Film Reviews: Wednesday, December 07, 2005
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe\r\nStarring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, and Anna Popplewell. Directed by Andrew Adamson. Written by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, based on C.S. Lewis’ novel. Rated PG.
Bleak Midwinter

In the theater, the drafty theater, \r\nThe Lion stinks tonight.


In only the latest highly predictable development in movieland, the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy has spawned yet another special effects-laden Hollywood epic based on a thinly veiled Christian parable of a fairy tale written by a stuffy, humorless mid-20th century Oxford don. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis’ story about four young English siblings named Pevensie who find a gateway to a magical wonderland called Narnia, now comes to the big screen courtesy of a studio looking for a cash cow similar to Peter Jackson’s franchise. There’s one crucial difference, though — this movie’s bad. Oh, dear God, it’s bad.

The director here is Andrew Adamson, the New Zealander best known for helming the Shrek movies. Having done visual effects for Joel Schumacher’s Batman films, he’s not a total stranger to live action, though he certainly looks like a novice here. All of the buoyancy and bounciness of his animated pictures is gone, replaced by the tedious literal-mindedness of someone who’s either too unimaginative or too afraid to do anything else with the story. The movie takes an excruciating 140 minutes to painstakingly reproduce every detail from Lewis’ slim book. (Seriously, your kid could probably read the book in less time than it takes to watch the film.) In the meantime, it misses everything that made the print version charming, like the author’s light touch and antique-flavored prose style.

The movie looks terrible, too, which isn’t what you want when you’re trying to create a fantasy world on celluloid. When Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) takes her first step into Narnia, the snow-covered trees look like they’re straight out of a fashion magazine spread. When the realistically rendered woodland creatures speak in human voices, Adamson and company treat it like something marvelous instead of a digital effect that was old hat 10 years ago. Everything from the locations to the mythical animals such as minotaurs and fauns remains earthbound and unconvincing, and the majestic lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) has less presence on the screen than Disney’s Lion King. Set this movie beside the Lord of the Rings films, and the solidity of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth puts this movie’s Narnia in the shade.

The sole bright spot is Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, playing her with the perfect combination of devious charm and fearsome regality. With her pale skin and androgynous features, this tall actress always looks better in fantastical settings. Her appearances here are too infrequent to make up for the uninteresting kid actors. (To be fair, the characters are hardly mesmerizing. This is the book’s fault more than the film’s.) Combine this with an insipid script and a slow pace that would have rendered this movie interminable at half its length, and you have the total cinematic disaster that is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

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