Monday, January 09, 2006

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

When The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was first announced I was thrilled, but as the release drew nearer I began to dread what Hollywood could do to this classic.

Last year I read a very disturbing article in which HarperCollins Publishers, the company that holds the rights to the books, announced its plans to create a new series of Narnia children's novels and picture books, using a stable of established children's fantasy writers. They promised to stay true to the works of C.S. Lewis, but a HarperCollins strategy memo leaked to the media stated otherwise:

"Obviously, this is a biggie as far as the estate and our publishing interests are concerned, we'll need to be able to give emphatic assurances that no attempt will be made to correlate the stories to Christian imagery/theology."

What was I to expect from the movie when I had heard that the new books would be devoid of the deep Christian allegory that I had enjoyed discovering as a child? In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting much more than a good family film.

When I viewed the film, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a sharp, well-produced movie adaptation that not only drew me into the world of Narnia, but also enriched my childhood memories of the book. The child actors were easily embraced as Edmond, Susan, Peter, and Lucy, and were able to convey the wide emotional range needed in this constantly changing adventure.

This would have been a mute point, however, if not for the excellent special effects. Nothing removes me from the movie experience the way bad effects do. This is especially true in fantasy films, which must take us fully into a new world in a believable way. The best compliment I can give is to say that the effects were not distracting, and that is what was so amazing about them.

Now back to my original fears. I was pleased to find Lewis' intended Christian allegory still intact. Good and evil; justice and injustice; truth and manipulation; and sin and sacrifice are all clearly portrayed for what they are. The most powerful moment in the film comes not at the slaying of Aslan on the sacrificial table, but at the splitting of the table. This moment of destruction so perfectly conveyed the message that there would be no more sacrifice. I couldn't help but compare this to the scene in The Passion of the Christ where the veil was torn, a scene that I found lacking in conveying the weight of the message. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe does not suffer from weakness at this all-important moment of redemption--for that I am thankful.

This underlying message will set Chronicles apart for most of us. It is not just another morality play. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is C.S. Lewis’ expression of child-like faith and the movie truly captures this feeling.

It is to be expected that this movie will suffer from the inevitable comparison to The Lord of the Rings trilogy because it was put into production due to the immense success of the Rings and Harry Potter series, but these comparisons should not stop us from embracing this film for what it is--a good movie based on a great book from a master of Christian allegory.

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