Thursday, December 29, 2005


Narnia is a beauty, a cinematic feature of the rarest kind - that is to say, an adaptation that expands and develops the plot beyond the source material to create a story and world far more resonant and endearing to the viewer. Peter Jackson tried to do that with the Lord of the Rings; unfortunately, the best he could do was a stirring rendition that stretched the limits of excellent filmmaking - but not that of storytelling or world-building.

Of course, you could always argue Narnia was much easier to adapt; the length of the book and the relatively simplistic themes it encapsulates are far easier to adapt than Tolkien's monstrous epic - that does not change the fact that was a good movie. It could even be said the movie was better than the book, like Orson Scott Card claims. Despite this, although LOTR is still the greater achievement, Narnia stands no smaller because of it. Adamson deserves kudos for what he has managed to accomplish in this movie.

Lewi's opus was first and foremost meant to be an allegory. Not only that, a children's tale, with all the embellishments you'd expect of one - the conservative stereotypes, the anthropomorphization of animals, the happy endings and the lot. This means Lewi's story may fall short in terms of sheer entertainment value, at least to adults. The movie lends a graver, more serious air of tension and conflict. It no longer feels like a children's movie. Makes commercial sense; or some other pseudo-cynical excuse, but there's that.

I thought the children's acting was good - on par, at least, with that other big budget children's movie franchise, Harry Potter. I won't go into detail here. I thought Tilda Swinton (the White Witch) could have injected more subtlety into her ice-queen villian role. And somehow, though, the image of a straw-clad amazon riding on a sleigh pulled by polar bears, clutching a dagger isn't very intimidating. Fortunately the grim impact of that particular scene is mantained by the devilish orc-analogues trudging along.

Adamson has a talent for depicting battles. His directing ability is good; the cinematography excellent. It never seems like a children's movie; the narrative is depicted almost through an adult's perspective, as though one were peering through glass to witness a world that encapsulates every conception of the nursery rhymes or comforting bedtime stories of early life. One depicted in lush detail and more than a little surprising realism.

The plot remains the same as it ever was. Aslan's reincarnation, though very fittingly theologically sound, is rather kitschy and contrived - but it's handled as well as it could have been in the movie, although rather abruptly. Other than that the movie stays faithful to the book to a surprisingly large degree, although perhaps less so given the brevity of the original book.

Music was excellent. Gregson's score beats John William's latest efforts hands down. Its etheral themes and resounding cadences lend a magical quality to the world of Narnia. Without the music Narnia would be much less powerful than it is.

Weakest point was the plot, of course, but that can't be helped. And the plot is at least decent and sufficiently believable to pass off. The heartwarming finale and poignant capstone shrug off the preceding contrivance and brings the magic to the pinnacle. Never has my innate cynicism been more frowned upon. Though I wouldn't call myself a cynic. And cynicism in moderation is not always a bad thing. Science is the study of skepticism, after all. Political studies even more. The "best" books are always cynical, though; the so-called literati fall upon themselves and squeal delightedly at the "raw worldliness" and "mature realism" these tomes invariably contain to nausea, so much so that the virtue of innocence has been forgotten in literary canon. Sometimes I think that all non-cynical books are clamped indiscriminately into the children's genre. That's why Toynbee lambasted LOTR, and Harry Potter is regarded as children's reading material (although it is; I would rather classify it as teenager-centric reading material).

Well, in any case, I found Narnia more...satisfying than Kong. If faced with a choice of purchasing either DVD I would choose Narnia with only slight hesitation.

New Year is coming. The most depressing holiday of the year, for obvious reasons. Sometimes I wish we could adopt the British system and start our terms at September. That would be a nice change. And the weather, too.

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