Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Directed by Andrew Adamson
140 minutes (PG rating)
by Kevin Miller
you were a beaver and four humans showed up on your doorstep
wearing fur coats, would you let them in? I certainly would
have second thoughts. Funny how that idea never occurred to
me before, even though I’ve read about the Pevensie
children’s first encounter with the talking beavers
of Narnia countless times. It just serves to illustrate the
difference between experiencing a work of literature in your
imagination and viewing it on the big screen. Suddenly things
look a whole lot different—some better, some worse.
It also raises the question as to whether such stories are
best left to the imagination. I’m still trying to decide
in terms of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Perhaps the choice would have been easier if I had enjoyed
the film more than I did.
It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why I failed
to connect with this movie. It certainly wasn’t for
lack of solid visual effects. They were everything a Narnia
fan could hope for—centaurs, fauns, Cyclops, minotaurs,
talking beavers and horses—all looking as real as the
humans with whom they interacted. Aslan, in particular, exceeded
expectations, as well he should have. With more than five
million individually rendered hairs and up to fifty animators
working exclusively on him alone, anything less than virtual
realism would have been a tragic disappointment.
But as stunning as Aslan and a number of the other creatures
were, most of them were really nothing more than beautifully
rendered extras—fodder for the battle sequences, background
actors with one or two lines or a brief close-up to add a
sense of realism. They looked great, but we never really got
a chance to connect with them emotionally, and so I found
it difficult to care what happened to them in the end.
same could be said for most of the human characters. For the
most part, the acting was serviceable, but at times it felt
like the performers were struggling within the confines of
a mediocre script. Surprisingly, Tilda Swinton, who plays
the White Witch, seemed to have the most trouble. After seeing
Swinton’s scintillating performance as the quasi-evil
half-angel Gabriel in Constantine, I was eager to
see her go all the way over to the dark side in her portrayal
of the White Witch.
While she definitely looked the part, whenever she spoke,
it seemed like she was reaching for a sense of significance
that the lines just couldn’t give. The one exception
is the scene where she kills Aslan. This was one of the rare
moments when she came close to realizing the full potential
of her character. Even then, however, the scene lacked the
sense of cosmic significance that undergirded nearly every
moment of Narnia’s literary and cinematic cousin, The
Lord of the Rings.
think that is the real problem with this film: It lacks gravitas.
Even at 140 minutes, it just didn’t seem long enough
for us to really get to know the main characters or the underlying
mythology of Narnia. The best it can do is tell us that four
human children are needed to fill the thrones at Cair Paravel,
but it never tells us why. We’re left wondering why
four children are required, who sat in the thrones before
the children arrived, who built Cair Paravel, and how the
White Witch gained control of Narnia in the first place.
fully realize that these same answers are missing from the
novel. But couldn’t the filmmakers have taken a few
liberties with the text to clarify things, much like Peter
Jackson did by inserting some of the background material into
The Lord of the Rings to flesh out Aragorn’s
identity? Surely Lewis addressed these questions elsewhere
in his writings, and I don’t think too many people would
have objected if his explanations were introduced into the
it stands, without these answers on screen, it’s difficult
to become caught up in events like the epic battle sequence
that forms this film’s climax. We know the good guys
are going to win, and we know that will be a positive thing
for Narnia. But it would mean a lot more if we knew, as we
did in Lord of the Rings, what was at stake should
they fail—and that there was a good chance they might
do just that.
realize that some people may think that comparisons to Tolkien’s
epic are unfair, since Tolkien wrote for adults and Lewis
wrote Narnia for children. However, I see no reason why children’s
literature or movies should be held to a lesser standard.
Good storytelling is good storytelling no matter who your
target audience is. If anything, books and films aimed at
children should be held to a higher standard, because they
become a child’s primal reading/viewing experience.
my overall disappointment with this film, one aspect of my
past reading experience that it did tap into, at least momentarily,
was the sense of wonder and excitement I felt surrounding
the possibility that there might be more to the world than
I thought—far more, in fact. This story was one of the
first to make me hope that there might also be more to me.
Like Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan, I may have a purpose
and destiny far beyond anything I had ever imagined.
is the true power of stories like Narnia or Harry Potter,
I think. While we all sense there’s more to life than
meets the eye, the characters in these stories actually get
to witness this deeper reality firsthand. Their experiences
fill us with hope and excitement that we too can make the
same sort of discovery one day. And I definitely believe that
said, when adapting such a universally renowned book—probably
the best piece of children’s literature ever written—you
can’t be content to make a good film. It has to be a
great film. Unfortunately, the makers of this film
didn’t seem to be aware of that.
have no doubt that someone could have made a cinematic masterpiece
out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. However,
that someone just happened to be too busy adapting another
work about a fifty-foot ape. Too bad, because I doubt we will
get this chance again. Perhaps it’s for the best though
because rather than letting some filmmaker do the imagining
for us, we will just have to read the books for ourselves
if we want to experience the true magic of Narnia.
@ 2005 Kevin Miller