Friday, December 09, 2005

Movie review: Classic, but not on screen

The Monkette2B and The Monk did our usual last night -- midnight show of highly anticipated movie. This time, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

As Cathy Seipp notes, there has been a great deal of chatter in the press about C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia books, and Narnia as Christian allegory (or "supposition" as Lewis called it). The movie has been a frequent target of often knee-jerk anti-Christian commentary in the post-Christian left-wing British press, and the movie's release has enabled atheist anti-Lewis author Philip Pullman a soapbox (who wrote the Narnian antithesis, His Dark Materials trilogy) to condemn Lewis and fellow travelers to inveigh against Christianity generally. Ultimately, The Monk has no time for these idiocies: the criticisms of Lewis are usually superficial and motivated by anti-Christian or just anti-theist views. Pullman is a special sort of hack: anti-religion, anti-G*d, and a bit of a crank.

The movie itself is true to the book to a large degree, holds to its primary themes (betrayal, sacrifice and redemption) and it certainly does not proselytize. As for whether it's any good . . . that's a different story.

The story is well-known: the four Pevensie children are sent to the English countryside to escape the Blitz during WWII and are housed by the aloof Prof. Diggory Kirke. While playing hide-and-seek in his estate house (Brit profs made skads of money, it seems), Lucy hides in a wardrobe that leads her into another world -- Narnia. She returns, tells her sibs, and ultimately they all find their way in, learn of a prophecy that says Aslan the Lion will return to free the land from the White Witch and become embroiled in a war for Narnia's soul.

Herewith, the high points and low points.

The Good: the girls (Georgie Henley and Anna Popplewell as Lucy and Susan). Popplewell is the lone Pevensie sibling of the four with extensive acting experience and plays the secondary role of Susan very well. Henley is the breakout star, or should be, because virtuous and faithful little Lucy is the soul of the story and she does a fine job carrying the weight of the film, especially as a nine-year old actress in her first movie (at the time of shooting; she's ten now).

More good: the CGI creatures (much better than the costumed creatures), the exposition of the four sibs' relationship, Tilda Swinton's Cate-Blanchett-on-'roids performance as the White Witch, the sets, William Moseley's performance as Peter, the Beavers.

The bad: Some of the effects LOOKED like effects (i.e., the opening air raid scenes); the costumed creatures' makeup not up to the caliber of the CGI compositions, pacing often too slow.

The ugly: The Witch's dwarf sled-driver (the actor, Kiran Shah, who is only 4-foot-1 was Elijah Wood's stand-in for perspective shots in Lord of the Rings); washed out unnatural lighting for nighttime scenes.

Ultimately, the story is the key, the movie is missing some intangibles and requires a few too many leaps: why does Aslan's army follow Peter or (especially) Edmund? Why do the kids (other than Lucy) agree to stay shortly after they all fall into Narnia? Where the heck was Aslan for the past 100 years?

Overall, interesting movie, decently recreated, but not on par with The Lord of the Rings in style, scope, plot or movie quality.

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