The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 11: It Is Finished

Surprise! Early post for Easter.

We transition from the map of the battlefield to a gryphon (voiced by Cameron Rhodes) flying over the actual place. I apologize for starting off this post with some criticism, but it annoys me that there are gryphons in this movie when there are none in C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. “But, Stationmaster,” you say, “why shouldn’t gryphons be included in the fantasy kitchen sink that is Narnia? Aren’t you being ridiculous?” Well…maybe I am. I guess what bothers me is that while the books include creatures from different mythologies, the author made them his own. A Narnian centaur is different from your common or garden variety centaur. But he never made gryphons his own so I have no idea what a specifically Narnian gryphon would be like. As long as I’m criticizing, it’s unfortunate that this battlefield doesn’t take place near a ford as the book specifies. I understand that might have been difficult for staging and if it were just part of this story, I wouldn’t care. But the ford returns to play a greater part in the sequel, Prince Caspian, and because it hadn’t been established in this movie, it lacks the thematic significance it had in the source material.

Anyway, we see that Peter and Oreius are going to lead the cavalry and foot soldiers while Edmund and Mr. Beaver command the archers from higher ground.[1]The movie has Mr. Beaver wear armor in this scene by the way. In another Narnia book, a badger character refuses to wear any on the grounds that “he was a beast, he was, and if his claws and … Continue reading The gryphon lands beside Peter. “They come, Your Highness,” he reports, “in numbers and weapons far greater than our own.” Oreius counters by saying, “numbers do not win a battle,” which is kind of a corny line, but Peter has a good response to it. “No, but I bet they help.”

As battle horns sound from across the field, we see that there are two leopards in Peter’s army. This pleases me since there were also two leopards in the book.[2]You could argue Oreius replaced them in the movie. Actually, I think these might be cheetahs but I’m just going to imagine that they’re leopards because I want them to be a nod to the book.

The White Witch’s army appears on the horizon. I’m pleased to note a couple of giants on her side. They don’t do much, giants being an expensive special effect, but I’m glad they’re included because giants, both good and bad, play a big part in the Narnia books. OK, maybe not that big a part but they’re definitely a memorable one. (I just wanted to make a pun on “big.”)

We also see the Witch is in a chariot drawn by polar bears.[3]When I first saw an out-of-context promotional image for that polar bear-drawn chariot, I thought it was replacing her reindeer-drawn sleigh from the book. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I’m informed that she’s wearing a headdress made of Aslan’s mane, which is a really cool idea, but her wig is so bad that to me, it honestly looks like the headdress is just supposed to be part of it. After glancing back in Edmund’s direction[4]Ed nods but I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a signal since I don’t think Peter could see it from his location., Peter imperceptibly gulps[5]Well, obviously, it’s perceptible since I perceived it. But it’s not obvious and “subtly gulps” sounds weird. and draws his sword. His soldiers follow suit. “I have no interest in prisoners,” the Witch tells her general, “Kill them all.” Her army starts to charge. Long before they reach their opponents, Peter signals his gryphons to fly overhead and drop boulders on them. Some of the Witch’s soldiers are crushed but her dwarf archers shoot some of the gryphons too. In the extended cut of the movie, the Witch’s flying creatures also battle the gryphons in the air. That is the only thing besides the added springtime footage that I think improves on the theatrical version. I’m not super interested in battle scenes but if you’re going to have one with flying creatures on both sides, why wouldn’t they fight in the air? In both versions, after the gryphons retreat, the evil army is still surging forward in great numbers.

“Are you with me?” Peter asks Oreius. “To the death,” he replies. Sort of a weird exchange to have right then. It’s not like this would be a good time for Oreius to back out. But the actors manage to sell it as a legitimately emotional moment. Peter raises his sword again. “For Narnia,” he cries, “and for Aslan!” Not the most interesting battle cry but it feels very fitting considering what Aslan just did for everybody. Peter’s army charges to meet the enemy. I mentioned before that I’m not a fan of slow motion, but I think it works here just before the armies clash.

Once they start hacking and slashing, we go back to real time and then we somewhat abruptly cut back to the Stone table. This is technically the only example of a flashback in any of the Narnia movies since it takes place just before the sun rises and the beginning took place toward the end of the morning at the latest and quite possible midday. Apparently, at one point, the scenes were going to be in chronological order, but the director decided, probably rightly, that viewers would empathize less with Peter’s army if they knew what they do not. Susan and Lucy, who have been sleeping beside Aslan’s body, awaken. “We should go,” says Susan. “I’m so cold,” says Lucy. Their voices sound like they’ve both spent all their emotions. Susan gently leads Lucy away, but they pause to look over their shoulders at Aslan one last time. It’s all very sad.

As they turn back and continue walking, the ground suddenly trembles beneath their feet! They turn around to find that the Stone Table has split in two and the body on top of it has disappeared. “What have they done?” Susan whispers. As the sun rises over the hill, we hear a familiar music cue. It’s the same music that played when we saw Aslan for the first time. That’s no accident as he steps over the hill in time with the sun, mane intact and completely restored to life. I like the way the atmosphere of the scene changes from gray and chilly to warm and bright with his appearance.

Joyfully, the girls run around the Stone Table-the staging is somewhat awkward-and hug Aslan. “But we saw the knife…the Witch…” Susan protests. “If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice,” explains Aslan, “she might have interpreted the Deep Magic differently, that when a willing victim who has committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Stone Table would crack and even death itself would turn backwards.” As he says this, the camera pans across the symbols carved on the rim of the Stone Table. In the book, these represent the Deep Magic. This pan is the only indication of that in the movie. Aslan’s explanation, by the way, is a bit different from the one in the book.

“…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know: Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.”

Personally, that idea has more poetic appeal to me than the White Witch misinterpreting the Deep Magic. Director Andrew Adamson feared that the book’s explanation made it sound as if Aslan had conned the Witch, using knowledge she couldn’t possibly have had, and wanted to make it clear that her weakness was due to her moral inferiority, not her lack of power or mechanical knowledge. I don’t see why the adaptation couldn’t have had it both ways. Just have Aslan say, “If the Witch knew the true meaning of sacrifice, she would also have known of a magic even deeper than the Deep Magic,” or something like that but hopefully more eloquent. Oh well.

“We sent the news that you were dead,” says Susan, “Peter and Edmund will have gone to war.” Lucy whips out her dagger. “We have to help them,” she says. “We will, dear one,” says Aslan, laying a huge paw on her little hand, “but not alone. Climb on my back. We have far to go and little time to get there and you may want to cover your ears.” Weirdly, the roar he gives is actually one of the quieter ones in the movie.

I’ve got to say after Aslan’s death scene and the scene of the girls mourning him, which I loved, this resurrection scene feels disappointingly undercooked and anticlimactic. If I were a newcomer to the story, I wonder if I’d be annoyed that the movie spent so much time on this character’s sacrifice only to undo it in one little scene. This part of the book was much more emotional. What went wrong? I really don’t want it to blame it on Anna Popplewell and Georgie Henley whose performances throughout the movie are excellent. Maybe the fault lies in the pacing. In the book, Lucy and Susan are initially as freaked out by Aslan’s reappearance as they are ecstatic and need to be reassured that’s he not a ghost or a dream before they rush to embrace him. Keeping that might have made the movie’s version a bigger and more emotional moment. The way the dialogue in the film quickly turns to Peter and Edmund may also be a problem. In the book, after telling them about the Deeper Magic, Aslan romps around with the girls and even tosses them in the air with his paws before they ride on his back. (“Whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.”) Including that might have helped but I can’t blame the filmmakers for feeling it would be selfish of Aslan to take time to do that when he could be helping the Narnians. And that’s not even getting into the technical difficulties of such a scene!

The long and short of the matter and the impression I can’t escape is that the filmmakers just weren’t very interested in this scene, seeing it as a hurdle through which they had to jump to get back to the battle. I wonder if in their heart of hearts, the screenwriters would have preferred for Aslan to remain dead and for Peter or Edmund to be the one to defeat the White Witch. (They would have Edmund metaphorically, if not literally, defeat her in each of the two sequels so I feel like that theory holds some water.)

Meanwhile-actually, sometime later, the battle is raging. Peter and the Witch make eye contact across the field. There’s a great subtle joke here as Edmund, from his vantage point, yells, “Fire!” and one of his archers shoot a flaming arrow which transforms into a phoenix. There actually are phoenixes in the Narnia books so props to the movie for that.[6]Actually, there’s only one phoenix in The Last Battle and it’s not in the land of Narnia itself, technically speaking, but details, details! This phoenix creates a wall of flame between Peter’s troops and the Witch’s, but she magically extinguishes it with her wand. Peter orders his army to draw the enemy back into the rocks for an ambush from the archers.

Since phoenixes are associated with death and rebirth, it’s thematically fitting to have one at this point.

Now we’re with Lucy and Susan riding across the countryside toward the Witch’s melting castle on Aslan’s back. This ride is one of the big emotional highpoints of the book so it’s sad to report that we get less than a minute of it here.

Back at the battle, Peter is thrown off his unicorn when Ginarrbrik shoots it. Seeing his king down and the White Witch headed his way, Oreius charges her at her. He has to fight his way through her general, who dies with two weapons sticking out his back, to get to her but it’s to no avail. She ducks as he tries to slice off her head and, to Peter’s sorrow, turns him to stone with her wand. I’m sorry if I’m not describing this scene very well. It’s hard for me to enjoy it for two reasons. The first is that I find chase scenes more exciting than battle scenes. The second is that I resent this battle for taking time away from parts of the book’s climax that I love and wished to see fully depicted on the big screen. To be fair though, this isn’t a terrible scene or anything and I understand that battles are an expense in film with all the extras they require, so if filmmakers are going to include one, they’re also going to want to have their money’s worth. Taking that into consideration, I’ll actually write some things (sort of) in defense of this scene.

A common criticism of Walden Media’s Narnia movies is that they rip off of the Lord of the Rings movies which loomed large in the public consciousness at the time. People tend to either criticize this version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe either for trying to be too much like The Lord of the Rings or not enough like it and often both. I assume the criticism mostly comes from this scene since I can’t think of much else that the two stories have in common except for really generic elements like both being about heroes who go on a long journey by foot. I can’t say the accusations of this movie copying what was popular at the time are unfair, but I also can’t get too angry about it because…well, I can’t remember the specifics of any battle scenes from The Lord of the Rings well enough to notice which parts this movie is imitating. The only aspects that I know for certain were copied from those films were being filmed in New Zealand the use of WETA Digital. I can’t complain about either of those things since I think the movie’s locations are great[7]Though I think I prefer the ones from the Czech Republic. and so are the weapons, armor, etc. created by WETA. Should I wish for the movie to be less good? Also, while the Narnia books don’t have that much in common with the literary Lord of the Rings beyond some surface level aspects, there’s a significant overlap between the fanbases, so for a movie based on one to be influenced by movies based on the other isn’t the craziest idea. I mean, it makes more sense than for an adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to try to be like Game of Thrones.

And I do like the way the movie cuts from Oerius being turned to stone to a stone centaur in the Witch’s courtyard. The theme for Tumnus’s lullaby is heard on the soundtrack as Lucy finds him reduced to a statue. Water drips from the walls to his body and off again like tears. (Actually, it looks more like sweat but I’m sure the movie meant us to think of tears.) As Lucy sobs and Susan comforts her, Aslan breathes on Tumnus, actually making his stone curls rustle. Slowly, color starts to spread over the faun as he comes back to life. Lucy happily introduces him to Susan. They look around to see all the statues in the courtyard reverting to normal at once. “Come, we must search the castle,” says Aslan, “Peter will need everyone we can find.”

If I was irritated by the ride on Aslan’s back getting short shrift, I’m furious at how quickly this passes. The scene of Aslan breaking the spell on the statues has some of my favorite descriptive writing in the book and strikes me as perfectly cinematic in its use of color.

I expect you’ve seen someone put a lighted match to a bit of newspaper which is propped up in a grate against an unlit fire. And for a second nothing seems to have happened; and then you notice a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edge of the newspaper. It was like that now. For a second after Aslan had breathed upon him the stone lion looked just the same. Then a tiny streak of gold began to run along his white marble back then it spread — then the colour seemed to lick all over him as the flame licks all over a bit of paper — then, while his hindquarters were still obviously stone, the lion shook his mane and all the heavy, stone folds rippled into living hair. Then he opened a great red mouth, warm and living, and gave a prodigious yawn... Everywhere the statues were coming to life. The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colours; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.

To be fair, I feel like the movie already ruined the color contrast by having the walls of the Witch’s house be made of ice instead of gray stone. Oh well. If the movie only had to focus on one statue being turned back into flesh and blood, it made sense for that statue to be Tumnus, a character about whom we care.[8]In the earlier draft of the script, this scene and the ride on Aslan’s back were longer and closer to the book. I wish they’d stayed that way but on the other hand, Lucy’s first … Continue reading I do like the way the movie cuts from this scene to the Witch having turned a satyr to stone, making it clear that said satyr and her other victims will be saved when Aslan arrives without the movie having to show that happening. It also shows her turning a gryphon into stone in midair. Conveniently for her, when it falls to the ground and smashes, it crushes some of Aslan’s soldiers, not any of hers. The statue smashing means that there’s at least one victim Aslan won’t be healing. In the book, between his breath and Lucy’s cordial, it’s implied that the good army suffered no casualties at all, making the movie slightly darker in one way.[9]Of course, given how long the battle had been going before Lucy arrived, some soldiers probably died before she could heal them.

Seeing which way the wind is blowing, Peter calls to Edmund, telling him to escape, find the girls and bring them home. Mr. Beaver starts to lead Edmund away, but Ed stops, seeing the White Witch heading towards Peter with her wand while he’s busy fighting a minotaur. “Peter said to get out of here,” Mr. Beaver reminds him. “Peter’s not king yet!” says Edmund, running toward the Witch. According to the book, he had to fight his way through three ogres to get to her, making this bit a rare case of the literary version being more action packed than this movie’s. (That’s not a complaint. I think the three ogres would have unnecessarily slowed down the pace.)[10]The extended edition is a bit closer to the book by having Edmund fight his way past Ginarrbrik. It doesn’t work very well in my opinion. Edmund leaps in front of the Witch. When she tries to stab him with her wand, he steps aside and shatters it with his sword.

Now the ordinarily aloof Witch is as visibly furious as we ever see her. She stabs Edmund with her sword, and he falls to the ground. She tosses the useless end of her wand away. Peter has witnessed everything and he’s not happy. After finishing off the minotaur, he runs at the Witch. The two of them fight and the Witch is clearly the one in control. She also clearly enjoys toying with Peter though and draws out the fight. The sound of a lion roaring interrupts the battle. Peter and the Witch look up to see Aslan standing in the rocky area above them, alive and well. “Impossible,” breathes the Witch. That line and even the shot of her saying it recalls Susan’s reaction to seeing Narnia for the first time, a nice bit of parallelism.

Formerly stone reinforcements pour into the valley. Rumblebuffin, the giant from the book, gets a cameo.

Amusingly, we even see the timid Mr. Tumnus in berserker mode, take down some of the enemy. (That’s not a criticism; it’s supposed to be amusing.) The Witch resumes fighting Peter but now she clearly wants to kill him as fast as possible before Aslan gets to her. To his credit, Peter makes her have to work for it a bit. Eventually however, she pins his arm to the ground and knocks aside his shield. But before she can finish the deed, Aslan comes bounding across the field and pounces on her. Aslan takes a moment to stare her in the face, almost pityingly, before it’s implied that he bites off her head. (Hey, he’s not like a tame lion.) Then he turns to Peter, who has gotten up from the ground, and gravely says, “It is finished.”[11]Those are actually the last words of Christ before His death but, according to the director, this was unintentional. The phrase is generic enough that I believe him, and I don’t think it makes … Continue reading This is weird because there’s nowhere else in the film that we’re supposed to feel sorry for the Witch. As Mrs. Beaver says in the book, “she’s bad all through.”

She almost looks happy to die in this shot. Again, weird.

Susan and Lucy come running to Peter. C. S. Lewis described him as looking older after the battle and I think William Moseley captures that well.

“Where’s Edmund?” asks Susan. He’s lying on the ground, near death. Ginarrbrik limps towards him with his battleax raised but Susan kills him with an arrow. (Bleeding to death from an arrow wound is actually a rather slow and agonizing way to die, so don’t picture what is happening to Ginarrbrik offscreen throughout the following scene. Not if you’re tenderhearted anyway.) Edmund’s siblings gather around him, and Lucy takes out her cordial. She pours a drop of it in his mouth. After a long, scary moment, Edmund’s breathing returns to normal and he comes back to life. The others embrace him. “When are you going to learn to do as you’re told?” Peter asks affectionately. That’s…actually a good point. Since one of Edmund’s main vices has been pride and refusing to submit to authority outside himself, having his big redemptive act be one of disobedience doesn’t make much thematic sense. Modern writers seem to feel that heroism has to involve defying authority in some way. This makes it somewhat hard for them to write good Narnia adaptations.[12]While the good guys in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are fighting against their acting monarch, the book stresses that Aslan and the Pevensies are the land’s rightful rulers, and her … Continue reading

Edmund looks over the others’ shoulders to see Aslan. I feel like he should be more amazed to see him alive, especially since he should also have been wracked with guilt over his death. Anyway, Aslan breathes on a stone satyr and nods at Lucy. She runs over to a wounded body with her cordial. Again, the movie does a great job letting us know what they’re going to do without a long montage. And I believe after one more post, I’ll have covered this whole movie!

Next Week: The Prophecy is Fulfilled

References

References
1 The movie has Mr. Beaver wear armor in this scene by the way. In another Narnia book, a badger character refuses to wear any on the grounds that “he was a beast, he was, and if his claws and teeth could not keep his skin whole, it wasn’t worth keeping.” But, hey, beavers are less fearsome beasts that badgers.
2 You could argue Oreius replaced them in the movie.
3 When I first saw an out-of-context promotional image for that polar bear-drawn chariot, I thought it was replacing her reindeer-drawn sleigh from the book. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
4 Ed nods but I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a signal since I don’t think Peter could see it from his location.
5 Well, obviously, it’s perceptible since I perceived it. But it’s not obvious and “subtly gulps” sounds weird.
6 Actually, there’s only one phoenix in The Last Battle and it’s not in the land of Narnia itself, technically speaking, but details, details!
7 Though I think I prefer the ones from the Czech Republic.
8 In the earlier draft of the script, this scene and the ride on Aslan’s back were longer and closer to the book. I wish they’d stayed that way but on the other hand, Lucy’s first visit to Narnia, the one when she met Tumnus, was far too rushed in that draft and I’m glad it was revised.
9 Of course, given how long the battle had been going before Lucy arrived, some soldiers probably died before she could heal them.
10 The extended edition is a bit closer to the book by having Edmund fight his way past Ginarrbrik. It doesn’t work very well in my opinion.
11 Those are actually the last words of Christ before His death but, according to the director, this was unintentional. The phrase is generic enough that I believe him, and I don’t think it makes the movie particularly Christian, especially as Aslan says it long after his death, but it’s an amusing coincidence, isn’t it?
12 While the good guys in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are fighting against their acting monarch, the book stresses that Aslan and the Pevensies are the land’s rightful rulers, and her authority is bogus.
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