Dir: Andrew Adamson (Shrek; Shrek 2)
Comparisons abound between this film and The Lord of the Rings, driven by the obvious parallels between the two authors and their subject matters. But since I am new to this story, I found it much more like another famous British writer's fantastical vision than Tolkien's. Narnia struck me as Wonderland with a morality tale, a place where a child's willingness to suspend disbelief opens the door to taking part in a classic quest to right past injustices.
The strong points of the film are visual. Narnia is yet another in a series of recent films that are doing wonders with CGI. Once again, it is technology in the service of narrative, not just to dazzle, that makes it so noteworthy. Adamson has cleverly blended his animated characters (animals, mainly) with live specimens to heighten the realism of the scene. Hitchcock blended real birds among puppets to control a flock; Adamson places real wolves among digitized ones to make a pack feel real. Real human frames are grafted onto animated horse's bodies for the centaurs. Nothing seems forced (except for a few shots of humans against an obvious green screen) and the film is quite striking to look at.
The allegory, itself a matter of much public discussion, is supposedly Christian. But if it is, the metaphor is both indirect and not unique to the Bible. Even though there is a "messiah" and a "resurrection scene," so too are such elements in all sorts of myths and fables. Indeed, a phoenix makes a brief appearance, and that myth is just as indebted to a resurrection as the story of Jesus. Narnia is more like a hodegpodge of every fable you can think of; witches live among ogres who live among centaurs who live among griffins who live among humans. The themes of justice found in the movie are old, well worn, bordering on trite. But as an Aesop's Fable sort of children's story, it is hard to critique the narrative, no how cycnical your secular critic is.
Easily the weak part of the film are the humans, four children of varying ages. The dialogue falls into the lazy trap of writing lines for adults and then having kids speak them. Even the youngest girl speaks like an English society matron (that dialogue was what first drew the Alice comparisons in my head, for she too is hardly a child when she speaks). The script is also guilty of one of my greatest pet peeves, where chracters fail to learn lessons from past experiences. A skeptical teenage girl, who wants to employ reason and logic and caution to all decisions, continues to drag her heels against joining in the great liberatory war that these kids have been prophesized to lead. Even after all manner of fantastical things happen, even after two talking beavers serve them tea, she is unmoved by the scene and refuses to embrace the reality they are in. I understand the narrative device of having your heroes express reluctance before putting themselves at risk, but this script goes to that well so often, from all but the youngest of the characters, that the device ceases to build tension and simply induces eye rolling.
Just once, I'd like to see a story where a common person is thrust into an uncommon context and openly accepts their responsibility as a outgrowth of their chracter, not just thrust upon them due to extenuating circumstances.
Still, Narnia is fun to look at and its message is more than acceptable. If one forgives the dialogue, it is worth two hours of your life on HBO.