By Thomas Griffiths (Cardiff)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is directed by Andrew Adamson and stars Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley, Liam Neeson, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy and Jim Broadbent. It’s a film that’s based on the books by CS Lewis and is a film about four children who are evacuated to the country during World War Two and are soon transported through a wardrobe to this magical world called Narnia. I am a lover of CS Lewis’ books and I hugely enjoy the films based on those books, and I was first surprised to see that they made a film out of the second book instead of the first – for the record, the first book is titled The Magician’s Nephew and I hugely recommend reading it.
The opening scenes of this movie, the air raid, is a great way to introduce the personalities of our four main characters. We get that Peter (Played by William Moseley) is a bossy, authoritative and slightly-too-mature guy. We get that Susan (Played by Anna Popplewell) is the compassionate, straightforward kind of person. We get that Lucy (Played by Georgie Henley) is the innocent, slightly timid but lovable girl. We also get that Edmund (Played by Skandar Keynes) is an impulsive, stubborn, maverick boy who is constantly at odds with his brother. The air raid sequence starts off really slow, and then explodes on our heroes and the way they react, though typical as far as what is expected during an air raid, is ultimately to show how these children care about each other and want to protect one another, and even Peter rushes back into the house when Edward tries to get the photo of his father, out of protectiveness.
Of course, we later get the part where they are evacuated to the country and are sent to live with this Professor Kirke, played by Jim Broadbent – the scenes that Jim Broadbent is in, he is excellent, especially the scene where he’s talking with Peter and Susan once they disbelieve Lucy’s story about Narnia, where he says ‘She’s your sister, isn’t she? You’re a family. Why can’t you just start acting like one?’. However, the place itself is absolutely boring, and that’s the entire point of its setting – it’s in the middle of nowhere, and there is so little to do as a result of the rules placed there, and it also rains during one scene. This makes the introduction to Narnia far more effective and way more interesting.
Georgie Henley in this movie is terrific – this is her first role in film and is probably what she’s mostly going to be remembered by, but nevertheless she nailed the role of Lucy Pevensie in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. From moment one, you are behind her, you care about her and you understand the reasons for what she does. When she enters the wardrobe, you feel her joy and amazement and how spectacular she finds the place the more she explores it. Georgie Henley’s portrayal of Lucy’s character development, how she is demonstrated to be the most faithful, most understandable and relatable, most innocent of her siblings, is played out extremely well, and when her siblings disbelieve her, you feel her pain and it’s handled very well by all the actors.
The presentation of Narnia itself is beautiful – the screenplay, camerawork, cinematography, even though there are parts when you can tell between a set-piece and a CGI background, is fantastic. Also, the introduction to Tumnus the Faun, played by James McAvoy, is very interesting, especially where they introduce themselves and neither of them have much of a clue what the other is talking about on subjects such as where they came from and who they are, and the feel of the movie becomes very curious when Tumnus specifically asks her if she is human. The tea party at Tumnus’s house is very well done, and I was actually leaning into the screen when I hear Tumnus play that harmonica-flute thing and it causes her to fall asleep. And then, for the first time, we hear about the White Witch – this evil tyrant who has made it always winter, but never Christmas, who has commanded that all humans be turned over to her. At once, we feel for Tumnus and his conflict with fear of the White Witch and compassion for Lucy.
When Edmund, who is also played superbly by Skandar Keynes, enters Narnia going after Lucy, we finally get to meet the White Witch. Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, she is amazing: the introduction to her character was masterful, and the build-up to her introduction, including her being referred to by Tumnus, is fantastic in film-making because Tumnus described her as a cruel ruler, but when she is introduced in person to Edmund, she suddenly becomes extremely kind and welcoming…once she discovers that he is human and that he has siblings. This is ultimately what drives Edmund to return his siblings to Narnia, because the White Witch has hypnotised him through magical Turkish Delight (Of all things) and he becomes obsessed with returning to Narnia to meet the White Witch, since the Witch promises to make him king of Narnia.
What I really, really loved about Tilda Swinton’s performance as the White Witch is how Swinton depicted the character as the true personification of evil and cruelty in Narnia. she is arrogant, really ruthless, really intelligent and also a totally pitiless individual. We’ve all had personifications of evil in film before – Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, The Trunchbull in Matilda, but what makes the White Witch so special is that her true motivations for leaving Narnia in an eternal winter are never solidly explained. Did she do so because winter is harsh for the people of Narnia who will consequently be subservient to her? Did she do so just because it would keep her awesome ice palace from turning into a tsunami? Did she do so just because she wanted to demonstrate the bulk of her powers? We are never explicitly told.
The musical score in this movie is excellent, in so many ways. In some situations, it amplifies the beauty of Narnia. In some ways, it exemplifies the intensity or gravity of a situation. In some ways, it translates the experiences and transformations of the character. The musical score during the final battle, which I will go into in more depth later in this review, is beautiful. In addition, one of the best scenes where the score is incorporated is this epic confrontation between the Pevensies and the White Witch’s wolf police – I mean, she has a police force consistent of freaking wolves! – on this frozen river, which is slowly melting. The score, the performances, the tension, it’s all terrifically done and superbly directed. I remember seeing this film with other people, and they are on the edge of their seats in this part of the film.
The introduction to Aslan the lion, the King of Narnia, is fantastic, and I was hugely pleased with Liam Neeson’s contribution to the film. The motion-capture and animal depictions in this movie are faultless, they all seemed unbelievably realistic. You really buy that Aslan is the saviour of Narnia and the emblem of hope and majesty there. The eventual confrontation between Aslan and the White Witch near the third act of the movie is surprisingly tense, because you can really sense the intensity and animosity between the two characters and what they stand for. The White Witch basically dictates that her rule is right and just and that the Pevensies’ escape and survival is unforgivable. Then we get this vastly well-done build up to the eventual death of Aslan, who is executed by the White Witch in this terrifying scene at the Stone Table. The impact of this character’s death is unbelievable, since everybody has just lost hope…but Peter decides to face the Witch’s army anyway.
The final battle in this movie is freaking awesome. Two huge armies of both animals and magical/mythical creatures, and how they contribute to the battle, is amazing. There are so many cool moments in this battle – the boss centaur wrestling the boss minotaur, the phoenix setting the field on fire, the White Witch delivering this chilling line ‘I have no interest in prisoners – kill them all’. The White Witch, despite being brought from her chariot – a chariot that is pulled by freaking polar bears! Seriously, can this movie get any cooler? – also dominates the entire battle, turning so many of her opponents to stone with her wand, until the moment when Edmund destroys the wand. The important part of this sequence is that the Witch was about to turn Peter to stone before Edmund intervened, whilst at the start of the movie Peter and Edmund were at each other’s throats, but Edmund’s character arc is complete and he wants to save his brother’s.
Also, in this scene, there is later this fantastic slow-motion scene where the Witch overpowers and impales Edmund with her broken wand. There are three awesome perspectives in this scene – Edmund, buckling in agony from the blow, Peter screaming in horror at seeing his brother killed, and of course the White Witch glaring furiously at him (That stare she gives is just fantastic, that’s what rage looks like!). Then, this leads to Peter charging and facing the White Witch, which is AWESOME! The final duel between Peter and the Witch is beautiful – Peter is fighting with every ounce of effort he can muster, and the Witch is just toying with him (Note to Hollywood studios – this is how you portray a final sword duel in a fantasy movie where the villain has the upper hand on the hero). Then this duel progresses into the moment where Aslan, at the head of a huge army of resurrected Narnians the Witch had turned to stone, just bursts on to the scene and roars. I’ve always loved the sequence where the Witch says ‘Impossible!’ at seeing Aslan, and then desperately resorts to killing Peter, and Aslan is positively barrelling down the field towards them. This sequence climaxes with an incredible moment where Aslan powers into the Witch, throwing her off her feet, and literally eats her alive!
The rest of the movie, including their return to the real world in 1940s Britain, is done very well and doesn’t feel Lord of the Rings-stretched or in any way generic. There’s also this subtly beautiful scene in the credits where Lucy tries to return to Narnia via the wardrobe, but Professor Kirke says that she can’t do that anymore because that way is closed off, but he does hint to her that there will be other opportunities to return to Narnia.
Guys, I adore this movie. I strongly believe that, in twenty years or more, it (Like the books they are based on), the Narnia films will become cult classics or something like that. They are a classic fantasy movie – a magical land, a young group of leads, a malevolent villain, an epic final battle, magical creatures – and every single second of the movie is golden.