Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

2005, US, directed by Andrew Adamson

Rating: ***

I wonder if there's something in the British character that has inspired the writing of so many rich fantasy epics, whether the series from which this film is derived, or the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or His Dark Materials cycles. It's hard to avoid the sense that in some small way, the more elderly epic literature is still alive through these modern interpretations (while much has been made of the Christ allegory in this particular film, it wears the story lightly, using the strengths of that shared mythology to powerful effect without ever seeming overtly religious). Despite such lofty underpinnings, the film is clearly family-minded, at least in the early going, as four London children discover another world through the back of a wardrobe in the country house to which they've been dispatched to escape wartime bombing. Once they confront an evil witch, however, we're left in no doubt as to her wicked intent; the manner in which she deals with enemies is especially chilling. In bringing C.S. Lewis's story to the screen, the filmmakers clearly owe a debt to Peter Jackson, both in terms of shooting locations and with regard to some of the hordes of the evil armies. The battle scenes, though, have an energy all their own: the sight of the advancing army led by the two boys, cheetahs darting out in front, is absolutely thrilling, and the fighting quickly leaves childhood behind. The young performers are winning without being excessively winsome, while there are nice voice performances from Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Liam Neeson and Rupert Everett, who lend their talents to several animated characters. Director Andrew Adamson is best-known for Shrek, so it's no surprise to hear him coax good work from these actors, but he also handles the large-scale live action work with surprising skill given his inexperience with such fare.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States