The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) – Movie Review

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe movie poster

Written by Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely & Ann Peacock, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
Directed by Andrew Adamson
Starring Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton

My Advice: Matinee. But only if you must.

England, during World War II, is getting the absolute crap bombed out of it. The decision is made to get the children of the cities the hell out of Dodge and out into the countryside where they will be safe(r). Thus the four Pevensie children head for the middle of nowhere, to stay with a professor (Jim Broadbent, in need of better facial hair) and his crotchety housekeeper (Elizabeth Hawthorne). While there, and bored, the youngest, Lucy (Henley) stumbles upon a magical wardrobe that opens onto another world: Narnia. There, she finds a kingdom frozen by the evil White Witch (Swinton), and she and her siblings will soon be caught up in a war between the forces of the witch’s evil and the forces of good, led by the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson).

Let’s address the question head-on, then. How do you take a straight-up Christian allegory, disguised as a children’s book, and make it into a mainstream movie? Well, this movie is one way, but the allegory portion of it simply clunks. Of course, it clunked in the book itself too, until finally Lewis couldn’t stand it anymore and, not content to merely hint around the bush any longer, threw the facade away in Book Seven, screaming “THE LION IS JESUS!!! GET IT???” and making lots of kids the world over feel betrayed. So the fact that the whole sacrifice portion of the movie is a little heavy handed can’t be blamed on the filmmakers here.

And indeed, the fact that the movie isn’t bad, but simply mediocre, can’t be blamed on a lot of people. First up, the myriad effects shops who worked on the film aren’t in trouble: everything looks good. Damn good, in fact. So good that you don’t have a problem with animals who look like straight up animals talking. Towards the end, when I realized the film was just going to meander and not get any better, I at least comforted myself with the fact that the daemons in Golden Compass are going to be perfect when that film finally gets made. But the battle sequence is all the trailer promised, and every minotaur, centaur, griffin, and whatnot all look pretty damn spiffy.

The cast can’t be blamed either. The kids, with the exception of Popplewell (who plays Susan) are all newcomers. Tilda Swinton is a freaking Amazon warrior woman and a pitch perfect White Witch. The voices of all the animals, including Neeson (who appears to be supplanting Patrick Stewart as the new go-to We Need a Voice of Sage Wisdom guy), are all good.

So what happened? Well, first of all, the script happened. Anytime you see more than two names credited (and those are only the ones credited, mind you), that’s a bad sign. But…well, let me give you an example. Somewhere along the line, somebody had a great idea for how to start the film. Back in the day, the concept of the kids being spirited to the English countryside to get them out of harm’s way needed no introduction. We, however, are sixty years past the end of World War II, and most of the kids in public schools in America would be lucky to find England on a map. So somebody said: hey, let’s put some context to this and show England getting the shit bombed out of it. Let’s show the tearful goodbye at the train station and really drive home the fact that they’re escaping from one war only to find themselves in another. And kudos to whoever thought of this idea. But, because Hollywood is involved and infects almost everything it touches, this became a Place to Stick an Action Sequence (TM). What could have been a moment to let us get attached to the four kids and the mom (Judy McIntosh) while they huddle underground hearing the bombs go off overhead instead becomes a time for running around and the kids being in jeopardy (which never feels like real jeopardy at any point in the film) so we can have an explosion. Thanks, guys.

That’s just the start of the script’s problems, as other Action Moments are scattered about, none of them feeling real at all–not even “fantasy real.” And for those folks who think I’m bashing the Jesus Lion, here’s a shocker for you: there should have been less action and more of Aslan. Not trying to bash an adaptation for not being like the book, but there’s a great moment in which Lucy isn’t doing something she’s supposed to, which is taking care of others. And Aslan growls at her to get her to move and do her duty. It’s a great moment–and it and many more of Aslan’s bits are taken away. He’s reduced to being “My First Passion of the Christ” (TM), which is a shame, because at this point we’ve already been exposed to Gandalf and Dumbledore and Aslan’s just going to seem like leftovers. If you’re going to make a film of a Christian allegory, go for broke and do it. Don’t try and spice it up with action and more action to the detriment of the Message. In fact, going at it half-assed merely makes certainly obvious that actions and bits of dialogue can work better on the page than on the screen.

The biggest problem, though, is the direction. I’m no fan of the Shrek franchise, since I think it’s cute but overhyped and simplistic. And one of the co-directors is here helming this film. I think one of his problems is he doesn’t know how to direct people. Notice everything I mentioned up top as far as actors go are voice actors, or established actors like Swinton, who really doesn’t need much in the way of direction. “Be evil as shit” is sufficient. But four child actors? They need direction. They need to be told, for example, that when you walk out of a wardrobe and into a winter wonderland, you’re supposed to at least act like you’re a little cold. It’s pretty freaking hilarious to watch Edmund (Keynes) standing there, able to see his own breath, looking like he’s perfectly warm to begin with, while the White Witch talks about wanting to get him warm. Or when the kids grab fur coats from the wardrobe…it’s pointless, since we’ve just seen one of them fall in the snow and enjoy it. Have you ever fallen in snow? It sucks. So only on two occasions does anybody act like it’s cold…so that’s not good. And here’s another note: when you’ve walked into another dimension, a little bit of wonderment might be in order. I mean, I’ll buy that Lucy thinks nothing of it, because she’s young and at the point where the magical can still sort of happen, but the older children walk in, go basically, “Oh look, we’re in another dimension. Sweet.” And that’s it.

Also, another major problem is that the film wishes it was Lord of the Rings. It’s not. It lacks any of the scale of the franchise it so desperately wants to ape. Somehow Peter Jackson managed to make Middle Earth a real place. Narnia, it seems, looks like nothing special. The only thing that’s epic in any way is the final battle, and that also smacks of desperation since it looks like Jumanji Goes to War. In fact, some shots are lifted right out of Jackson’s trilogy. Most telling is the overhead travelling shot of the party as they move over a high ridge–sorry, but three kids and two beavers lacks the majesty and triumph of seeing that scene with hobbits, a dwarf, a wizard, an elf, etc. etc. etc. A scene in which the party gets off the road to avoid their pursuers had us joking that the White Witch must “smell the ring.” It’s sad, really, that instead of letting this movie be its own thing, they so obviously cowered in The Shadow of Jackson.

And here’s the major thing: where’s the thrill of the first film that leaves you waiting for Prince Caspian? Nowhere. What could have been a triumphant entry in a new major fantasy franchise arrives bland and undercooked. Its crime isn’t that it is bad, but it’s simply…not good. Mediocre is the right word. If you absolutely must see it on the big screen–and really, despite the promise of the trailer, you’re not missing much if you have a decent sized TV at home–then catch a matinee. Don’t pay full price.

By | 2017-09-24T23:51:14+00:00 December 7th, 2005|Reviews|65 Comments

65 Comments

  1. Meghan December 12, 2005 at 1:36 pm

    Wow, I’m 17 and I have the 1970 boxed set that cosette linked too, where the books were in published order. I feel so spashul!

    Anyway, when I was originally given that set, that was the first time I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (and then I had to read it again in elementary school, several years in a row, along with Island of the Blue Dolphins). I tried reading the rest of the series, but kind of drifted away in the middle of Prince Caspian. This year I returned and read the whole series, in chronological order, despite the ordering of my set. I consider the best order to read them in to be The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe first, and then the rest in chronological order starting with The Magician’s Nephew (which is a lot cooler having read The Lion…it would have been boring without the context). The chronological order is much clearer to read, because you know what has and hasn’t happened yet. I accidentally read The Horse and His Boy out of chronological order, and that really messed me up. Which is sad if you think about it, but if you’re going to read the whole series in one go, it might as well be like a giant book or epic, weaving the tale in the order of events, rather than disparate episodes.

    As for the movie, it seemed sadly flaccid. Pretty, but they condensed some things and then other scenes dragged oooon and on, which would have been fine if they had had been built and expounded upon, but it was just the same shots over and over. Hello waiter, didn’t I order a side of tension with this coffee? If I had seen one more close-up of a vague expression that had no clear emotional meaning, it would have been a toss-up between slapping people and passing out from sheer inertia. But I liked the movie anyway. The talking animals were amazingly well done, and we’ll definitely be renting it for the parents to see.

  2. Meghan December 12, 2005 at 2:04 pm

    Oh yes, and as to the religious bent of the books…I don’t think you have to be Christian to enjoy them, or an “unbeliever” to be offended. I agree with the fundamentals of Buddhism and Hinduism and detest institutional religion as being at cross-purposes and antithesis to everthing they proport. However, despite the fact that CS Lewis wrote Narnia as a Christian allegory, I don’t think it’s as narrow as that at all. Creation stories, Gods, forces of Earth and Heaven, Sun and Moon, are universal, present throughout mankind. The symbology of Narnia consists of very basic archetypal powers and relationships that can be found in the tales and stories that have been told from the time of the first storytellers to the original Fairy Tale to the book rack in the grocery store checkout. You don’t have to be Christian at all to enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia, any more that you have to be pagan to enjoy the stories of the Greek and Roman pantheon (and who doesn’t love those stories?). Like those of our dreamscapes, it’s a story of symbols, universal symbols. That is why the books have endured for so long…the symbology transcends time, place, and religion. Although being symbolic, people can ascribe to it whatever meaning they want, so of course it can be seen on a smaller scale…it just doesn’t have to be. Your mileage may vary.

  3. Andrew R December 12, 2005 at 3:40 pm

    First Of all I said I was a teacher (To be precise of computer applications). I am not a professor of English. I see that you are incapable of defining any clear idea. When a person relies, on put downs and barbed non sequiturs to make their point. it usually means that the person lacks the language to clearly demonstrate a argument of worth…

    Lets not digress into mechanics. I was willing to except your sentence fragments, abundant contractions and use of passive voice. I also will not go into your faulty logic and faulty presentation, misrepresentations of your bias ideas. Nor did I list your numerous rhetorical booboos and conclusions…
    I must ask you to comment on my comments and keep you petty name calling and attempts at humor to yourself…..
    1. Does Writing and reading “play” with the mind?
    2. Would you be in favor of “dumping” or “parental intervention” in the works of literature? Like the wizard of Oz because the book teaches Populism?
    Thanks… Hope you can answer those questions…
    It seems your problems with The Lion, Witch And The Wardrobe are with the original book… How does that inform your crit•i•cism of the movie?

    Maybe you can do nothing but rant?

    ~God Bless You……

  4. Widge December 12, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    Andrew: Welcome back. I love how people talk about how I’m such a shitty critic, then come back to defend themselves against my comments. Do you really have so little respect for your own time that you feel the need to defend yourself against little old me? And honestly, that wasn’t an attempt at humor I was making. I really was being deadly serious: the fact that a teacher can defend against their own terrible use of language by saying they don’t teach English is sad. I guess we can be grateful that you don’t. But. Since Hanna values her time more than you do, and since I really love people who give me page views, sure: I’ll play your silly game.

    1. Does writing and reading play with the mind? I suppose if the story’s good enough it can. I try to play with my readers’ minds all the time.

    2. I thought Wizard of Oz was a good book. I wasn’t aware I was being taught Populism when I read it. Do you think that watching the movie teaches children that colorization of old films is kosher? And despite your question being worded to make it sound like I want parental intervention IN works of literature, I think you meant to ask if I am in favor of parental intervention REGARDING works of literature. And to that end, I say yeah. Parents should have some say over what their kids read. It’s called PARENTING. It’s only when they try to have some say over what the children of other people read that it’s called BEING AN ASSHOLE.

    3. And finally, I’m not sure how my review of the movie is based strictly upon my feelings about the original book. Last I checked, Tilda Swinton was not in the original book, nor did ILM do the effects in the original book, nor did Adamson direct the original book. Mayhap you have a bit of trouble with reading comprehension. If I wrote my response in C++, I’m sure you’d be cool with it.

    Feel free to respond. The more page views you bring me, even in spite, the stronger I become. Moohoohahahaha.

    P.S. I didn’t sneeze, but thanks.

  5. Alex R December 12, 2005 at 5:22 pm

    I saw the movie yesterday. I don’t think its the greatest film the world has seen, but I thought it quite entertaining, memorable, and worth the full price (at least, more so than many many movies we pay full price for). I was a little afraid about the extension of the battle scenes, I kind of disliked that in the second Lord of the Rings, and I hated the focus on violence on the first LotR (which was obvioulsy not important in the first book), so I was obviously afraid that this would also be focused on it to please the battle fans that loved LotR scenes so much (I still love the LotR trilogy). The battle scene in Narnia was ok, some scenes of it were extended a bit for sentimentalism, some others were almost ridiculously cut short just like in the book. They were not completely gripping, but were more than entertaining enough, and they were never too self-absorbed but somewhat managed to develop in themselves some important parts of the story.

    I still think the movie as a whole was a great adaptation to a great book that, let’s face it, by itself, is quite simple in terms of events and action. One of the major strenghts of that book is the narrative, which gives it such a beautiful mood and environment; and I think the movie did a pretty decent job in at least giving it a similar nice environment. True, the actors were not great, and the direction skills to manage them might not have been sufficient, but they were so well cast, that its almost forgivable. They really looked like Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan, and Peter’s change was believable enough. I loved them, and theuy can be expected to become better on following movies. Something that bummed me was not having michelle phfiffer on it, but swinton was great as everyone agrees.

    Anyway, many people hold the book dearly to a point were it is idealized, so the expectations for the movie are very high, but it is overall a book with little or simple action to it, and the movie was very succesful in exploiting it to make it quite enjoyable. It is true it s just a good movie, but is still more powerful than many others in that it leaves you with a good memory of the characters and of narnia. Heck, the movie, which I didnt absolutely love while watching it, kept me in this nice, almost magical mood for the rest of the day yesterday and all day today. So, I really think its worth a watch, but dont go there expecting something that not even the book was. Sure, the adaptation could have been done better, with a more polished dialogue, better acting and direction, wiser decisions on some takes; but man, this was a hard adaptation, and it quite succeeds. See it as a matinee for your money’s sake, but I wouldn’t advise allowing a full price to stop you from watching it. Definately more worth the expense than so many movies that are so ready to die with the credits.

  6. Alex R December 12, 2005 at 5:45 pm

    shoot! I meant “definitely”, seeing the language buffs here. I know there must be many other mistakes there, but this one just jumped out when i saw it posted and its a pretty sad one.

  7. Widge December 12, 2005 at 6:02 pm

    Alex: Bah, no worries. We all have sad typos in the writings of our lives. The would-be language buffs among us only pounce when provoked. :)

  8. watchdogmama December 13, 2005 at 8:41 am

    If Disney had bought the original script from the BBC, then I think the film would have been 10 times better. Disney instead added things that were never in the book. I’ve read the book over 50 times since childhood and to my own daughter and I do not recall the follow Edmond or the bit of a message being sent on Aslan’s death. The Witch did not have a Roman Chariot in the book, she walked when the snow melted. The special effects were the only thing good in this film. If you combinded the Disney effects and the BBC adaptation, then this film would be worth the $8+ to see in theaters. My advice is rent it when it comes out on video. It is not worth the theater price.

  9. Carl V. December 13, 2005 at 9:00 pm

    Although I may have rated the film slightly higher I really enjoyed your review and you actually have alot of great points. Unlike the LOTR adaptations I think I will always look back on this film thinking what could have been had they had a director of Peter Jackson’s caliber and a studio willing to take a few more risks with the story.

  10. Meghan December 14, 2005 at 1:08 pm

    Noooo no no! Peter Jackson and anyone similar to him would have been a terrible director for Narnia! The problem with the movie is the emphasis they put on the huge battle scene at the end…and you think a Peter Jackson-esque take would be different how? And you don’t want a risk-taking studio either…that’s what this one was, focusing on the battle and then leaving other book events out or not expounding upon scenes that could have been interesting. What they NEEDED was a director that could work with the actors, especially the children. Get a little growth and character depth in there. That’s the ultimate focus of all good stories, after all.

  11. Patrick December 30, 2005 at 8:10 pm

    I agree with Meghan. What this movie needed was a director who caould direct children well, and still create and emotional connection with the audience, not a director who knows how to direct voice-actors (nothing against Shreck though). I have got to say it though, I think a part of what hurt this movie was the kids. Lucy was the only child in this movie who showed real emotion, and seemed to change and grow throughout the film. Peter did to a certain extent, but if he was supposed to be a “lead” in the movie, he needed a little direction from Adamson (so not too much blame on the kids, but still, some has to lie with them). I still think, and have alsways thought that Adamson doesn’t put much depth behind his movies. Susan was flat, the entire movie. And Edmund just made me want to punch something (though, that may be what he was intended to do). As for the battle-scene…comparing it to LOTR is just wrong. Every battle-scene with a sword in it from now on will always be compered to Lotr because of the bar they set. Yeah, it’s similar, now move on. My biggest problem with the battle-scene were two things: the intercuting to the Stone Table, and the fact that it had no direction whatsoever. Personally, constantly cutting to the the Stone Table, started to kill the mood of the battle for me. The build-up was great, but then trying to intercut two emotional moments killed them off. Moving to the battle itself. Honestly, I am a HUGE medievel (its sad, I don’t know how to spell it, but you all know what I mean)/sword/anything sharp buff. One of the things I looked for in this battle was some sign of direction, and tactic. In Lotr, I felt that battle had a good deal of that, and was happy. In this, it was a crazed frenzy. One thing that sticks out in my mind (this might just be me though) was when Peter commanded his troops to fall back, they went back into the rocks. I was then expecting to see some help from the massive amount of archers who were casually standing above them. The “help” Peter got, was one freakin volley. One freakin volley of arrows, to help save his ass…If you have half an army (including a comander of the opposing army) going through a bottle-neck in the rocks, you take as many shots as you can, not one. The final little issue I had, was the sob story, or cliche moments (like the group huge at the end when Lucy’s potion stuff heals Edmund). Or, in the same scene, Lucy and Susan return just in time to gather around thier fallen brother. Alright, you’re all probably sick of hearing me bitch, so the good parts of this movie were the CGI (awesome animals), that freakin sweet second-in-command centaur (who would have killed that stupid witch), and, of course, the Great Lion himself: Aslan. So anyways, thats my take on it, and to Andrew: Shut the F*** up you pompus ass. Stop trying to sound intelligent, and correcting people because they have a different view than you. Honestly, it just makes you sound like a dick. (And for all of you who had to read this annoyingly long post, sorry bout that).

  12. Patrick December 31, 2005 at 1:55 pm

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention, the music, is used very well to help increase the tension, and create a more dramatic setting.

  13. Per Arne January 3, 2006 at 9:02 am

    Actually, I thought the music was obnoxious. It constantly threatened to take over scenes, dictating the emotional aspects instead of underscoring them. Plus, it never seemed to build up to anything or have any sort of coherency. I just found out there are seven credited composers on this project, which should explain what that was all about.

    Oh, and I too just got here from Rottentomatoes, love your review, Widge. It pretty much sums up what I felt as I walked away from the theater.

  14. Widge January 3, 2006 at 9:33 am

    Per: Thank you kindly.

  15. Ayla March 6, 2006 at 9:45 pm

    At the very beginning of the movie, I don’t really think that I had a favorite character yet, because I didn’t know their personalities. As the movie went on, I would have to say that Peter is my favorite. I like Peter because even though he is a bit bossy to Edmund sometimes, he is a really sweet big brother, who always looks out for his siblings. However, I did think that it was pretty cool that Susan looked a lot like me!

    -Ayla

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