Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Starring Tilda Swinton and Liam Neeson

This movie is a charmer, beautifully filmed, with characters we care about who face moral dilemmas that have real-world consequences. It’s a fantasy movie, but it plays fair: the supernatural can be understood, and it behaves consistently just as in the Harry Potter series.

Some English schoolchildren have been sent to the country to escape the London Blitz during World War II. They explore the old mansion they wind up in, and stumble across an old wardrobe that transports them to an unknown new world called Narnia.

Narnia is a strange, magical land, and before they know it the four Pevensie children are caught up in the war between the White Witch (played with chilling menace by Tilda Swinton) and the mysterious lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). There are talking animals in this world, and mythical creatures such as fauns and satyrs. The amazing thing is how ordinary it all feels. We’re not trapped in special-effects-land: the overall feeling is surprisingly normal and naturalistic. Moviemakers who feel the impulse to overuse (and abuse) special effects in their movies could learn a lot from this movie.

This is the best rendition of the Narnia books that I’ve yet seen on the screen. Georgie Henley breathes life into her role as Lucie Pevensie, the youngest sister. The other children turn in good performances as well.

There’s treachery, heroism, and loads of allegory in this movie. C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series, was a staunch Christian. He imbues the Narnia books with his beliefs, but also tells some very good and entertaining stories along the way. Allegory is a painless way to absorb the ideas that Lewis cares most about; good and evil, honesty, beauty, and sacrifice.

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