The strength of Narnia, however, like Lord of the Rings, is in the casting. Everyone is well chosen and Tilda Swinton definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for her take on the White Witch. Swinton is chilling, graceful and captures the anger and envy of her character exactly as I would have imagined in my younger days. While the first words from Aslan--voiced by Liam Neeson--did sound a little like the wisdom of one Qui-Gon Jinn, he quickly owned the voice and gave a regal vocal performance. Also inspired was the double act of Ray Winstone and Dawn French as Mr and Mrs Beaver, who brought both comic timing and heart to their roles. The real stars, though, are definitely Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell as Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan respectively. These young actors all give exemplary performances, especially young Georgie Henley whose take on Lucy brings so much heart to her role, while not falling into the too-wise-for-their-age syndrome that so many young actors give in to. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is, after all, Lucy's story and Henley's performance never lets you forget the context of World War Two that surrounds the magical escape Narnia provides.
Narnia, however, is a little hampered simply by being released after The Lord of the Rings (LotR). A couple of shots of Narnia were too much like LotR; one sweeping god's-eye (or helicopter's-eye) shot of the children crossing the snowy hills looked exactly like a shot from LotR, while the Minotaur's rallying call to war looked exactly like a Uruk-hai. Similarly, while the score is impressive, while Howard Shore's work on LotR meshed perfectly with the story, the Narnia score by Harry Gregson-Williams and a number of collaborators lacks subtlety and tries to amplify emotional scenes which would do better with less overt music since the actors have already created a scene which pulls at your heartstrings without the aid of an orchestra.
There has been a lot written about the Christian symbolism of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and it's definitely there, but not to the extent that it dominates the story. While Aslan's resurrection is clearly the story of Jesus Christ, the film is perfectly enjoyable without engaging with the symbolism. Perhaps more dominating is the Englishness of the story, with Peter's Richard-the-Lionheart standard everywhere in the last third of the film. Actually, one of the more clever parts of the adaptation is the increase in the initial scenes of images of World War Two, which lead to Peter's dilemmas in protecting the family but trying, simultaneously, to embrace a heroic masculinity preempted by tales of his father away fighting the for Britain.
Overall, the first Narnia film doesn't quite match Fellowship of the Ring, but is nevertheless an extremely well-acted and engaging experience, with amazing visuals and definitely worthy of a sequel or two.
[Tags: narnia | thelionthewitchandthewardrobe | aslan | GeorgieHenley | lucy | wetadigital | wetaworkshop | newzealand | film]