The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
There’s an inherent danger in going to see the movie version of a book you don’t just like, but truly love. This is one of those occasions.
I read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for the first time when I was in the Air Force, when I was about 24 years old. I was bowled over. I immediately went out and got the other six books in the series and read them as well. In the intervening years, I’d estimate I’ve read the whole series another six or seven times. When I began teaching elementary school, I made it a point to read at least one of the books to my class just about every year. Though they are considered “children’s books”, they contain such a measure of goodness, honor, charity and adventure that I couldn’t help but love them. The TLTWATW is to me, not just entertainment, but nourishment.
So, naturally I felt a little trepidation when I heard a major motion picture was being made. There have been a few minor attempts in the past to recreate Narnia on film. There was an animated version, and English television version, and maybe a few others. They were all awful. But, in the right hands, it could, I thought, be done right. Especially with modern advances in computer generated images. So I thought this might be a good thing. But deep down I had doubts. After all, I liked the Lord of the Rings movies okay, but they were not even close to satisfying. And to make it worse, every time I go back and read those books, I’m stuck with Elijah Wood’s face in my mind as Bilbo. I hate that.
So anyway, I went out today and saw the movie.
It was pretty good, I must admit. The script was true to the book, though not word for word, naturally. The visual impact of the movie is stunning. The landscape of Narnia came alive for me in a way that my imagination could never muster. It is a simply gorgeous movie. Beautiful.
The child actors were brilliant, especially Georgie Henley, the little girl who played Lucy. She had such a genuine affect; she could show unbounded joy, pure love, utter sadness, and abject fear all in one scene, and make you believe every bit of it. I can’t say enough about all of them. I don’t know how much experience in acting any of the four have, but they should all have long careers ahead of them.
And not since Margaret Hamilton scared the hell out of me the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz have I seen a creepier onscreen witch than Tilda Swinton’s Jadis. She exuded evil. She showed an almost sexual delight as she portrayed the slaying of Aslan. Her eyes, her makeup, her facial expressions, everything – it all amounted to the perfect portrait of conniving, evil, malicious irredeemability. She excelled.
The only sour note for me, and this is a big one, was Aslan himself. First of all, Liam Neesom, was the exact wrong choice for Aslan’s voice. Too high pitched, too soft. A more masculine voice was needed, both for the scenes where he was fearsome, and those where he was gentle. I mean, this was a big time Disney production, did no one have James Earl Jones’s phone number? How could they miss that one? At least Sean Connery, for pete’s sake. It really almost spoiled the whole film.
The other problem with Aslan was that somehow, though all the other animals were perfect, they couldn’t quite manage to put emotion in the facial expressions of the great lion. I’m sure why that is. If you can make a beaver look like he has human emotions, why not a lion? Now, the exception to this was during the scene on the Stone Table, where the sadness and grief in Aslan’s face was captured to perfection.
The only other problem I had was with the character of the Old Professor Kirke. It wasn’t with the actor, Jim Broadbent, who was fine as always, but with the way he was written. In the book, when Peter and Susan approach him about the (perceived) problem with Lucy, the Professor tells them matter-of-factly that Lucy’s story is not implausible as a matter of logic. Once it was determined that Lucy was neither insane nor a liar, her story could not be discounted merely for being fantastical. In other words, CS Lewis wrote the scene as one where the supernatural isn’t ridiculous, it’s merely not scientifically verifiable. Or as Sherlock Holmes said “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
In the movie, the professor doesn’t take the notion of Lucy’s story seriously until the Wardrobe (which he knows has magical properties) is mentioned. Now maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but it bothered me. It just seemed like the screenwriters were trying ever so slightly to “de-relifigy” (if that’s a word) what is an inherently religiously themed movie.
In any event, I liked the movie. Quite a bit, as a matter of fact. But, as always (and I think this is just a fact of life as sure as gravity), it did not even come close to the book. Which is okay with me. The day I see a movie that is better than a beloved book, I’ll know I’ve lived too long.
But I don’t see that happening.