Saturday, December 31, 2005

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

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 2005

Before a bespectacled boy wizard named Harry was carted off to boarding school to get sodomized in the communal showers, there existed an equally magical set of children’s books that captured the imagination of school children everywhere. Well, children that read books about witches and magical creatures. Whatever.

After the extraordinary monetary and critical success of the Harry Potter films, it seemed highly unlikely that a certain major studio specializing in warping children’s minds wouldn’t unlock their checkbook and get to work on filming the set of seven books in their latest attempt at a film franchise. Well before you could yell “Greedy Artless Motherfuckers!” they did. The first film in “The Chronicles of Narnia” series is taken from the second book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” And it is a prime example in how throwing millions of dollars into expansive sets and highly detailed digital effects can absolutely drain any magic or wonder out of a series of children’s classics.

Directed and co-written by Andrew Adamson, a former visual effects supervisor on two of the worst “Batman” movies – “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin”, he shot to the “A” list of Hollywood directors focusing on children’s films with his work on “Shrek” and its sequel “Shrek 2.” The originality displayed on naming the follow up to “Drek 1” should have clued the powers-that-be about the lack of imagination they were working with.

Now we understand perfectly well how complicated and difficult a task it must have been to translate a slim religious parable into a major motion picture meant to entice children to drool at the mouths, purchase all the action figures, and hopefully dress up as centaurs come Halloween – but that does not excuse the slapdash filmmaking on display here. The main problem with “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Christ-figure, The Bitch and Too Many Scenes Ripping Off Lord of the Rings” is that despite the presence of unicorns, centaurs, fauns, cuddly woodland creatures that speak in cutesy British accents – it never once takes flight as a magical wonderland.

It would still have been a valiant effort for all concerned if they had not screwed up the basic premise. The film never overcomes its biggest mistake, the depiction of the embodiments of good and evil. As any fan of the books will tell you, the hero and villain of the piece are merely thinly disguised Christ and Satan figures – in the form of a giant pussycat and Satan as one cold hearted bitch. Well, the big puddytat as voiced by Liam Neeson and acted by CGI pixels is a crashing bore. The only cat we want to watch pontificate is Morris the Cat – ‘cause at least he was one funny gay pussy. The White Witch in the person of the great Tilda Swinton steals the whole show away from the talking critters by playing it to the hilt – making her character Jadis, one frosty Bitch! We know full well that often the baddy is more entertaining than the goody two shoes, but we felt slightly uncomfortable cheering on the giant kitty snuff scene.

To make matters worse, the casting of the four major children’s roles is vastly uneven. At the top of the list and shouldering all the acting plaudits is the minute Georgie Henley as the inquisitive Lucy Pevensie. She is a gem. Her ability to actually capture a sense of awe and wonder go far in selling the initial meeting between humans and Narnia critters. Once she stumbles thru the wardrobe and lands in the mystical land, her encounter with a certain Faun named Mr. Tumnus is the dramatic highlight of the film. And considering we have a full two hours left to go, this flick shot its load way too early. Mr. Tumnus as played by one James McAvoy brings a lovely scatter brained charm to his creation. Kudos to the kid and the faun!

The other three Pevensie punks fare exponentially worse the older they get chronologically. Skandar Keynes as the rotten Edmund pouts and flounces about well enough, but his frustration at being transported to this magical land comes off more like he's pissed he can’t find the shoe section in “Harrod’s”. Women’s shoes at that. It really is a shame that all little British boys come off sounding like, well little British girls.

The elder Pevensie girl is played with little grace and lesser charm by Anna Popplewell. And Good Lord, we know that finding kids with straight teeth may have been a challenge in the U.K. – but this bitch’s overbite merely adds to the clutter during the battle scenes. (Side note to the director: Don’t place her next to any goat like creatures, you’re compounding the confusion! She’s the one on the right.)

Moving on to the last one. William Moseley as the eldest in the bunch, Peter, is also sadly the least talented. Not that he’s called upon to do much but attempt to look brave at the crucial moments. Unfortunately for him, his resemblance to Scarlett Johansson doesn’t help matters.

As for the adults in the film, you might have read that in addition to Liam NeesonRay Winstone, Dawn French and Rupert Everett were involved in the proceedings. You would be half right. Their voices are hard at work at chewing out the clumsy dialogue while their animal host bodies are lavishly created by the latest digital technology.

Back to the real star of this torturous show, Tilda Swinton. From her lengthy collaboration with the late Derek Jarman, thru her fine work on such films as Sally Potter’s “Orlando”, Scott McGehee & David Siegel’sThe Deep End” and Spike Jonze’sAdaptation” – she has always been one of our favorites. Here, amidst the cluttered surroundings, her icy stare and spot on delivery for the wonderfully wicked White Witch comes as a blessed relief from the cacophony. Literally cutting a swathe thru the layers of schmaltz, she is terrific to watch!

But by the time we have arrived at the climactic battle scene, we care precious little for the fates of the Pevensie children or the Christ-Kitty. We are solidly behind the White Witch and her beasty brood. Although by now, anything we have to say is falling on deaf ears. For you see, the film despite meandering reviews is a monster hit. Of course. All across Jesusland, churches and Sunday Schools are organizing outings to teach kids about Christianity by watching a talking Lion commit suicide and a jabbering Faun serve tea. Lovely. It’s like getting preached to by McGruff the Crime Dog. Those kids will really be more fucked up than they are now. But we digress.

There is also, sadly, no sense of dread or awe to be found in the noisy slam bang ending that vainly attempts to bring a sense of grandeur to the battle scenes. Being that this is a children’s classic, what are the odds that the good guys will succeed? Pretty good, don’t you think? And that really shouldn’t be the point. You can still tell a grand adventure with genuine charm and skillfully filmed chase scenes and climatic battle royale scenes that don’t look staged for a Sony Playstation® starring the cast of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.” Loud and garish and thunderous music does not replace pacing, camera angles, dramatic tension, or timing. There are only so many things one can hope to tidy up in an editing booth. If the pieces aren’t there, we don’t really care if the Lion comes back from the dead. But we did always kind of suspect that Christ was in reality a big old kitty cat. Do yourselves a favor, stay home. And make your kids read the damn books and tell them you’re too poor to attend movies. That will teach them valuable reading skills and humility. Bless you all!

(End note: It’s always a sure sign in this digital age that a film is in trouble when their official website is more entertaining that the actual movie.)

Directed by Andrew Adamson
Screenplay by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Based on the novel by C.S. Lewis

Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie
Skandar Keynes as Edmund Pevensie
William Moseley as Peter Pevensie
Anna Popplewell as Susan Pevensie
Tilda Swinton as Jadis, the White Witch
James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the Faun
Jim Broadbent as Professor Kirke
Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan
Ray Winstone as the voice of Mr. Beaver
Dawn French as the voice of Mrs. Beaver
Rupert Everett as the voice of Fox

Cinematography by Donald McAlpine
Film Editing by Sim Evan-Jones & Jim May
Costume Design by Isis Mussenden
Original Music by Harry Gregson-Williams
Production Design by Roger Ford
Art Direction by Jules Cook, Ian Gracie, Karen Murphy & Jeffrey Thorp
Set Decoration by Kerrie Brown