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Friday, December 23rd, 2005

Time Event
12:54p
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
On Wednesday night, we went to the Rosebud Cinema to see "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe." The Rosebud is Milwaukee's quirkiest movie house. It's furnished with surplus living room sofas and chairs instead of standard theatre seats, has a liquor license, and serves pizzas and other semi-real food, so it's quite comfortable for viewing a long movie.

We had been very impressed by the Narnia trailers, and the movie did not disappoint. It looked wonderfully good, with some very nice design elements, particularly dealing with Tilda Swinton's appearance as The White Witch. I'm not so sure about the peculiarly constructed white gown she wears in earlier scenes, although it does tend to point up her non-human-ness. Her long blond hair is plaited into snaky dreadlocks, which relate to the Gorgonian power of her terrible wand. After she thinks she has slain Aslan, she appears on the battlefield wearing a helmet in the form of a lion's skull, leonine eye makeup, and the remnants of Aslan's shorn mane worn like a stole, showing that she believes she has truly usurped Aslan's place. In my opinion, Swinton's effective performance is almost understated: her Jadis is cruel and mercurial, but I could easily have imagined someone doing it with a lot more grimacing, growling, and general chewing of the scenery. Her White Witch is cruel and mercurial, but not mad.

Very good acting on the parts of William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and Georgie Henley as Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie. The interaction between the children quickly establishes that Edmund is the odd one out and makes his later "betrayal" of the others a matter more of clumsiness than of spite. I particularly liked the fact that the children look like REAL children and are not too cute or beautiful. Well, OK, Mosely is a handsome lad, but Georgie Henley manages to be charming without being saccarine sweet.

The special effects are well done, and Aslan particularly is very effective. I heard one viewer say,"You will believe beavers can talk," but the beavers are the least believable due to their human mannerisms, as opposed to the wolves and foxes, who talk, but, like Aslan, look and move like animals and do not wear armor--(!). The makeup and effects for James McAvoy as Tumnus were subltle and effective. Now New Zealand is Narnia as well as Middle-Earth, and, although it is beautiful county, perhaps becoming a bit familar? The stony slope that the army of good defends against the White Queen's horde looks to me an awful lot like the one down which the Warg Riders charged the Rohirrim caravan in "The Two Towers"--.

Although I haven't read the books for many years, I was struck by the extent to which Lewis' sub-creation is rather banged-together compared to Tolkien's (although of course done in far less time). In Narnia, it is "always winter, but never Christmas." How does it come that there is Christmas in a world that has not known Christ? (Note: In my perhaps heterodox opinion, Aslan is NOT Jesus: he is Narnia's Redeemer, but is not Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan is the Son of his Father, but perhaps not a 'begotten' son.) Other items form Lewis don't translate to visual as well. The wolves are Jadis' Fascistic "secret police", but how secret can they be when everyone can see they are wolves?

I did not think the scene of Aslan's martyrdom went on too long. I recall when reading the books that it seemed to go on much longer just reading it, perhaps because Lewis said it did, and perhaps went into more detail on the indignities inflicted on the lion. I was glad that the film did not attempt to literally reinact the scene as described by Lewis, since lions aren't built that way--. A rather more realistic depiction of Aslan's sacrifice tended to tone down the similarity between Aslan's death and the crucifixion of Christ, which helped keep such Christian allegory as there was from being heavyhanded. Indeed, there is a very light touch taken in that regard, so that the film can easily be enjoyed without having to deal with that issue.

There is is of course no sex and no bad language. There is intense fighting in the battle scene, but no blood. However, this and the scene of the frozen river crossing may be too intense for young or sensitive children. Highly recommended for everyone else who enjoys a good fantasy.

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