The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

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Narnia provides the best movie experience of the year (for me).

Dec 14, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Perfect tone. The strong and striking Swinton. The mysteriously wise Broadbent.

Cons:I didn't care about the cons.

The Bottom Line: I loved this movie.


Let's get something out of the way: this is not an easy movie for me to review with objectivity, because more than any other story adapted to film, I have a personal connection to The Chronicles of Narnia. My dad read them to me when I was very young. I've read the entire series myself at least a dozen times. I've listened to the tapes so many times that I hear that inflection when I read the books. I was Peter in a kindergarten rendition of this movie. Author C.S. Lewis's wardrobe is at my college. I took a Lewis class there. I took a Narnia class in high school. The freaking name of my high school comes from these books. So yeah, I have something invested in them. Having said that, I was apprehensive about how this story would be adapted in a movie world that has recently seen versions of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, to both of which this would inevitably be compared. Most of those fears proved to be unnecessary, and I won't dwell on any book-to-movie discrepancies, which I thought mostly minor or acceptable artistic license, although I'm more than willing to discuss them. On with the show...

The most famous of C.S. Lewis's beloved seven-book Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe follows the adventures of the Pevensies, four British siblings, as they stumble into the fantasy world of Narnia, where they find themselves in the center of a conflict between good and evil. A land replete with talking creatures ranging from beavers and wolves to centaurs and fauns, Narnia is reminiscent of Middle Earth, but like the entire story, is based in mythology more classic than epic, with a black-and-white fairy tale feel that is evident on screen.

Greatly aiding that mystical sense is the score of Harry Gregson-Williams. With LWW, the film veteran (Shrek, Kingdom of Heaven) finally has a known theme to place alongside his name. Dominated by strings, his melodies accentuate the tale with a light (but firm when necessary) nature appropriate for such a magical land. Likewise the vivid cinematography of Donald McAlpine (Moulin Rouge) never gets too big (ahem...Troy...ahem). The camera suitably swoops and soars with the action at times, keeping the scenery bright and fresh, wisely eschewing the bold, dark edge (and PG-13 rating) of LOTR and the mechanical nature of the first Harry Potter movies, always returning to the children, the core of the story.

These two technical aspects highlight the greatest triumph of LWW: the overall tone, which was was a pitch-perfect amalgam of fantasy and reality that is aimed at a young audience. Unlike many such movies, LWW is based in the real world (WWII Britain), but spends much of its time in a fictional one. Smoothly transitioning between while still distinguishing the two is more difficult that it might sound. But by focusing on the children (all of whom acquit themselves well) and properly telling the story from their perspective, the story primarily moves along at a brisk pace, and LWW accomplishes that task.

I know this isn't phenomenal cinema like The Lord of the Rings, although the gap is smaller than you might think once you factor in the story's younger target audience. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe features similar and simpler motifs of love and sacrifice, good and evil, life and death. These quintessential themes are wrapped in the magical shell of Narnia, a place that appeals to the wide-eyed child in everyone, not just those who have read the books. Who doesn't want to happen upon an alternate universe and find amazing adventures there? Who doesn't want to encounter talking animals and mythical creatures? The exploits on screen are such that they will appeal to anyone with a pulse and an imagination.

Knowing the story does alter the movie experience. If you have read the book, little of the plot is surprising, which eliminates much of the novelty. However, familiarity alternatively provides a tear-inducing satisfaction, like watching a loved one accomplish something exceptional. Hearing great lines spoken, seeing previously unseen people and places, enjoying small moments that are thoughtfully included, and noticing references to the rest of the series; all of these things indescribably form the happiest movie experience I have ever encountered, a singular blend of relief, joy, exhilaration, and contentedness.

As for the inescapable comparisons to its contemporaries, based purely on its cinematic merits, I place LWW ahead of three Harry Potter movies, and behind Prisoner of Azkaban and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Because of my intimate ties with the source material, I crafted a more personal connection with this film than the others. Sure it was a bit slow at times; yes, the Pevensies were a little too one-note; maybe the CGI looked a tad awry at times (although I would attribute much of that to the blatant weirdness of seeing talking animals); but I willingly blinded myself to the movie's minor shortcomings, and in return received an unmatched cinematic experience. I only hope that everyone else can find a fraction of the joy that I did through these books and this movie.


Recommend this product? Yes

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