Take two parts Lord of the Rings, one part Harry Potter, toss in a hefty - yet supposedly subliminal - helping of The Passion of The Christ, then stir with the vigorous wooden spoon of the Walt Disney über-marketing machine. The results: C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - the first book in his Chronicles of Narnia series - comes to brilliant life right in front of you. Of course by brilliant, I do not mean the brilliance of superiority - it is far from that - but instead, I talk of the brilliance of its presence in our universe. A mighty, golden, luminous star in the hearts of all those hoping to bring Hollywood's box office slump to trial. It is a brilliant life, but it is also a strongly stilted, somewhat stalled life as well. Wanting so desperately to be the next Lord of the Rings, yet failing so dismally at accomplishing that dream.
Assuredly as far from a bad film as it is from a good film, The Chronicles of Narnia (part one in what Disney hopes to be a rather lucrative series) plays out more like what Lord of the Rings would have been if not handled by the acute auteur supervision of Peter Jackson - a man who may well be the best big-budget filmmaker around today. What we get here are the otherwise animated eyes of Andrew Adamson, whose only credits include the superficially pedestrian Shrek movies. And that is exactly what we get with his attempt at Narnia - a superficially pedestrian, potential blockbuster.
Originally written with a much less deft hand than Tolkien's Rings Trilogy, Lewis' children-bound writing (simple yet smartly so) leaves much to be desired in the complex, compelling story that Narnia should be - especially with such lofty ideals and orthodoxys as Lewis' allegorical Christian-themed books aspired to be. Adamson takes these orthodoxys and runs ramshod with them in every direction he can think of, but never manages to excite this reviewer during his travails.
With special effects that can never stand next to those of Lord of the Rings without being shown as light and fluffy in comparison, Adamsom's attempt at broadstrokes only suffers the film even more. Seemingly tired and been-here-done-that, his Narnia just lugs along with only occasional moments of inspired joy. There is the bad - the child actors (with the possible exception of the youngest in the brood) seem to show no emotional heft whatsoever, the CGI at times seems straight out of a Sinbad the Sailor movie, Liam Neeson as the voice of the lion king Aslan (the stand-in for Jesus) seems almost as if meant as a joke - and there is the good - the beavers are a sheer delight, Tilda Swinton's White Witch is played with utter exuberance and effervescence and the final battle plays out with a surprisingly intense furvor.
Overall, landing somewhere in the middle of that evolutionary chart of bad to good (or good to bad if you will), The Chronicles of Narnia, which I'm sure will hit big with children and the whole "family friendly" movie-going populace, pomps and circumstances it way across the big screen with the overly-tired face of some sort of Hollywood-induced lazy medicrity. A PG-rated stagnation that only upsets you more with the trepidatious thoughts that this could have - and should have - been a much greater film. [12/08/05]