Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005)

Directed By: Andrew Adamson
Written By: Adamson and a bunch of other people adapted the beloved C.S. Lewis tale.
Starring: A bunch of appropriately ugly British children, Tilda Swinton, and Liam Neeson's voice.
Synopsis: A group of young siblings, while escaping from the WWII bombing of London at an old professor's house, find their way into a magical world where it's always winter and all the animals are computer-generated.

I didn't want the film to look like this. I wanted to go see Narnia and have it look like Lord of the Rings, only even more. I wanted accuracy, realism, and even the most nit-picking viewer to be unable to tell what's computer-generated and what's not. I wanted something huge, epic, and most of all, I didn't want it to be a (*flinch*) family-friendly Disney movie.

But then the news floated down that it was going to be... cutesy. Cartoonish, even. How baffling. This is a grand, huge story - why hand it off to Andrew Adamson, director of the Shrek films and a former visual effects supervisor? Why make an epic, spiritual film into a kid's movie? It should be more than that. But that's what it is.

And the truth of it is, it's a hell of a kid's movie.

For all the smack I was talking about Adamson in pre-production (and if you ever talked to me about it, you knew that I was sounding off on the subject), he honestly made a damn good film, and I've got five damn good reasons why his version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is worth seeing:

5. For someone making a kid's movie and not a huge epic, it's actually pretty grand. The final battle, in which Peter and his army take on the army of the White Witch takes place on a broad, sunlit battlefield that reminded me uncomfortably of the Gungan battle in The Phantom Menace, but Adamson proved awfully adept at giving the battle a lot of flash. Jamming as many various CGI creatures into the fight as he could find budget for, he throws in a lot of species that Lewis never really thought to involve (phoenixes? griffins? men crossed with pterodactyls? Why not?) around hundreds of intriguing specialized characters in blissfully outlandish outfits designed by the oh-so-dedicated WETA Workshop. So much is going on that on a viewer's third or fourth time through, they'll probably still be picking up new creatures floating on the wings (no pun intended. In fact, just to clear things up, puns are never intended at 10-4GB. Never). A few of the Lewis faithful might object, but without it, you just have a rehash of the craptastic renassaince-fair world imagined for the BBC version. This makes the world a whole lot more interesting.

4. Speaking of interesting, the CGI creatures are awfully entertaining. Sure, they're cartoonish, and you never really buy that they really are a beaver/rhinocerous/lion/etc., but they're barrels of fun. Adamson wants to let all the characters fully interact with the characters, so the animals don't just talk; they're major characters in the story, giving all the good lines, bickering with each other, narrating parts of the story. Adamson doesn't hide his CGI, and he doesn't pull back from the animals so that they look more realistic. Instead, he shows them close up, lets you see that they aren't real beavers - and then goes ahead and lets them be real characters. It's kind of... gutsy. Not a lot of other filmmakers are willing to let the audience see the flaws in their special effects, I sure wouldn't. But Adamson knows it's more fun this way. Bravo.

3. For a bunch of kids working alongside blue screens and said computer generated animals, the acting's pretty impressive. Especial props go to Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), the youngest Pevensie children and the best actors in the film. Keynes manages to give Edmund both arrogance and vulnerability, and gives his character a complete arc, which is impressive for someone who was 12, maybe 13 when this was filmed. I'll get to Henley in a minute, but I also wanted to mention (I guess I'm feeling magnanimous today) the excellent turns by relative unknown James McAvoy (a perfectly charming Mr. Tumnus) and Jim Broadbent (Professor Kirke), who both understood perfectly the winsome nature of the story and carried themselves accordingly.

2. Adamson tried, really tried, to give Aslan more than just lip service as a God metaphor. I understand, I really do, that it's hard to do. And I think Adamson kinda botched it, I don't think it worked at all, but I'm proud anyway, way to go. He tried to balance both ways, and so the Christian market is aggravated at how Aslan isn't established as the Lord of All Creation, and the media is angry at how Aslan is such an obvious God metaphor, and how dare Adamson try to sneak in religion while we weren't watching? Why, it's upsetting the children! But I really felt that Adamson understood who Aslan was, and he wanted to make him important without bogging down the story with religious symbolism, which is awfully tough when one of your characters is killed in payment for someone's sins, resurrected from the dead at daybreak, saves the world from evil, and then disappears into the horizon. Adamson always had the deck stacked against him. But he wasn't trying to piss anyone off. He just wanted to make a good movie.

1. Lucy. Allow me to spin you the tale of how, in 1988, BBC began making movie versions of the Narnia series that featured a charmless young actress named Sophie Wilcox starring as Lucy Pevensie. I haven't posted her picture here, mostly because the sight of Wilcox's face, to this day, usually inspires me to retch (also, I couldn't find any pictures anywhere to put up, everyone else on the web apparently being of like mind) She giggled, whined, and flounced her tiresome little way through the first three films, slowly descending from merely aggravating into unconsciousably vexatious, until the plot of the series mercifully removed her from the films. Researching for this post lead me to discover that Wilcox's career promptly stalled following these films, finally resurrecting ten years later, which hopefully allowed her enough time to grow out of being so impossibly insufferable.

I bring all this up because I was so worried that Adamson would somehow manage to find another little Sophie Wilcox, or worse, bring back the original. And instead he gave us the charming, surprisingly mature Georgie Henley, who scampers through Narnia with the infectious delight of an English child who's only known grey skies and bad dentistry. Since we discover Narnia through her eyes the reason this whole film gains such momentum throughout the first half is her engaging performance. And unless she follows the Sophie Wilcox method of acting, she's only going to get better. I'm already looking forward to Prince Caspian.

Breakdown: Narnia gets a full, and deserved, three stars for not having Wilcox anywhere in the film, another star for having Henley instead, and another star for the performances of Keynes, McAvoy, etc. all. It also gets a star for casting unknowns in almost all the roles not created in a computer lab, and another for casting LOTR fan fave Kiran Shah (Elijah Wood's eccentric body double throughout the films) as the aggressive Ginarrbrik. However, it loses two stars for having unrealistic CGI characters, but gets one back for having the wherewithall to actually make them more than furry Jar-Jars. And finally, it loses two stars for screwing up Aslan. I'm sorry, Adamson, I hate to do it, but it really is the whole point of the story. Maybe next time. Still, Four Stars Out of Five.


Anonymous Danielle said...

What you said is true...I just finished watchig the 1989 version with Sophie Wilcox. It's mean to say, but she is quite ugly!!

February 09, 2010 1:48 AM  

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