The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the Cremorne Orpheum

I’m told I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at age six: apparently it was my first Big Reading Achievement. As an unsophisticated reader, I guess I was exactly the right demographic for it; and it would have been my very first exposure to the idea of a complete fantasy world, different from our own. I read and re-read it (and the rest of the series) throughout my childhood, and although it’s not a book I have tended to go back to as an adult (unlike, for example, the works of Alan Garner) it will always be special to me.

It would be futile to try and deny the connections between the film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy: without the enormous box office success of this, plus the technical expertise developed in New Zealand, Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would never have been made – or, even if it had, would have had a much lower budget, and a very different “look” to it.

However, I think it does C.S. Lewis’s book – and thus, the recent film – a grave disservice to compare it directly to Tokein, and find it wanting. I’m not actually a fan of Tolken’s writing style, but even I have to acknowledge that Middle Earth is a much richer and more complex world than Narnia. Although they both created fantasy worlds, the two authors were writing with very different intentions, and with very different audiences in mind. C.S. Lewis was writing not just for children, but for unsophisticated children – I think, for example, that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would be accessible to a younger child than The Hobbit. The random mix of mythologies can be magical and exciting in its newness (though I think even as a six year old, I found the Father Christmas scene a bit jarring), and the Christian allegory is less heavy handed than in The Magician’s Nephew or The Last Battle. And while the growing sophistication of the child reader – plus the rather dated nature of some of Lewis’s prose – means that the age range of the “unsophisticated reader” may well have shrunk since his day, I think he still has a place as an important writer of fantasy for children. After all, it would be pretty rough if children were to be blocked off from the idea of fantasy worlds until they were old enough to read The Lord of the Rings – or even the Earthsea books, or Elidor, or Howl’s Moving Castle, or The Chronicles of Prydain – all of which, I think, are a little (or a lot) more challenging than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

OK, rant over. On to the film.

I really enjoyed it. I thought the children who played Lucy and Edmund were excellent, and Peter and Susan were also fine, although they had a lot less to work with. Mr Tumnus was good, and the White Witch was brilliant. I found the death of Aslan scene quite moving. I was quite happy with the extra scenes they added (although the fox was probably the least successful of the CGI creatures) and overall I thought they really captured the spirit of the book well.

A lot of people have complained about the quality of the CGI, but to be honest, except for the fox, I never found it intrusive. Maybe I’ll start to see flaws on a second or third watching (I find I’m much more aware of them on repeat viewings of Lord of the Rings than I was the first time through).

It can’t be denied that the battle scenes were Lord of the Rings-lite. This was pretty inevitable. The could hardly leave them out in the way Lewis did; and given that it was a battle with mythological creatures, they really didn’t have any option but to ride on Peter Jackson’s coat-tails – though I don’t think they managed to stand on his shoulders and raise it another notch. I was pleased to see that – for once! – it was the good guys who had an air force, although both Michael and Mark complained about the complete lack of tactics shown by both sides: they felt that there should be more than just charging at each other (I thought the plan to draw the White Witch’s people into the gully and then shoot at them from above was a tactic, but obviously I’m mistaken!) It was a little disappointing that the one genuine tactic described in the book – that when Edmund attacks the White Witch he “had the sense to bring his sword smashing down on her wand instead of trying to go for her directly and simply getting made a statue himself for his pains” – wasn’t made explicit in the film. Yes, you saw Emund smashing the wand, but it was less clear that this was a deliberate plan, and specifically different to the approach the others were taking.

So, was the film as rich and complex as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films? No, of course not. And does that matter? Well, I don’t think so. Despite the superficial similarities, it was coming from completely different source material, with a completely different audience in mind, and thus presenting some very different challenges to the filmmaker. And I thought Adamson and his cast and crew generally met those challenges very well.

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