Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (DVD)The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Kiran Shah and Darkman.

Directed by Andrew Adamson.

Last year, a certain jolly old elf brought Laura an unabridged Narnia collection on compact disc, each book read by a different British actor (including Kenneth Branagh and Michael York). It wasn’t exactly what she’d asked for (the dramatized version), but I’m pretty sure she was pleased with it nonetheless.

Laura and I listened to a couple of the books (The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) on our Christmas trip to Upper Michigan. Before that, I’d never bothered to read, listen to or watch any version of C.S. Lewis’ chronicles, so I am an admitted newbie to the series (I’m about halfway through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader now). Seasoned Narnia veteran or not, I was looking forward to seeing the big screen interpretation.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a beautiful film. New Zealand is as suitable a substitute for Narnia as it was for Middle Earth. Like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe also benefits from the fantastic armorers at the WETA Workshop, who added centaurs, fauns and minotaurs to a list of customers that already included goblins, elves, orcs and the fighting Uruk-hai.

The visual spectacle was made even more impressive by Industrial Light & Magic, Sony Pictures Imageworks and a host of other special effects houses, who brought dozens upon dozens of mythical creatures and talking animals (including Aslan the lion) to life. From griffons soaring above rocky battlefields to beavers and foxes tromping through the snow, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a visual feast.

Unfortunately, it fell flat in other areas, particularly the Pevensie children, the White Witch and — alas — even the mighty Aslan. The lion is supposed to be a figure of awe and wonder, but somehow his majesty is lost on the screen. Even the big reveal — when Aslan’s army is gathered and the Pevensie children finally meet the creature they (should) have heard spoken of with such reverence — is something of a letdown. When Aslan steps out of the tent, all the creatures in his army kneel or bow their heads, but the moment needed something more to make the lion’s power and presence felt. Part of it was that Aslan really hadn’t been talked up all that much beforehand. He was certainly mentioned, and more than once, but nowhere near as much (nor with as much reverence) as I recall in the book. Had the lion been properly hyped and his introduction been more impressive, he might have seemed more significant. More importantly, his absence at the beginning of the battle with the White Witch might have seemed more devastating. As it was, I don’t recall Peter or Edmund even remarking that the lion wasn’t present.

Speaking of Peter and Edmund, the Pevensies were a little flat as well, particularly Susan and Edmund. Of the siblings, Lucy (the youngest) was probably the most well-developed as a character, followed by Peter. Susan, on the other hand, barely seemed much more than a shadow. Her presence was almost entirely inconsequential, apart from one important arrow. Edmund is not nearly as crafty and duplicitous as his literary counterpart, and because of this his “redemption” has far less impact than it should.

As for the White Witch, apart from some very spiffy wardrobe, she was rather disappointing. I just don’t think that Tilda Swinton was able to carry the role very well. She was neither sweet enough when tempting Edmund, nor vicious enough when carrying out her most wicked and brutal deeds. I’ve heard that Michelle Pfeiffer was the first choice for the role of the White Witch, but I’m not sure that would have been a big improvement. When I think of Cate Blanchett as Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, though, I imagine that she might been an excellent choice.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe wasn’t a bad movie; it just wasn’t as good as it ought to have been. There were moments when I sat forward in my seat (the griffons climbing high above the battle, then twisting to dive into the fray; the cheetahs at the front of the infantry lines making first contact with the enemy; Oreius the centaur galloping over the massive minotaurs; and, of course, Aslan at the stone table), but most of the time I was moved by the spectacle, and not the because I really cared about what happened to any of the characters (save the beavers, who were actually more three-dimensional than their human, non-computer-generated costars) . Overall it seemed to me that the one thing lacking in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was, for lack of a better term, its heart.

On the unpatented, untrademarked KJToo Abitrary 27-point Scale, I give The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 20.5 points.

The Lion: 6
The “heart” of the film just wasn’t there.

The Witch: 6
The characters, especially the White Witch and the Pevensie children, lacked depth.

The Wardrobe: 8.5
The visuals were fantastic, but those cyclopses (cyclopi?) never blinked. Not once.