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

Pretty good. If you can make it through the first half, the second half makes up for it.

I enjoyed it a lot, and hopefully they'll follow on with Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Adapting the others will be a tremendous challenge. This one was adapted spectacularly well.

I have two major criticisms of the film.

First, the first half of the film (through the Father Christmas scene), the directing, acting, and cinematography is emotionless. At no point does the White Witch come across as sinister, vile, or oppressive. In the inevitable comparison to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, Jackson's characters were a little bit over the top. In this adaptation, the characters weren't even at base camp yet. Jadis should have terrified us at least as much as the Nazgul did in Fellowship; Maugrim's pack are turned into buffoons. This all turns around halfway through, but that just makes the film feel uneven.

Second, the film was simply too short. One of my worries going in to the film was that there wouldn't be enough source material to adapt into a 2-hour flick. Watching this adaptation - which stayed very close to the flow of the book in most places - proves that the books are very filmable; there is scene after scene that translates well from the books to the screen. Given that, though, to fit the running time each scene ends up being as short as possible. Unlike the six hour Lord of the Rings (or, on DVD, the nine hour extended dance mix version) where Peter Jackson invites his audience to relish each new location in detail, in TCN:LWW we are whisked from place to place at a breakneck pace. We're rushed into the wardrobe. We barely sit down in the Beavers' home before it's time to leave. We don't get to see more than a glimpse of Cair Paravel. The White Stag scene is too short by half to convey the import of what we're seeing. This is all the more frustrating because - unlike LOTR, we don't get to go back and revisit these places again in quite the same form ever again.

I'm sure the inevitable "Director's Cut with Extra Footage!" could solve the second problem, but the first will make repeat viewing frustrating. It's so close.

Good bits:
  • They kept the film very secular. I'm sure the Christians will find lots to praise (and lots to criticize) but as a non-religious person I never felt preached to. I was expecting the worst, but the film came across as straight fantasy, not heavy-handed allegory.
  • Father Christmas was also handled amazingly well - perhaps too toned down!
  • I didn't like Tumnus at first, but he grew on me.
  • Aslan was done extremely well, from animation to voice. The CG effects for him are Oscar-worthy; he never looks like an effect.
  • The cast of creatures, especially the bison-minotaur. Very well done. The Stone Table scene was suitably dark - more than I was expecting for a film aimed at a younger audience.
  • "You thought the world was small?"
  • The White Stag scene was not butchered. Su and I were worried that the ending would be changed.
Bad bits:
  • Where dramatic scenes were added (spoiler free: tree, waterfall, chase) they weren't well integrated.
  • Okay, so they made a point that the world was not small, yet reinforcements get there how...?
  • The name selected for Jadis' dwarf. I don't object to a name, but that name was a little silly.
  • Dramatic tension can be built up without having the bad guys literally on the good guys' heels. The tunnel chase, tree scene, waterfall, and so on - all invented for the film - make the antagonists look pathetic and turn the kids into action heroes unnecessarily. Given the right visuals and music, bad guys can stalk without chasing and come across as far more sinister.
Intermediate bits:
  • References to "The World". In the books, Narnia is used as both the name of the Kingdom of Narnia and the whole world.  This may grow on me.