New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Today, Prince Caspian - the second film based on C.S. Lewis’ classic The Chronicles of Narnia, hits theaters. So, my selection for this week’s “Friday’s Featured Film” was pretty easy. If you haven’t seen The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first film in the series, do yourself a favor and rent Andrew Adamson’s near flawless adaptation of the classic book.
The film, like the book, is set in WWII England and focuses on the Pevensie siblings – Peter (William Moseley), the oldest who dreams of joining his father in the army though he’s only seventeen, Susan (Anna Popplewell), the very bright and logical eldest daughter, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) the snide rebel of the bunch, and Lucy (Georgie Henley), the wide eyed, innocent, and sensitive youngest child. In the midst of the relentless bombing of London, their mother sends them away to board with an old professor (Jim Broadbent) in the countryside to be safe until the war ends. Once there, however, a game of hide-and-seek sends them through a magical wardrobe and into the land of Narnia – a land of fantastical creatures and talking animals that is ruled with an iron and icy fist by the White Witch, Jadis (Tilda Swinton). After befriending a faun named Tumnus (James McAvoy), the kids find that they may be long prophesied heroes who will join with the exiled king, a lion named Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), to free Narnia from endless winter and usher in an age of freedom.
As book-to-screen adaptations go, I think that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe may well be the best I have ever seen. The Lord of the Rings movies may well be better films, but I believe that Lion better represents the spirit and content of its source material. If you (like me) read this book as a kid (or even as an adult), what you see on screen will be what you remember reading, with very little deviation. The length of the book (just over 100 pages) means that not a lot gets left on the cutting room floor, and Adamson (who helmed the Shrek series) keeps the sense of wonder and whimsy that is such an integral part of Lewis’ writing. If there’s one thing that gets lost in translation, it’s Aslan – not because the filmmakers did a poor job of bringing him to the screen (quite the opposite, actually), but because perhaps the only canvas big enough to paint him on is the one in the mind of the reader.
The Christian subtext of the films is no secret by now. Lewis wrote his Chronicles expressly as an allegory of the Christian faith. The similarities between Aslan and Christ are not easy to miss. Personally, I don’t really care for allegory. I find it too dense and heavy handed most of the time (don’t shoot me, but I think I’m one of the three reformed Christians on the planet who doesn’t care for Pilgrim’s Progress). However, for whatever reason (perhaps because of the fond childhood memories I have of the books), I absolutely love the Narnia allegory. There’s a simple power and beauty to the narrative and the film carries that over extremely well. On the whole, I probably prefer Tolkien’s (who, though a close friend of Lewis and his spiritual mentor, didn’t much care for Narnia’s allegory) mythology to Lewis’ but everything that is so simple and pure with the story of Aslan and the White Witch is brought beautifully to life on the screen by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Tilda Swinton turns in a fantastic performance as the White Witch. During the crucial events at The Stone Table, she communicates the sick ecstatic joy of the Witch with amazing subtlety. The kids are good enough to make you largely forget that they’re child actors, and Harry Gregson-Williams (whose previous credits include the Shrek films and the Metal Gear Solid series of video games) adds a powerful and absolutely gorgeous musical score. If you’ve never ventured through the wardrobe and into Narnia, go pick this one up this weekend (and get a hold of Lewis’ books as well – they’re quick and delightful reads), and here’s hoping that Caspian will not disappoint as a sequel. - **** (out of four)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is rated PG for battle sequences and frightening moments.