The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 2.0 stars

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie poster

The mythic children's book by C.S.Lewis makes for a good children's film, better, to pick a couple of nearby co-ordinates, than any of the Harry Potters, better than any third of The Lord of the Rings, albeit still rather longish at two hours and twenty minutes. In the first place, and in spite of the existence of six other books in the Narnia series, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end -- and all in one film! (What a concept!) In that respect, it calls to mind the original Star Wars, not the original trilogy, much less the following trilogy, but the single, solitary film. The stand-alone film. The ending of Narnia in particular, with all its triumphal pomp and circumstance, calls that film to mind. The beginning, on the other hand, calls to mind an even better children's film, The Secret Garden (the 1993 version at any rate), with four parentless children packed off during the London Blitz to a gloomy mansion of rigid rules ("No improper use of the dumbwaiter," etc.), where they soon discover, at the back of the wardrobe in the spare room, a portal to the alternative universe of Narnia, populated by talking animals and a messianic lion named Aslan. (The transitions between the two worlds are dreamily seamless.) A prophecy, they further discover, has foretold of their coming as well as their overthrow of the reigning Wicked White Witch, wonderfully visualized -- an icicle crown, frozen-stiff hair, snowman's lump-of-coal eyes, clammy, oystery skin -- and commandingly played by Tilda Swinton. The narrative incidents unfold smoothly and swiftly and at times quite excitingly. And the execution of Aslan, in an atmosphere that reeks of a witches' Sabbath, is about as brutal as it could be without becoming as sadistic as The Passion of the Christ. His immediate resurrection, although the logic of it had been withheld from us, and although the Christian allegory of it cannot be ignored, is nevertheless easier to swallow than, subsequently, the prowess of the children on the battlefield or the wholesale resurrection of casualties on that field. The lesson in courage at that point, or those points, gets a bit muddied. It almost smacks of cowardice. With Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, and the voice of Liam Neeson; directed by Andrew Adamson. 2005.

Duncan Shepherd

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