Now let me first make this clear. I’ve been reading the Narnia series ever since I was a little kid. And obviously, the fact that it has been such a huge part of my growing up also means that I enjoy the series immensely. Whenever I read the books I am transported into that magical world that I dreamt of as a child.
That is what the word ‘Narnia’ means to me. I recall having read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in almost 2 or 2.5 hours as a 10-year-old – which for me at that point was unprecedented.
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (1979)
Now moving on to film adaptations. My dad had bought a VHS version of the 1979 TV animated movie of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The amazing, ethereal music by Michael J. Lewis still sounds as beautiful as it did years ago.
The drawings weren’t the best ones I have seen in an animated movie, but the film did manage to capture the essence of the book. There seems to have been only one departure from the book, which is that Aslan hands the Pevensie children their gifts, instead of Father Christmas doing that. But that is too minor a change to actually complain about.
THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (2005)
So, I did love the animated movie. Then came 2005 – where I heard that Andrew Adamson, or the director of Shrek, was going to make the beloved Narnia books into movies. I cannot say that I was not excited. After watching the LOTR books come to life in such an amazing way thanks to the passion of Peter Jackson, I thought I needed to have faith in this series as well.
So I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, directed by Adamson. The visuals were great (thanks to the Peter Jackson’s WETA team), and again the movie was shot in New Zealand like the Lord of the Rings. So visually, things were grand. The music (composed by Harry Gregson-Williams) was quite good too, but I have to admit that for the story, Michael J. Lewis’ score was far superior.
There were no major deviations from the book, but there were a few unnecessary additions (which to be honest, could have been avoided, but didn’t really take anything away from the story). What I thought the film really lacked was emotion and a connection with the characters. Though the actors (particularly Georgie Henley as Lucy and Skandar Keynes as Edmund) were quite good, I did not find myself caring about the Pevensie children that much. I have to agree that Liam Neeson was almost perfect as Aslan, given his warm, soothing voice, but as good an actress as Tilda Swinton is, I thought someone else could have played the White Witch better. James McAvoy was good in his short role as Mr. Tumnus. I don’t remember the other characters too well.
Now when I look back, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was probably the best movie in the new series.
PRINCE CASPIAN (2008)
Then came Prince Caspian in 2008. I believe that Prince Caspian is one of the best books in the series (but then if you ask me, it is really difficult to make a decision on that). The book is amazingly atmospheric. When you read it, you feel like you are in a sinister place which has been condemned to eternal darkness – that is until the Pevensie children come back to Narnia once more.
The film was an utter disappointment. Firstly, regardless of how good-looking Ben Barnes is, he was definitely miscast as Prince Caspian. If you go back to the books, our protagonist, the namesake of the book, is actually somewhere around 13-years-old. Ben Barnes, no matter how hard the make-up artists try, will never look 13. I know the filmmakers wanted him to be older, but I don’t see the logic behind that. And that Inigo Montoya Spanish accent? That was the worst part!
Leaving all that aside, the Caspian and Susan mini-love angle left me cringing, like I’m sure any other Narnia book fan would have done. That was the most horrible part. I know directors have the liberty to change things, but once you make major character changes, it really ruins the spirit of the source work.
So, in spite of the pretty good music and the spectacular visual effects, I was very disappointed with the film – apart from scenes with Aslan and those with Reepicheep. Anna Popplewell’s Susan (I don’t blame Popplewell because she must have been told what to do) was a major departure from the Susan in the book. One of the scenes in the beginning, when she superciliously tells a boy who is interested in her that her name is something else, seemed to me to be a very un-Susan-like thing to do. And of course, the entire Caspian thing was ridiculous anyway. I thought the film lacked heart and vision, and seemed more of a visual spectacle than anything else. As someone who loved the Pevensie children and Prince Caspian in the books, I did not find myself caring for the same characters in the movie.
THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (2010)
Sigh, and then, when I heard that Adamson had been replaced by Michael Apted for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I was looking forward to the new movie, but alas!
For starters, the camerawork was the shoddiest I’ve ever seen for a big-budget film. Though the sets created for the film looked quite good, the camerawork ruined everything. I don’t know who the cinematographer was, but I’m sure I wouldn’t want to know either. The musical score by David Arnold either evaded my ears, or was completely out of place (especially during some battle sequences). And I am a person who definitely listens to music playing in films.
The special effects were pretty terrible too when you consider how good technology is now. When Eustace turns into a dragon, he looked like one of those very badly animated characters. The last two movies had better CGI. That sea serpent was pretty ugly too – looked like another badly animated character from a B-grade movie.
Acting wise, I was happy to see that Ben Barnes had dropped the Spanish accent. Though Caspian is meant to have a major role in this story, the filmmakers did not give Barnes a chance to shine. So what could have been a good opportunity for Barnes to show his talent, pretty much goes wasted. I would say the same for Henley and Keynes, who had in the past shown promising performances. Here they are reduced to almost secondary characters. However, one performance that stood out was by Will Poulter (who plays Eustace). He does not appear too many times in the film (because for half of the movie he is a mute dragon), but Poulter definitely brought some life into the film. Secondly, I thought Simon Pegg as Reepicheep did a great job too – and the scenes between him and Eustace (both as a human and dragon) were the best in the film. Aslan was great too – as usual – and the last 2 scenes in the movie were probably the best ones.
The film seemed completely rushed. Even as someone who knows what happens in the book, I found myself lost, as lost as the characters were at sea (and no, that isn’t one of the successes of the director) because I was struggling to understand how the entire story flowed incoherently without a thread of logic holding it together. There was a very irrelevant cameo by Swinton as the White Witch and an annoying green smoke thing that seemed to be omnipresent. These were not even present in the book. The entire premise that the book was based on is lost here, and that is the saddest thing of all.
Sadly, the Narnia series had so much promise, because the books are perfect for movie adaptations, but both the directors given the task of turning the tales into immortal films definitely failed. As a fan of the books, this is a very disappointing thing. Recently there have been very very good fantasy book to film adaptations – namely the Lord of the Rings series (which remains the best fantasy book adaptation to date), followed by Harry Potter (I know there are major inconsistencies in the movies, but I still feel the films capture the essence of the books and you at least feel for the characters).
Maybe if I ever fulfil my dream of becoming a director, I will one day try and make the Narnia books into films. Fingers crossed.