Sunday, December 11, 2005

Narnian Reviews Redux

Here are Jared Wilson's review and Christianity Today's review to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

And here is Ken's.

Let me just say right up front: I LOVED IT! And I will be seeing it again… soon! Overall rating, A+. But before I just spit out the rest of the review, let me give you some background on me as a reviewer.

I’ve been excited about this movie ever since I heard it was to be made. Then, I became more excited when I learned that Walden Media, who I’m a big supporter of was behind its production (I’ll do a separate post on them soon). Then, I became even more excited after I learned that WETA was doing the special effects, and filming was to take place in New Zealand. Both big successes in LOTR. (Too bad for this movie that LOTR has set a standard very difficult to match without copying it. And you’ll see my comparisons often. Though to be mentioned in the same breath is still high praise).

Unfortunately, when I get excited, I tend to build up expectations beyond all reason and wind up being disappointed. Which is one of the reasons for my learned cynicism (but that’s another post or counseling session as well).

I also tend to overanalyze nearly everything in life, and movies are no exception. But the two areas I’m more critical about than any others are plotting and casting. A tired old plot or one with inconsistencies or holes drives me nuts. I sit through the whole movie thinking, "I could do better, I could do better." However, in the case of the Narnia series, C.S. Lewis has taken care of this point admirably. I can only hope to nip at his shadow although I still prefer his non-fiction, but I digress again. So, in cases where the film is an adaptation of a book, my criterion becomes one of faithfulness to the book. And if I didn’t like the book, I’m not going to be in the theater anyway.

In the case of TLTWTW, I found that the movie was delightfully consistent with the book. As with LOTR, there were differences, but all my favorite scenes were there, all my favorite lines were there, and the discrepancies (either additions or subtractions) seemed natural and easily forgivable as natural in order to make the transition from page to screen. For those who have never read the book, firstly shame on you, but secondly you are in for an even bigger treat as the world of Narnia is opened to you. I give it an easy A.

To me, good casting is like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography, "I know it when I see it." I wouldn’t begin to know how to cast a movie, but I know when it’s right, and when it’s wrong. And in my opinion, bad casting is either casting a bad actor or casting a good actor in the wrong role.

In terms of casting, I typically hope that actors who are unknown to me fill the roles that I love. It takes a truly gifted actress performing at the top of her craft, or an awful lot of makeup, for me to buy a known celebrity as my character. Else, I’m continually jarred out of the story. My primary concern going into the movie, was Liam Neeson’s voice as Aslan. I just had some trouble with Qui-Gon Jinn, Ducard, Schindler, Valjean, and especially Rob Roy (love the story, hate the movie) playing the magnificent lion. With the exception of Schindler when I didn’t really know Neeson, it always seemed like Neeson each time. However, I must say, while I would have preferred someone else, his voice only distracted me once, and I was quickly won over. Jim Broadbent is one of my favorite character actors, and my only negative here is his minimal screen time. Perhaps he’ll find more in the sequels. I loved all the Pevensies, especially Lucy and Susan, who as my favorites in the book are now also my favorites in the movie. They are just so very many light years better than the actresses in the BBC version. I could not be happier. Peter and Edmund were also very much Lewis’ and my Peter and Edmund. Tilda Swinton was excellent as the White Witch despite not quite meeting my vision or the book’s description of her. And at the risk of sounding blasphemous, James McAvoy’s portrayal of Mr. Tumnus was even broader than the book, and I believe rounded the character even more. The CGI characters and their voice actors, particularly the beavers and the wolves, were also spot on. I give it an A++. With Tumnus providing some extra credit.

So, with plotting and casting already earning good grades, I’m left to quibble with things that to my mind are of somewhat lesser importance.

My strongest beef is that at 140 minutes, the movie isn’t long enough. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the multiple movie, three-hour-plus epics that have come out in the last few years. But I felt like, while all the plot points were covered quite well (see above), character development suffered. Yes, I already knew these characters, but they didn’t know each other. And with the exception of the Pevensie siblings with one other, which was close to right, the short amount of time given to relationship building between the other characters sometimes made their reactions or motivations seem out of place or scripted. Lucy and Susan must have had seven crying scenes, and only the one with Edmund seemed truly justified especially for the older, stronger Susan. They were logical places for someone who knew the characters well to have an emotional reaction, but these characters just weren’t given time to get to that point. I also felt like the battle scene was shortchanged for the same reason. Unlike the Battle of Helm’s Deep, things just weren’t given enough time to get bad before Aslan makes his appearance. So, Gandalf still holds the emotional cavalry award in my book. I give this aspect a B-.

My other negative comments are real nitpickers, because the settings were amazing (I must visit New Zealand if it looks half as beautiful as what I’ve seen in the movies), and the music while not quite LOTR standards was quite good as well, particularly the hide-and-seek piece, and the way it comes to an abrupt close. Settings get an A+ and music a solid B.

The special effects and CGI met all my expectations and exceeded some. Surprisingly, when they failed, they seemed to fail on the comparatively easier things. Making me wonder if the difficult tasks ate up all the effects budget. One example, is the effect used to show the giants. Size discrepancy effects are relatively commonplace now. Jurassic Park, Big Fish, among others recently used them more effectively. And they seem to be stunning in their own new King Kong movie. Also, many of the extra creatures, good and bad were only seen in quick cutaways or at a distance. But again nits. Effects earn an A-/B+ in my mind.

As I have more time to ruminate on the movie, and more of you have a chance to see it, I’ll come back and edit my post. Then, maybe I won’t have to worry about providing spoilers, and we can really dissect the movie and look forward to where they go with The Horse and His Boy or Prince Caspian (I hope).

BTW, don’t leave the theater as the credits start to roll at the end, or you’ll miss some good epilogue stuff.

‘Til then, for Narnia and for Aslan!!

5 comments:

Scot said...

They've already said that they were waiting to see how the movie did at the box office, and if it did well then Prince Caspian would be next with Adamson directing again with a planned release of Christmas 2007.

Also, Walden Media is about to launch a new imprint under a major book publisher. I've emailed the journalist who wrote this to try to find details. We'll see if she responds.

More on Walden Media... Did you read the interview in Christianity Today with WM president Micheal Flaherty? Pretty interesting... he seems like someone you would know.

P&S said...

I think Caspian would be a good move from a movie continuity standpoint. But Rich had told me he heard it would be HAHB. And it is the next book. Where did you get your info?

I think that's great news about the new imprint. I'd definitely love to get in with them.

Good article. Thanks for linking it. But why do you say Flaherty seems like someone we would know?

Rich said...

Ken,

I was just figuring HAHB would be next because I thought they planned to do all the movies in order. I really didn't have nay good sources.

I'd take Scot's word over mine.

Scot said...

What I meant by my comment about Flaherty was that he seemed like a normal guy that any of us may know and talk to for him to be in the movie business.

I first read the Caspian scoop in this article in the LA Times (actually a very interesting article on Walden Media).
Also, I've been visiting a chatroom at Walden Media. Randy Testa is the Teaching Guru at Walden and moderates the discussion boards. He confirmed Caspian as well.
I asked Randy about the imprint. He confirmed that it is happening, but would only say that they would be saying more the first of the year. I thought two years ago when I found Walden's website (before they announced Narnia) that they could be the publishers for COTS. Too bad they didn't publish books. The stars may now be aligning. I would suggest some educational aids/unit studies inspired by Crown to fit in with their goals.
Also, in case you are interested in some classic kids books that are on their filming slate: Charlotte's Web ('06), How to eat fried worms ('06), Bridge to Terabithia, and others that illegitimate, I mean, illiterate people like me didn't recognize, but you probably would.

P&S said...

I've said that I'm going to a post on Walden and maybe after Rich and I visit the chat room would be the time.

I agree about Flaherty seeming like a normal guy, and he's our age, too.

Thanks for linking it here, but it may be difficult for others to find here so I'll add it to the sidebar after checking it out.

BTW, I loved "How to Eat Fried Worms".