THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (Andrew Adamson). 140 minutes. For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Thank god for villains. Some of the best screen acting this year has come via the baddies, from Ian McDiarmid's slimy Palpatine to Ralph Fiennes's hairless, slit-nosed Voldemort.
Now we've got Tilda Swinton as one very scary White Witch in Andrew Adamson 's watchable but unremarkable adaptation of the first book in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series.
Statuesque, haughty and draped in silvery shoulder-padded outfits that give her the bulk of a linebacker, Swinton towers over the slight film, Disney 's big fantasy-adventure franchise hope.
The film begins well, filling in the book's wartime setting -- the London blitz -- with care. And as Lucy, the youngest of four kids who discover a magical land through a castle's mysterious wardrobe, the young Georgie Henley (cast younger than in the book) has a mischievous smile that's infectious.
But after Peter Jackson's vivid reworking of the Lord Of The Rings universe, this film's fantasy sequences feel stale. The Queen's palace is obviously a matte drawing. The monsters look no more menacing than those Orcs. And the film's shaggy hero, the lion Aslan (voiced, awkwardly, by Liam Neeson ), seems a less complex character than Gandalf.
Also missing, sadly, is Lewis's sly, chatty storytelling voice from the book.
What we do have, of course, is the book's Christian allegory, here hammered so hard that at times the film feels like The Passion Of The Cat.
Not bad, but Adamson, the director of the jokey Shrek films, is out of his element. Narnia lacks magic.