The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Alex Worsnip 26/12/2005
In the age of the success of blockbuster versions of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, it seems almost inevitable that Narnia would eventually come around for the treatment. But it would be unfair to see this as a cash in, in the same way that, for example, the more minor superhero comics are now being turned into films in an attempt to ride on the success of their stronger predecessors. Narnia is just the kind of classic story that deserves big-screen adaptation. And, by and large, this adaptation does the job intended very well indeed. Like so many others, I read this years ago before I really knew its somewhat insidious religious connotations, and it is initially shocking to see just how strong the religious message is here. The makers have tried to distance themselves from this and present it simply as a classic story, but it is fairly unavoidable - indeed you find yourself expecting someone to cry “Jesus!” in rapturous tones during some of the more triumphant moments. But I think it would be wrong to dismiss Narnia on these grounds. It certainly includes embedded values, but then, so do so many films and books, and it remains the prerogative of film-makers and writers to include them. Of course, one could subject it to all sorts of theological criticism, but that, I think, is something that really is unnecessary when simply watching it as an enjoyable film. Besides, it is the book that dictates these values, and the film is simply a faithful adaptation of that.
Of course, there are various changes from the original novels - but, as ever, I think those that complain about this are truly missing the point - that films need to be different, and importantly shorter, than books, and that there is no obligation of film-makers to replicate the book all the time. However, inevitably, it does feel fast-moving in the context of fitting it all in. This does, however, have the benefit of making it consistently engaging - in fact, I would say, more so than the Lord of the Rings films. Though the film version is somewhat tempted into the extended battles and awesome landscapes of Tolkien's trilogy, Narnia has a kitsch, sweet quality which makes it, for me, more warm. It is littered with amusingly cheesy moments with hammed-up (but always effective) child acting and animated animals, and doesn't take itself too seriously. Having said this, Tilda Swinton's White Witch is played with a little more depth than cartoon villainy, which is always a saving grace. Nevertheless, as with so many epics and fantasy films - Star Wars, the aforementioned LOTR - it's all simple good-and-evil. Again, this is to a great extent the dictat of C.S. Lewis' theological purpose. Still, it would be fascinating to get a film of this type where the two were far less clear, though I suppose it isn't what the public wants in terms of big-screen action. Nevertheless, the film does exactly what an adaptation of Narnia should, and for that, it would be churlish to do anything but enjoy it.