Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Weeks Too Late: The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Directed by Andrew Adamson & Written by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (gasp).

Preconceptions: Oh the Chronicles of Narnia, you and I have so much baggage. I originally picked the series out to have read to me because it had a flying horse on the cover. What followed was a period of forcing various adults in my sphere to read them over and over again. They really had it all, magic, smart little girls, powerful witches and fantastic creatures (in a lot of ways my tastes haven't developed much since then). I was delighted to discover the BBC series, which beautifully (for the time) adapted the series into live action. I lived, ate and breathed this series. A few years later, I was dealt a crushing blow: the Narnia books were religious propaganda. Oh sure, it's easy to say that it's so thinly veiled that I shouldn't have been surprised, but, in my defense, I was 6. See:
Many, many years later, I realize that this was a fairly innocent allusion and that I should be able to enjoy the story in its own right...I mean it still has all the things I love. And in my rational, daytime brain, I do, besides there are plenty of other less wholesome stories alluded to. But my guts and basic responses don't seem to have been able to quite get past it. Of all the well meaning charades that adults played with me as a kid, CS Lewis' is one of the few that stayed with me.

So yeeeeah...baggage might be a mild word for my feelings towards Narnia. Lets say baggage car. Or maybe cargo barge. Yeah. I feel cargo barge towards Narnia. Given my various (and doubtless irrational) feelings towards the series, it's a surprise I haven't gotten to the new movies sooner. I hadn't even heard much from other fantasy fans about them. A bit of digging turned up the fact that they've been a huge box office success, which made it even more odd that I'd heard so little about them. I was more than a little curious.

General Review: I can't think of many times that I've seen so much money wasted on shoddy visual effects. Seriously, nearly two hundred million dollars (figures pulled from the internet aether so take them well salted) and they couldn't make a CG beaver look real. And this movie does not get a pass for trying to be cutting edge and stumbling, because the Lord of the Rings came out several years earlier with half the budget. And it wasn't just the beavers (who had the most interaction with the human cast), but all the CG looked fake, poorly blended and utterly without style. I know I don't normally start with the set dressings, but it's hard to get past them.

The sets and locations were tedious. The vast arctic tundras looked like my street after a few days of snow (alright, with slightly less vomit and urine). The springtime wonderland might as well have been the cardboard cut-outs in a pre-school play about food groups. I don't know how this lot: Adamson (director), Ford (production design), Gracie (Art Director) and Brown (Set Decoration) managed to turn all that cash into this boring and faux looking dreck, but it must have been a team effort (which is why I wanted to call each and every one out by name). Sure, I can see Narnia coming off as a bit stuffy, as the book was published in the 50s. But it wasn't the subject matter (fairly well behaved English children) that made the movie dull, it was the directing. We were in a barren, unimaginative landscape populated by barely animated finger-puppets. I might have mixed feelings towards the series, but it deserved a better artistic handling than this.

Alright, alright, lets talk about something else....but something else I also didn't like: the White Queen. That might be a touch unfair. I liked the direction they were trying to take with her, making her more of a Celtic-looking, barbarian queen. Doing that fits in nicely with the whole Pagan vs Judeo-Christian thing going on in the story. Unfortunately, Tilda Swinton and the costuming were just plain bad. Swinton was just a bloodless as her surroundings. I got zero seduction, rage or violence out of her. She wasn't scary or inviting. Even the rather terrible CG characters were more lifelike. Oh and the costumes didn't help one bit. They were wince-worthy and so ugly that it was hard to watch her attempt to swan around in them. The giant collar on her snow queen couture was particularly hard to take. Barbara Kellerman (the White Witch in the 1988 BBC series) might have been a bit of a ham, but at least I got what she was going for. And, honestly, her more refined furs and gowns ended up looking more savage than the "Clan of the Cave Bear rejects" costuming we ended up with.

I have some (extremely) grudging praise to give. The kids were all alright, Georgie Henley (as Lucy) was fairly adorable and carried the comedy from the book. James McAvoy was also passable as Mr. Tumnus (though watching him try to pretend that he had goat legs was painful). And the voice acting as a whole was okay, particularly (not a surprise) Liam Neeson. But no one managed to do more than get their heads above the water as far as wowing me.

I'm not sure why this has enjoyed the success it has. There just wasn't much to it. A modern remake of the Narnia books has an opportunity to do something gorgeous and sweeping. This was hemmed in and can't even be called standard. All seeing this has done is made me want to re-watch the BBC series and see how well it holds up. I doubt I'll be bothering with the rest of these and I highly suggest you don't bother with this, even as a fan.

1 comment:

  1. i only ever saw the first one and enjoyed it; i have to disagree about tilda though, she was the most interesting part of the movie to me.
    (then again i've had a weird crush on her since Constantine).
    i agree about the old bbc series though, that thing was awesome.
    as pro christian as lewis was i believe that on his death bed he said, "i have always loved Baldr over Jesus" but i could be wrong.