Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, William Moseley, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell.
8th December, 2005.
Let me just get one thing out of the way. The Christian overtones of this film will make Bible bashers everywhere weep with joy. Make no mistake, you are going to be smacked full in the face with a blatant Jesus allegory. As a born Protestant and practising Drunkard, this doesn't really bother me, but then again I think this story should have been about little Iraqi kids hiding in a wadi from American 'precision' bombing and finding a doorway to another world. Still, there's a reason I don't work in films, and I think we've just heard it.
The children found Michael Jackson terrifying.
Four siblings are sent to live in the countryside away from the Blitz. Peter (Moseley) is the eldest, trying to hold them together despite being out of his depth. Susan (Popplewell) is the rational smart arse. Edmund (Keynes) is the arrogant little shit and Lucy (Henley) is the innocent wittle girl. Playing, as children are wont to do, they end up wandering into a magical kingdom by passing through an old wardrobe. But the kingdom of Narnia is under threat, and they get caught up in the conflict.
The film looks like it's had plenty spent on it. There's the usual obsessive use of CGI, which is of good quality but tends to be quite intrusive, making suspension of disbelief (which is integral to any work of fiction) difficult. Too many times, you'll find yourself examining the CGI instead of watching the film. Some of the backgrounds are shockingly bad, for instance. If they're not cardboard, they fucking well should be. You think backgrounds on static shots are easy to do? Disney says different, bitch! On the whole it's presented on a smaller scale than a certain other fantasy epic (which will remain unnamed, I promise). In some scenes it's a bit odd, as if the director is scared to pull back and show everything. I suppose this could be explained away as lack of funds, but somehow I doubt it. The creature effects are very good, though. They seem to have realised it can't all be done by CGI without looking shit, which is a plus. Some of the props and environments look disturbingly cheap, but overall it's a good-looking film.
Beaver couldn't stop masturbating under the table.
The soundtrack has obviously been taken straight from the Generic Fantasy Music Vol. 1 CD, and although it's usually pretty average there are times when it goes up in tempo and the scene doesn't. This is the sort of thing that makes you frown and then spend five minutes trying to get back into the film, but these moments are thankfully few and far between, and mostly the music just does its stuff without irritating.
The action suffers from being too kiddyfied. There is absolutely no
blood, and the violence in some cases has been so toned down it just looks stupid. There are some good moments, but on the whole it just looks silly. Opponents are stabbed, bitten, clawed and shot but there's nary a drop of claret to be seen. Another point is that if you're going to have children beating minotaurs that are seven feet tall, the children should look like they can fight and handle their weapons skilfully. Peter in particular seems to have no idea what a shield is for (ignoring the fact that a blow from something three times his size would splatter him over the scenery even if he blocked it). Presumably having 'sharp end toward enemy' engraved on his sword distracted him. If you look at the first film in that unnamed fantasy trilogy, it got the same certificate, a PG. But the action was a lot better. I don't know if Disney or the director are to blame, Adamson's only work before this is Shrek and Shrek 2, but either way, the fights would have been a lot better with just a pinch more realism. I'm not asking for spurting gore, just a little more focus and grit.
"Putting the tent up in the lion enclosure was a great idea, darling."
The acting is one of the film's strong points. Even the voice acting from Aslan (Neeson) and Beaver (Winstone) is excellent. The White Witch is a pretty shallow evil character but Swinton plays her with zeal, bringing some actual menace to the role. You get the impression she's a vindictive megalomaniacal cow, quite in keeping with being an evil ruler. Not sure who voices the leader of the wolf pack, but he sounds like he's doing a Michael Madsen impression, and it doesn't do him any favours. Neeson gives Aslan the gravitas and dignity necessary, even with the slightly clumsy dialogue he has. Winstone's cheeky chirpy Beaver is mildly amusing, even though the light relief characters usually get up my nose. The children do a good job of acting like siblings, slightly fragmented and always on the edge of an argument. They could have picked children who had a slight resemblance, though. I was given the immediate impression that their mother was a total Tokyo optician, and had children from several different men. This isn't the case, but the diverse appearance of her litter certainly makes it seem otherwise. The ever-so-slightly Irish housekeeper has shades of Mrs Doyle from Father Ted ("Would ye like a cuppa tea there, Aslan? Ah, go on!"), but that's probably just me.
Royal Mail would hire anyone.
The dialogue is a mixed bag. Quite clearly, at least two scriptwriters worked on this film, and one of them was a talentless fucking hack unable to speak in nothing but cliches. It's an exercise in how the great can be brought low, and the other scriptwriter, even at their best, wasn't great. I won't pretend to remember the book perfectly, but I don't remember it being so jarringly bad where dialogue is concerned. Old fashioned, certainly, but not bad per se. So they've either left the shit in, or added some of their own. I don't have the sarcasm at hand to express how I feel about this, so all I will say is, congratulations. Not only stupid, but lazy.
It's a good if uneven film, which doesn't stand up well against previous unnamed fantasy epics. Although a fairly faithful adaptation, I think Disney stuck too close to the source material, refusing to alter the lesser aspects for fear of rousing anger from Lewis fans and Christian fundamentalists alike, as well as keeping it a little too childish. Lewis' work was never very dark to begin with, and they appear to have leeched out what there was anyway. Character transformations are rapid, except in the case of Edmund, a horrible little turd of a boy who should be given a thick ear and told to fuck off instead of all this Christian forgiveness shite. Some of the plot reeks of deus ex machina, and comes across as totally false and far too convenient. The shocking lack of development in the relationships between the children and the creatures of Narnia is a glaring error that should have been rectified.
Edmund loved the pussy.
Also of note is the association I made between the aerial forces of Good in Narnia, and the only previous airborne force shown in the film, the Luftwaffe. I regard this as possibly a bit of a gaffe. At the beginning of the film, you see the dastardly Germans of the Third Reich bombing London. During a battle scene, much later, you see the winged goodies dropping rocks on the forces of Evil. I cannot even bring myself to begin discussing such a disturbing parallel, which I freely admit may just be in my head. Nor will I mention the ending, which would no doubt fuck the children right up for life.
The film is worth seeing if that unnamed fantasy trilogy was too mature for you, or if you're a fan of Lewis' books. There's never any doubt that good will triumph, unless you're four years old, retarded, or both. I'm just glad Disney didn't bugger it up completely. With a better director and a scriptwriter who would recognise a cliche if one fell on him from a great height, I have no doubt the sequels will be much improved.
Six resurrections out of ten.