Royalty on Film Blogathon – The Chronicle of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Introduction

When I first read about the Royalty on Film Blogathon, one film jumped out at me immediately as the topic I should write about. Now, having selected The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Best Picture at the BAM Awards I have written about it. However, a specific piece on the royalty featured within this film, and the interesting narrative and philosophical devices they are employed in was something I couldn’t pass up.

Method

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The approach I wanted to take to this topic, because I love this story so, was to revisit the story in three different forms. Aside from a look at the film itself I also wanted to examine the two translations that any novel takes before reaching the big screen (novel to screenplay and screenplay to finished film). This is not a fanboy needing a talking down but rather a comparative analysis.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Its Royals

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Now, one thing all versions of this particular installment of The Chronicles are focused on, is the power struggle, in external terms, of the chosen monarchs of this land (the Pevensies) and the presumptive tyrant (the White Witch), as well as the one between the White Witch and the Godhead of Narnia (Aslan).

Jadis, The White Witch, Chatelain of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, Etc.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

The bones both to the story and the arc of the White Witch’s persona are not only well established in the book but they are very well adhered to by the screenplay. She: hired Tumnus as a spy, talks to Edmund upon his arrival, harps on the Four Monarchs prophecy, per Lucy and others she has “no right to be queen,” levies constant threats in true authoritarian style, establishes the Secret Police, and seeks to consolidate her power at all costs.

The bits of detail in the book are left out of the film add a bit more depth but do not really rob the film of much: on occasion she is called Lilith, after “Adam’s first wife”; she is a Half-Jinn, Half-Giantess; and was the Emperor’s (akin to the Father in the Christian trinity) hangman.

Edmund Pevensie, King Edmund the Just

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

One thing this particular filmed version of the story gets absolutely right beyond a shadow of a doubt is the complexity and conflict of Edmund’s chareacter. Oversimplification or piling on of him for his mistakes, as I witnessed in a stage version due to either the bastardized script or the unfaithful direction of the theatre company performing it; is not only a wrongful interpretation but angers me to no end.

In the novel we get insights like “Edmund did not like this arrangement at all but dared not disobey” and that “Deep down inside him he really knew that the white witch was bad and cruel.” However, simple visual literacy, as well as the adept personification by Skandar Keynes (which earned him a BAM Award Nomination as Best Actor also) make it quite clear that that doubt and conflict exist within him early on despite his regrettable decisions. In the book it’s stated in black and white he realizes he was lied to and regrets his decision. In the film there is less verbal fat and more visual fodder.

What the book includes for all the children are some of the things they either dreamed of before assuming the throne or did once they took it. Edmund dreamed of roads he’d build, a private cinema, giving the beavers lesser legal status, getting revenge, and building railways. It also describes his reign as one where he proves to be “great in council and judgment” and that he is “graver and quieter” than his siblings as he grows, no doubt influenced by these formative experiences upon coming to Narnia.

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Now, the films spend even less time with the children being actually crowned monarchs than the book does, however, what it does do to compensate for that fact is have loyalists refer to them as “King” or “Queen” or “Your Majesties” and also show where these Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve act worthy of the thrones they will possess that are their right.

Edmund later leads by example, feels pity for Tumnus who he lead to his slaughter, is condemned a traitor and is to be sacrificed for penance and never pleads for his life. His actions in battle are not only part of his redemption but Peter vouches for him. He is also spared of details of the deal the White Witch and Aslan struck. All of this is reflected in the film.

He comes a long way, the longest way of all, from the young naïf swayed merely by offers of endless Turkish Delight.
Aslan

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Being the deity of this world is frequently referred to as a king as well much in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition. He is touted as the rightful king, and in an example of terrestrial kingliness he holds private council with both the White Witch and Edmund (after his rescue). The film wisely follows the books example of having these conversations occur off (screen/page). We are witness merely to the aftermath and it adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings. His willingness to act as a sacrifice and also to want to spare Susan and Lucy the sight of his death but willing to accept their company for the journey is in essence a service a king would provide his subjects.

Lucy, the Valiant and Susan, the Gentle

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The evidence in the screenplay of the children working into their roles as monarchs is evidenced on the page as well. In one of the earlier drafts when the film version was still referred to as The Hundred Year Winter, Peter is referred to as nodding in “kingly” fashion in a descriptive the precedes the coronation. On page 68 of the script there is use of “majesties” in plural.

This is needed in the film as in the book their coronation is toward the end (pp.193, per the omnibus pagination), as are honors bestowed upon their friends (p. 194). Lewis concludes that “They governed Narnia well and long and happy was their reign” and “All foul brood was stamped out.” Furthermore, they “…made good on laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down and saved young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged people who wanted to live and let live.”

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Over the years they earned their nicknames. In the films Aslan bestows the monikers at coronation. King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Susan the Gentle, Queen Lucy the Valiant. In the film, they had to earn the names along the course of the film such that Aslan could bestow them upon them. Also, having them be assigned territories of Narnia to take special care of to shutdown the nitpicker wondering why one kingdom needs four monarchs.

Peter’s nickname is best exemplified by his leadership leading up to and during the battle. Edmund’s name of Just is perhaps the most fitting for it is through being unjust himself to start that he starts to learn firsthand what is right and proper in given situations. Lucy’s valiance is on display from the start as she never wavers in her certitude that the quest to save Tumnus, and thus, Narnia, is right. Susan’s gentility is one you have to dig for. However, its her protectiveness of her siblings, wanting to see them out of harm’s way, her needing to be coaxed into battle, and trying to avoid the conflict if it an be avoided, is where it is seen most readily.

Escalation

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In the script, and then in the film, you can see how certain aspects become emphasized. In the film there is more emphasis on the battle, which is dealt with in post-mortem in the book. In the script the White Witch more convincingly sways Edmund here than in the book because the language is simplified and less on the head. Tilda’s interpretation of the White Witch then takes the character to the next level.

In the book there is no incidence of Edmund and Tumnus in cells next to one another. This triangulation wherein the White Witch plays Tumnus off Edmund, exagerrating “He traded you in for sweets,” truly allows for additional depth for all character involved: Tumnus suffers further, Edmund experiencing this and plotting his escape aid him redemption, and the Witch is further vilified in cinematic terms.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

As they prepare for war, Edmund really comes full circle fully committing to a battle he knows he must participate in. The emphasis of screentime spent on their training adds good bonding time for the siblings.

Susan asks: “Edmund already nearly lost his life! What are we supposed to do?”
Edmund responds: “Whatever we can.”

Conclusion

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Yes, the White Witch through being the antagonist and the reigning monarch, justly or not, takes the led in this film. However, as magnetic and magnificent as Swinton is; he desires and actions are all highly logical and compelling. Having those who are prophesied to inherit a throne slowly travel from a feeling of unworthiness to a desire for and a deserving of that seat is a more compelling journey. Furthermore, the return of a God-king to a land and an ousting of the evil ruler is also compelling. There are few characters in said books that are commoners at the end, but those who bring us into the story, those we travel with are those who will assume the thrones and those we follow. Aslan’s showing favor to the Pevensies lends truth of being anointed by God to this mythic landscape and provides the perfect counterbalance in this story.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is nearly flawless tale, and a main reason for this is the unique looks at regality it affords us.

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BAM Best Picture Profile- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.

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

The Chronicles of Narnia is another series that I have a long history with. I presume it must’ve been The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe that was a book read aloud when I was in a Montessori grade school. We later saw the BBC animated rendition of that book at least (if not more of them- and it’s a far less frightening animated version than their take on The Hobbit). I don’t recall ever revisiting the books, or continuing the series in my childhood.

Then when the first film version was due out naturally the books became more prominently displayed in stores again. I seized the opportunity (as films have been known to occasionally act as catalysts to me reading) to acquire the omnibus presentation of the entire series in the now-preferred reading order; the one first suggested to Lewis by a young reader named Laurence. Since I commuted quite a bit at the time, and it was the end of the semester, I had quite a bit more free time on my hands. I ended up reading the entire series in a weeks’ time, at least one of the books being the ever-so-rare re-read.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

This had to be less than one month prior to the release of the film. Therefore, I was quite ready for it. However, I was not expecting what I ended up getting. Firstly, as I’ve highlighted before distance between the reading of a book and then seeing the film can be a great, even a beneficial thing. It leaves you less encumbered by the facts and more willing to accept a tonally true version. So the film had that against it rather than for it.

I ended up finding myself very engaged and enthralled by the vision of this land presented in a way I’d not seen, nor ever imagined. Perhaps more so than in any other book in the series, Wardrobe focuses on a character’s struggles with temptations and greed. In the “Pevensie Tales” it is Edmund who is the most layered and interesting and it is in this story, through the writing, directing and rendition by Skandar Keynes that he fully, vibrantly comes to life. Alongside him is one of the more brilliantly portrayed antagonists in recent memory – Tilda Swinton’s White Witch.

It’s reflecting back on this film this year that lead me to a truth: I cannot cite thinly-veiled propaganda or allegory alone as a dismissal of a film; films both good and bad can be hung with that label. I say that because the Biblical allusions in the series, this installment especially, are fairly overt. However, what’s at the core of the tale are things far more universal and eternal: basic values and human struggles that are not unique to those of the Christian faith. It just seems these books/films take a lot of backlash (especially via ridiculous comparison to the works of Tolkien and friend and rival of Lewis’) as if they were some Bible-thumping bore. Whereas I’m rather sure the same fundamentalists appalled by Harry Potter, don’t take to kindly to talking beasts; especially a godly one (symbol or not).

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe was another late-in-the-year jolt to my awards picture. It was the beginning of what, most certainly behind-the-scenes, has been a long and most unusual journey. The series through three films has seen two studios, and now survives based on its international grosses. The fourth film, The Silver Chair, has a green light, a writer, a new production company and potentially a new studio (that remains to be seen). This was the start, and even in my fandom, I admit Prince Caspian was a letdown, but think the series righted itself. Now as it awaits its next port I still look back on this installment with the greatest of fondness; not just for bringing a treasured childhood tale to life, but to the cast for making the Penvesies more engaging and vibrant than I could have imagined.

Review- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Will Poulter, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes and Georgie Henley in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is in a word, though there could be many, many more; glorious. Absolutely glorious in every single, solitary respect. Not only does it work brilliantly as a standalone tale but it also closes a chapter in a series with great effect. How it functions within the series will be detailed later.

The first thing that should be commented upon is the virtuosity of the players involved. Now this tale does have a rather big obstacle to overcome as in this tale the Pevensie quartet becomes a duo, as Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are scarcely seen but worry not Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes are very strong and prodigious leads in the film. They each face their own trials and tribulations in their journey and support the film equally. Will Poulter, who broke out with his earth-shatterlingly good performance in Son of Rambow, is flawless in the part of Eustace Scrubb. He applies the affectations of an uptight, snobbish brat with great aplomb from a pitchy voice to flared nostrils and as his character mellows those layers peel back. Truly, Son of Rambow was most fortunate to have both he and the incomparable Bill Milner in the fold and The Dawn Treader would be so much less than it is without Poulter.

Lastly, and here is where we discuss this film in the context of the series, there is Ben Barnes. Ben Barnes, as Caspian, who is now a King; reprises his role but not identically to the last installment. In Prince Caspian a decision was made that the Talmarines, to differentiate themselves as men of a different nation, should be Spanish or speaking in a brogue thereof. Barnes did what he could to work with this impediment but that decision along with some in structuring made that installment a little less than it could’ve been. Therefore kudos are in store for the production team, principally the late great director Michael Apted, for deciding to rescind said decision. Ben Barnes speaking in his true voice is another actor entirely and he is a credit to this film.

This film, unlike many fantastic voyages, actually allows you to get into the character’s head a bit. In fact, that’s really what the enemy is all about: exploiting fears that each of the characters have. The characters are seen alone, the characters dream and they do battle with an enemy that knows how to defeat them. Mist or fog can be a very effective cinematic motif, as evidenced by eponymous films but you add a sentient nature to said mist and a whole other level is reached. Especially with the way it is framed and how the characters very infrequently sense its presence. I wrote recently of the jolting scares to be found in the most recent Harry Potter, well that is trumped by the ominous looming and chasing of the mist in this tale which gave me goosebumps on more than one occasion, as did some other events, CG or not.

Speaking of CG this may be an aspect of this film, which is almost taken for granted. To go through a laundry list of awe-inspiring visual achievements that the effects artists conjure up in this film would be tedious. However, it does need to be said that the work in this film is so accurate and precise that it likely goes overlooked by many. It has been short-listed for an Academy Award nomination and if it does not receive said nomination it will be one of the greatest injustices they’ve ever perpetuated [It didn’t get it, surprise, surprise].

This film is expertly edited and flows like a dream and treats time like a tinker toy. It makes the film move very briskly throughout but grinds the action nearly to a halt when things need observing in the minutest detail. If you had no notion of the time you’d swear the film is at least 20 minutes shorter than it really is, which is a testament to the pace of the tale.

You can’t have a sweeping epic story line without a sweeping epic score and this film most certainly has that as well, as there’s not much it doesn’t have. The score always matches but doesn’t overpower or over-accentuate the film and is dazzling.

The superlatives could continue to flow but I saw this film twice on the weekend so that should say something. I may see it anew to gauge the 3D quality, for the time being bear in mind that it is post-converted so buyer beware [I did end up seeing it in 3D later on and the conversion was pretty good] .

You have in this tale characters who are human therefore flawed and must struggle mightily against the darker parts of their nature to achieve their goal. You also have here in a series an ending as should the films continue different characters coming to the fore, even if this wasn’t the case the ending is quite the effective tear-jerker. This is without a doubt one of the most complete cinematic experiences I’ve had in a while, one of the best films of the year and a no questions asked must see.

10/10

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is available on DVD and Blu-Ray today.