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

starring Tilda Swinton and a lion and some pretty good English kids
directed by Andrew Adamson


review by Stephen Notley

They say you decide you like a movie in the first ten minutes. Ten minutes into The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I was certain I liked it. I liked the WWII opening, the quick glimpses of the kids, the trip to the country, the credits music, I was happy, I was swept up, I was with it.

Yet when I left the theatre I couldn’t say I liked it. Somewhere --nowhere dramatic, no sudden "this sucks" moment-- I drifted out, started looking at the movie instead of watching it, stopped caring, my delight at the beginning gradually wearing away.

No fault to the kids, who were great. Generous and deserved praise is being heaped on Georgie Henley as Lucy, her blinking acceptance drawing us into Narnia for the first time, and Skandar Kynes as Edmund feels like he walked right out of one the illustrations from the book.

Ah, those early minutes, so sweet, the Mr. Tumnus scene, the little interactions before they all go into the wardrobe together. But then, imperceptibly, it fuzzes out, loses focus, jogging along but never again quite taking flight.

Much of this, sadly, has to do with Aslan. In the books he's a very emotional presence, he's always described in terms of how people feel when they see him, the excitement and energy and fierce love and the call to atone. Translating all this heavily emotional stuff into something you can depict onscreen is a much more complex challenge than simply creating a convincingly realistic computer-animated lion. The creators of this Narnia movie get the computer-animated lion part right(ish) but little else, so while we do get a pretty reasonably computer-animated lion, we don't get Aslan.

Cuz if you think about it, "realism" is just not the proper goal when you're trying to depict Aslan. Some choices just seem baffling. It would hardly have been too much of a stretch to at least make Aslan bigger, big enough so that he's not looking up at a 12-year-old. And having his big entrance being him popping out of a tent, like it's a big surprise that he's a lion, is weak. Sure, Liam Neeson does the voice but Liam Neeson can only do so much with the voice if the lion isn't kicking anybody's ass. You know, emotionally.

Without an Aslan that can make you feel something there's no way the second half of the movie can succeed, and since he can't, it doesn't. There are things, battles and scenes that happen, but they're disconnected, abstract. Tilda Swinton does make a very fine White Witch, particularly with her smashing lion-mane cloak that whips and flutters atwine her hair during the final battle, sword and wand killing at every stroke. Her dwarf servant was pretty good too, a nasty, scary little man. There are lots of mythological monsters flyin' around, if that's your thing. Lots of stuff to make video games out of.

Nonetheless, I hope this movie does well. I'd love to see a Narnia series going, and if they could do it like the Harry Potter films, giving different directors and writers shots at doing different takes on the stories, one or two of 'em are gonna have to be good through the law of averages. I fear for the problems in doing the next book, Prince Caspian, in that it's the dullest, least memorable book in the series, but if they can just get over that hump then it's off to the races. The *Narnia* races.