Review: Narnia: Enjoyable Adventure, But Not My Own
"Lewis remained...childlike, that is, able to receive pleasure from the kinds of stories that tend to give pleasure to children."So writes Alan Jacobs in Into the Wonder, an essay taken from his book, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis.
And in writing this I believe he points us to that “one thing” that so many reviewers have said was missing from Disney and Walden Media’s new big screen version of C.S. Lewis’ beloved tale.
Going to see it last night I was like a little kid. I wanted to revisit the Narnia I had spent so much time in as a child. I wanted to see it through new eyes and new images. I wanted to taste something of the sweetness of childhood again. I wanted to breathe the air of Aslan’s country.
But I didn’t.
Oh, the effects were wonderful. The animals perfect. The music excellent. (Excusing from consideration the “whiny feminist mantra” behind the closing credits.) The scope was epic. The necessary lines were there. The faithfulness to the book was nearly complete.
But still it seemed flat, stilted, lacking in passion.
At first, I didn’t know why. Was it because it was this director’s first time working with live action and children? Was it the fact that the children never really seemed to come to believe in Narnia and in Aslan? (Peter always second guessing himself, Edmund never really repenting, Susan as continual malcontent, and Lucy...well, she was brilliant...the only true believer of the lot.) Was it that the Great Lion in the end, rather than being suddenly gone--away to attend other pressing matters of the King--is seen meandering off down the beach with what appears to be a serious case of despondency?
No. What I think it lacked was me. Not my acting abilities. My presence. When I read the books as a child, I was in them. I felt the things that the Pevensies felt. I was the invisible companion who trod through the snow and muddied my boots in the new found Spring. Always was I at their side. Never would I leave them. They counted on me.
But I wasn’t there for this one. I was only permitted to view another man’s story. And it was not my own.
Lewis had a wonderful ability to take you into the minds of his characters. You not only saw what they were doing, but you knew why they were doing it. You understood their thoughts as if in Vulcan mind meld (forgive the comparison). You were constantly comparing your thoughts with theirs. In the book, when each child hears the name of Aslan for the first time, you were privy to their deepest longings. On screen we had only the blank stare of children looking at the place a beaver was supposed to be.
Yes, the other reviewers have loved it. I, too, enjoyed it greatly. I will likely own it someday on DVD and show it to my four children (who do not need the intensity of the big screen version at their young age). It truly is the best screen version done yet.
But, honestly, it left me longing for more. For what, you ask? For a warm, cozy chair to revisit my Narnia in. To savor the sweetness of Lewis’ pages. To close my eyes and behold a world beyond description.
It even left me longing for something that the BBC version had that this film did not. Not that a guy in a beaver suit and a Lucy with serious beaver teeth was better production-wise (By the way, I liked that Lucy, too.) Rather, the BBC version took itself seriously. It made time drag as time will do and you never doubted the seriousness of Narnia’s plight. In this new release, we are given a constant barrage of comic one-liners with even Aslan acting the comedian when he should be instructing Peter in battle. It gave it a Sesame Street quality, the goal being to keep the kids entertained while throwing in the occasional joke to keep the parents (who aren’t really in the room, anyway) interested.
This, too, made me feel left out as if there was a private joke going on between Adamson and Gresham to which I wasn’t privy.
The absence of seriousness (at least when the White Witch was not present--things were serious when she was around) caused the movie to lack in passion and drive. You felt more annoyed with the children’s bickering and Peter’s lack of character than you did compelled by their difficulty.
I understand that Adamson was trying to give us a picture of what real children would be like in this situation, and he did, but that was precisely the problem. Narnia has never been real. It is a children’s story in which the commonplace is quickly absorbed into the Ideal. The very air of the place matured you twenty years. You became someone you were not. A boy became a man, a soldier, a king. A girl became a woman, a healer, a queen. We never got to that ideal in this film. The children didn’t grow beyond their problems, they simply transferred them into somebody else’s mythical country.
In the end, this was a wonderful children’s story brought majestically to film, but missing everything of Narnia that belonged to those of us who found it as children. Is that a criticism of the movie? Probably not. Our Narnia will never be able to be burned to celluloid. It will forever exist here in our imagination. You cannot make our Narnia into a movie.
My verdict, then, is an unfair one when it comes to reviewing a film. No film can do justice to a book, much less these books. Having read them...no, lived through them...countless times, I have a vested interest. I am permitted this reviewing indiscretion.
Narnia is my story.
And so, in as much as this film ceased to be that story, it was another man’s adventure. An adventure that was enjoyable, but nonetheless, not my own.