characters connect with me. And, I'm afraid it's not the actors either. It's the characters.

LOTR frankly left me a little flat, and I am talking about the books as much as the movies. Yeah, they were excellent, and polished, and dramatic, but Frodo is the only one that is even slightly conflicted.

Aragorn never doubts, not really. Gandalf is seriously abused, and suffers horrible things, but never any real, awful doubt. Gimli? Come on. Elves? I don't think so.

Tumnus? He sells Lucy out! The beavers? They can barely get dinner on the table. Of course, all the kids in LWaW have flaws you could drive a truck through.

I have to admit that Lucy completely stole my heart. So, I guess the acting can get to me every now and again, but come on, that little girl was loving every second of making that movie.

By far my favorite scene in the books is the collapse of Boromir. It wrenches my heart every time. In the movie, it just fails to stir that way. Rather like you felt about the wolves pinning down Mr. Beaver, I feel about Boromir. I should have wept then, but instead I was just glad Frodo got away. They did manage to salvage the scene of Sam catching up to Frodo as he flees, though.

The one I think they should make a movie out of is the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. If that series cannot move you to tears, your heart is stone.

Anyway, I like LWaW better, but I have to agree with you that it was MUCH less dramatically executed.

Rich said...


One point Ken made to me, and I probably agree with, is that in LW&W, the pace of the movie is so fast (once in Narnia) that you don't really get to know the characters enough to feel for them. How long is Mr. Beaver on screen before he's about to be chomped by Her Majesty's Secret Police Wolf? Not very. The fox had about one scene before he got his stoning. Even Aslan wasn't given much time before he's being taken to the Stone Table.

Whereas, when Gandalf falls in the Mines of Moria, movie watchers have seen him a great deal from the very beginning of the movie.

As far as conflict in LOTR - and I suppose the movie should be differentiated from the book, but I don't have the time to do that - Aragorn's reluctance to be king provides some. The ring provides conflict of its own with many characters, starting with Frodo (and Bilbo) and then on down the line with Boromir, Gollum, Sam, Faramir. Eowyn not being allowed to fight, Faramir's trials and failures to please Denethor, Arwen's choice of Aragorn over immortality. To me, many of the subplots had conflict, with Frodo love/hate relationship with the One Ring being the main. LOTR works for me on many levels.

With LW&W, it seems to me, the main conflict for the lead characters should be to get Edmund back and to get back home. Of course, they're swept away into something bigger than themselves and that conflict changes into trying to defeat Narnia's nemesis, Jadis. But that never really comes across to me in the movie.

However, as much as conflict is the method to drive the story on, both Narnia and LOTR had such great world-building that you could easily get swept away into the creations of Lewis and Tolkien so that you sort of forget that something needs to be happening here. Tom Bombadil and even the Ents are examples of this in the LOTR books. Neither were my favorite part of LOTR, but I'd think the story would be less without those parts - however, I am glad TomBo didn't make it into the movie.

I'm glad you loved Narnia. I certainly love the books and maybe I'l grow to love the movie once I have it on DVD. Nonetheless, I don't think it's going to get the same number of viewings that some of my other favorites get: The Princess Bride, Spideys 1 & 2, Batman Begins, or yes, the Lord of the Rings (any of the three). But I won't say never. Who knows? Maybe it'll turn out to be one of my all-time favorites. I just don't think it will at this point.