Some of you may know that I enjoy aliens. Aliens and teenage angst. (And if the aliens are teenagers, even better!
Get me some popcorn!) Behind my love for the paranormal, however, lies a deep appreciation of all fantasy, probably stemming from my elementary school days as an avid reader of Madeleine L'Engle, William Sleator, Frank Baum, and C.S. Lewis. What better way to get away from boring math classes than to hide a Narnia book under one's desk? I think that series is indelibly burned into my brain.
So, I was very excited to see the movie adaptation of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” on Monday night with Nina. After the whole LOTR saga, audiences expect more from fantasy films. (I don't think something as atrocious as 2000's “Dungeons and Dragons” will ever be allowed to happen ever again. Check out the imdb user comments on that one: “Just shoot me,” says one knowledgeable user.) Narnia definitely was a post-Peter Jackson film, with gorgeous scenery (like LOTR, Narnia was filmed in New Zealand), incredibly well-done computer animation, a stirring score (I particularly enjoyed the songs used in the soundtrack, not just the straight classical background stuff), and very good acting, especially from the children. I will say, however, that the battle scenes were VERY reminiscent of LOTR, and I wonder if perhaps Andrew Adamson, the director, could have made an effort to be less derivative.
Andrew Adamson, by the way, has only directed a few other films: Shrek, Shrek 2, and “Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party”. (I'm not making this up!) His background is mostly in visual effects, which is probably why the effects in Narnia were so stunning.
The story, as you probably know, follows the four Pevensie siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) from their boring days at an old professor's country home to their adventures in Narnia, a world to which they discover an entrance at the back of an old wardrobe. As a child, I had always had a specific vision of the moment when Lucy enters the wardrobe and discovers that it keeps going… and going… until it opens up into a snowy wood.* As the camera panned through rows upon row of fur coats I had the same tingle of anticipation as I did when reading the book. When Lucy, after dazedly wandering through the forest, reaches a clearing lit by a lamppost I thought excitedly, “The lamppost! I remember this!” And so it went through the entire movie, as if I were visiting my hometown after years of absence – “I remember this!! And this! And this!” I got swept up in the movie, taken away by this world I recalled from childhood. And, I felt the same way towards Susan as I did when reading the story: what an incredibly annoying character! But that's ok. I think I once thought Lucy was annoying too, but I actually really enjoyed her portrayal on screen by Georgie Henley. All four children interacted beautifully together – they were naturally argumentative yet loving, and didn't seem stilted or forced (the only one who might be guilty of that is Susan). Props to Adamson, again.
I'll stop kissing Adamson's butt soon, I promise, but one more thing:
I'm so glad he didn't shy away from showing the dark parts of the story – death, betrayal, abandonment, fear. It's a heavy movie, one that I would be nervous taking unprepared small children to, but it has so much more depth than something like “Spy Kids”. Children are perhaps the most pure philosophers there are, and Adamson doesn't underestimate his young audience.
Oddly enough, though, Mr. Tumnus, played by James McAvoy, seemed like a child molester. It was kind of creepy, really. Even at the end of the movie, when I believe Mr. Tumnus was supposed to be acting somewhat brotherly towards Lucy, I thought he was leering and gross. Was that intentional on the part of the director? Yuck!
Tilda Swinton was decent as the White Witch, but I believe she could have been icier and even more manipulative. I don't feel that she was mesmerizing enough to have enchanted Edmund so completely, even with her fawning and the magical Turkish Delight. (And here I'd like to mention: AMC Theaters do not serve Junior Mints! Nina and I had to suffer through a bag of mini peppermint patties! And like Edmund with his Turkish Delight, I could not stop eating the trash, and got sick. York Bites = spawn of the devil. Do not buy them or eat them ever. If you really want to get them, save some money and eat a cup of sugar instead. Same freakin' effect.) The White Witch had a wicked awesome fight scene, though. Fierce. Tougher and hotter than Eowyn (and here I must go off on another tangent: what was up with Miranda Otto? Eowyn was my FAVORITE character in the LOTR books, and she was SO WIMPY in the movies!).
Quick nerd note: the computer graphics imaging astounded me. This was the first movie I've seen where it really looked like the animals were speaking. Aslan, voiced by Liam Neeson, was impressive, but I was most taken aback by the little talking beavers. Cuteness! Cuteness and talented programmers! (I wonder if the programmers, while at MIT or some other such technical school, had any idea they'd be animating talking beavers for a living….)
Anyway, what I found most striking about this movie was that I felt that it still could have all been a fantasy in the kids' heads. I wondered if it was the director's plan to make the viewer think, “Oh well, look what these kids have been through; of course they needed some escapism. They needed a father figure, they needed to feel that they were winning a war, they had all that time on their hands…” But now I'm catching myself…. have I, like Susan does in the later books, lost my faith? Have I become that which is most feared: a grown-up?
Well, perhaps, but at least I'm a grown-up who plans on seeing what the heck “Shrek in the Swamp Karaoke Dance Party” is all about.
* So check THIS out. In the back of MY closet, there's a door to my backyard. I bet if I got really drunk and put some fur coats all over the place I could convince myself that my snowy backyard is Narnia, and maybe even that Pepper, the dog from next door, is a Secret Police Agent. Yeah…..maybe….not.