The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeI want you to enjoy watching movies. But I also want you to oppose bad movies and encourage filmmakers to make better ones. Alas, with Narnia you can’t do both. Instead of making the choice for you with my review, I’ll let you decide! If you want to enjoy Narnia, stop reading at the ***.

Fans of the C.S. Lewis novel will be content with this fairly faithful adaptation about four English children who venture through a wardrobe into a magical land of talking animals under the icy thumb of a witch. Christians will be pleased to find all the theological allegory in tact, along with direct quotes from Lewis’ novel and even the Bible. Others will see an inventive children’s story with great themes like courage, duty, forgiveness, redemption, and the authority of good over evil. The film encourages you to look deeper, and more is there. But you may not have time to find it all: stuffed with humor, suspense, family drama and epic action, Narnia is a brisk 140 minutes that may surprise those expecting another overlong Peter Jackson fantasy epic.

Adamson has done a Zeffirellian job of finding faces worth watching, and Dakota Fanning is blessedly absent. Georgie Henley as Lucy and James McAvoy as Tumnus the faun are especially engaging. And really, I’d be hard pressed to think of a more evocative voice for Aslan than Liam Neeson’s.

So put away your artistic pretensions, your source-reverant nit-picking, your unfair comparisons, and enjoy Narnia.

***

Damn I hated this movie.

Imagine Lord of the Rings. Now, strip away all depth of character, history, geography, lore, culture, langauge, and story. Reduce all special effects to Hulking incompetancy and the score to one of Titanic boredom. Use sock puppets for actors. Write every scene to maximize audience incredulity and confusion. Redesign every set as a third-rate Legend of Zelda ripoff. Above all, don’t give the audience time to care about anything happening on-screen. Finally, imagine you’re like me and didn’t think Lord of the Rings was that great to begin with, and you’ll have some inkling of the hell Narnia put me through.

Disney wants to drink from the lucrative box office wells of fantasy epics, explicitly Christian film (uber-blockbuster The Passion of The Christ), and kid flicks in general. But Narnia fails as a fantasy epic for being inferior to Lord of the Rings and even Harry Potter and Revenge of the Sith. It fails as a Christian film for replacing the insight of the novel with an exactingly careful niceness. It fails as a kid flick for its nightmarish terror, intense emotional drama (I heard crying from the seat behind me), and brutal violence.

The actors were well-chosen for their faces, yes, but only Henley shows signs of acting. The multitude of CGI characters each look plastic and soulless after LOTR’s Gollum. There is never life in Aslan’s eyes.

Both Shreks already feel dated by their irritating pop soundtracks, but Adamson has learned nothing: Alanis Morrisette (yes, of 1995 fame) peppers the movie. And the only non-diarrhetic segment of Gregson-Williams’s “original” score is a 3-second queue for Aslan’s forces rescuing Edmund that sounds clipped from John Adams’ glorious Harmonielehre.

Blech.

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