Dir. Andrew Adamson, 2005, US/New Zealand, 140 mins
Cast: Georgie Henley, Tilda Swinton, Jim Broadbent
I remember going to see Star Wars – The Phantom Menace when it was released amid the laughter and derision of the critics. And yet, when that familiar music blared out and those yellow letters began crawling up the screen, I was transported back into being the five-year-old for whom Star Wars was his first overwhelming cinema experience. And I felt a similar reaction watching The Chronicles of Narnia as little Lucy (Georgie Henley) tumbled through the fur coats of a wardrobe into a magical world of ice and snow. The years fell away and I was sitting reading CS Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe all over again.
That this new mega-budget film captures the spirit of that book is reason enough to be cheerful. But it can’t afford simply to be an exercise in nostalgia. Following hot on the heels of the most successful Harry Potter film to date, Narnia has got to prove its worth as a new franchise in the now crowded arena of popular children's fantasy. The ace up its sleeve is that Lewis’s original novels combine the cosy, innocent whimsy of Harry Potter with the quests and battles of Lord Of The Rings. Oh, yes, director Andrew Adamson has been studying his Peter Jackson, all right – the film comes replete with a full-scale CGI battle, as gryphons, centaurs and minotaurs tear each other apart in the beautiful New Zealand locations. Not that this writer has ever cared much for CGI. Sophisticated though it now is, the viewer can still see the joins and there is no substitute for the corporeality of a model or made-up actor, who may look hokey but is at least there, a palpable presence on screen. The stop-motion heroics of Ray Harryhausen are much missed.
But this is a minor niggle. The important point is that the film has both a grandiosity of scale and a sure grasp of the emotional interplay between its characters. Everything feels right – from the wonderfully exciting sequence at a frozen waterfall to the curiously eerie moment when the faun, Mr Tumnus, lulls Lucy to sleep as sprites play in the fire. And that perennial bugbear of the English-oriented children’s film – the lack of good young actors – is compensated for by the rightness of the casting. They may not be budding Anthony Hopkins or Judi Denches but the children here are at least sweet and suit their roles more closely than the unfortunates who played in the BBC TV series of the 1980s. It’s intriguing, though, how a large-scale American production put together in New Zealand has stayed faithful to the conventions of middle-class Britain and employed four well-spoken posh kids as their heroes. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Harry Potter phenomenon is the way it has opened the floodgates once again for the 1950s-style public school yarn in the era of Ant and Dec and MTV.
And that’s not all the film has retained. Preserved from the novel are its wartime setting – the Blitz is convincingly reconstructed – and underlying Christian allegory, particularly prominent in the humiliation and sacrifice of Aslan – a sequence which some toddlers may find distressing. The emotional journey of Edmund, who scarred by his father’s absence falls for the temptations of the Witch, is also well charted. But it’s those half-remembered details from childhood readings that this version gets so right: the loveable beavers (gorgeously voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French), the box of Turkish Delight, the lamp post… All of which make Chronicles of Narnia not just a Christmas present for the youngsters but one for their mums and dads as well.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment have announced the UK Region 2 DVD release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for 3rd April 2006. From award-winning director Andrew Adamson, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is the first instalment in C. S. Lewis’ fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia.
Available on single-disc and two-disc Collector’s Edition DVD (“featuring exclusive insights into the fantastical domain of the White Witch”) extras are as follows...
Disc One (Single-Disc/Two-Disc CE)
- Filmmakers’ Commentary
- Director and Kids’ Commentary
- Discover Narnia Fun Facts
- Bloopers of Narnia
Disc Two (Two-Disc CE Only)
- Creating Narnia – Behind the Scenes
- Chronicles of a Director
- The Children’s Magical Journey
- Evolution of an Epic – In Depth Features on:
- C.S Lewis – One Man’s Mind
- Cinematic Storytelling
- Creating Creature
- Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River
- Creatures’ Lands and Legends (Hosted by Mr. Tumnus)
- Creatures of the World
- Explore Narnia
- Legend in Time