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

Directed by Andrew Adamson ("Shrek", "Shrek 2").
Written by Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  Based on the book by C.S. Lewis.
Starring Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Tilda Swinton and the voice of Liam Neeson.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  12/8/05

Folks--

Thanks to my buddy Ross, I had a freebie to go see "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" over at Mazza Gallerie earlier tonight.  Surprisingly, the theater was not stadium packed by the time the flick started; I thought for sure there would be packs of Narnia Nerds all over this joint!

And, kind of like the lack of hype that preceded my local viewing of the film, I ended up underwhelmed by the movie itself, too.  A retelling of the first book in the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis (books that I never read, a common theme here at Bellview), this movie follows the adventures of four kids as they discover a secret portal into the fantastic world of Narnia, a place where common farm animals, minotaurs, dwarves and wolves all co-exist (and in a blessed stroke of good fortune, everyone speaks English).  Apparently, a prophecy proclaims that if four humans happen to enter the world at the same time, there's a chance that a continuous, 100-year-old winter will end and the evil Queen of Narnia (Tilda Swinton) can be defeated.  So, after the kids link up with an army led by a big lion named Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), they embark on an adventure that begins and ends with a war against the Queen's evil faction of orcs, demons, and other baddies.  And, we are certain to get more sequels as a result!

My man Chi and I took this flick in, and both of us agreed upon leaving: there's something very normal, very pedestrian about this film.  I was surprised by this given how good a trailer "Narnia" has; it truly feels epic in the trailer, the kind of film that should draw comparisons to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy but has enough to establish itself on its own as a franchise worth following to its completion.  But once "Narnia" gets going, that hope you have for a classic quickly dissipates; a painfully slow starter, "Narnia" takes almost an hour to give us anything worth caring about.  This is because after the kids discover the wardrobe in question, we have to follow the cute little girl, Lucy (Georgie Henley), as she first enters the world and befriends a half-horse-type guy--certainly, there's a name for this creature, but damn if I know it--and then we have another scene that takes ten minutes where Lucy goes back along with her brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes).  It is only when these two come back with older siblings Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) that the beef of the film really begins, and if you catch this flick late at night, someone in your crew is probably going to be asleep by then.  I know that Chi said to me around this time "How long is this thing, anyway?"

This is not a good thing.

The second half of the movie is good, but never great; again, the quest that the team is undertaking never feels truly grand, so as a large-scale world with a small-time mission (take down the Ice Princess!!!), I found myself hoping that the Lion and his gang were going to eventually go after the Ring or even Excalibur, you know what I mean?  The chemistry between the kids and their CGI counterparts--at times, either beavers, a fox, or others--is okay, thanks to great acting by the voice actors that are playing those computer-animated beings.  As a family film goes, "Narnia" has good action sequences but for anyone that sees a big-scale battle being set up only to get a small dose of swords-and-sandals action, you will be disappointed.  For some reason, swords, bloodless action and a PG rating just don't mix, so these scenes didn't work for me much either.  Finally, the blue screen effects of environments seem to be rushed, or at least not shot very well; sometimes, the backgrounds that the kids are standing in front of look awfully fake.  In an era where producers can usually find a way to make us feel like we are there, this is a strange inconsistency.  Unfortunately for "Narnia", Peter Jackson set the bar so high with his "LOTR" films that now, when you have a group going on a quest, the film's cinematography and the special effects just have to look amazing, and here, they simply don't.

What did I like about this film?  I am hopeful that future films in this series don't have to spend so much time setting up what will happen next.  There are some great laughs in "Narnia" and its strange relationship with a religious subtext (many would argue that "subtext" isn't quite the idea; more like "readily apparent" or "obvious to a blind man") makes some of the movie more interesting.  Anytime you get Neeson to work on your film, it takes a step up; Swinton gives the bad girl role her all and she is fun to watch.  I'll grant you that Henley is cute for a while, but as she is crying in about half of her scenes, she wore on me a bit.

The best thing about "Narnia" for me?  Imagination.  Fantasy films for me don't always work as movies but always get my mind churning about the possibilities that a world can present.  That's the part that I like, the idea that you could enter a dark corner of your house and be transported to another world, another time, another culture.  And, naturally, give you the chance to hang out with English-speaking polar bears.  This was not as good as I had hoped but for free, or for a $6 afternoon show, I think that you will like this enough to sit through it.  Just be sure to hit the bathroom before this one; at about 140 minutes, this one ain't short.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09