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The Chronicles of Narnia:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

What’s hairy, scary, larger than life and capable of considerably more emotion than you ever considered possible? Yes, Peter Jackson. Oh, yes, King Kong. But also… a vastly frightening, caring, wise and brave lion named Aslan.

Oh, we’ve all seen TV adaptations and been disappointed. But this movie has had not only big dollars thrown at it; it’s also had the heart of the story firmly in the forefront of the production throughout, which means it tells CS Lewis’s enduring story with integrity and passion.

The acting is excellent; the effects completely seamless and the scale far greater than I had imagined. After the first hour I began to grow a little weary of children and animals (tell me again, what are two sorts of thing with which you shouldn’t try to make a film?), but after a dramatic entrance, Aslan (what a shame his name is almost an anagram of elsan, a kind of toilet) brings gravitas and deeper friendship to the narrative. Liam Neeson, who provides Aslan’s voice, has risen from flawed good guy Oskar Schindler, via jedi knight Qui-Gon Jinn and has become self-sacrificing Son of God symbol, which is meteoric to say the least. Alsan delivers, from his vast paws to his sensitive features and his MGM ident roar.

The story is slightly enhanced at the beginning, as the children’s characters are introduced with a bomb raid and some weepie stuff as they are evacuated. But I can’t use words like ‘wasted’ of towering performers like Jim Broadbent, because he’s probably in line for some more on-screen time in one or more of the six sequels we’re assuming will follow… Another issue which troubled me was the way the children (especially Lucy) were so absorbed into the action in Narnia that they gave not another thought for their poor mother in war-torn London. When Aslan is lying cold and dead on the Stone Table, and Lucy and Susan mourn him, surely they would want Mother to be there for comfort?

But all this is pish and fie on’t. The film is a cracker, moves along at a terrific pace, and is both exciting and thought-provoking. The press row about the Christianity in the allegory is foolish, it seems to me. The writer based his fantasy-world on theological values, and so they are clearly visible. How can you watch a movie about a King who is sacrificed substitutionally, rises again, defeats the enemy, and roars ‘It is finished’ without wondering if it might be a little like Jesus?

Having said that, check out my analysis comparing Aslan and Jesus, prepared for the Children's Ministry Conference in Denmark Born a couple of years ago. It's a powerpoint file, here.

Did I say how impressed I was with the acting? There are of course other excellent child-star movies such as The Railway Children and Bugsy Malone. Then there’s also films where a child lives in a adult world, such as The Sixth Sense, Road to Perdition, Paper Moon, or Kramer vs Kramer. Now think about ET, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Mrs Doubtfire; wake up and smell the timber (with the possible exception of Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley).

But the makers of CoN:LW&W ask four kids to act and emote at a bunch of puppets (or perhaps thin air, ready for the CGI to be added later). Yes, there are adults around in some places, such as Mr Tumnus, the White Witch, the dreadful but dreadfully underdeveloped MacReady, but the kids do all the enchanting acting. I particularly warmed to Edmund, who does resentful, impetuous, angry, sarcastic, frightened, desperate for love, spiteful, confused, defeated, rebellious and co-operative (the amazingly-named Skandar Keynes) and of course little Lucy (Georgie Henley, looking like a next generation – but hugely more effective – version of Drew Barrymore), who had (excuse the pun) the lion’s share of the film.

Having watched LotR:TTT and the more economically named Troy recently, obviously the battle scenes are the crowning achievement. But in this one, nearly all the combatants are mythic-type creatures: fauns, minators, centaurs, big cats, goblins, elves, etc, which makes the CGI department’s job even more exacting. The wonderful variation in scale is also impressive – it’s not just a bunch of extras in fancy dress.

So I left the cinema filled with awe and wonder at the achievement not only of the filmmakers, but also at the achievement of the Lion who laid down his life for his friends and then rose again in glory and victory.

Apparently we get Prince Caspian next; my fave book was Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but we’ll have to see if the movie-going public is sufficiently loyal to buy into all seven stories, especially when the Last Battle is so pointedly a work of theological allegory.


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