CINEMA: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
C.S. Lewis tale brilliantly translated to big screen
, January 21, 2006
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
is reviewed by John Ballantyne
.For those who have been suffering withdrawal symptoms since the final instalment of Peter Jackson's cinematic treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, the long wait is over.
Walt Disney Pictures - and particularly Walden Media which invests heavily in quality family viewing - have triumphed with their big-screen adaptation of C.S. Lewis's perennially popular tale, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
To the intense relief of Lewis devotees, New Zealand-born producer and director, Andrew Adamson (Shrek
and Shrek 2
), has been meticulously faithful to the spirit of Lewis's classic. Throughout the production, his co-producer and chief consultant was none other than C.S. Lewis's stepson, Douglas Gresham, trustee and director of Lewis's estate.
One of the few liberties that the film has taken with the story has been to expand the very beginning of the story to provide viewers with more background about why the four Pevensie children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - have been sent from World War II London to the countryside.Bombing of London
The film's opening credits appear against a backdrop of slow-moving grey clouds before squadrons of German bombers fill the screen and rain their bombs down on London.
The scene cuts to a home below where the Pevensie parents hustle their children into the safety of an air-raid shelter while the surrounding buildings are rocked by explosions.
This is a clever introduction: Churchill's Britain standing defiant against all the evil that Hitler's Third Reich can hurl against it - a struggle of light against darkness which is mirrored by a parallel struggle in the enchanted realm where the Pevensie children later have their main adventures.
The four Pevensies, like many children from wartime London, are sent to the country for their safety. They arrive at a big, mysterious old country house, owned by a kindly professor and managed by his sharp-tongued housekeeper.
The children, by the way, are no angels; they are utterly authentic. At heart they are loyal to each other, but they tend to be quarrelsome, with sibling rivalry particularly obvious between the oldest, Peter, and the resentful middle child, Edmund.
During a game of hide-and-seek, the youngest Penvensie, Lucy, stumbles through an enchanted wardrobe into a wintry, snow-laden wood in the magical land of Narnia.
There she encounters a half-man half-goat, Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy), who takes her home to tea. McAvoy, with his shy, mischievous smile, is ideally cast for this role, which is authentic right down to the detail of his briskly stamping the snow off his goaty hoofs as he enters his home.
Lucy learns that Narnia is inhabited by talking beasts and mythological creatures such as centaurs, satyrs, unicorns and wood nymphs, but that the land is ruled by the terrifying White Witch Jadis. The Witch has cast a spell on Narnia, making it "always winter and never Christmas".
Later, Edmund finds his way into Narnia, but unluckily meets the White Witch, played with chilling self-possession by Tilda Swinton.
She seduces him with enchanting pieces of Turkish Delight, extracting from him a promise that he'll entice his brother and sisters to her castle.Befriended
Eventually, all four children find themselves together in Narnia where they are befriended by the charming Mr and Mrs Beaver.
Mr Beaver (voice of London-born Ray Winstone) speaks pure Cockney - both the accent and vernacular; Mrs Beaver (voice of Dawn French) speaks with a more rural English accent.
The Beavers tell the children of an old Narnian prophesy that two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve are to rule Narnia as kings and queens after the defeat of the White Witch - hence the White Witch's Herod-like desire to capture and kill any children who might threaten her rule.
Landing in Narnia at about this time is the mighty Lion-king and Messiah figure, Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson).
When the treacherous Edmund fails in his bid to betray his brother and sisters to the White Witch, he faces death at the hands of the Witch.
Aslan strikes a bargain with the Witch and, Christ-like, offers his own life as a sacrifice in Edmund's place.
The Christian themes in the story are immediately recognisable to believers, but in a subtle, unobtrusive way. Some reviewers have suggested that the Christian message could have been made more obvious.
Nevertheless, the acting is of the highest order; the music score is stirring; and the latest special-effects technology is at last equal to the formidable task of recreating an authentic-looking Narnia. Even the scenery looks like "originals" for Pauline Baynes's famous illustrations of C.S. Lewis's book.
- reviewed by John Ballantyne.