Narnia Review

December 14, 2005 | 44 comments
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I’ve seen the movie and read lots of reactions to it (some you probably haven’t seen are linked to below). Mine come’s closest to The American Scene’s–”it was fine.”

-The movie is too much an Adventure and not enough a Romance.

-The movie learned the wrong lessons from the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s trilogy is heroic, epic fantasy of the most unadulterated sort, so it translates well into spectacle on the screen. But the fantasy in Narnia isn’t exactly of that kind. It’s a childlike or domestic fantasy, the kind where a visit from Father Christmas or a cozy, snug beaver’s den are as close to the emotional core of the story as anything else. This does not translate into spectacle very well. Yet that’s what the film gives us. The same scenes are there as in the book, but without the emotional core. (Full disclosure: I didn’t like the first Lord of the Rings movie either, for the same reason. It never got the Shire or Elrond’s Last Homely House.)

-The death and resurrection of Aslan was very moving (full disclosure: this is the first death I’ve seen on film since my daughter died).

-The scene where Aslan first appears and the Narnian host all kneels or bows was also powerful, to me. It gave me a taste of how sweet it will be when ‘every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess.’

Cathy Seipp


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44 Responses to Narnia Review

  1. Ana on December 14, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks Adam, I am really looking forward to seeing this movie this weekend and coming to my own conclusions. Your notes on the parts you liked are encouraging.

  2. Aaron Brown on December 14, 2005 at 8:18 pm

    I saw the movie this past weekend. Although I read the Narnia books as a child, and I seem to recall liking them, I don’t really remember the story, so I didn’t go in caring too much about the product. I agree the movie was “fine.” I actually probably liked it slightly more than you did in that I don’t have any major criticisms of it (as I had no expectations, nor memory of a text which I could use to gauge its faithfulness to the original). For me, the whole thing was destined to stand or fall on the performances of the child actors. I thought they all four did rather well (no cringe-worthy dialogue or acting that I can recall), so I was pleased.

    And that’s about it.

    Aaron B

  3. Jeremiah J. on December 14, 2005 at 8:48 pm

    _The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe_ isn’t my favorite story, but I like it well enough and the film was good. I saw it with my daughter who had just finished reading the book. They did almost left out the best line of the book–and instead of Mr. Beaver they had Mr. Tumnus and Lucy say it at the end.

  4. Jonathan Green on December 14, 2005 at 9:06 pm

    Yup, Adam, the first review you linked, and your comments, pretty much match my reactions. I’d never put much stock in the notion that Lewis’s series are silly kid stories about talking animals, but the movie makes a pretty strong case for it. On the other hand, the movie wasn’t the utter disaster that the trailer suggested it might be, either (it helps that I’m a sucker for cavalry charges). Still, every time I saw the animatronic beavers, I was unwillingly reminded of “Kangaroo Jack.”

  5. Loyd on December 14, 2005 at 10:18 pm

    my first thoughts after seeing the movie were… I WANT MY MONEY BACK

    special effects – terrible. i felt like i was watching a bunch of kids in front of a bluse screen through the whole movie.

    character development – non-existent. peter goes from total pansy to sword and shield swinging, minotaur chopping, he-man over night.

    santa claus – huh? what? i think this is why i liked the books when i was eight. yes. the movie is for eight year olds. anyone older should have their intelligence mocked and rididuled.

    did anyone else feel unfomfortable in their seats watching a young girl happily joining a stranger in his house for tea, only to watch him slip her the narnian mickey or watching edmund being fondled by a stranger woman who gives him candy?

    my list of grievances could go on for days

  6. Elisabeth on December 14, 2005 at 10:26 pm

    Adam – I saw Narnia this past weekend and agree with your assessment of the movie. There was just something missing that made the movie much less than it could have been. I liked the Aslan sequences, but was disappointed that he was a fake, computer-generated lion. Couldn’t we have had at least someone dressed up as a lion?

  7. Julie M. Smith on December 14, 2005 at 10:43 pm

    Is the problem that a movie simply cannot do what a classic book does? (In other words–do those of you who were somewhat disappointed know of movies-from-books that met your expectations?) My suspicion is that the answer is ‘no,’ but movies aren’t my thing, so I’ll defer to those with more experience.

  8. jp in lv nv on December 14, 2005 at 10:51 pm

    I have to agree with Julie #7. There is no substitute for a good book and a good imaginiation. When I go to the movies I never expect anything very spectacular. The producer has limits, my mind does not.

  9. Keith on December 14, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    I give it thumbs up. Not as sweeping as Lord of the Rings, but a pleasant film. As with the book, the death of Aslan captures well the weight, sorrow, and humiliation of the passion. It wasn’t till the end that I realized it ran over two hours, so for me it was engaging. I thought the actors did well, especially the girl who plays Lucy–very convincing.

    By the way, if you haven’t seen it, stay for the credits–there’s a short scene part way through (one that 3/4 of the audience missed by leaving).

  10. Jonathan Green on December 14, 2005 at 11:11 pm

    Julie, I think that a movie can do some things better than a book, but other things not at all. The Lord of the Rings movies were better in many ways than the books. Seeing the Riders of Rohan mow down orcish armies was awesome, way better than reading about it. Like Adam said, that kind of epic action works great on screen.

    On the other hand, the intimacy between reader and book gets totally lost in film, the most communal of media. If you read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when you were ten or eleven, the movie probably captures everything you liked about the book then. If you rediscovered the book when you were older, the movie might contain little or nothing of what you liked about it.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on December 15, 2005 at 12:50 am

    I haven’t seen it yet; I’m not sure when I’ll be able to. Perhaps sometime after Christmas, if some other film hasn’t replaced it at our tiny, two-screen local cinema. If it wasn’t for the fact that our girls really want to see it on the big screen, I’d call it a rental and leave it at that. Frankly, I’ve been doubtful of this project from the moment WETA came on board and started talking about the need to create “hundreds” os different mythological races to populate the battle scenes. Such an attitude, as Adam suggests, betrays a desire to fit Lewis’s story into Tolkien’s mode: to turn what is a romance, a fairy tale, even a fable, into an epic saga. Not that I thought Jackson’s adaptations of LOTR were perfect (masterpieces of movie-making though they were), but at least he did find a way to capture part of the authentic spirit of Tolkien’s massive work of subcreation via visual spectacle; given that Lewis wasn’t even interested in engaging in such a subcreative act, to make the film turn on spectacle is thereby doubly wrong: wrong to the intent and meaning of Lewis’s stories, and just plain wrong vis-a-vis the narrative.

    If it works moderately well, as some of you are saying, I’ll chalk that up to dumb luck and good acting. No doubt, no matter what business it does at the box office, it’ll be terribly profitable on the DVD market, which means there’ll be more films made. Perhaps, like the Harry Potter series, they’ll bring in different directors for each film, and who knows–maybe they’ll actually bring in a director who’ll be willing an able to make a childlike, romantic, pastoral fantasy. (Which can be done on the big screen: Into the West and the recent Peter Pan being cases in point.) Stranger things have happened.

  12. Jonathan Green on December 15, 2005 at 8:56 am

    C’mon, Russell, just go see the movie, ’cause I’m waiting for your review. Tell Melissa you’re heading out to your weekly poker night, or off to get a beer with the guys, or something like that, and then go sneak into the theater instead.

  13. Veritas on December 15, 2005 at 11:07 am

    The CG is laughable and the story seemed glossed over. I went in expecting something spectacular and was very disappointed. Some of the worst animation in the battle sequences that I have ever seen. Now King Kong on the other hand….maybe Peter Jackson should have made Narnia….

  14. StealthBomber on December 15, 2005 at 1:14 pm

    I think they were trying to have something for everyone in this film (adults and children), but inevitably the story was intended for a young audience. I liked the film, but I think I would have raved about it if I were twelve. The imagery which seems extremely heavy handed to an adult would likely be on a perfect level for a younger adolescent. I think the film could provide a great teaching experience between a parent and a child.

    And, I thought the cg stuff was pretty good, but then again, I judge all cg against jar jar binks.

  15. Kingsley on December 15, 2005 at 2:40 pm

    I don’t think Jesus should be eating people, even if they are witches.

  16. Kaimi Wenger on December 15, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    Kingsley,

    You’re right — we’re supposed to be eating Jesus, not the other way around. Where did Nate’s cannibalism post go?

  17. Kingsley on December 15, 2005 at 3:44 pm

    Lewis’s books read like fairy tales, where there is a sort of crazy unlogic to the world that allows you to accept things like children ruling kingdoms and good wizards appearing out of nowhere to give the hero a magical sword. They have the patchwork enchantment of the Andrew Lang collections. The movie, as Adam notes above, tries instead for epic and falls embarrassingly on its face.

  18. Weston C on December 15, 2005 at 4:24 pm

    “Is the problem that a movie simply cannot do what a classic book does?”

    Possibly. But it seems more likely to me that doing certain things in one medium is *harder* than in another, not impossible. Take Adam’s examples of the Shire or Elrond’s Homely House. Suggesting the sense of a place, for example, might be harder in a film. An author can describe inner thoughts, observances, and reactions. A filmaker doesn’t have access to that without risking some kind of reverie-voiceover (a device that doesn’t always fit in well). He has to instead show actors faces and movements, or rely on exposition through dialogue. He does, however, also get music and an ability to portray visuals that would take pages of description in a few seconds. So it’s different, maybe even harder, but is it really impossible for a filmaker to get a sense of place right?

    (And the interesting thing is that you find many good authors don’t rely wholly on a lot of the direct inner exposition that’s available to them when it comes to a sense of place, but in fact, mix in devices not entirely dissimilar to what filmakers have available.)

    Adam’s first two points of review are pretty much what I’ve been afraid of from seeing the trailers. Maybe this’ll be a second-run viewing for me.

  19. Seth Rogers on December 15, 2005 at 4:36 pm

    No emotional connection huh?

    Sounds like just about every other Disney film in the past ten years.

    They’re all plot-driven. None of them take out any time for reflection (unless there’s a song). All of them remain superficial. Were we expecting anything different here?

    I hope Disney sinks into the ocean at the last days.

  20. Kingsley on December 15, 2005 at 4:47 pm

    There were at least three scenes that seemed to so blatantly rip off The Lord of the Rings I nearly laughed aloud. There were at least three dozen scenes where I did laugh aloud, thanks to ninja centaurs and white trash giants. And speaking of sinking, Seth, wait till you see how Peter saves his siblings by plunging his sword into a chunk of digitized ice while waves of digitized water crash overhead and digitized wolves and beavers kick helplessly around like Pharaoh’s drowning armies in The Ten Commandments. It’s so awesome.

  21. Adam Greenwood on December 15, 2005 at 4:50 pm

    Kingsley and Jonathan Green get it exactly right. But I do still hope Russell Fox sees it. Come on, Russell Fox. No pearls without grit.

  22. Russell Arben Fox on December 15, 2005 at 5:05 pm

    Oh, don’t worry Adam, Jonathan: I’ll see it. Or at least Melissa will–whomever ends up taking the kids. (I think it’s her turn; I got to take them to see “Sky High,” which was really pretty darn good.) We’re geeks at heart. But I expect whenever I see it–in the theater or as a rental–to have more doubts confirmed than overturned by what I see.

    (By the way Jonathan, I took your advice and brought a nice pulpy paperback along with me to California–Dragonflight! Haven’t read that in about 20 years. As soon as I got home, I went to the shelves and tore through Dragonquest. Now why hasn’t someone made a Pern movie yet, huh?)

  23. Eric Russell on December 15, 2005 at 10:11 pm

    Kingsley, isn’t there something somewhere about someone having the power to crush someone else’s head? I think the scene is just taking that literally.

    I agree that the film was weakened by its attempts to be the Lord of the Rings – particularly in the form of a lot of scenes of unnecessarily created suspense. And it was always striving to be more epic than it really was. But overall, though, I think the film was a great effort. I think it would be difficult to create a better adaptation of the story.

  24. Jonathan Green on December 15, 2005 at 11:30 pm

    The big question, though, is: Was the 2005 version better than the ca. 1989 BBC production?
    Special effects: Yes.
    Casting: Yes.
    Acting: Yes, unless you enjoy summer theater company productions.
    Music: No.
    Irreduceable Britishness: Not even close.

  25. Adam Greenwood on December 16, 2005 at 11:06 am

    Eric Russell, I didn’t mind the ‘muscular Aslanity’ either.

  26. Seth Rogers on December 16, 2005 at 11:31 am

    Ninja centaurs …

    Good heavens!

    But let’s be fair here. Instead of comparing the movie to the book, or what we know, shouldn’t we be comparing it to other popular offerings that have come out in the past year? After all, the movie didn’t have to compete with Lord of the Rings. It had to compete with Harry Potter.

  27. Kingsley on December 16, 2005 at 11:52 am

    It wasn’t Aslan’s muscles I minded, it was that brief shot of him from behind that gave you the impression he was, I don’t know, rooting around in the witch. Too The Ghost and the Darkness for my taste.

  28. Veritas on December 16, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    the CG in Harry Potter was a thousand times better in Narnia. Just compare the animation of the Dragon in HP to the beaver (oh the humanity it was bad) in Narnia. In the words of my husband, a video game designer, “I or anyone I work with could have animated the water better in thirty minutes”. Whatever studio worked on that CG should be very embarressed. Go see King Kong. It is the best movie I have seen all year easy, and it does not feel long while your watching it. There is a dinosaur stampede sequence that will leave your head spinning the animation is so amazingly impossibly perfect.

  29. Amber M on December 16, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    You guys are pretty tough on it. Now, I’m a big CSL fan, and haven’t liked the screen adaptations to date. I’m also no tech slouch although my personal skills are limited to Flash. :) Yes, the CG weren’t awesome…

    But what I just kept thinking as I waited in a cold line for a sold-out showing, is how great it was that an unabashedly Christian movie was attracting both young and old in droves. The teenagers with blue hair and curly ‘fros behind me were bragging about having read the book, no, all the books, no, twice! And how they couldn’t wait for book two to come out (presumably they meant some kind of episode two since Lion… is book two). How cool is that? I really felt Lewis would be proud to reach them. What is that quote he said about being able to spoon-feed a person anything under the guise of entertainment. Certainly others (not of a Christian agenda) have figured that out and constantly exploit it in our media.

    The Passion of The Christ didn’t attract such a following of youth. Narnia was wonderful — they preserved so much of the Christian symbolism of the books, and made it palatable for kids. I can’t wait for my (very) little kids to get old enough to understand the associations between Aslan’s story and scripture. We parents can all use more positive entertainment in a world where are kids are bombarded by Bratz! The Movie.

    P.S. The lion eating the witch was my one gripe as well.

  30. Susan M on December 16, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    If the lion eats a witch, maybe I can get my husband to go see it after all.

  31. Grimwanderer on December 17, 2005 at 3:32 am

    While I agree that Narnia was not a perfect movie, I do have to say that I enjoyed it more than others seem to have. I had more problems with the audience I saw the film with (parents letting their three year old daughter run up and down the aisles, a teenager one row in front of me who not only left his cell phone on… but answered it and started talking! etc.). I know that this is a family movie and that people of all ages will be in many of the showings, but I still expect people to have manners when they go to a movie.

    As a side note for Amber (post #29), originally this was book 1 of the series (written and published first). It was not until around 1994 (about 30 years after C.S. Lewis died if memory serves) the the publishers decided to renumber the series into chronological order. While I like the re-numbering, there are many who feel it interferes with the progression of the story.

    I see that several people who posted above had issues with the Father Christmas scene. I actually was reading an essay a couple days ago that argued in favor of the appearance of Father Christmas. It was written some years ago and seems to reference the animated version from the 70′s:

    “This view of Wardrobe perhaps explains the rightness of the Father Christmas episode, which some critics have regarded as a flaw. Leaving it out, as was done in the film, distorts the sensitive reader’s perception, felt rather than consciously realized, that a story about a child’s first awareness of Christianity needs Christmas as well as Easter. … The episode bothers people, not because it is unnecessary, but because of the sudden shift in narrative pace makes it feel a little out of key. The beavers and the children are embarked on a tense, hurried journey; the arrival of Father Christmas signals the loss of their reason for hurrying… ”

    The article (which offers an interesting if not completely convincing theory on the structure of the Chronicles) is found as an appendix in the book “Companion to Narnia” by Paul R. Ford if anyone wants to look it up (a new edition was just released this year).

    Ok, so I’m a bit of a nerd. I can deal with that…

  32. Jonathan Green on December 22, 2005 at 7:33 pm

    I just saw the movie a second time, and I think I need to revise my earlier comments.

    I really enjoyed this movie. I could still do without the beavers and the ice floe scene, but no movie is perfect. Watching it again, and talking to my kids about their reactions, I don’t know if a film version could have been any better. I’m really glad now that the movie soft-pedaled all the significance that people wanted it to have. Trumpeting its own deep meaningfulness would have been deadly. By ostensibly presenting nothing more than a fun adventure story, there is still a chance for viewers to be surprised by something more. As it is, I think a lot of kids will be able, not to recognize the magic in the film, but rather to fill the movie with their own magic. If a bunch of old people can’t find in it the same experiences we had decades ago–well, that’s our own problem. Today I’m much more sympathetic to a movie that does a great job giving kids what they’re looking for.

  33. Kingsley on December 22, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    I certainly am not disappointed that the film didn’t “[trumpet] its own deep meaningfulness,” as that would have been as great a mistake, storytelling-wise, as what it did do, that is, try to make an epic from a fairy tale. Everything suffered because of this, including the Christian elements (compare, e.g., the movie’s explanation of Aslan’s resurrection with that of the book–the former is forced and literal, the latter elegant and mysterious). I, for one, am not some greying gent trying to relive his youth and failing (fans anxious to love the new Star Wars flicks made the same argument); I am a relatively young person explaining a disappointing cinematic experience. If we’re content to “[give] kids what they’re looking for” there will never be an end of ice floes and over-the-top battles and cuddly beavers.

  34. Kingsley on December 22, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    Jonathan Green, that probably sounded pompous and argumentative. I only meant to say that there are (to my mind) very substantive criticisms of Narnia that have nothing to do with wanting the movie to be more preachy or to correspond to an idealized experience with the book.

  35. Jonathan Green on December 22, 2005 at 11:18 pm

    Kingsley: I should be the last to take offense at others’ pomposity and argumentativeness. I agree with your point, actually. I only meant to say that seeing the movie a second time, going into it with lowered expectations, prepared to accept the movie for what it was, I enjoyed it quite a lot. I’m still trying to put my finger on the explanation for that enjoyment.

  36. Kingsley on December 23, 2005 at 1:14 am

    I think I get you insofar as I enjoyed, e.g., LOTR (especially the second and third installments) more with repeat viewings, knowing by then exactly what to expect and prepared therefore to experience the films as interpretations of the books that fail in some places and succeed in others.

  37. Merry on December 31, 2005 at 12:11 am

    Just saw it…remember liking the books when I was young…but can’t believe how lame the movie, and now that I think of it, the story is. I thought I was going to see a great piece of fictoin portrayed on screen as an epic story…but was treated to 2+ hrs pure hack movie making of a boring story with shoddy special effects and piss-poor acting. lame…lame…lame.

  38. Winthorpe Humphrey Windsor III on January 2, 2006 at 8:07 am

    I believe that books or written stories are far superior to any work of film. The characters and storyline are what you make of it in your mind. Your mind draws on its own abilities and experiences to adapt a written piece to your liking. You cannot have this experience with a film/movie/show.

    Cheers

  39. John on January 10, 2006 at 7:34 pm

    I went and saw the movie last night, the day after reading the book. I give it a 3/10. I was disappointed with many parts and it is unfortunate that Disney got to produced it.

    I hate when they deliberately change the story so they can call it ‘their’ version. The work did not need change, it needed someone to accurately potray the book into a film. I dont mind them adding to a work to set the scene and depth in a film, but many times there was change for no reason than to chop a few seconds here or there, or do it different so they can claim credit themselves.

    I thought the film was pathetic in that they rendered men onto female horse bodys and such, and Aslan was no lion at all. This is not a crude comment, and granted it is a childrens movie, but it does show the attention to detail given, or lack thereof. LOTR on the other hand was absolutely accurate in the anatomy of all it creatures in every possible detail, just as if it were truely real, because the producer loved the books and attention to detail was paramount

    Many of the shots avoided complexity, such as when we see the faun, almost every shot shows the upper half of the body or the lower half. Very rarely do you see the whole faun, and when you do its is for a very short time, or in an inconspicouos way. Same with the reindeer, both with the witch and father christmas. You hardly get to see them at all. Its true about the blue screen comment above, some of the photograph backdrops and chroma key work was so bad it threw you completely out of the movie and back to reality

    The shooting of Aslan was pathertic, he constantly changed size in every shot from a huge cat on the hillside, to a much smaller cat on the stone table. The aesthetic animation of his face and proportions of his body could have been much better. From the rear his hindquarters are very scrawny, from the side, over massive and solid. The same with the wolves too. This is a CG problem and should have been fixed and rerendered.

    Also Disney left out almost every cruel part of the book. Of course they did not wish to tarnish their magic by upsetting young children, and the scenes would have been expensive to render. The torment of Aslan was not depicted – where did we see the cords cutting his skin, the blood and bruises, where on his face is the intense pain, the excruciating fear. Sorry but this part was way too clean

    The better done parts of the film were the battle scenes, although I think its fair to say these were the parts they had rendered in New Zealand, using WETA, the same ppl who did LOTR.

    All up as a childrens movie it is OK. To me it felt too low budget and skimpy, and that disney for that matter had profit before their heart in producing it

    My 2c

  40. Saskia Kidd on January 12, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    In response to comments like: “There wasn’t enough spectacle” etc, I personally am glad! Are we forgetting this is a PG rated movie? It’s not supposed to be another Lord of the Rings. If it was more like that my kids wouldn’t be able to see it…

  41. King kong on January 25, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    That’s great, looking forward to reading the rest of your entries.
    Take care,

  42. Aragorn1 on February 1, 2006 at 7:39 pm

    I enjoyed the Narnia movie, but LOTR was 100x better!

  43. Joshua Yeung on February 7, 2006 at 3:56 am

    I don’t quite agree with your report, Alan. Because although the beavers are a bit childish, there are also a lot of interesting parts. Also, you said that The Chronicles of Narnia didn’t learn the right lessons from Tonkin’s Lord of the Ring. However, I think that the two movies are much the same, with battles, magic and things like that. In addition, I think that although The Chronicles of Narnia aren’t really too much romance as you proposed, the Lord of the Ring isn’t quite romantic too. Then why do you support the Lord of the Ring?

  44. Davina on February 15, 2006 at 1:46 am

    I’m a huge Narnia fan and love the BBC productions. I thought the Disney film was very good, the cast was excellent – I also loved the way the audience could empathise with Edmund’s early behaviour, unlike the BBC production where Edmund is made to be more selfish and naughty, the film shows the audience that the way he was treated by his siblings motivated the betrayal.

    I loved the beginning of the film with the bombing raid – although not depicted in the book, I thought it added a bit to the film and was certainly poignant.

    I just didn’t feel that the Disney film has as much of a soul as the BBC production and obviously the book. I think this was due to the bad computer generated visual effects – Aslan really left me cold. I thought he looked incredibly fake and his face looked too severe, like the bad uncle from the Lion King. Also, I didn’t like his voice – I loved the Aslan puppet from the BBC production I felt he looked and sounded much more real then.

    Also, I don’t think it was made clear in the film, maybe I missed it, but I don’t think Aslan said the point about not knowing if the ancient magic would work – whether he would actually rise from the dead because it hasn’t been tested before. The film made it look like Aslan didn’t really care about Lucy and Susan’s distress at his death.

    Also, I could have done without the ice floe scene, thought that went on too long.

    And the wolves weren’t scary enough – in the books and BBC, the wolves are really evil – they don’t make wise cracks before they try to kill you.

    But over all, I thought the film was very good – the acting was excellent – just so disappointing that Aslan wasn’t as good as the BBC version.

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