I expected the following two things when I went to see Narnia:
(1) Heavy-handed Christianity would slap me in the face.
(2) Special effects would wow me.
What I got was neither of those. But before I discuss my response to religion and f/x, I’ll respond to other aspects. First, the film, overall, was just...ok. The plot was a bit thin, the world of Narnia underexplored and underexplained. But I found that true of the book, too (which I never finished because I found it boring). It really is a book for kids not adults, and the movie made that plain. That is interesting to me, come to think of it, because I did enjoy all the Harry Potter books (though I do not find them particularly original; still at least they have some character development, largely because they are low fantasy not high--see below).
Now, the acting was good. I liked all the kids, despite their smarmy whitebreadiness. Tilda Swinton was perfect for the White Witch. I’ve loved her since Orlando, which was a far better fantasy spectacle. Her costumes were a bit on the football player plasterboard side, but still she was a delight to watch. Liam Neeson’s voice as Aslan was deliciously warm and rich; you could fall right into it.
The special effects, meanwhile, really disappointed. I know we’ve reached a positive obsession with perfect use of CGI and blue screen and forced perspective and such since Lord of the Rings, but, dammit, the budget on this film was plenty enough for better than the many obvious bits of mediocrity I witnessed.
Still, that’s a petty critique, and certainly my son didn’t notice any of that. Nor did he pick up a wallop of Christian dogmatism, as far as I can tell. Certainly, Aslan is a Christ figure, but there is, in my opinion, plenty of paganism to go around in the film. The whole explanation of Aslan’s resurrection makes quite plain that it isn’t his power (or the Judeo-Christian God's) that did it but the nature of the “deep magic” about which the White Witch, being but an overambitious woman, failed to read the small print. ("Deep Magic" was nicely ambiguous in terms of its spiritial/religious significance. Is it Christian? Is it Pagan? You be the judge. In this, it reminded me of the "Force" of the Star Wars movies--and I'm sure Lucas, like Rowling, found ample source inspiration in both Lewis and Tolkien.)
Sexism was ringing merrily in the film, as might be expected. Adult women are evil and female children can go on adventures but it is boys who shall lead and take care of business. I was particularly disappointed that Susan only got to shoot Ginarrbrik, who was more annoying than menacing, and was labeled queen of Gentleness. Not that women wielding weapons is the pinnacle of existence, but in this film there's not much else to do, apart from galavanting through the countryside on sentient horses. (And I did find the rule about what could be sentient and what could not rather difficult to assertain...reminded me of the Goofy/Pluto connundrum.)
Which brings me to race. The whole concept/genre of High Fantasy, with the forces of Good pitted against and winning out over Evil, seems always to rely upon colonial fantasies of civilized vs. savage that bring race to mind. Now Narnia does reverse the binary by having the White Witch be white/light and not black/dark (it’s usually light/good vs. dark/evil in these type of texts, again see Lucas’s “Force” for a good example), but that’s just a simplistic reversal rather than any real complication of the paradigm.
In the end, I did find the film tolerable as an afternoon’s diversion, but I can’t say it was particularly compelling or that it approached the excellence in filmmaking that is the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Heck, those films deflected my objections to sexism and racism by just being such glorious spectacles. Narnia, by contrast left me with a shrug. I honestly found the most exciting moment to be the preview for Pirates of the Caribbean 2! Yo ho! Ahoy there, Mr. Depp!