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THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (article first published : 2005-12-28)

Already nominated for two Golden Globe Awards - for Harry Gregson-Williams’ original score and Alanis Morissette's theme song, Wunderkind - the eagerly anticipated The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, has been produced at a cost of $150 million.

And the good news is that everything you have heard about this 140-minute, big-screen version of the much-loved CS Lewis book, the first of seven in his Narnia series, is true. It's faithful to the book, glitters with grand special effects and director Andrew Adamson, who gave us the two Shrek films, draws good performances from his cast, among whom is a standout Georgie Henley as young Lucy.

Lucy is one of the four Pevensie siblings - the others are Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley), and Susan (Anna Popplewell) - who chug out of London to the country home of an enigmatic professor (Jim Broadbent) for protection during World War II.

Once there, the children discover a room empty but for a large, mysterious wardrobe - one which, Lucy is the first to realise, leads to a snowy world called Narnia, which is ruled by the evil White Witch (a creepy, marvellously icy Tilda Swinton). It's also a place where animals talk and mythical creatures are commonplace.

Lucy befriends amiable Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy), a half-man-half-fawn creature that is supposed to kidnap her because humans are not welcome in his kingdom.

When both Tumnus and a gullible and greedy Edmund end up in the clutches of the White Witch, the Pevensies set out to save them - and, in so doing, start to fulfil a prophecy. It's a prophecy that claims four humans will help save Narnia from the White Witch and 100 years of winter - and return to the throne rightful king Aslan, a wise old lion voiced by Liam Neeson.

The timeless tale's Christian allusions to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means to ending sin and conquering evil are clearly, but not heavy-handedly, signposted in a story that is big on imagination. It's also a tale crammed with colourful characters - from centaurs and unicorns to loveable talking beavers (the voices of Dawn French and Ray Winstone), a minotaur and a choice assortment of giants, wild animals and ugly creatures that assemble for the climactic, thrilling but bloodless, battle sequence.

There have been complaints that direction sometimes lacks nuance and depth and that the grand finale is too bloated, too show-offy, too Lord of the Rings - but I disagree. The battle makes for a scintillating climax to a film that is a constantly thrilling, and emerges as a must-see holiday spectacle.

Director Adamson dishes up both food for thought as well as a feast for the eyes, while the use of computer effects which allow humans to interact believably with the animal characters is superb.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe gets a 9/10 rating. – Billy Suter




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