Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the first batch of reviews from the test screening of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. Right now we have two, one from a Lewis fan that loved it to death and one from a non-fan that thought it was filled with a lot of missed opportunities, though still enjoyed the movie. Keep in mind that this is an early, early screening and the temp music hated by both reviewers is surely going to be removed from the final film... surely no Bjork, right? Anyway, enjoy the first word on the film!
My wife and I were just getting back from attending North by Northwest in Bakersfield, when we heard about a "test screening of an upcoming Disney holiday film." Hedging our bets that it wasn't Casanova or Chicken Little, we grabbed passes and showed up several hours early to the Edwards theatre in La Verne, California. Our guess was correct, and we were part of the first audience in the world to see "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."
As big C.S. Lewis fans, we were amazed and completely thrilled by the movie. I'll avoid plot spoilers for those few who haven't read the books, but suffice it to say, the movie kept quite close to the plot of the book. There were a few places where the story was streamlined to make it more amenable to the format, but overall there was little that I missed!
The movie opens in 40s London during the Blitz--the introduction beautifully illustrates the terrible atmosphere of the time. The CG here was fantastic--I was on the edge of my seat from the first minute of the movie. The detailing of the opening setting, from the wartime posters to the period costuming was wonderful. It really seemed like we were looking in a window to the 1940s.
There were two real standout performances--Tilda Swinton as Jadis, and Georgie Henley as Lucy. Tilda brought immense talent and presence to her role. In comparision, Aslan (Liam Neeson) seemed unfortunately tame. Jadis was powerful and scary when she needed to be, and always commanded the screen when she was present.
Lucy was wonderfully portrayed by Georgie Henley who conveyed the sense of wonder and magic that Narnia was all about. In her eyes, I saw myself reading the books for the first time and dreaming of a land of fauns and centaurs, and ancient magic.
The other children were capably portrayed--I was bit disappointed with Susan, who was a bit whinier than I would have expected.
The special effects were very raw and incomplete--many scenes involved actors wearing green pants where SFX would be later added, or backdrops that were incomplete or non-existent. That said, the SFX that were complete were wonderful. The fantastic characters of Lewis' world were very capably brought to life--my favorite has to be the faun's legs, and the distinct goat-like walk.
Only thirty minutes of the film had been scored. The classical score that we heard was quite good. The soundtrack however, was bizarre. Electronica pieces filled in several major scenes, and it seemed out of place and wrong. As my wife said, "Bjork does not belong in Narnia." If these pieces are not temporary, I fear that CoN:tLtWatW (whew!) may be prematurely dated (anyone watched Ladyhawk recently?)
Results of the Test panel:
My wife and I and a friend were picked to take part in the panel after the film. The major feedback from the panel was that the film was excellent (21/26 rated Excellent, 4 rated Very Good, 1 Good rating). Everyone felt that the movie captured the spirit of the book. Some of the panel were more than a little harsh of Disney's past efforts--which was amusing to me, given that the rows behind us were filled with film studio people who did not look particularly pleased with these comments.
This movie more than captures the magic of Lewis' Narnia, and is destined to be a classic film. I will be first in line to see it again when it opens, and it will be a permanent addition to my movie collection. That said, I urge you all to see it on the big screen. Anything less will not do justice to the epic scale of the film. It is certainly one large wardrobe.
If you can use this, call me Bellwether.
While that's the more positive of the two we have so far, that bit about Liam Neeson voicing Aslan coming off as a little "tame" has me worried a bit. If they get Aslan wrong I will not like this film. However, I can definitely see Neeson playing up the wisdom and the kindness of Aslan, which is a good thing for me. Swinton knocking it out the park is good news, too. Here's the second, more critical review!
Last night I attended a test market screening of The Chronicles of Narnia in Southern California. The film was in rough form, with many of the effects still in pre-visualization form and a partial score in place.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll state that I have only a passing familiarity with the books by C S Lewis. I went with my girlfriend who had read them as a child, and was truly excited about seeing it brought to life (she was especially hoping for the inclusion of Turkish Delight), as were many others in the audience that we were seated with. It almost seemed like a disproportionate amount, I thought. This was a blind screening, yet every one of us in line figured out what movie we would be seeing. My girlfriend and I were surrounded by whole families that had extensive knowledge and interest in the source material. It may seem like I'm getting side-tracked, but it is at the heart of my criticism of the film: I had no outside knowledge of the story, and I viewed the film as it stood on its own merits.
The movie was good, but not great. I know it's a children's story, but as an adult, I saw a lot of missed opportunity. I saw a lot of overlooked themes and subtext, a lot of relevance to modern events ignored and a heavy reliance on the viewer to bring his or her love for the characters and story to bear. The movie does its job in bring the story to the screen, but for me, it did not come to life. Rationally, I can understand how Edmund comes to initially trust the Witch when she offers him sweet treats, because I know that he's coming from a time of war and rationing, and such a thing would be rare - but that's me, an older guy with a decent appreciation for history reading that context into the situation. Not that I'm advocating a spoonfed approach, but it would have been nice for the filmmaker to acknowledge that nuance, especially if they're aiming at children who regard WW II as ancient history.
The movie opens with the German air blitz on London, and we are introduced to the characters as they seek shelter. I found this opening odd in that it certainly places the story in a time and place, yet makes no further connection to it later. It's such a strong cultural reference, yet remains unused. I imagined themes of loyalty, sacrifice and courage in the face of overwhelming danger to follow. Sadly, they did not. It comes off more as pure escape into fantasy afterward. I chalk it up to Disney's aversion to anything remotely like pathos. We really don't see the darkness that the story springs from, which renders the fantasy as just an exercise in effects. For me, the story as told, lacked any resonance. Others in the audience who had experience with the material were far more forgiving.
On an unrelated note, the score was half finished and there was some temp elements in there. I don't know if they intend to do so, but there were some contemporary songs placed in certain places which I thought was inappropriate. I can understand a Bjork or Bjork-soundalike song while we are immersed in the fantasy world of Narnia, but to have a contemporary pop song interlude while still bound in the 1940's seemed a little jarring, and actually took me out of the movie.
It wasn't all bad, though. The effects that were finished looked fantastic (instances with Aslan were mostly finished, as were the introductory scenes with Mr. Beaver and Tumnus) and the scope of the climactic battle looks impressive enough to warrant actually paying to go back and see the finished version on the big screen.
The name actors certainly bring a lot to the parts they fill, notably Swinton and Broadbent. Swinton exudes an alien coldness appropriate to the role, something she's good at, while Broadbent provides a countering (yet underused) quirky paternal benevolence.
Overall, my opinion can be written off by fans of the book, and I understand that. There were certainly a lot of people gushing about how "Disney didn't screw it up" this time, but they had a personal relationship with the material that I didn't. Children will probably love it, but if they intend to make sequels, I think they'll quickly outgrow it.
If you can use this, call me Jane Doe.