An Intimate Epic on a Big Screen
When approached in 1954 about a possible animated film of The Chronicles of Narnia , C. S. Lewis replied, "I am sure you understand that Aslan is a divine figure, and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simple blasphemy."
The ghost of a possibly disapproving Lewis was not the only challenge facing Walt Disney and Walden Media when they set out to film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Another was coming to terms with what Oxford literary scholar Diane Purkiss disapprovingly calls that "uncle-ish narrative voice that tells you what to think." Even those with a more favorable view of that voice, like New Zealand director Andrew Adamson, have been struck by how much of the novel's sprawling action is related indirectly by the narrator or one of the main characters.
When Adamson was approached for the project, he reread the novel and, as he told fellow executive producer Perry Moore, was stunned to find an epic battle "with a whole menagerie of mythological creatures" recounted in little over a page. But such literary minimalism--in contrast with the highly detailed works of J. R. R. Tolkien--can offer opportunities as well as challenges.
Adamson, by and large, has done an exceptional job of filling in visual details, both with completely digitalized computer graphic characters like Aslan or with digitally enhanced characters like the faun Tumnus. And whether depicting the climactic battle or more intimate scenes, he blends live action and computer graphics with an uncanny, even understated elegance that never allows the visual elements to overpower the deep simplicity of the story--or the very human conflicts at its center.
Known mainly for his animated film Shrek , Adamson also shows a deft touch with his actors, adding dimensions and depth to the somewhat sketchily drawn main characters. The smoldering resentment of Edmund, for example, the sibling who goes bad until he is redeemed by Aslan, comes forth powerfully in Skandar Keynes's depiction. And Tilda Swinton's White Witch captures an icy malevolence that is truly bewitching. The weakness and evil of those two characters provide a clear foil to the luminous innocence of Lucy (Georgie Henley), the unfolding heroism of Peter (William Moseley), and the stout-hearted constancy of Susan (Anna Popplewell).
And what about the crucial figure of Aslan? Suffice it to say that neither the digitalized image nor the voice of Liam Neeson allows the character to veer toward the comic. Indeed, the awesome clarity of his redemptive role makes the efforts of Disney, working with a Christian marketing firm, to recruit evangelicals to see the film seem unnecessary. Lewis would probably have agreed with the prophet Isaiah: "And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken."
This story appears in the December 12, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.