Monday, December 12, 2005

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

Ty Burr - Movie Review :: The Boston Globe: "For those who still have no idea what this means: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was the first of seven books about an alternate universe called Narnia, into which children of our world occasionally stumble. Animals talk, centaurs and satyrs romp, and a magnificent, all-powerful lion named Aslan pads through dispensing deeper meaning.

Lewis, a philosopher, writer, and Oxford professor who wrote the books during the post-WWII era, intended them as Christian allegory, but they don't have to be read that way -- they work equally well as secular stories of sacrifice and courage, and they're terrific fantasy novels in the bargain.

"Chronicles" the movie puts its eggs in the latter basket, with added muscle. It opens not on a rainy, bored Saturday but with the bombs of the London Blitz sending the four Pevensies fleeing to a backyard shelter: Peter the eldest (William Moseley), Susan the priss (Anna Popplewell), Edmund the sour (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy the big-eyed and indomitable (Georgie Henley). Their mother packs them off in a teary farewell scene to a distant country relative (Jim Broadbent, eccentrically bewigged), and only after establishing their isolation and fractious sibling rivalry does Lucy idly wander into that wardrobe. . .

And pops out into the snow, a half-naked faun named Tumnus (James McAvoy) looking at her queerly. Aside from its genteel borderline kink, that first Narnia sequence sets the tone for what follows: wondrous immersion in a hyper-realistic otherworld that's just a little chintzy around the edges. When Edmund follows later on, a dyspeptic viewer may notice the fake snow that clings to his clothes and never melts, or the fact that Mr. Tumnus's ears don't move, or the unconvincing digital matte-work in later scenes. The movie's seams show.

Now we come to a problem the movie never quite solves. When you read C.S. Lewis, it's easy to make the leap of literary faith and believe that children are capable of epic treks and feats; the book is about their finding the inner strength to do so. "Chronicles" the movie gives us a flesh-and-blood Peter wielding a massive sword, and whether Moseley, a pleasant enough young chap, doesn't have the requisite charisma or whether director Andrew Adamson feels more comfortable around the CGI critters of "Shrek" than around humans, the film's flesh and fantasy never convincingly combine. At times you may even be moved to laughter, which is more destructive to Narnia than anything Jadis can dole out.

Swinton compensates by giving the ice queen the eyes of a fanatic and a cold interest in cruelty. "Chronicles" sticks a silly plastic ice-crown atop her head in the opening scenes, but it melts away soon enough and by the end she's an Amazonian berserker pinwheeling through the fight scenes with joy. Behind all of Lewis's games, the "Narnia" books are about the conflict between civilization and chaos. Swinton, as she has done elsewhere, makes an unsettlingly good case for chaos.

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