Frequent commenter Bruce Moomaw offers the following Narnia review:
The movie is quite good, although not great. It’s not absolutely top-notch children’s entertainment, because — and only because — the book itself isn’t quite at the top rank; it is, after all, an allegory of the Gospels, and Lewis was always better when he was telling his own religious stories about the different kinds of moral trials and temptations that we can undergo (on which he was seemingly incapable of writing a dull word). The remaining Narnia books, save the last one, are all his own invention.
The biggest news is that neither the non-Christians who feared that the movie would be a heavy-handed piece of bigoted Christian propaganda, nor the Christians who feared that the story would be secularized into unrecognizability, have anything to fear. The movie follows the book almost perfectly — I can’t think of another movie that has followed its book so closely — and the result is that it is unmistakably Christian but not heavy-handed or bigoted, for the simple reason that Lewis himself was a Christian but not a religious bigot. His portrayal of the true nature of morality is one that both Christians and non-Christians can agree on totally.
In this connection, let me add that I remain mystified by the fact that Lewis’ most venomous enemies (including Philip Pullman) have apparently never read anything he said or wrote in his life EXCEPT the Narnia books — which they insist on grotesquely misinterpreting. The man was not a religious bigot, not a racist, and not a misogynist (some of his earlier writings show some mild misunderstanding of the psyches of women, but that
disappeared totally by the 1950s and was never serious). Where homosexuality is concerned, his views were amazingly tolerant for someone in the first half of the 20th century: “I have never understood how any sexually normal person can view homosexuality with anything other than a kind of bewildered pity.” (In one chapter of his autobiography dealing with his years in a brutal private school, he notes the large number of gay relationships between the boys there — and then adds that they were the one sign of human affection he saw there.)
In the end, Lewis was simply too morally sane to be a bigot on any subject. He wasn’t even very politically conservative — he was a moderate conservative with the emphasis on the “moderate” part, which is why his admirers have included everyone from Bill Buckley to Kenneth Tynan (who had some of Lewis’ lines read at his own funeral), and which sometimes got him in hot water with Tolkien. Anyone who doubts this about Lewis is free to read, say, “The Four Loves”, or his poems and letters — and anyone who regards him as a religious bigot can read almost anything he ever wrote for clear proof that he absolutely detested it. (In the first chapter of the first book he wrote after his complex adult conversion back to Christianity, “The Pilgrim’s Regress”, our hero John abandons Christianity as a boy because of the way it was presented to him in his homeland of Puritania: “The upshot appeared to be that the Landlord [God] was extraordinarily kind and good to his tenants, and would most certainly torture them all to death the moment he got the slightest excuse for doing so.” In Lewis’ view, Hell is a state of misery that mortals impose entirely on themselves, through selfishness and cold pride.) I myself never quite followed him all the way into Christianity, for complex reasons that I won’t go into here — but it’s an understatement to say that he changed my life for the better at age 15; I recommend his works for adults unreservedly.
The movie does some little things wrong, which you’ll notice. Most seriously, Susan (Anna Popplewell) is bad-tempered and grumpy through most of the movie, and it isn’t made adequately clear that this is because she’s driven by fear. But it does all the big things right: Liam Neeson as Aslan’s voice (that is, the voice of Christ himself), which is warm and authoritative rather than pompous; Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, who is
(literally) chilling rather than over-the-top melodramatic — she convincingly portrays a person purged of every last speck of affection or human feeling — and, most remarkably, the movie somehow manages to make it believable that in this world these four kids could be valuable warriors. (As an added fringe benefit, it features the only non greed-oriented depiction of Santa Claus I’ve ever seen, which I would have thought
impossible.) And, my God, computerized animation simply goes on getting better and better. We have finally achieved cinema’s long-sought promised land: we can now portray on film, absolutely convincingly, any scene that a fantasy writer can ever imagine.
The reason the movie gets the big things right was instantly clear when I saw the opening credits: the executive producer of the Narnia movies is one other than Douglas Gresham, Lewis’ stepson, who made it clear in his autobiography that he both liked and understood Lewis very well. In short, these movies are being made by someone who genuinely cares about the sourcematerial. And if all the remaining Narnia books are filmed, and filmed faithfully, I look forward with delicious anticipation to the reaction to the last one — in which Aslan says flatly that even self-declared Satanists will go to Heaven if they do kind and generous things in the name of Satan because they are actually worshipping Christ and just calling him “Satan”; whereas even self-proclaimed Christians will NOT go to Heaven if they are selfish or cruel, because they are actually worshipping Satan and calling him “Christ”. You can’t possibly state a more ecumenical version of Christianity than that. Now sit back for a moment and imagine the reaction of the “Left Behind” gang to it..
Sounds like a good movie…