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.

Xbox: Fable

Oops. Turns out the disc for the Spider-Man 2 game was—to use a technical term—scratched to shit. It wouldn’t play in my Xbox at all, so I brought it back to Blockbuster and exchanged it for:

Fable: The Lost Chapters (Xbox)Fable

Fable is the brainchild of game designer Peter Molyneaux (Populous, Black & White ((Black & White is an interesting game. The player is essentially a god, affecting his or her will upon the people of a small island. The first time I played Black & White, I nearly jumped out of my chair when one of the island folk died and a little voice whispered “death” in my left ear.)), The Movies). Molyneaux promised that the RPG would be more open-ended and dynamic than any game in history. The final product fell far short of its creator’s hype, and Molyneaux eventually apologized for Fable‘s shortcomings. Earlier this year, a remake titled Fable: The Lost Chapters was released. The remake expands upon the original, as well as adding a few of the features that were missing. Naturally, I picked up the original game instead of the remake. ((It’s called “keeping it real.”))

Fable takes place in a medieval fantasy setting and follows the adventures of a young boy whose entire family is killed by bandits. Bandits who were — as it turns out — seeking the boy himself. The boy (who doesn’t seem to have a name) is rescued by a wizard named Maze and whisked off to the Hero’s Guild, where he is trained in the ways of combat (melee and ranged) and magic (referred to as Will). The training takes place over several years, and by the time he is ready to venture out into the world again, the boy has become a young adult. In the course of the game, the main character will eventually become a man ((In the biblical sense.)) and will learn why the bandits sought him.

As is often the case with recent RPGs, the main character is presented with opportunities to make choices that will incline his character toward either “good” or “evil.” As is always the case, I am playing him as a friggin’ Boy Scout. I always tell myself that I’ll go back and play the game as a right bastard when I complete the “good” campaign, but my track record of actually completing games is dismal. ((I did complete Deus Ex, the finale of which depended upon the main character’s actions, but the ultimate outcome really came down to a single decision made at the very end of the game. Great game, though.))

I played Fable for about an hour last night before bed. ((My Sleep Number is 55.)) It’s a very pretty game, with lush, detailed landscapes, decent voice-acting, and a fairly intuitive interface. With or without all the dynamism Molyneaux promised, it seems to have a lot of promise. I’ve heard that it is far too short, but that probably translates to “finishable” in KJToo parlance. We shall see.

Even More Damn Games

Christmas cash is practically a license to buy all the frivolous stuff that I couldn’t justify earlier in the year. Laura and I took another trip to Blockbuster last night after dinner. Though Laura couldn’t find a movie to rent, I made out like a bandit in the used video game section. As the kids might say, “25% off for the win!”

Darkwatch

A first-person shooter that takes place in the Old West, or what some call “The Weird West.” Outlaw Jericho Cross, seeking a quick payoff, robs the wrong train. In doing so, he releases an ancient vampire named Lazarus. ((That’s right, the “hero” is a man whose initials are “J.C.” and he resurrects a vampire named Lazarus.)) Rather than kill Jericho, Lazarus embraces ((Dear White Wolf: Please don’t sue me for using the term “embrace” to describe one vampire creating another. Hugs and kisses, Kris.)) him, and the outlaw begins his transformation into a blood-sucking, undead horror. Jericho flees Lazarus, hoping to join up with a group called the Darkwatch, who… well, I don’t know what they do yet. I haven’t gotten that far. I played for just shy of an hour last night and I’m enjoying the game so far. It’s a cross between Red Dead Revolver — probably my favorite Xbox FPS — and Van Helsing. Jericho has access to a variety of ranged weapons (including a pistol called “The Redeemer”), most of which have some manner of blade built into the butt or stock, allowing Jericho to use them as brutal melee weapons when the shambling, undead wretches get too close for comfort. As a secondary ranged attack, Jericho can throw stuff. So far, I’ve found only one throwable weapon: dynamite. Pretty effective, though. As the game progresses, Jericho will gain more vampiric powers. Right now, he’s got some nifty “blood vision” and a “vampire jump.” He’ll also gain special abilities depending upon whether he performs “good” or “evil” actions at certain points in the game. I’ve been playing him as a goody-two-shoes outlaw up to this point, so he’s got silver bullets that do additional damage againt the aforementioned undead wretches.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Now my Splinter Cell collection is complete. ((Well, except for the new paperback novel I saw on the shelf at the bookstore a couple of weeks ago.)) Sam Fisher is my hero, and Michael Ironside ((Okay, totally off-topic here. Am I the only person on the planet who wants to see Michael Ironside and Kurtwood Smith throw down?)) is the perfect guy to give him a voice. If they ever do a Splinter Cell movie (oh, you know they will), they’ll have to get Ironside to dub all of Ben Affleck’s lines. ((Dear Hollywood: That was a joke. Please don’t cast Ben Affleck as Sam Fisher in the Splinter Cell movie. Thank you. BFF, Kris.)) Given that I’ve yet to complete the second Splinter Cell game, Pandora Tomorrow, there was some internal debate as to whether or not I should pick up Chaos Theory. I was toying with the idea of getting Jade Empire instead, but I thought that might make Sam mad. I imagined hearing a gravelly voice say, “There’s a man in my way, Lambert,” then barely being aware of my head being turned around 180 degrees before all turned to darkness. ((I didn’t wet my pants a little bit while thinking about that. Not right there at the used video game table of the local Blockbuster. No, sir. Not me.)) Plus, Chaos Theory has a cooperative multiplayer mode, which is good news for Miscellaneous G™ and me.

Spider-Man 2

Someone decided to take the open-ended, free form style of the Grand Theft Auto series and apply it to the Spider-Man franchise. ((The same has been done with everybody’s favorite yellow family in The Simpsons Hit & Run, which is tons of fun.)) Good idea. I liked the first Spider-Man: The Movie: The Game well enough, but some of the restrictions on the gameplay were just plain silly. For instance, Spider-Man could not descend below a certain level while web-swinging through the city or he would… die. Just up and croak. Silly, I tell you. In the second installment, Spidey is free to go pretty much where ever he wants. He swings between and around buildings, runs along the sidewalk, hops a ride on a passing car and goes for a refreshing swim in the harbor. There’s a storyline to follow, but if you’d rather just patrol the streets saving people from thugs, foiling bank robberies, chasing getaway cars and the like, there is no shortage of randomly-generated mini-missions available. I rented Spider-Man 2 earlier this year, and had a blast with it, so this was a good find. Next up on my Spidey game wish list: Ultimate Spider-Man.

Movie Preview: Perfume

Perfume by Patrick Suskind (Book)Patrick Süskind’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer has been adapted for the big screen. I read the book earlier this year, and I’m not sure how I feel about it being turned into a movie. On the plus side, Alan Rickman’s in it, but that alone isn’t enough to guarantee the movie will be good (see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). On the minus side, it’s a movie about a guy (Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, played by Layer Cake‘s Ben Whishaw) with an incredibly developed sense of smell. The book is filled with imaginative, vivid descriptions of the scents that fill Grenouille’s nostrils. How do you translate that to film?

I await the answer with some trepidation.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (DVD)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes, Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, Gary Oldman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and Hans Gruber.

Directed by Mike Newell.

On the unpatented, untrademarked KJToo Arbitrary 27-point Rating System, I give Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire a 24. The rating is broken down into three categories, each of which can score a maximum of nine points.

  • Theater Experience: 7
    This category is completely unfair to the movie itself, as it represents factors well outside the control of the filmmakers. Nonethless, my ability to enjoy a film on its own merits is often severely impacted by rude moviegoers, so I’m including it. Arbitrary!While the audience was generally well-behaved (no crying babies, no cell phones, no annoying talkers), there seemed to be an awful lot of people exiting and entering the auditorium during the movie. The effect was exacerbated by the fact that Laura and I were seated on the aisle next to all the running around.
  • Visual Wizardry: 9
    Very, very nicely done. Everything about HPatGoF looked fantastic. The sets and scenery were quite lavish, the costumes were superb (though the two words that came to mind when I first saw the hats worn by the girls from Beau-Baton were “reservoir tip”), and the special effects — especially the dragon chase — were incredible. The arena for the Quidditch World Cup was very impressive, and I wish we could have seen more of it. That brings us to the final factor…
  • Pacing: 8
    The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie felt very rushed, but that’s largely due to my realizing just how much of the book was being cut out in order to get the story told in a reasonable time. The pacing didn’t bother me once the Tri-Wizard Tournament got underway, mostly because my recollection of the book kind of fades out right around that point in the story.

All in all, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was very enjoyable. It kept much of the edgy quality Alfonso Cuarón brought to the franchise in Prisoner of Azkaban and ventured into very dark territory as the climax approached. The Tri-Wizard Tournament challenges (particularly the third and final challenge, which was simplified a great deal from the version in the novel) set the stage very nicely for the confrontation between Harry and He Who Must Not Be Named.

Daniel Radcliffe and company continue to improve upon their performances, and some of the more peripheral characters (the Weasley twins and Neville Longsbottom in particular) really shine through as well. However, Laura and I were both disappointed by the casting of Fleur Delacour. In the book, Fleur is portrayed as magically beautiful, holding much of the male population of Hogwarts in thrall. I realize that it would be difficult to bring this to the screen, but the movie version of Fleur is simply unremarkable. The actress portraying Fleur (Clémence Poésy) is pretty, I suppose , but nothing was done to make her seem in any way magical or enchanting. It seemed as though the fimmakers opted to simply ignore her rather than to put any effort into the translation.

On the flip side of that coin, I was very pleasantly surprised by Brendan Gleeson as Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody. I like Gleeson a lot, but the first picture I saw of him as Moody didn’t really live up to my vision of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor. In particular, I was put off by the leather strap and socket in which Moody’s “mad eye” was set, which seemed like a special effects cop out to me. Whatever my pre-disposition, Gleeson’s turn as the only-slightly-sane Moody was very good. He brought a good mix of manic twitchiness and brooding to the role. I would have liked to see the script delve a little deeper into the auror’s paranoia, though. Alas, character development does tend to suffer when Rowling’s massive books are packed into two and a half hours on the screen.

So how does Goblet of Fire stack up next to its predecessors? Like this:

  1. Goblet of Fire / Prisoner of Azkaban: This one is a tie. Goblet gets points because it didn’t have a lame (as in poorly-executed) werewolf, but loses points because it also didn’t have enough Gary Oldman. Buckbeak the griffon might have given Azkaban the edge if not for Goblet‘s utterly kickass dragon.
  2. Sorceror’s Stone: The first outing takes second place because I thought it was much more evenly paced than the second installment.
  3. Chamber of Secrets: Not horrible, but definitely the weakest of the series. Kenneth Branagh’s Gilderoy Lockhart is hilarious.

Weekend Wrap-up for 10-11 December 2005.

  • I didn’t even set foot outside the house on Saturday. Hell, I didn’t even change out of my pajamas. Despite this, we managed to get a fair amount of “work” done.
  • The fall decor has been retired and the winter/Christmas decor put in its place. We’ve decided not to put up our tree this year, mostly because we’ll be rather busy around the time we’d normally be taking the tree down.
  • As planned, Laura and I made pasties on Saturday. Fifteen pasties, to be exact. That includes one Frankenpasty constructed with a ready-made pie crust after we ran out of our made-from-scratch dough. For amateurs, we make some damn good pasties. I ate two for dinner Saturday night, one for lunch Sunday afternoon and another for dinner. I also took one to work for lunch today. Add the two that Laura ate over the weekend and that’s seven of the fifteen consumed already.
  • Yesterday, we caught a matinee of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and afterward I watched The Triangle, a mini-series that aired on the SciFi Channel last week. I think Laura made it most of the way through the first installment before she fell asleep. We’ll probably see The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe next weekend, and we may head over to the second-run theater to see The 40 Year Old Virgin tonight.
  • Laura bought me a new winter coat on Friday, and I got to put it to the test Sunday morning while I was cleaning the driveway (Go-go-gadget snowblower!). It’s very lightweight, but also quite warm and cuts the wind nicely. Color me pleased.
  • When last I counted, I was subscribed to about fifteen podcasts, including several from Podiobooks.

Movie Preview: X-Men 3

The X-Men 3 teaser trailer is available over at Apple’s movie trailer site and it looks, in a word, epic.

There’s at least one notable addition to the X-Men lineup: Kelsey Grammer as Hank “Beast” McCoy. Now, I’m pretty sure that a non-Grammer Hank McCoy is seen on a television talk show in one of the previous X-flicks, but I’ll have to double-check. At any rate, it looks like they may be pulling a Billy Dee Williams/Two-Face with Beast.

On the scarred side of the coin, you’ve got Vinnie Jones as Cain “Juggernaut” Marko. Vinnie Jones is certainly mean enough to play Juggernaut, but the costume they’ve got him in looks plain silly.

It looks as though we’ll see Emma Frost (AKA The White Queen), Omega Red and a couple of other nasty folks siding with Magneto. To balance things out, Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin appears to play a bigger role this time around, and Warren “Angel” Worthington is getting his wings. But whither goest Nightcrawler? The opening scene of X2: X-Men United featured Nightcrawler kicking all sorts of Secret Service ass, and was worth the price of admission all on its own. Alas, it looks as though Alan Cumming will not be reprising his role as everyone’s favorite fuzzy blue elf, even though his bestest of buddies, Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde, seems to be stepping into the spotlight. I don’t think we’ll be seeing Lockheed this time around, though.

Excelsior!

Money can’t buy – nor can it insure – happiness.

Ah, the China Buffet. ‘Twas there I dined this afternoon, and there I received this cookie-enshrouded fortune:

Having more money does not insure happiness.

Okay, let’s ignore that the writer almost certainly meant to say “Having more money does not ensure happiness,” because I’m curious about how I would go about insuring my happiness.

If you look at the automobile insurance card you’ve got in your wallet, purse, or buried in a three-month-high pile of mail on the desk at home, you’ll see the name of the insured party, the policy number, effective dates, some information about the vehicle and the insurer, and a whole bunch of coverage codes. It’s the coverages for happiness insurance that interest me.

Would my happiness insurer make distinctions between happiness at work and happiness at home? Those are probably separate coverages, each with different factors that determine your premium. For example, if you work at The Shoe Shack, you might expect to pay a higher Work Happiness premium than if you worked in the beer-tasting department of a brewery. Unless you had a foot fetish, which might lower your premium at The Shoe Shack. Likewise, an aversion to alcohol might cause your premium to go up if you worked at the brewery. Way, way up.

What about Home Happiness? Does my premium go up or down when I have kids? Or does it depend on how many kids I have? Perhaps the premium goes down when a child is initially born, but then goes up when the kid turns sixteen. And, of course, you can expect a big premium hike when daddy’s little princess tells you she’s pregnant before she’s even out of high school, or when junior gets busted for possession with intent to distribute.

As for deductibles, I suppose that applies to therapy sessions and Zoloft prescriptions, but maybe your insurer would waive the deductible for minor claims. In the world of happiness insurance, feeling a bit bummed would be the equivalent of having your windshield replaced because a dump truck kicked up a rock in the auto insurance world.

Then there’s the whole issue of subrogation: going after the other guy’s insurance company when you’re not liable for the damage. I’m not sure how that would work. I mean, if your beloved Uncle Bernard kicks the bucket, would your happiness insurer go after Uncle Bernie’s insurer? That’s kind of a grey area, and would probably vary from state to state, depending upon the applicable insurance legislation. In some states, your insurer might sic their lawyers on Baskin-Robbins because they were out of blue moon and you had to settle for fudge marble. Hey, that kind of thing can ruin a person’s day.

Finally, there’s the matter of settling an unhappiness claim. For the sake of simplicity, let’s leave the problem of happiness insurance fraud for another discussion and assume that our claim is legitimate. For one reason or other, we are unhappy. We’ve been paying our premiums and we’ve met our deductible and now the insurer must make good on the policy. How do they do it? We all know money can’t buy happiness (never mind about that deductible, just work with me here), so how is the claim settled? Will we open our door one morning to find an army of balloon-mangling clowns camped out on the lawn? Or will a herd of puppies come trampling through the living room?

That’s the tricky bit, because happiness is… well, that really depends on who you ask. It might be a fast car, a clean house or even a warm gun. Trickier still is the fact that what makes you happy might make me unhappy, and vice versa. Even worse, your unhappiness itself might be the source of my happiness. Sounds like you need a schadenfreude clause in your policy and I need a firm kick in the crotch.

The realm of happiness insurance is likely to be fraught with more complexities, legislation, lawsuits and fraud than even medical malpractice insurance, and the real reason that you can’t insure your happiness may be because no one in their right mind would offer such a policy. Maybe that’s where the clowns come in.

I guess it all boils down to one simple fact: I shouldn’t eat so much Chinese food.

More Damn Games

Laura handed me one of those Mastercard gift cards yesterday with the instructions that I “blow it.” Not one to argue with a pregnant women, I stopped by Blockbuster today and found that they were selling gently used Xbox games at a 25% discount. The selection was pretty decent, so I passed over Darkwatch, Batman Begins and Burnout: Revenge in favor of the following:

  • Sid Meier’s Pirates! – I loved Pirates! Gold on the Sega Genesis, so I jumped at the change to get this new version.
  • Brute Force – Miscellaneous G™ and I are running out of cooperative multi-player games, and this one should be good for a few game nights.
  • Big Mutha Truckers – What can I say? My inner redneck wanted it.

I also rented the movie Layer Cake, starring Daniel Craig, who is replacing Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Review to follow, I’m sure.

In other news, I’ve had to fire up the snowblower twice in the past two days. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing runs like a Deere.