19 December, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Movie Review

First of all, allow me to state that the movie, in all technicalities, was good. I shall deliver my comments on characters and situations first, and then my disappointments. I wrote this quite early in the morning, and so there are few transitions and a few abrupt changes. Also, this is not only commenting on the movie, but aspects of the book as well......ready? Take a deep breath, 'cos it's a long post!

I decided at a late moment to attend the LWW showing, which forced me to renege my vow to read the book again before seeing the movie. Ah, well, I have read it many times. Not enough, of course. I prepared by reading reviews by "normal" Lewis fans like myself on www.narniaweb.com, which helped prepare me emotionally.

The opening scene, though not part of the book, was necessary, I think, to set the tone of the whole escapade. I think it could have been shortened. We never meet Mom Pevensie in the books, and I think we shouldn't have met her face to face in the movie, either. However, I was very close to tears already at the farewell scene. My opinion of this scene: well handled, and some of it was probably necessary, but it could have been a bit more concise.

I did not like Mrs. McCready. Her voice was excellent, as was her bearing, but she was too realistically harsh. As a child, it seemed that she was harsh to a point of overdoing it, which isn't "realistic," but it makes a good contrast in leadership between her and the Professor. Her harshness should have been more "cartoonish," if I may use such a vulgar term (hopefully it conveys my intent).

Speaking of leadership, the Professor was not quite what I imagined him, but close. He should have been a bit more rotund, but his face was absolutely perfect. The wild, white hair and beard, the bright, twinkling blue eyes, the small, round, gold glasses, the long thin fingers, etc. The actor seemed to know how to handle a pipe, too, which added a great dimension to his character for me. Most of his lines were straight from the book (though, perhaps not chronological), and I really liked the look he gave Peter and Susan when he was discussing Lucy's wardrobe escapades. "How do you know that your sister's story is not true?" Ah! And the dumbfounded looks they gave each other. Marvelous.

My reactions to the children were varied. The girl who played Lucy was excellent, if a bit tall and gangly at times. I suppose that comes with the age she's in. Her face, her mannerisms, her voice, were...hmm, not perfect, but amazing still. Her skill as an actress is what suprised me and convinced me that her character was real. She's a better actress than most in Hollywood who make millions. Kirsten Dunst comes to mind. But we won't spoil this with my opinion of HER :-). She had a cute green argyle sweater on when the four went into Narnia together. Did anyone else notice that the camera focused on her face a lot? This wouldn't have been possible with a less-skilled actress, and the audience wouldn't have been able to share Lucy's emotions quite so much.

The relationship between Tumnus and Lucy was also done excellently. I was concerned that it may appear to be malignant in a way that Lewis did not intend. Just think, a small girl wandering off into the woods with a man who has the legs of a goat and wears no shirt, to some undetermined location? To the uninitiated, this would really seem wrong. And the movie was wrong, but not in that way. Tumnus was flustered upon meeting a Daughter of Eve, but he did not hide behind a tree at all. And his tail is supposed to be long! Long enough to drape over his arm, and his skin should be a bit redder, too. (Am I the only one to have noticed? Tumnus left human footprints in the snow with Lucy, but he had goat's feet! Bad, bad effects people!) That said, I like how their relationship progressed. And I have fallen in love with Tumnus. When I saw him next to Edmund in the White Witch's castle, I had to stuff my beanie hat into my mouth to keep myself from disturbing the others with my tragic moaning. And when he finds that Edmund is a traitor! What a sorry, sad, remorseful, yet accusational face! Oh! My heartstrings weaken at the thought.

The change Edmund undergoes was executed well by this actor, though I think the director did not dwell on it long enough. At the beginning of the movie, Peter, Susan, and Lucy stressed that they were there to get their brother back. And they did. And he changed for the good. But that is swallowed up by the sudden desire to defeat the White Witch. I think the director might have been able to tie this desire into their gratitude for their brother a bit more. The actor portrayed both a petulant, selfish yet sad boy as well as a supportive hero excellently. His remorse when talking to Aslan is touching, and throughout the scene of the witch demanding his blood, then Aslan convincing her to renounce the claim, his siblings' faces was an amazing mix of different emotions, especially since they don't know that Aslan will now sacrifice his life instead.

Peter is usually looked upon as the big hero of the story. I would agree in general. We don't know the exact ages of the children when they find Narnia, but the actor who played Peter seemed much more mature for what I imagine his age group to be than most are. Perhaps this is because of his unique position as eldest male in his household during a war. Yet, he also seemed like a child when he bickered with Susan and Edmund, and admonished Lucy for making up stories as if he knew better than she. I heard that the actor is 18, which is amazing since his voice still sounds like a child's. I noticed well how he progressed from an unsure boy with a sword to a fighting warrior, and I appreciated the effort that went into that change. Just because someone picks up a sword doesn't mean that they can fight! Most movies seem to gloss over this change. The scene dealing with the wolf killing probably helped.

Susan is the character that Lewis seems to pick on the most, and readers have the most problems concerning her. I think Lewis was not trying to condemn womanly maturity by allowing Susan to be the most "adult" character among the children. Rather, I think he was trying to point out a different type of maturity. Susan changes from being a rather controlling older sister to being a wise counselor throughout the movie. She becomes more of a peer to Lucy, which is what she should be. The actress dressed the part of Susan very well, and delivered her lines with the emotion I would expect of a girl in her position. One of my favorite lines, though not in the book: "He's a beaver. He shouldn't be saying ANYTHING!" This line was nowhere near what Susan should have been expressing at that moment, but her face and intonation just made that line so engaging that I had to laugh.

Speaking of lines, there were a few that I didn't like, and a few that were left out that made me very upset. A few lines were inserted just for laughs, I think, which bothered me a bit, because Lewis didn't do things like that simply for the laugh factor. An example would be Susan's line above. Another line that the guys seemed to like, was Edmund riding his horse. "Whoa, there, horsey!" exclaimed Edmund. "My name is PHILLIP." Said the horse gravely. And as they were chasing the white stag, Edmund once again spoke to Phillip like that, again (I suspect) to arouse laughter. Rarely did anyone ride talking animals, or use them for beasts of burden. It would have been quite an insult.

Here are my two greatest problems with the movie. These two, however, jumped out at me and angered me. When the children and the beavers are sitting at the table discussing Aslan, they left out a very important bit. From the book... [Susan:] ' "...Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." "That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver. "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly." "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy. "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he is good. He's the king, I tell you." ' This is so vital to understanding the character of Aslan. Aslan should instill fear in readers because he is so powerful. Without understanding that Aslan is The Power, then he just seems like a magic band aid until the children get their kingdom established. This perception is all wrong. The children should be serving Aslan's wishes, not the other way around.

Another problem is when Lucy received her dagger from Father Christmas. Everyone say it with me, BATTLES ARE UGLY WHEN WOMEN FIGHT! Though I may train with weapons, I hope to never use them to kill or seriously injure another individual. This line from Father Christmas is what kept me from joining the Armed Forces instead of going to college. This line encourages me to stay within my boundaries as a woman, and yet still be able to enjoy competition. And what happens in the movie? They let MODERN POLITICS get into it!! One of the things I like about literature: the written word is timeless. When one adapts literature to the silver screen, one should strive to preserve that timelessness. Though I understand that this principle is biblical, Lewis' interpretation of it has been significant to me. I think he meant it to be an intentional line, and is not just a cultural reference. Mumbling something about "battles are hideous" is not even close to carrying the significance of this line. Yes, I know that there are brave and courageous women fighting today for things that I hold dear. I know women who have been part of the armed forces. I appreciate their contribution. However, I could not get past the significance that this line holds for me to understand why they took it out.

The initial meeting between Lucy and Tumnus is annoying, but not quite as aggravating as the aforementioned line. Tumnus' character strikes me as being almost hobbit-like, if I may be allowed to draw that analogy. He is friendly, but private and not quite coordinated. (The Tumnus in the movie doesn't seem quite friendly enough.) He doesn't always know what to say. An excerpt from the book again...' "...But I've never seen a Son of Adam or a Daughter of Eve before. I am delighted. That is to say--" and then he stopped as if he had been going to say something he had not intended but had remembered in time. "Delighted, delighted," he went on.' However, though I am dissatisfied with the accuracy of this scene, I must say that I liked its precision. Though it was not in the book, the handshake ordeal did seem good. Lucy's comment about hand shaking (it seemed familiar...is it in a different part of the series?) seemed like a child's comment.

In Tumnus' house, I laughed out loud when I saw the book title, "Is Man a Myth?" 'Twas indeed a highlight of that segment. I didn't like the fire ordeal. Though Narnia seems to be a magical land, it is, of course, a normal world, just different than ours. Adding "magic" to Narnia where there was no magic dulls the pronounced Real Magic. Once again, I will say that Tumnus (or rather, James McAvoy) was excellent. The cry scene with Lucy offering her handkerchief was brilliant on his part. I honestly thought he was crying, and once again had to stuff my hat into my mouth to keep from bothering my neighbors.

THEY HAD DIPPY EGGS AT CAIR PARAVEL! That made me laugh. Dippy eggs are eggs that are boiled, but are still liquid, and one dips pieces of toast in the egg. Dippy eggs are a specialty of my mother's father, and my cousins clamor for them every morning we're at their house.

I'm glad I had my green beanie hat. I used it quite a bit, as a "hand" to wring, a silencer, and as an object to hug. I think it needs a break.

The White Witch was all wrong. Though it isn't stated in the book, I've heard several people say that she has dark hair. I agree. And she didn't have red lips. I read an interview with the actress where she explained why she changed the character. I don't think that her decision to get rid of the bright red lips was a good idea. If Jadis was a fake (meaning, she wasn't a real human, so she had to imitate human form and emotions), then she would have had bright red lips because her own lips would be so pale. And pale lips on a human would be out of place, so she'd color them red. If the White Witch didn't inspire children to at least shiver in disgust and at best cower in fear, then the movie has failed. Completely. After all, isn't she equivalent to Satan (if we're taking this book to be an "allegory" for the crucifixion)? How can Aslan's sacrifice be so meaningful without that contrast? And, yet, Aslan is also a fear-inspiring character.

Liam Neeson was a poor choice for the voice of Aslan. I like his voice, but it is not Aslan's voice. James Earl Jones would have been a much better choice. Perhaps even a fantastic one. Mr. Neeson seemed to speak too quickly, and dispense wisdom without even thinking twice as if anyone else's opinion mattered. Aslan's image, however, was glorious. I loved the sun rays glimmering off of his waving mane, and the ripples of muscle underneath the thick, golden coat. I wanted to sit quietly and seem small for fear of being noticed, yet I also wanted to give him a big hug and the best back massage I could ever give. Just to sink my fingers in that hair and feel those knots of muscle fiber relax. I love the scene in the book when Susan and Lucy comfort him on the way to the stone table for that very reason.

Oh, and the animals were all too small. Aren't the talking beavers supposed to be bigger than the non-talking beavers?

I know that I haven't analyzed the theology of the movie yet. I plan to watch it again, and perhaps on the second movie I will notice more than I did on the first viewing. Of course, this will be hard to do, since I haven't analyzed the theology of the book very much. Lewis himself claimed that it wasn't an allegory, so I think that he doesn't give me much leeway to compare Aslan directly to God. We shall see.

1 comment:

Towropes said...

Hmmmm, most of your disagreements are subjective (e.g., what you expected the kids to look like, etc.). Others are well noted ("He is not safe").

I throw out expectations and desires when I see a cinematized book. It's easier to enjoy that way.