It has now been 3 days since I “entered the wardrobe” of Andrew Adamson’s screen adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The afterglow lingers, and my right brain is still tingling and my hair a little askew from the wild ride on Aslan’s back. I intentionally waited a while before I attempted any kind of review or analysis–I simply wanted to relish the magic of the moment. Now that my left brain has re-engaged a little, maybe I can finally write down a few of my responses and impressions.
Let me say this up front: my expectations were exceeded. I suppose it’s my habit to temper and lower my hopes on such occasions as a means of avoiding disappointment. That way, I can be pleased when a moderately good effort sails past the mark. But this film is far better than “moderately good.” I was genuinely and pleasantly surprised at its general faithfulness to the book and the retention of most all of Lewis’ core messages. Nothing fatal is lost in this translation.
I have heard this phrase repeated often on various blogs, online reviews and among my circle of friends who have seen the movie: It was exactly how I pictured it in my mind. I would concur with that, and add that the visual impact was the perfect addendum for someone like me who had just finished re-reading the book the night before. The universality of this accolade speaks to Adamson’s adroit screenwork and his solemn respect for Lewis’ work (like many, he read and cherished The Chronicles of Narnia as a child). While there are some changes from the book that will disappoint some, all in all, this is a faithful rendering which delivers on its promise.
The first hour of the movie is exceptionally well done and perfectly captures the wonder and awe of discovering a wild and unpredictable new world through the 9-year-old eyes of Lucy Pevensie, played by newcomer Georgie Henley. Her performance is spellbindingly magical! What she does with her eyes and facial expressions from the moment she first gazes upon the wardrobe and enters Narnia through to her meeting with Mr. Tumnus (played with charming poise and earnestness by James McAvoy) is enough to make the movie for me. Of course there is much more to commend than Henley’s impish charm, but as the father of three rough and tumble boys, I found myself thinking that having a daughter like Henley would have been a nice counterweight to the mighty river of testosterone which flows through my house!
My other favorite performance was that of Skandar Keynes who played Edmund, the black sheep turned traitor of the Pevensie family. The movie script provides some extra details which give some useful background into Edmund’s sullen and peevish nature. At the beginning of the movie he is shown clutching a picture of his RAF father who is away at war. We see that not only must Edmund endure the daily horror of the Luftwaffe air raids, but he must also make do without the the security and stability of his father’s presence.
In contrast, Edmund’s older brother Peter, although still uncertain and hesitant with the duties of his impending manhood, is nevertheless past the insecurities of early adolescence. Unlike Edmund, Peter had the benefit of his father’s guiding hand during more peaceful times. While not an excuse for his treachery, the knowlege of Edmund’s handicap does allow the viewer to see through Edmund’s faults and perhaps empathize a bit more with his character. I especially enjoyed Edmund’s transformation from an egocentric, immature early-adolescent to a young man who had gazed into the blackness in his soul, turned from it, and moved into the light. He is burdened with the debt that he owes Aslan, but he does not despair. Instead, he mends his fences and opens his eyes for ways to re-engage the world with his new-found wisdom.
As for Aslan, his character is overall a pleasing image and portrayed well with the voice of Liam Neeson. Aslan is appropriately solemn and regal, but if I could have changed anything, I would have preferred to see Aslan a little less, well, “tame.” He seems at times to be a little too lethargic and world-weary in the movie. From the book, I recall the playful romp at the Stone Table when Aslan rejoices in once again feeling the strength and power of his risen body. I would have preferred to see more of this, but perhaps there wasn’t enough time (there was a battle to attend after all) to dwell too long here. We view Susan and Lucy’s wild ride on Aslan’s back (one of my favorite passages from the book) only from a distance–I would have preferred to see the girls’ faces more closely as they experienced the very fine line between thrill and terror that Aslan was meant to invoke–“and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.”
But alas, some things just can’t be fully captured on film but must be left to the reader’s imagination. Others have commented on small words and lines which were misplaced or left out completely. For some reason, the discussion of the “deeper magic” of agape love gets shorter shrift than it deserves. But still, the meaning of Aslan’s sacrifice and its effects on the children and the greater good of Narnia are nevertheless abundantly evident.
My advice? Minor glitches nothwithstanding, make every effort to see this movie as soon as possible if you have not already done so. Also, check your left brain at the door and simply allow the rich imagery and the magic of the story to wash over you without any overt effort to find Christian symbolism or to otherwise deconstruct or analyze. In other words, allow yourself to be a kid and watch the movie with 9-year-old eyes. Then you will be on the same page as Lewis, who intended his work first and foremost for the children who knew this instinctively: when you climb aboard Aslan’s back, you should simply hang on for dear life and enjoy the thrill of your life!