C.S. Lewis’s much-loved fantasy cycle shares no small amount of DNA with J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. Both were Oxford fellows who belonged to the same literary group, the Inklings. Tolkein was also primarily responsible for Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. The seven-part Narnia cycle is quite a bit more accessible than the Rings trilogy, however, and the movie version shares a similar relationship to Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkein’s work. This is a Lord of the Rings movie for people who don’t want to sit through Jackson’s nine-hour trilogy.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay to Andrew Adamson’s adaptation of Lewis’s novel is that it shares the same virtues with the source material. The Christian symbolism is overt, with the themes of redemption through sacrifice, the resurrection of a messianic figure and the women who wait by his tomb. The film successfully conveys Lewis’s themes but does not smack you in the face with them. Like the novel, this is a story that can be enjoyed as straight fantasy and adventure if one chooses.
The film itself is handsomely executed. While the background is not as lush or imaginative as the Lord of the Rings films, the art direction has the necessary richness needed to bring it off. The icy settings of Narnia in its perpetual winter look suitably frigid while the thawed-out Narnia is colorful and lush.
From a technical standpoint, the film’s effects are seamless. Your brain quickly stops questioning the sight of talking lions and beavers and just accepts what you’re seeing. The interaction between the film’s human cast and seems natural and unforced. It doesn’t hurt that you have Liam Neeson voicing the character of Aslan, the messianic lion. The Irish actor gives the animated feline the sense of depth and dignity that the role absolutely requires.
The human cast carries its share of the weight, as well. Tilda Swinton generates palpable menace as the White Witch, giving the film’s evil a face that the Lord of the Rings lacked. The youthful quartet who anchor this movie are all solid, never seeming forced or falsely precocious. Given the film’s near-$200-million-dollar budget, a lot of weight has been placed on their young shoulders and they managed to carry it without apparent strain.
I’m not the one to comment on the film’s success as a Christian parable, but I can attest to its merits as a first-class, family-friendly fantasy adventure.