Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Review by Sombrero Grande

Believe it or not, the Walt Disney Company could have had Peter Jackson’s exceptionally crafted (and exceptionally profitable) Lord of the Rings trilogy in its film franchise library. Apparently Jackson offered to make the films for Disney’s Miramax but was turned down and told he could make one movie for Disney (based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “prequel” novel, The Hobbit) and then the studio would wait and see if that was successful before ever considering starting on The Fellowship of the Ring. Of course, Jackson moved on to New Line and the folks there have been cheering all the way to the bank ever since.

Did you know Disney passed on the Harry Potter franchise as well when it was originally offered to them? So what’s Disney to do after having let two gold mines slip through its grasp? The answer: latch on fiercely to whatever’s left. In this case, Disney nabbed the rights to C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. But will this also cherished British novel series prove to blossom into the mega franchise that Disney so desperately wants and needs? Only time will tell, but Sombrero Grande thinks that with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, they’re off to a good-but-not-great start.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is certainly a well-made film; it’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s got a little of something for everyone. I think it’s interesting to note that this is a battle epic that never shows a drop of blood. At times it can make the action a bit vague, but the trade-off is that now it’s highly more appropriate for kids to enjoy along with the adults. Tilda Swinton plays a truly frightening White Witch and the kids’ acting was all quite good as well. I was truly impressed by director Andrew Adamson, who had previously only directed the two Shrek movies. Here he jumps into live action with a grand epic that looks and feels solid and mature. The film’s score is great and the special effects are nothing to be sneezed at (though there are a couple obvious “blue screen” shots)...so why did I say it’s “good but not great?”

Unfortunately, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is repeatedly sabotaged by its uncanny resemblance to the Peter Jackson movie trilogy that Disney wishes this future franchise could equal. It’s impossible not to think of The Lord of the Rings (if you’ve seen it) while watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is kind of a kids’ epic, and it stands to reason that most kids haven’t had the maturity, patience or bladder control to sit through the entire 10+ hours that Jackson’s Lord of the Rings runs, so for them The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe could be markedly new and exciting. For the rest of us, the film will feel like exactly what it is: a scaled-down version of The Lord of the Rings (note how Disney is only making one Chronicles of Narnia movie and waiting to see how it does before making another one). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe actually “quotes” direct shots and scenes from Jackson’s movies, especially around the time of the climactic final battle. Shots of the soldiers on both sides of a New Zealand valley awaiting the order to attack and then charging toward one another can’t help but recall the exact same moments from the Rings trilogy. There’s a rotating shot of the main characters walking along an icy mountaintop that screams The Fellowship of the Ring.

Remember I said that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a well-made film, but The Lord of the Rings is a TOUGH act for any film to have to follow, and my personal feeling is that this one plays a little too close to the impact crater left in our contemporary pop culture from Jackson’s Rings for it to not just blend in mostly. I mean, come on, when you’ve got almost a shot-for-shot redo of the beginning of the Pelennor Fields battle from The Return of the King it becomes painfully obvious that a pre-teen kid makes a very poor substitute for Aragorn.

If you’re, for whatever reason, apprehensive about the “Christian symbolism” in the story, don’t fret. The film walks the razor’s edge remarkably well, so that a non-Christian or secular audience member will be able to fully appreciate the story on its own while a die-hard churchgoer will be able to appreciate the film just as much on a whole other level. The film never comes anywhere near being preachy or some kind of advertisement for Christianity.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a well-made and enjoyable film, but it suffers a bit too much for being exactly what it is: Disney’s attempt at capturing what worked for The Lord of the Rings to make up for the fact that they missed out on that Buckleberry Ferry to Middle Earth.


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