I was introduced to C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia rather late, not long before the first film came out ten years ago, but I immediately gobbled up the series and became a lifelong admirer of his literary achievement. Some fans of his work were left unsatisfied with the film adaptations, but I have always enjoyed them; even when they depart from the books, they retain the enchantment of Narnia and sometimes even improve on the source material, if only dramatically.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is certainly the closest to the book, and much of its success hinged on the outstanding casting of the four Pevensie children. William Moseley as Peter, Anna Popplewell as Susan, Skandar Keynes as Edmund, and Georgie Henley as Lucy are all marvelous, especially Henley, the youngest and cutest of the child actors. Their wide-eyed awe at the world upon which they stumble captures the same wonder of discovery in the book, which the audience can more easily share with a visual wintry landscape. The music enhances the effect of astonishment and epic excitement, and though the special effects are a little inconsistent, they are much more diverse and imaginative than most fantasy films, especially during the battle scenes, and the film won the Best Makeup Oscar. Of course, the best character is the great lion Aslan, voiced magnificently by Liam Neeson, and though critics can nitpick over details in dialogue, his Christological qualities are powerfully portrayed in Aslan’s sacrifice for Edmund and ultimate defeat of evil. My VC and I are often touched deeply by the Stone Table scene. With live-action and vocal performances from other skilled actors like Jim Broadbent, Tilda Swinton, Ray Winstone, and a young James McAvoy as Mr. Tumnus, the entire film is magical and certainly worthy of Lewis’s novel. Finally, while all three films have songs worthy of my End Credits Song Hall of Fame, the first film has one of the best ever, Alanis Morissette’s beautiful “Wunderkind.”
Prince Caspian was a return to form for all involved but with a darker tone that left some viewers uncomfortable, as well as more supplementary content that angered the occasional devoted fan. I, for one, enjoy Prince Caspian more than the first film and even more than the book, which was comparatively less exciting. It possesses a better script and does feel more mature, for the characters themselves acknowledge how Narnia has become wilder and more dangerous from centuries of oppression. Again, one of its greatest strengths lies in its cast, including all the Pevensies and relative newcomer Ben Barnes in the title role. Plus, there’s a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin, Warwick Davis as Nikabrik, Ken Stott (Balin from The Hobbit films) as Trufflehunter the badger, Eddie Izzard as a surprisingly well-realized Reepicheep, and a number of excellent Italian actors as the Telmarines, not least of which being Sergio Castellitto as King Miraz, who offers a different kind of menace than the White Witch. The film transforms the book’s brief mention of a failed attack into a fantastic castle invasion that may seem like filler but heightens the action and the tensions of all involved. Likewise, the proposal about resurrecting the White Witch is actually depicted, allowing Edmund a further chance to redeem himself. The book’s description of Peter and Miraz’s duel could have failed in the film adaptation but is brought to life with some marvelous camera work. By the time of the big battle, made more epic by the arrival of living trees, all the characters have come into their own, and the subsequent farewell is genuinely poignant. As someone who has not read the books, my VC was not bothered by the films’ additions and became deeply attached to the characters, being especially affected by the Pevensies’ bittersweet departure from Narnia.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader almost didn’t happen, since Disney pulled out their involvement and 20th Century Fox and new director Michael Apted took over production. I’m glad it was made, but honestly it doesn’t quite compare with the previous two. At least Edmund, Lucy, Caspian, and Neeson’s Aslan return, but otherwise there’s a disconnect from its prequels. Simon Pegg is good but just different as the new voice of Reepicheep, and the special effects have a disparate and not always better appearance. Dawn Treader has always been my favorite of the books due to its episodic odyssey of a plot, but I see why changes were necessary for it to work as a film. Most of the islands are well-visualized, especially the island of the ridiculous Dufflepuds, but some of the happenings feel rushed. Even so, the need for a villain is well-placed in the Dark Island and the sea serpent from the book, and the finale is fittingly action-packed. I will say that Will Poulter is an excellent Eustace, properly insufferable at first and believably repentant by the end. The film does have moments of brilliance, particularly the final goodbye for Lucy and Edmund, which is even more sorrowful than in Prince Caspian, and thankfully includes one of the most obvious Christian hints from the book, Aslan’s other name.
The final scenes of Dawn Treader are quiet and emotional and might very well be the last we see of this incarnation of Narnia. The Silver Chair is supposedly on its way, but if they don’t hurry, Will Poulter will be too old and one of the few connections to the previous films will be lost by recasting Eustace. If it ever does happen, it will surely be even more different than Dawn Treader was. It amazes and angers me that the Harry Potter and Twilight series can get a movie made for each book, plus one, but the ultra-popular Narnia books are somehow being put on indefinite hold. I don’t know if this is because of its Christian roots and the difficulty of pleasing both secular and religious audiences, but it’s shameful. I can understand why coldly received fantasy adaptations like Inkheart, Eragon, and The Seeker never earned a sequel, but all three Narnia films were highly successful financially. Narnia deserves better.Best line from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: (Susan) “It’s our sister, sir. Lucy.” (Professor Kirke) “The weeping girl?” (Susan) “Yes, sir. She’s upset.” (Professor Kirke) “Hence the weeping.” Best line from Prince Caspian: (Peter, while traveling) “That’s the trouble with girls. You can’t carry a map in your heads.” (Lucy) “That’s because our heads have something in them.” Best line from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: (Lucy) “Will you come and visit us in our world?” (Aslan) “I shall be watching you always.” (Lucy) “How?” (Aslan) “In your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by it. That was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” Rank: 58 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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