GO SEE THIS MOVIE! IF YOU ONLY SEE ONE MOVIE THIS YEAR, THIS NEEDS TO BE THE ONE!
*Ahem* Thank you all for excusing me for that outburst.
As some of you may already know, I've been waiting for this movie for nearly a year now. It's had me in a right state, half in frenzied anticipation, half in worried nervousness. I've loved the books for a quarter-century now, and I was concerned - no, downright terrified - that the production team was going to try to "Hollywoodize" the thing.
Well, they didn't. Or at least, not what I mean by the term. They treated the story as sacrosanct, just as Peter Jackson and his crew treated the Lord of the Rings cycle. They stuck to the story as faithfully as I could have asked - more faithfully, indeed, than I expected.
There were variations, predictably. Such were all but required, I'm afraid. But these alterations were very subtly done, smoothly integrated into the story and done, so far as I could discern, strictly to enhance the tale for modern (and especially modern American) audiences. For example, I hold up the first arc - really, the first two scenes - of the movie.
In the book, the story opens with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy arriving at the Professor's house and introduces the cast on this side of the wardrobe: the children, the Professor, Mrs. Macready and the three servants who never otherwise come into the story at all. The circumstances of the children's arrival are briefly refered to but it's assumed that the audience knows the history behind this event - not a safe assumption anymore, given the general short shrift history, especially any non-American history, is given in schools these days. So there is a short scene showing the Pevensie family weathering one of the raids of the Blitz, followed by another showing the evacuation of London's children. It's only during the third scene that the movie actually catches up with the start of the book. But these two additional scenes set up the story for audiences which haven't the historical background to appreciate why these children have been sent away from their family home and their mother. All in all, I cannot fault the scriptwriters or the production crew for this minor addition, and it really helps to set the tone for the rest of the story.
The only other variation I could really spot came much later in the movie, after Aslan's return. I was mildly disappointed to note that Dionysius and the Maeneads were cut from the story, though the movie doesn't particularly suffer from the trimming - really, their part in the story was minor to begin with, and would have been a bit confusing to some. (Not to mention that it could have confused the rating a bit. Having fauns prancing around sans clothing is one thing - after all, nothing particularly offensive is on display, unless you really object to bare male chests. But the Maeneads tend to be more than a bit over-the-top for juvenile consumption by today's standards, and toning them down would effectively be cutting out their main impact anyway.)
There were a few other minor details where the movie didn't quite match up to my memories of the books, but they were so minor that I'm perfectly willing to admit that my memory may well be the item at fault. As an example, I though that the movie made it a bit more obvious that the Professor was indeed Digory from The Magician's Nephew - the character made it fairly plain from his earliest appearance that he did indeed believe Lucy, which was a compelling argument (from my point of view) that he had prior knowledge of Narnia and that he was aware that there was a possible or even probably connection between the wardrobe and the other world. (As I recall, it was never explicitly mentioned, but there were numerous strong hints that the wardrobe had been constructed from the wood of the tree which he and Polly had planted from the apple core... and the rings.) But as I said, this is a minor variation, and makes the story (and the Professor's character) even more compelling, and for this I find no fault with the movie.
All in all, I have to say that I'm most pleased with the way the movie turned out. I'm definitely going to be acquiring this one when it comes out on DVD, and seeing the others when they come out.
Oh, and if you happen to see it in the theater... stick around. There's one final scene after the credits roll, and you'll want to see it.