Running Time: 140 mins.
Rated: Rated PG.
Narnia is an impressive achievement.
Clearly, it will appeal to audiences who liked The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a story of imagination and of values. However, it does not have the scope or depth of Tolkein's work. Rather, C.S. Lewis wrote a children's story that he hoped would appeal to children of all ages and the child within the adult readers.
This is a review by someone who read Lewis's theological writings, including his fantasy of good and evil, The Screwtape Letters as well as his biography, Surprised by Joy, and appreciates Shadowlands, but never read the Narnia books. The first impression is one of surprise at how 'childlike' the film is - in the sense that the characters are young and that all the action and the issues are pictured from their point of view rather than an adult perspective. This is quite a difference from Tolkein's adult storytelling. Adults who read the books as children will have no difficulty relishing what it was that delighted them when they were young.
Another surprise is how firmly the Narnia experience is rooted in British war history, the evacuation of the children from London to the countryside, to fostering in homes and estates. Lewis was wanting his readers (after the War) to remember that, no matter what the difficulty, there was always hope - and imagination.
Lucy and Susan, Peter and Edmond Pevensie are called the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve - they are Everychild figures. The youngest, Lucy, is the innocent who discovers Narnia. Edmond, the mischievous, is the betrayer. Susan is the voice of reason (which in Narnia is not enough). Peter, the eldest is the responsible one who becomes the knight leader. Together (including the repentant and reconciled Edmond) they overcome the powers of evil and eternal winter embodied by the white Witch and her cohorts.
However, they cannot conquer by themselves. On the one hand, Mr and Mrs Beaver, are their playful guides. On the other, the majestic lion, Aslan, is the king who is willing to lay down his life for Edmond but whose inner strength and power enables him to rise again.
Tilda Swinton is Jadis, the witch. Aslan is voiced by Liam Neeson with great dignity. Mr Beaver is Ray Winstone displaying a delightful sense of humour, with Dawn French as Mrs Beaver.
Douglas Gresham, Lewis's stepson and head of the author's estate, is a producer of Narnia which means that it is a respectful adaptation of the novel (remembering that it is a 'version' and a visual interpretation, not the novel itself). New Zealander, Andrew Adamson (director of the two Shrek films) has co-written the screenplay and directed (joining fellow-kiwi Peter Jackson in adapting beloved British classics for the screen). The effects and the computer graphics are state of the art, creating a wonderful world of snowscapes, creatures and battles.
There has been a lot of publicity given to the fact that Church groups in the United States have been promoting Narnia extensively. This is a little surprising given many of this constituency's alarm about witchcraft and Harry Potter. On the other hand, many critics are saying either that there is no religious content or that Lewis was evangelising.
Lewis was not only a committed Christian, he tried to find literary ways of communicating the meaning of the Gospel. With this frame of mind, he was able to imbue his tales with Christian references. Some may not recognise these but will appreciate the values the story embodies. Christians will be able to recognise the references (especially with the character of the noble lion, Aslan, and his sacrificial death and rising) and connect them with their beliefs.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.