Narnia Quest Part 1 (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, 2005)

Narnia_001_PosterDuring World War 2, the four Pevensie children are sent to stay in the remote countryside with Professor Kirke.  A somewhat distant man, the kids try and pass the time by exploring his large home and playing games.  One day, during a game of hide and seek, youngest Lucy hides in a large wardrobe.  She discovers that there is something different with the Wardrobe.  As she pushes through coats, she suddenly finds herself in a snowy forest.

She runs into a Faun (half man and half goat) who timidly introduces himself as Mr. Tumnus.  When he discovers that Lucy is a “daughter of Eve”, he becomes worried and tries to hurry Lucy back to where she came. He explains there world (where there is no Christmas, but a seemingly endless winter) is ruled by a tyrant queen, the White Witch, who demands any member of the line of Adam and Eve should be brought to her.  Upon her return, her siblings do not believe Lucy.  And why would they?

That night, Lucy tries to return, and is unknowingly followed by Edmund.  Edmund meets the White Witch who wants him to bring his sibling to her.  She plays to his ego and desire for fanciful Turkish Delights candy.

Eventually, all the kids enter the wardrobe and find Mr. Tumnus is missing.  They are greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who are…well, talking Beavers.  The kids learn more of the curse upon Narnia, but that many believe the world will be released by the return of King Aslan and the children of Adam and Eve.  And so the children become drawn into a battle to save  the world of Narnia from the cruel White Queen.

The Chronicles of Narnia are the beloved children’s books by noted popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. The series has been adapted in the past.  There was a cartoon of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe from the BBC in 1979.  And four of the books* were adapted for a live action series (also from the BBC) in the late eighties. But the twin successes of the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series made things look viable for more fantasy.

And so, Disney and Walden Media combined forces to bring us the Chronicles of Narnia.  They brought in Andrew Adamson, who was known for Shrek and Shrek 2 before this.

Visually, the effects in the film are quite good.  Aslan looks like a real lion, not just a digital cartoon.  The makeup is effect for the creatures of Narnia.  The cast is good.  And yet…the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels a bit…flat.  It follows the main beats of the story, but it is clear that, rather than looking to the novels for guidance?  They were looking at the success of the Lord of the Rings.  Overwhelmingly so.  The emphasis is on “epic”.  And this is not really something at the heart of the Narnia books.  The books are short, in fact, much shorter than the Tolkien’s books.  I almost wonder if the seven books total more than the three Rings books.

A certain amount of comparison would be inevitable.  Lewis and Tolkien were close friends.  When it came to their work though, they had very different attitudes.  Tolkien had no real use for allegory.  But that is what drives the heart of the Narnia Books.  The allegory is as important as the story.

And the film does not really water down the allegory. Aslan is still clearly a stand in for Jesus. Though, some might feel that Aslan seems to have less bite.  He seems a bit warm and fuzzy and a little less…threatening…even for the minions of evil.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe very much wants to be the Lord of the Rings, and this causes the film to not carve out it’s own identity against the Lord of the Rings films. Instead, it feels like a pale comparison.

 

 

 

*Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader were combined.

Why Did It Have to Be Aliens? (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,2008)

Indiana_Jones_Crystal_Skull_PosterOr…Indy Gets Old. Lucas envisioned a new Indiana Jones trilogy, with one change.  Where the first three films focused on religious and supernatural artifacts, the new films would focus on science fiction themed artifacts.  Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is set in the 1950’s for this reason, and instead of Nazis, the villains are Russians.

The film opens with Indy and his friend Mac as prisoners of the Russians.  They are taken to Area 51 to locate a potential weapon.  Jones mounts an escape that leads to one of those narrow escapes that got a lot of ridicule…hiding in a fridge to avoid a nuclear explosion.  I am not sure this is really any more outrageous than his other exploits in other films.  Is it crazier than jumping from a plane in an inflatable raft?  Indy returns to his college job, only to find himself pursued by the CIA and the Russians.

He runs into a kid named Mutt…Mutt wants his help to save his mom…Marion Ravenwood.  What follows is an adventure involving the Crystal Skull.  The real Crystal Skulls are carved human skulls.  People believed they were ancient creations, but all the skulls studied have revealed to have been made in the 19th century and there does not seem to be any mythology that corroborates the claims of being Mesoamerican or even Native American.

The film ignores this and posits that there is a hidden city in the Amazon jungles.  And the skull is not human, but rather an elongated alien skull.  The film indulges aliens and psychic powers.  But a lot of the action harkens back to the earlier films.

At the same time, there is little room for anything resembling an emotional resonance…this is because the film relies heavily on goofy moments.  The action is full of it.  During an overly long chase (where the Crystal Skull keeps leaping between Indy’s crew and the Russians) Mutt gets caught in a tree.  He ends up swinging Tarzan style through the trees surrounded by monkeys.

The film also never really surprises.  From the moment Mutt appears, you can see where his storyline is leading.  Mutt is also kind of annoying.  I mean, he is less annoying than Sam Witwicky in the Transformer films…but he gets irritating none the less.

On the other hand, it is really great to see Marion back on the screen.  And she gets some real good moments within the action scenes.  She is not just there to be saved, but does the saving.  And the cast is a high point.  You have Cate Blanchett as the lead Russian, John Hurt as an old mentor of Indiana Jones, and Jim Broadbent in a small role as Indy’s boss.

And John Williams provides the score.  John Williams has created many iconic themes from Star Wars to Superman.  And his soundtrack in all the Indiana Jones films is top notch.  As the main Indy theme plays in every movie, it makes you anticipate excitement.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a disappointing return for a cinematic hero.

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