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

I saw The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe last night. Overall opinion? The film was okay. Not great, mostly good, but overall, just okay. Adequate.

I first read the books when I was six. CBS had done an animated version of Lion (just bought it on DVD, btw), and my family and I had watched it, and my parents bought me a boxset of the books. Read the books, saw the Christian allegories, and pretty much left it at that until my early twenties–discovered other, better fantasies, like Lord of the Rings and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and Narnia became a place I’d visited but held no real affection for nor a real desire to return. In my mid-twenties I decided to revisit the place, for various reasons, and I bought a new boxset, one with the books in all the wrong order. (Lion goes first, Magician sixth, no matter what HarperCollins says.)

I wasn’t impressed. C.S. Lewis could put together a sentence, construct a scene, but his plots were rubbish. He’d make a lousy reporter–he could answer the who and the how and the what and the where, but never the why. Things happen in Narnia, but they never make a whole lot of sense, because Lewis never explains why they’re supposed to make sense. Sure, it’s fantasy, but it should have at least a modicum of sense. And the least convincing parts of the fantasy were, I realized, the overtly Christian aspects of the books.

I hadn’t followed the development of the film the way I had The Lord of the Rings, mainly because I didn’t really care a whole lot. I knew the film was coming, I knew a video game was in development (it sucks, by the way), and I expected we’d see a whole lot of Narnia in the bookstores (which we have) once the film hit. I knew I’d want to see the film, though–again, the nostalgia factor–even though I’m not Christian and think that the books are, well, a little weak. So, I downloaded the trailer, which I thought had the right look, played the video game (because that’s what I do), and decided I’d get around to seeing the film when I’d get around to seeing the film.

The film was okay. It didn’t wow me, it didn’t excite me, it didn’t really make me feel much of anything. There were no jaw-dropping visuals, the performances from the human actors were generally acceptable, Andrew Adamson’s direction was competant, and the script hit just about every important point from the book.

The problem with Lion is that it lacks any sort of sensible plot. Things happen, but they don’t make any sense, and we’re given no information to make sense of the things that happen. Why is Aslan mustering an army? Why is the White Witch mustering an Army? Why are they going to war? What makes the White Witch evil? Why must she be defeated? Why should I care that she’s defeated? What has Peter done to engender the loyalty and deference his army shows him? Lewis doesn’t answer these questions in the book, the movie doesn’t attempt to answer them, and yet these are the questions on which the plot of the book (and by extension, film) hangs. And Father Christmas?!? Why would he even be in Narnia? Lewis must’ve been smoking industrial grade hemp that day….

If the film does one thing better than the book it’s in justifying why Edmund sells out his family to the White Witch. And no, it’s not Turkish Delight, which I finally bought out of curiosity one day and regretted ever since–it may be Turkish, but it’s no delight, let me tell you. The film dramatizes better than the book the Pevensie familial divisions and squabbling, and thus Edmund’s decisions have some psychological foundation which they lack in the book, probably because Lewis had virtually no experience with children or large sibling groupings.

The visuals are mostly adequate. There’s some dodgy effects work in places–the Pevensie children don’t seem properly matted into the shot in some instances, along the lines of the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. Several shots are clearly meant to ape Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films–it’s impossible to watch the Eagle attack on the White Witch’s army and not think of the Nazgul attack on Minas Tirith in Return of the King, while another shot mimics almost exactly the scene in Fellowship where the Hobbits hide beneath the tree root when the Black Rider sniffs the ground above them.

I’ll probably buy the DVD, and I’ve no doubt that the film will produce several other adaptations of the Narnia series. Yet I can’t imagine this film generating any sort of lasting fandom or being remembered fondly in twenty years time. It’s an adequate film, but not a memorable one.

Originally published here.