Dir: Andrew Adamson. US.2005. 140mins.
Hopes are riding high on the back of Aslan, the talking lion, for The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the first of Disney andWalden Media's mooted adaptation of CS Lewis' seven-book series.
Coming after Peter Jackson'sstorming, imaginative rendition of TheLord Of The Rings trilogy - and opening in the same timeframe as that New Zealand-shottrilogy, which dominated pre-Christmas box-office from 2001 to 2003 - the expectationsare that Narniawill be nothing less than spectacular.
Unfortunately, it isn't. Faithfullyadapted from source material which has always lacked the depth, if not the imagination,of Tolkien, The Lion, The WitchAnd The Wardrobe is a somewhat flat rendition of a cherished childhood tale,despite Tilda Swinton's magneticturn as the film's villain, Jadis the white witch.
Possibly it feels flat becauseexpectations are so undeniably high, more so given the fact that, as fans youngand old are only too aware, the first book in the series has the widest potentialscope.
This won't deter children andhardcore fans, ensuring Narnia should deliver strong opening-weekendreturns when it rolls out in the UK and US on Dec 9. Certainly fans of the serieswill have little to quibble about, although like Edmund - one of the book's youngheroes - and the enchanted Turkish Delight that temptshim, they may find themselves yearning for more.
Much has been made of the series'rather blunt Christian themes; CS Lewis after all converted to Christianity at thebehest of Lord Of TheRings writer JRR Tolkien in 1931 and penned the Narnia books fromthe late 1940s onwards.
With the endorsement of Christianmovements in the US and UK, Narnia is hoping for a PassionOf The Christ-style religious audience. But its performanceis likely to be front-loaded and, ultimately, the excitement may wear out beforeancillary and DVD kick in.
And it is this home market -often the most lucrative form of revenue for children's features - that is likelyto determine whether the film-makers move on to the other books and more difficultwaters (the volumes that follow The Lion,The Witch, And The Wardrobe are not so readily charming).
Overseas, some audiences whoare not so familiar with Lewis' work may be left scratching their heads and wonderingwhat all the fuss is about.
The story itself is simple enough.Opening in London during World War Two, the four Pevensiechildren - Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) - are evacuated from London to the countryside wherethey discover Narnia, an enchanted land, at the back ofa wardrobe.
Here, animals speak and Jadis has frozen the land with a perpetual winter. Narnia's inhabitants wait for the return of the lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), whocan deliver them from evil.
The Lion, The Witch And TheWardrobe delivers little in terms ofedge-of-your-seat suspense and is certainly a let-down coming so soon after HarryPotter's thrill-a-minute ride.
Andrew Adamson (director of Shrek) delivers by-the-bookDisney-style "family entertainment". The opening is strong enough, tracking thefour children through London wartime bombings to the discovery of the wardrobe,and the iconic lamp-post, which marks where the visitors enter Narnia.
Some of Adamson's decisions aredifficult to understand; special effects have been largely confined to the animals,with nothing left over to even lend Jadis' Turkish Delight the magic that might make Edmund's fateful enchantmentmore palpable to younger audiences.
His skills at directing withCG characters come to the fore with the rendering of the magical land's extraordinarily-lifeliketalking animals. Some, such as the beavers (charmingly voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French) or the fox (Rupert Everett) are moresuccessful than others.
But Aslan'stransition to the big screen is not entirely credible, with dialogue crossing awkwardlyand slightly pompously from page to screen.
The four child actors are passable,if not exceptional, apart from the truculent Edmund (SkandarKeynes), who does a fine job in what must have been trying, blue-screen circumstances.
Tilda Swinton's performance as Jadis is more addictive than any Turkish Delight,although Father Christmas (James Cosmo) makes a supremely low-key arrival.
Walt Disney Pictures
Ann Peacock and Andrew Adamson and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely based on the book by CS Lewis
Donald M McAlpine