As I noted yesterday, I went to an advance screening of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe put on by my church last night. In brief, here’s my one sentence review: I don’t know how it’s possible, but I both loved and hated it simultaneously.
Let’s start with the good first so as to avoid drifting into sheer and utter cynicism and downheartedness. First off, the visual effects were (mostly) some of the best I’ve seen in a film. Weta Digital has really set the bar extremely high for rendering on-screen animals – the CGI’d animals were virtually indistinguishable from their real life counterparts. The opening of the film, which I will not spoil for you, is an addition to the story and helps to set the stage quite effectively for those who may be unfamiliar with what was going on in Britain during The Blitz. The acting ranged from good to passable, with the Pevensie children being played almost perfectly by the actors chosen to represent them. I was a tad unsure of the lad they chose to portray Mr. Tumnus at first, but his turn as the Faun eventually won me over. I also came into the film worried at how the Professor would be presented, but left pleased – he was treated as a kindly old man with a keen sense of wonder and knowledge of Narnia with a soft spot in his heart for children, precisely how Lewis made him out to be. The White Witch, on the other hand, was nowhere near what I was hoping for. She was portrayed as having no real motivation for her evil and at her most intense, she seemed more “pissy” than “dread-inducing”. The voice actors, however, were routinely excellent, with Liam Neeson sounding grander than ever before as Aslan, although it was a bit off-putting to have the single Americanized accent in the film coming from Maugrim the Wolf. The two actors tasked with portraying Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are spot-on and one of the brightest facets of the movie. There was a distinctive lack of blood, which seems appropriate for a movie based on a children’s fairy tale book, which is nice to see in this day and age.
Now, on to the negatives. They’re filled with spoilers, so I’m going to hide them with the <spoiler> tags. If you’ve seen the movie, or if you don’t care about me spoiling the movie, feel free to click below.
I have no idea how the producers managed to pull it off, but the movie felt rushed. If a ~350 page Tolkein novel can be made into a 2.5 hour movie and still retain a sense of pacing, why can’t a ~180 page Lewis book be made into a 2 hour one? Though the actual pacing of the events in the film plodded along, critical portions of the story were glossed over or simply left out entirely. Gone is the merry Christmas banquet frozen by the Queen, although it is touched on obliquely, as is the “hunt” for stone Narnians through the halls of the Witch’s castle, meaning that both Rumblebuffin and the second lion are left out of the story with the exception of two brief on-screen moments for each, which leaves me to wonder if there won’t be screentime for the two of them in some “director’s cut” DVD edition. Tumnus’ recounting of the tale of the White Stag to Lucy is dropped (it is conveyed visually and briefly in a CGI flame), meaning that the hunt for the actual stag at the end of the movie is given precious little context and ends up being more than a little confusing.
The film features extended battle scenes, which are as notable for their Jackson’s-take-on-Tolkein flavor as they are for their lack of bloodshed. Disney seemingly desired a Battle of Pellenor Fields of their own and attempted to craft Peter and Edmund’s battle into such a beast. Also added are a scene in the Witch’s dungeon between Edmund and Tumnus and a “Faramir-takes-Frodo-to-Minas-Tirith” moment in which Peter, Susan and Lucy track Edmund directly to the Witch’s doorstep, a simply unconscionable addition to the film, as it further degrades the dread one is supposed to feel about the Witch herself. How sovereignly evil can a dictator be when she cannot detect the presence of shouting children at her very doorstep? A chase scene involving wolves and a melting river is also thrown in for good measure
All of these flaws pale in comparison to the film’s portrayal of Aslan. Simply put, they neutered him. He is made to seem a very powerful lion and is described as the King of Narnia, but no one in the film seems to treat him with the full measure of respect such a status would necessarily require. Gone is the following exchange:
Is — is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver, “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
…And with it, much of the awe that is due Aslan. This lack of awe of Aslan, I think, is the film’s single greatest failing, followed shortly by its mirror image, the lack of dread conveyed by the Witch.
Also gone is any discussion of Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. Aslan, in his post-resurrection conversation with Lucy and Susan, credits his miraculous return to life to a misinterpretation of the Deep Magic on the part of the White Witch. This betrays a critical portion of Lewis’ narrative, namely that Aslan died to fulfil the requirements of the Deep Magic (the Law) but was raised because of the Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time. This turns Aslan’s sacrifice into a simple legalistic act, instead of one of extreme sacrifice and majesty. Thus, I believe that the movie adaptation of Lewis’ work effectively neuters a goodly portion of Lewis’ original message and thus ceases to be essentially a Christian story. If that was what Disney was aiming for, then they’ve succeeded, and the whole affair is the worse for it, in my opinion.
So, when all is said and done, I think the question of whether you will truly enjoy this movie depends on a few simple factors:
- Are you a Lewis purist? Do you hate it when a movie deviates from its source book? You will have problems with this movie.
- Are you a Christian who was hoping to see an essential recreation of Christ’s story of sacrifice in a fantasy setting? I believe you’ll be disappointed in this movie.
- Are you a moviegoer looking for a movie in the vein of the Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings series? You will likely enjoy this movie, although you may end up confused at points, given the fact that many events aren’t given their proper context.
- Are you a parent looking for family-friendly fare at the movies this Christmas? You will like this movie, although the battle scenes may warrant some eye/ear coverage.
Ultimately, my opinion doesn’t matter all that much for Disney’s bottom line, but if anyone at the Mouse is listening, please consider this Lewis fandisappointed in the movie adaptation of TL, TW & TW. And if anyone from Weta is reading this, good on ya’. Excellent work on the fur, lads.