Lovin’ kid lit
December 14, 2005
If there’s one small downside to kid-friendly literary serials – and their subsequent translation to the sliver screen – it’s that they kind of leave viewers hanging.Maybe it’s not specific to kid lit: Each “Lord of the Rings” installment achieved a measure of epic grandeur, but none felt like a complete story on its own. That’s probably why so many people gave up an entire day to watch when theaters showed the trilogy back-to-back-to back. The same holds true for the Harry Potter books and movies. I remember a period of about two weeks when I was frequently running down the street to the neighborhood bookstore in Rutland, Vt., to see if the next installment had arrived, because I was so eager to read what happened next.
Perhaps it’s a function of trying to cram a whole book into a two-hour movie, but putting the books on the screen seems to exacerbate that breathlessness. As good as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is – and it’s probably Chris Columbus’ best movie – it ultimately accomplishes little more than setting the stage for “Chamber of Secrets,” which left me hanging for “Prisoner of Azkaban.” (I’d add an “ad infinitum,” but there are only seven parts in the works, or an “ad nauseum,” but that would suggest I’m not hooked.)But not every serial lives up to that standard, and the first installment of Lemony Snicket serves as prime example. It was funny, clever and original, but I can’t really say it left much of an impression as far as storytelling goes. And I’ll probably go see the next one, but I’m not exactly watching the calendar as eagerly as when there’s a new Harry Potter in the pipe.That lengthy introduction brings me to the movie I saw this week, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
I wonder if the lengthy title represents a little metamarketing: Anybody else notice how everybody calls it “The Chronicles of Narnia” rather than the latter half? Maybe it’s because “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” stands so strongly on its own that the studio must remind viewers C.S. Lewis wrote a six-book series.For brevity’s sake, I’ll just call it “Narnia” and commend it as much as any movie I’ve seen this year.For an adaptation, it captures Lewis’ original vision expertly, and it made a book that I read when I was about 10 years old come flooding back. For a first installment, it felt like far more than a placeholder.
Part of the credit certainly belongs to the source material. Those memories reminded me of how each chronicle of Narnia was a discrete unit, and the ending of “Narnia” illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember what comes next (although I’m sure some helpful Lewis scholar, or maybe Rick Warren, will write in to remind me of that, as well as the fact that I have no business reviewing movies for a community newspaper).But giving Lewis all the credit would shortchange screenwriter Ann Peacock and director Andrew Adamson. They hit and maybe exceed the mark Adamson achieved with the Shrek franchise. “Narnia” is a singular vision, a seamless blend of computer animation and live action. It’s satisfying in its own right, compelling and deep enough to entertain mainstream audiences and evoke the depth of the books, but innocuous enough for the kiddies and the Christians to claim it as their own.Its craftsmanship is enough to bring me back for the next installment. And who knows – maybe I’ll take a day off to see all seven in a row one day.