The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: 2005, dir. Andrew Adamson. Seen at Alamo Village (Dec. 15).
(Warning: I will give away elements of the plot in this review.)
I loved the book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was younger—middle-school age, I think—so I was intrigued to see how this adaptation would fare. I liked many of the little touches: the transition between wardrobe and Narnia, the White Witch’s scary black-hole eyes and expression, the understated look of Father Christmas. I liked that they replaced the “battles are ugly when women fight” lines with simply saying that battles are ugly, period.
But there were so many other details I disliked: the sniggering bits of humor throughout, such as the drawn-on glasses and mustache on the animal at the end of the movie (Adamson also directed the Shrek films); Edmund being imprisoned with Mr. Tumnus, which seemed unnecessary; the voice of the head wolf, which had a Dana Andrews-like quality that jarred with the rest of the cast and their generally British accents; and the Blitz sequences in the beginning, which didn’t quite work for me. (Also, I cannot see the word “evacuees” right now without thinking of something else entirely, which is a distraction, but that’s sadly unlikely to affect anyone not on the Gulf Coast.)

When I read the book, I never paid too much attention to the battle scene. I thought it was dull and not very important. In the movie, however, the battle is pivotal and reeks of big-budget CGI effects and WETA weaponry. (The minute we see Peter’s elaborately decorated sword shining in the sunlight, I thought “Ah, WETA!”) One suspects it is meant to rival battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, or at least to appeal to the same crowd.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is generally well-cast, particularly the children, although Liam Neeson’s voice may seem a little too recognizable at times. And the movie looks simply gorgeous. The snow-covered land of Narnia looks just like you might have imagined it, or even better.
But … you know what? I am so terribly tired of watching movies in which I know the plot ahead of time, either because the movie is a straightforward adaptation of a book I have read, or because it is a straightforward remake.
Harry Potter and the Books I Read Already. Pride and Prejudice (but not Bride and Prejudice, which had enough variety to make it interesting). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, and probably King Kong if I decide to see it. Not Howl’s Moving Castle, at least, since the ending was so very different. But you get the idea. The problem with all the sequels and remakes and adaptations and re-adaptations is that I already know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how the filmmakers will choose which scenes to include, or how they’ll film a particular scene, but I have a good idea of the big picture.
No wonder I got so excited over Kiss Kiss Bang Bang … I didn’t always know what was going to happen. Okay, sometimes it was easy to guess, but I hadn’t read the book so I didn’t know for sure. I just saw Big Fish and I’m trying to decide if I liked it more than my boyfriend did simply because of the novelty of not knowing the storyline in advance.
I enjoyed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on the same level as the first Harry Potter movie, in that it was thrilling to see many of the small, magical details of the book brought to life on the big screen. But I was never fully absorbed in the story itself—I was more absorbed in the special effects. The film successfully showed me an entire other world, Narnia, but the story failed to engage me enough to stop noticing the ways in which that world was accomplished on film.
Also, I feel that we didn’t get nearly enough Jim Broadbent for my money; I know the Professor’s role is small, but I wish we could have seen more of him. I suppose if I want to wait around until the seventh and final book is eventually made into a movie, I might catch another glimpse. And while I’m complaining, the soundtrack was weak and featured long passages of wordless female vocals that were somewhat annoying.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a great spectacle and not a bad movie. My sister took her five-year-old daughter, who enjoyed it very much (and is usually a scaredy-cat, too). I don’t know if I’m too fed up by adaptations to enjoy it properly, or if I’m mature enough to want something more from a film than gorgeous visual spectacle.

5 thoughts on “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)”

  1. The mustache and glasses on the animal at the end was a payoff from the scene early on in the movie (and book) where Edmund mean-spiritedly draws on one of the statues in the Witch’s courtyard when he first goes to her castle. I’ll have to look for the book to properly reference it, but I’m pretty sure I remember it being a detail of Edmund’s character development from Lewis, not an Adamson-like Funny Bit.
    I too was hoping for more emotional resonance. But all told, I thought it was a faithful and fair adaptation.

  2. Tracy, I remember the earlier scene from the book and from the movie, in which Edmund draws on the stone creature. The earlier scene is fine. But I think the “payoff” bit, which isn’t in the book, is lame.
    “Lacks emotional resonance” seems like exactly the right review. How come you guys get it right in three words while I babble on for paragraphs and paragraphs?

  3. Hm, I think you may have sealed it for me: I won’t see this movie. Adamson is the first reason I don’t want to see this movie. My best friend and I seem to be the only people in a 500-mile radius who disliked Shrek, but the self-congratulatory humor and panting-fawining-OMIGOD ISN’T CGI the greatest!!! aspects just ruined that movie for me. And I was underwhelmed by the first Harry Potter for the same reasons you mention — the effects and the FABULOUSNESS of being able to put them onscreen seemed to overshadow the story. And once again like you, my love of the Narnia stories never had anything to do with the battles. It was about the resourcefulness of the kids, and what they went through. If that’s not central, I’m not sure this is the film for me. Thanks, as always, for your insight.

  4. Presuming they make it to the sixth (The Magician’s Nephew), I’ll be interested to see how they de-age Broadbent for that one.
    Aside: a few hours after I saw Lion I watched the first Bridget Jones on DVD and it was really weird to see Broadbent morph from the Professor to Bridget’s dad. Strangely enough, I liked him better in that role.
    I really enjoyed Lion and found a lot of emotional resonance. The scene where Susan and Lucy walk with him to the Stone Table, putting their hands in his mane “like I’ve wanted since the first time I saw it” just about made me blubber. I think it’s mostly just the thrill of remembering things I felt when I was thirteen, reading the book for the first time, that I forgot a long time ago.

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