Monday, 29 August 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 73 - The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

#28 - The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

Well now you knew that if Prince Caspian made it to my list then of course I was going to include this as well. The Chronicles of Narnia was a pretty big part of my childhood. I actually had an animated film version of the book and that was what I saw first, before I even knew there was a book. I didn’t find that out until it was chosen to be the book used for my school’s “Book Week” which involved different people from each year acting out a part from the story, watching a truly god-awful BBC television production of it and dressing up our library to look like the forest with the lamppost. We even had an actress brought in to dress up like the White Witch, though it was someone I knew so I wasn’t as scared as some of the other people in my class. When I was about fourteen I was almost rolling my eyes at hearing about another adaptation of this book but of course I went to see it anyway. And let’s take a look at how that turned out.

It is London during the second World War and naturally it’s not a safe place for the four Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – so they are evacuated to the countryside to stay with the eccentric Professor Kirke. He lives in quite a big house though the children are warned by the imperious housekeeper Mrs Macready to not make any noise or disturbances. One day while playing hide and seek, Lucy finds an empty room with an antique wardrobe and promptly finds herself in a completely different world called Narnia – a magical land full of all sorts of creatures, but currently under the rule of Jadis the White Witch who has created a winter that lasts forever. When Lucy returns through the wardrobe, the others don’t believe her and the wardrobe seems normal to them. But then one day, when hiding from Mrs Macready, all four of them find themselves in Narnia and are informed that a prophecy was made that four human children would save the people of Narnia from Jadis and end her 100-year winter. Only problem is...Jadis has already lured Edmund into her clutches...

I want to talk straight away about the four young actors. I held back a little when reviewing Prince Caspian so I’d have something more to talk about for this film, so here we go: Georgie Henley is fantastic in this film. When I first saw the previews, I didn’t like her as Lucy. To me, Lucy was always going to be the much taller sweet girl with long blonde pigtails and Georgie looked nothing like her. But when I saw the film, Georgie was Lucy. That’s all that can be said about her – she was Lucy through and through. She had that natural charm that made her own the role. For me, nobody else could ever play Lucy from now on. She does so well with the other actors and the special effects to make you think she’d been doing it her whole life when this was only one of her early films. Skandar Keynes has a bigger role in this than he does in Prince Caspian and I found his Edmund to be a lot more compelling than he was in the books. To me anyway, Edmund was just an asshole who eventually learned his lesson. Here however he had a lot more depth, and was a bit more relatable with all the tensions between him and Peter. William Moseley was equally as impressive as the oldest brother, definitely far better than the guy playing him in the BBC version (nothing against the guy personally, he was just way too young and his voice annoyed me). Anna Popplewell does a fine job as Susan, who equally gets a bit more characterisation than she does in the book. Here she tries to be the voice of logic, always trying to sound smart but she eventually learns to be practical and actually starts helping out. I feel that all four children got plenty of development and screen time.

Now for the older actors because of course they were just as important as the children. Tilda Swinton does a different spin on Jadis than the other two adaptations did with her. This is the only version where Jadis isn’t established as the villain straight away but rather lures Edmund in by being sweet and affectionate. Then when she does transform into the tyrant, it’s all the more shocking. She plays a more subtle and menacing witch than other actresses before her. James McAvoy is wonderful as Mr Tumnus and his Orange Rising Star Award was well deserved. He and Georgie Henley have so much on-screen chemistry I’d have loved to see more scenes between them. Now we have the voice actors – I nearly burst out laughing in the cinema (though I thankfully restrained myself) when Ray Winstone’s voice came out of Mr Beaver’s mouth. He and Dawn French were hilarious and entertaining together and I couldn’t think of a better pairing for the two beavers. I was surprised with the small roles of Michael Madsen and Rupert Everett as the wolf and fox respectively since I didn’t expect I’d recognise their voices but they were good in their small parts. I nearly laughed again when I heard Liam Neeson’s voice coming out of Aslan but by the end of the scene, he had me sold as the heroic lion we all know and love. 

I pretty much love everything about the visuals for this film. Typically they picked New Zealand for the locations though they did manage to shoot in other places as well (the frozen waterfall scene was supposedly shot in five different locations altogether). If Lord of the Rings didn’t convince people that New Zealand is so pretty then this film certainly did. In contrast with how Narnia was in Prince Caspian, here it is a much brighter and more vibrant place to wow us. Even when it is winter there, it’s still a pretty impressive place. A nice technique was done with Lucy’s first scene in the wood – Georgie Henley was brought onto the set blindfolded so her reactions to the wood are genuine. She also hadn’t seen James McAvoy in his costume before either. The set of Aslan’s camp as well as the castle of Cair Paravel are some of my favourite sets in the film. I also love the gothic design of Jadis’s castle. I know I don’t usually mention costumes since I don’t know what to say about clothes other than “nice” or “bad” but I like the way Jadis’s dress was designed. As the filmmakers said, it acts as a sort of mood thermometer to reflect Jadis’s attitude in each scene she’s in. For example we see a lot of grey and tatty furs on her when the winter starts to fade from Narnia. Isis Mussenden (the designer) deserves quite a few pats on the back but I’m sure the award nominations were a fine substitute.

The big battle scene is fantastic and although not as epic as the one in Prince Caspian, it’s still very visually impressive. Just the sight of all these different fantasy creatures duking it out on the battlefield is made of awesome, especially that bit with the phoenix. I really enjoyed the swordfight between Peter and Jadis, especially since this is the first adaptation where the witch actually gets to fight in the battle instead of just using her wand from a distance. Big props go to Skandar Keynes for how he acts when Jadis stabs him. It’s a pretty big job for such a young actor but he pulls it off flawlessly. For a more light-hearted scene, Mr Tumnus and Lucy meeting in the woods is just nice to watch. I especially like all the little dialogue bits added in, expanding on what the book wrote such as neither of them knowing why people shake hands as well as Lucy’s line “I’m not a dwarf, I’m a girl. And actually, I’m tallest in my class”. But my all-time favourite scene in the film has got to be the coronation in Cair Paravel. The design, music, costumes and effects are all stunning and the expression Lucy has on her face when she is pronounced Queen Lucy the Valiant is so cute.

So there you have it. Forget Harry Potter and while I did enjoy that franchise and grew up with it, Narnia came first and it always had a more special place in my heart. After all, when I watched that animated film as a kid I used to recreate the big battle with all my action figures, though I used a bear to sub in for Aslan. While Prince Caspian may have been a great film, this is both a great film and a great adaptation of the children’s classic. I even showed it to my dad and he enjoyed it, which isn’t something I’d have expected. He did say about all the similarities to Lord of the Rings but as I said before, Tolkien and Lewis were best friends weren’t they? Oh and he said Lucy was his favourite character. Well that’s all I have time for today, my fellow Narniacs. Take care and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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