G’day! Welcome to my second “Fortnightly Movie/TV Thoughts”. You can view the first one here (containing reviews of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) and London Has Fallen (2016)). Here are this fortnight’s movies/shows:
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), rated PG for mild fantasy violence, some scenes may upset young children
- The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008), rated M for frequent battle violence
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010), rated PG for mild violence and scary scenes
- One Night with the King (2006), rated PG for mild violence
- Amazing Grace (2006), rated PG for mild themes
These are the Australian ratings. For the American ones:
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – PG for battle sequences and frightening moments
- Prince Caspian – PG for epic battle action and violence
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action
- One Night with the King – PG for violence, some sensuality and thematic elements
- Amazing Grace – PG for thematic material involving slavery, and some mild language
As usual, the disclaimer:
WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. CONTINUE AT OWN RISK
Now, on with the reviews!
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Is there such thing as a “perfect” movie? Well, if there is, Andrew Adamson achieved it in his adaption of C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy adventure novel. The film begins in World War II, when the German Blitz on London forces the evacuation of the city’s children to the countryside. The four Pevensie siblings – Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – whose father is away at war – are sent to live with Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent), who owns a large country house. During a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy discovers a large ornate wardrobe, which she hides in. However, she soon discovers that this isn’t an ordinary wardrobe, but a gateway to the snowy world of Narnia, where fauns, talking beasts, and other mythical beasts live. She is met by and befriends a faun named Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy), who informs her that Narnia is held under the thumb of the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who cast Narnia into an eternal winter 100 years ago, which has held ever since. When Lucy returns to our world, she finds that barely a second has gone by. The others skeptically check out the wardrobe, and find nothing unusual, disbelieving her. Edmund – who was a bit of a bully – follows Lucy into Narnia that night through the wardrobe, where he meets and is bewitched by the White Witch, who claims to want to make him King, and his brother and sister servants. When Edmund meets up with Lucy and returns to our world, Edmund denies everything and claims it was all a game, upsetting Lucy. Professor Kirke encourages Peter and Susan to try believing Lucy, based on the fact that she normally doesn’t lie, isn’t insane, and that Edmund’s usually the less truthful. The next day, while trying to hide from the housekeeper Mrs Macready (Elizabeth Hawthorne) after a window is broken, in the wardrobe, all 4 children are transported to Narnia. There they discover that Mr Tumnus has been taken by the White Witch’s secret police, and meet up with Mr Beaver (Ray Winstone) and his wife (Dawn French), who inform the Pevensies of the situation, of Narnia’s folklore (including of the mighty lion Aslan (Liam Neeson), and inform them that they’re the foretold “two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve” who will overthrow the White Witch and become monarchs. Which, of course, none of the kids think they’re ready for. Plus, Edmund heads off to the White Witch’s castle to betray them, forcing the kids into the thick of it. The war for Narnia is on.
This film is absolutely delightful to watch. It’s incredibly charming and magical (and that’s not entirely a metaphor). The story is incredibly well-done, and this is apparently one of the most faithful book-to-movie adaptions ever (although that of course is not enough for the purists), not that I’m bothered either way about an adaption of a novel’s faithfulness. There’s nothing to complain about the acting; I originally wasn’t sure that Liam Neeson’s voice was adequate for Aslan, but I now can’t imagine anyone else doing it. His voice doesn’t capture the book’s Aslan, but it nonetheless captures the “still small voice” of the Bible that the filmmakers aimed for. And the special effects in this film are excellent, and beautiful. Also, while there is violence (mostly battle violence), it is kept as bloodless, non-graphic, and mild as possible. “Squeaky clean,” as some dubbed it. In other words, it’s the perfect family film. Indeed, it’s simply an absolutely perfect film, and the greatest fantasy film to date (that I’ve seen) (and one of the greatest films overall – again, that I’ve seen). Very strong double thumbs up.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Well, it’s hard to beat or achieve perfection (and those who achieve it probably weren’t even trying), and so it’s not surprising that Prince Caspian, Andrew Adamson’s second foray into Narnia – based on the novel by C.S. Lewis – failed to attain the flawlessness of its predecessor. But it more than makes up for that. The film is set a year after the first (our time); the Pevensies are still adjusting to being kids in England again, particularly Peter. To quote Adamson’s words, he went “from High King to high school”. However, 1300 years have passed in Narnian time. Narnia has long since been overrun by the Telmarines, and the Narnians are presumed extinct and dismissed as a myth. Narnia is currently ruled by the Lord Protector Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), whose brother King Caspian IX died in his sleep several years earlier. Caspian IX’s son, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is the heir to the throne. Until, that is, Miraz’s wife Prunaprismia (Alicia Borrachero) gives birth to a son. Mirax orders General Glozelle (Pierfrancesco Favino) to murder his nephew. Caspian is warned by his part-human part-dwarf tutor (Vincent Grass) and escapes into the woods, where he is helped by the Narnians (who have been secretly living underground) and blows Susan’s horn, hoping it would summon the 4 Kings and Queens (i.e. the Pevensies). (Incidentally, I recorded those two plot settings back to front: we begin the film with the birth and the chase to the woods – which is awesome, by the way, and a fantastic way to begin a film – and when Caspian blows the horn, we are introduced to the year-older Pevensie siblings.) The Pevensies are at a subway station waiting to go to boarding school, when they are sucked into Narnia (fantastic effects scene, by the way). They soon find and rescue the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), who was captured by Telmarine soldiers while letting Caspian get to safety. Trumpkin takes them to Caspian to help in the uprising against Miraz, while Miraz in turn learns of the Narnians’ continued existance, and vows to wipe them out.
This film was controversial among many for its many departures from the book, but in my book (no pun intended), it’s a damn solid sequel. What it lacks in its predecessor’s magic and charm is made up for in solid action (it’s more violent and more intense than the first film) and an engrossing and highly entertaining tale. Some criticised the film for downplaying the novel’s Christianity. However, this is something of a mischaracterisation: while the Christian themes of the novel are toned down, the filmmakers (I suspect unwittingly) created a broader, overarching Christian narrative that’s not entirely found in the novel, more than making up for it. The film is much more of a drama than its predecessor, particularly in the tension between Peter and Caspian (which wasn’t in the book). Many criticise it – and like any serious argument, theirs isn’t entirely pleasant to watch – but it’s frankly realistic, more so in than the book (in that sense; although “realistic” is a relative term when it comes to Narnia), so I praise it. Many purists criticised the hag and werewolf scene, and for once I agree with them; but that’s about the only nitpick I have with the film. I really liked the changes made to Glozelle’s and Prunaprismia’s characters. The acting is solid – particularly from Castellitto, who is the best villain actor in the trilogy. I also love the subtly hinted back-room intrigues, which manifest fully in the climax. And the decision to move Miraz’s coronation to before the story’s beginning (as in the book) to the middle of the film is also a good one – it’s timing (and the music and overall feel of it) are truly brilliant. And the special effects are incredible – even better than its predecessor. In fact, one climatic special effects scene (which I won’t spoil!) is possibly my all-time favourite movie scene (and certainly my favourite Narnia scene). An awesome sequel that actually challenges the original.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderThe final film in my all-time favourite trilogy/series is the most criticised and is probably the weakest, but is a damn good movie and the most visually splendid of the series. Susan (Anna Popplewell) is in America with their mother; I can’t remember where Peter (William Moseley) is; but Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (the incredibly beautiful Georgie Henley – whom I developed a crush on as a kid after seeing this movie) are stuck in England with their aunt Alberta and uncle Harold. Or more specifically, stuck with their horrid cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter – great actor), who’s just as fed up of them as they are of him. As things come to a head between them, the painting in Lucy’s room comes to life, flooding the room and transporting the unwilling trio into the world two of them have visited twice. They are picked up by the ship Dawn Treader by none other than King Caspian (Ben Barnes) himself. Except this time, he didn’t call them. He’s on a mission to search for the 7 missing Lords of Telmar, who were loyal to his father and driven out by his uncle. His first stop is the Lone Islands, were Caspian, Eustace, Edmund and Lucy are kidnapped to be sold as slaves. While in prison, Caspian and Edmund discover the missing Lord Bern – and witness the sacrifice of several of the villagers to a mysterious green mist (don’t worry – nothing violent or inappropriate; the mist surrounds the villagers – who are in a boat – and they all vanish). After Captain Drinian (Gary Sweet) and the Dawn Treader‘s crew rescue them and the Lone Islands’ governor Gumpas (David Vallon) is deposed, Caspian sails on, not just for the missing lords now, but also to find the source of the mist. Before they go, Bern gives them a magic sword entrusted to him by Caspian’s father, it having been given by Aslan during the Golden Age. They visit several islands, and encounter more things that can only happen in a fantasy world. They are each faced with their own temptations and fears (by the mist), and must learn to overcome them. And Eustace… well, he has to recover from the shock of the whole thing. And try and get along with the talking mouse Reepicheep (Simon Pegg).
I haven’t really done the film’s plot justice, but it’s quite good. I really enjoyed the themes, and it’s the most Christian of the Narnia films. The acting is good – particularly from Will Poulter. And this is by far the FUNNIEST of the Narnia movies! It’ll have you laughing out loud multiple times. The special effects are the best (and highest-level) of the series. This film had a new director, Michael Apted, and it shows – it has a different, more fairy tale feel to it than the first two. And it’s not a buildup of two armies for a massive battle (as the first two effectively were – don’t worry, I’m not condemning them), and is well and truly a voyage (although there is a battle – literally a supernatural one – in the climax). Like the first film, this one is pretty much “squeaky clean” – probably even more so. A satisfying (and bittersweet) ending to a great trilogy.
One Night with the King
Based on Tommy Tenney’s novel Hadassah, this adaption of the true (Biblical) story of Queen Esther is rather free, but also REALLY good! Hadassah (Tiffany Dupont) is an orphaned Jewish girl raised by her Uncle Mordechai (John Rhys-Davies, excellent as usual). When King Xerxes of Persia (Luke Goss) banishes his wife Vashti (Jyoti Dogra), he rounds up many of the young virgins in Persia to be put through tests to pick a suitable wife. Through it all, Hadassah is picked, and renames herself Esther to hide her true Jewish identity. However, among the back-stabbing intrigue embroiling the palace, Haman (James Callis) – whose forefather Agag (Aditya Bal) was killed by the Hebrew prophet Samuel (Peter O’Toole) – plots in secret to rise to the position of Prime Minister (position not actually named in the movie – that’s the best term I could come up with) and destroy the Jews of Persia, eventually convincing Xerxes to allow him to order the Jews’ extermination – at a time when Esther and Xerxes’ marriage is faltering. Esther knows she must go before the King to plead his mercy – but also know that it’s death to go before him uninvited. She doesn’t know what to do.
This film gets the basic plot right – preserving all the main elements – but also adding quite a bit. Some of the additions are historical – such as Xerxes’ impending war with Greece, and the details of the (very dramatic) scene where Esther finally goes before the King. Others appear to be fictions. But what the hell – historical fiction it may be, but it’s damn good historical fiction! Although I didn’t appreciate (or understand) it when I was younger, the plotting and intriguing in this movie is brilliantly done, and the script is stellar. The acting is top-notch, too. Overall, it’s handled really, REALLY well. My personal favourite Biblical film.
When we think of the abolition of slavery, we think of Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War in the 1860s. But most probably haven’t heard of is that Britain had abolished it’s popular slave trade back at the beginning of the century – thanks to the efforts of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) – a God-fearing politician – and his league of misfits and politically incorrect persons and politicians. This movie tells his story (not 100% accurately of course, but still fairly right). Wilberforce is a God-fearing man who struggles between being a politician and serving God, and who is appalled by the widespread (and profitable) slave trade. He eventually decides to serve God through politics – to try and fight for what is right. The film follows his story as he tries again and again to abolish the slave trade, leading up to the monumental bill in the early 1800s that abolished the slave trade… for good (although it was a little longer before slavery itself was abolished).
Although some historical license has naturally been taken (if you go into every adaption expecting absolute accuracy, you’ll be disappointed every time). However, the story is as far as I can tell pretty accurate. The acting is fine; no complaints (and I’ve left out some pretty big names in the cast, who are excellent). Ioan Gruffudd plays Wilberforce quite well. And the thematic material is excellent as well. (Since I’m in something of a rush, I haven’t done this film justice; but let me assure you it’s EXCELLENT!) I really, REALLY enjoyed it! It’s a very powerful film.
Here are the trailers:
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:
One Night with the King:
And the clips:
And of course I’m curious as to what you all think!