THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (12/9/2005)
Director: Andrew Adamson
Cast: Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Liam Neeson

My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 76% Certified Fresh

PLOT: In London, during the German blitzkrieg, four children travel through a wardrobe and discover the fantastic land of Narnia.

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In the ranks of books ACHING for cinematic adaptations, C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy riff on Christian symbolism surely must have been at the top of Hollywood’s list for years. With the raging success of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” and the Harry Potter films, someone must have decided it was finally time to get this on movie screens.

The only problem is, “TCON: TLTWATW” [it’s a mouthful] will inevitably be compared to those other immensely successful franchises. As a result, while the movie itself succeeds admirably, I find myself thinking, “Yeah…but it doesn’t QUITE pack that ‘Return of the King’ punch.”

But film appreciation/criticism/whatever is not about how a movie performs in comparison with other films. It’s about how the movie tells its own story in its own way. So.

This first installment in the Narnia franchise is a good old-fashioned, rollicking fantasy yarn. Elements of the film will remind people of everything from “Star Wars” to “Spartacus”, in all the good ways. There is, perhaps, a tendency to believe this movie is only for children, particularly due to the talking animals and the fact that the main characters are children. (There’s also the unexplained appearance of no less than Father Christmas himself.) But I disagree. I think the story has a lot to offer to both kids and adults.

Take, for example, the overt Christian overtones of the story. [SPOILER, SPOILER, SPOILER, SPOILER ALERT!!!]

Aslan, the lion king of Narnia, sacrifices his life to redeem the life of Edmond, one of the children who briefly turned traitor. The White Witch murders Aslan in an unexpectedly creepy ritual featuring orcs, minotaurs, and what can only be some kind of vampire hybrids. But, because of the “old magic”, Aslan returns to life. There hasn’t been a Jesus story this obvious since “E.T.”…or maybe “The Matrix.”

This might make some folks believe the whole film is some kind of Christian propaganda, but it’s not. To me, it’s a way of simply re-framing an ancient story in a way that brings that story to life for modern audiences. Robert Zemeckis tried the same thing with “Beowulf”, of which I can only say, hey, better luck next time. George Lucas did it with “Star Wars”, Cecil B. DeMille did it with “The Ten Commandments”, and so on and so on.

If I’m going to be picky, I give it an “8” instead of a higher score because of the “deus ex machina” nature of the finale, which can hardly be surprising due to the Biblical influence of the story. It feels a little too convenient. And I thought the battle scenes, while entertaining, were a little too bloodless…but what are you gonna do, they needed to keep it PG, this is a Disney film, for gosh sakes.

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