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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005)
Rated PG

Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, and William Moseley

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Since the success of both the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series, it seems that any kind of multi-volume literary fantasy epic is being snatched up and turned into a grandiose production these days. That would explain the recent release of the first movie based on C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Admittedly, I have no knowledge of the books. I can't vouch for the accuracy of the translation to film. I can, however, wholeheartedly recommend the movie on its own terms.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe takes place during World War II. Four children -- Susan, Lucy, Edmond and Peter -- are taken from their home in London, which is being bombed by the Germans, and dropped off at a country mansion owned by Professor Kirke (James Broadbent). While exploring the mansion during a game of hide and seek, Lucy (Georgie Henley) discovers a wardrobe that contains a passageway to the magical land of Narnia.

She ventures in and meets Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a faun who begins to instruct her on the ways of Narnian life. Her entrance into Narnia puts in motion a series of events that are seen as the beginning of a prophecy that will free the land from the grips of the White Witch (Tilda Swindon). But before that can happen, Lucy must first convince her siblings that the doorway into Narnia is real.

When The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was released, it was touted as a sort of Christian Lord of the Rings by many people. As a result, I was hesitant to see it. Epic fantasy is hard enough to digest without having to be beaten over the head with overt symbolism and moral lessons. In fact, though, while there are some pretty easy-to-spot Christian references, there is no more religious browbeating in the movie than you'd see in any other film featuring good versus evil, really.

As an epic fantasy, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe should feature some amazing special effects and, for the most part, it does. Only a few sequences fall flat and that is apparently due to the sheer number of different effects companies that worked on the film. Watching the credits roll and I was amazed to see that not only George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic worked on the film, but Sony's Imageworks, Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop, and a number of other effects houses as well. As such, the quality varies from scene-to-scene. It's distracting, but only slightly.

Where the movie truly loses a star is in its sanitized view of combat. The script has the characters speaking about the ugliness of war and the battle scenes are quite violent, especially for a PG-rated film aimed primarily at children. But director Andrew Adamson can't seem to make up his mind how far he wants to go with the violence, which makes for an unusually clean battlefield littered with bodies. In one scene, a character is told to clean his sword after slaying an enemy. It's clearly obvious that there's nothing to clean.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe manages to remain epic even though it does have some minor flaws. If you're looking for something different and haven't sampled any fantasy films, this might be a good place to start.

Trivia: Each design carved into the wardrobe signify an important event that occurred in the book "The Magician's Nephew," the first Narnia book. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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