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The lion, th witch, and the BBC
on 22 July 2005
In the December, C.S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" will follow in the footsteps of Lewis' pal Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings Trilogy," with a gleaming new big-screen adaptation. In the months before it's released, however, it might be time to dust off the 1988 BBC adaptation of Lewis's first book, which is divided between the good and bad.
The four Pevensie children arrive in the country, at the start of World War II. Despite the eccentric but friendly professor (Michael Aldridge) who lives there, they're all bored. And during a game of hide-and-seek, Lucy (Sophie Wilcox) slips into an old wardrobe -- and finds that the back of it opens into a magical, snowy forest land called Narnia. She encounters a friendly faun, but when she arrives back home, she finds that none of her siblings believe her.
But soon Lucy and her siblings find their way through -- not knowing that peevish Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott) has already allied himself to the evil White Witch (Barbara Kellerman) who keeps Narnia locked in winter. She's especially desperate, because Narnia is beginning to thaw out, now that leonine Aslan is coming back to it, and the Pevensie kids have shown up to fulfil an old prophecy. But the Witch won't go down without a massive battle -- and one that might destroy the lion-messiah himself.
"The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" is a mixed bag -- it has more or less equal measures of good and bad. What it also has is deep fidelity to Lewis's original book, which was one of the first major fantasies to get widespread attention. And that's definitely an important detail, since the spirit of the book could easily have been lost.
The filmmakers obviously did their homework, crafting the script and dialogue to be close to Lewis's novel. And it's a credit that they pulled off some lines that could have sounded idiotic ("You're not dead, Aslan!" "Do I look dead?") in the wrong hands. They also did an excellent job of changing atmosphere, shifting from the stodgy English country house to the airy frozen Narnia, with its castles and dewy wildlands.
Unfortunately, the special effects haven't aged well. They were state of the art at the time, but now they look quite cheesy and low budget, with a few exceptions -- the scene where Lucy restores various "statued" people to life is pretty good. The other stuff ranged from primitive bluescreen to an enormous puppet playing Aslan. It's a good puppet, and remarkably convincing physically, but it still makes Aslan look like he has a wicked case of arthritis.
The acting is also divided between good and bad. Scott is particularly good as the "bad boy" Edmund, who ends up falling in with the Witch, especially when he turns on his evil mentor. He is accompanied by some good acting from Sophie Cook as Susan, and Richatd Dempsey as Peter, who also has to do a convincing battle with a werewolf. The weak links are Wilcox, who speaks most of her lines in a whine, and Kellerman, who laughs madly, coos and shrieks, and generally hams it up like a lunatic.
The new version of "The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe" has yet to be judged against Lewis' original novel, but the 1988 BBC version is a solid if flawed adaptation. Worth checking out.