One man's view of the world, from the top of this great big rock somewhere in the middle of God's Country, with an eye toward freedom....or at least some way to get back down without goin' over the edge.

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Location: West Virginia, United States

Former U.S. Army, SPC E-4, Veteran of Operation Desert Storm. If you are or have ever been a soldier, you have friends in my house.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Stander's Screening Room: The Chronicles of Narnia -- The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

My family and I don't go out to the movies much these days, although it is something we greatly enjoy doing. Most of the reasons for this dearth of entertainment are pretty classic: lack of available funds, other things to do, bad timing with my work schedule...
...but mainly, there's just not a lot out there that seems worth the time and expense to make the trip.

That's why my wife and I got excited when we heard that someone was making a new film of the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. We were both familiar with the story from reading it as youngsters, and thought it would be the perfect flick for all of us (my 9-year-old son makes three). It has been done before, of course, but I've always loved the story, so what the heck, right?

Then I saw that the picture was being done by Disney...and I actually started wondering what would happen here.

If you haven't heard by now, there has been not a little political hay made of late concerning the Christian undertones of the story. As a lad, I saw the similarities between Aslan's sacrifice and Christ's passion, but I didn't know then of Lewis' devotion to Christianity, and the story was strong enough on its own that this didn't make any difference in my enjoying the story, so at the time I dismissed them as being a mere coincidence.
These days, of course, coincidence is not something that makes news. So I actually did start worrying that the story itself would end up being sacrificed to the gods of political correctness (or just plain "Hollywood-itis") in an
effort to put some distance between the Disney empire and anything that might "offend" someone.

Nonetheless, this looked to be about as good it was going to get moviewise this year. So, in we went...
...and my fears were thoroughly put to rest.

Folks, Andrew Adamson (the film's director) deserves some serious accolades. This is about the truest I have ever seen a story-based movie stick to that which inspired it. The feeling I got from this film was that it was done with a deep and abiding sense of honor and respect to the tale itself and to the man who originally spun it.

A few things that really stood out about this film for me:

1) It seemed to assume that the audience was already well-equipped, thank you very much, with enough imagination to follow along quite nicely without any undue over-explanation. Everything we needed to know about Narnia was right there in front of us, and the director wisely decided not to weigh us down with any more information than was necessary to get the story moving along.

Additionally, while there were some technically impressive special effects and computer-aided animation going on, the story was never overwhelmed by them. They were a means to the end of story-telling, and they did the job admirably without it seeming like someone was just trying to burn some extra CGI budget money.

2) The powers that created this film had to be aware of the possible "religious undertones" problem I told you about earlier. Thankfully, Disney apparently decided that it would be easier to just completely ignore them, present the story as it was written, and let the audience make up its own mind.

The result is a wonderfully portrayed feat of imagination that would undoubtedly have earned C.S.'s stamp of approval, had he been alive to see it, and a textbook demonstration of the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

3) The casting for this picture was damn-near pitch perfect. I will say it again...damn-near pitch perfect.

Liam Neeson was the optimal choice to give voice to the champion of good, Aslan. The lion king's good-natured patience and stalwart loyalty to his land and its people shone through brilliantly.
James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus brought a fine taste of shy, awkward kindness to his character, metered with just enough satyr's-unpredictability to keep him from becoming too sweet.
And they could not have done better than Tilda Swinton to portray the desiccated, decadent White Witch. They needed someone to show the perfect foil to Aslan's rock-solid strength of heart, a brittle, soulless, snake-in-the-grass, black-widow baddy with enough poison to kill a country, and Tilda carried it off like the Queen of the Valkyries. Brava, madam.

The young actors chosen for the roles of the four Pevensie children played their parts with refreshing frankness and clarity. These are babes of the Battle of Britain who don't get the chance to let go and just play all that much, and so their doubts of the youngest's description of Narnia, and their sense of wonder at their new surroundings on the other side of the wardrobe once they all get there, are completely unforced and genuine.

William Moseley as Peter was the quintessential practical older brother, Anna Popplewell's Susan came off as the brains of the bunch (with just a pinch of big-sister snark), and Skandar Keynes's portrayal of Edmund was a fine blend of jealousy coupled with enough goodheartedness to keep him from being a complete lost cause.

But in the end, all of the above were reduced to supporting roles for the REAL reason this movie got to the mountain-top:

The performance of little Georgie Henley as Lucy.

Lucy Pevensie, as portrayed in this film, is the kind of doe-eyed tot that makes you weep for the world that could mean her harm. That little girl put such a perfect injection of heart, innocence, and absolute trustingness into her character that...well, I don't want to blow it for you. You'll just hafta see for yerselves.

I'll put it this way. With the possible exception of Schindler's List, I haven't cried at a movie in almost two decades. I've come close a couple of times, but I've almost always won out in the end. My wife sometimes wonders vocally whether I've got a soul at all.

Well, little Lucy Pevensie found it. She got me. No, that's not right....she OWNED me. Bought and paid for. She literally had me blubbering in my popcorn.
And any actor that can do that -- any film that can do that -- gets my vote every time.

Ladies and gentlemen...The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Andrew Adamson director.

In my humble opinion, it has never been done better.