By: Billy Bunce
Although I can think of countless novels that take place in an Arthurian fantasy realm, very few films with such a setting come to mind. The most recent traditional fantasy film I’ve seen other than Lord of the Rings would have to be (surprise, surprise) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Looking back on both movies, I’d have to say that the most striking similarity between the two films was the almost entirely archetypal structures of their plots.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m perfectly aware that each movie is based on a decades-old instant-classic novel, but the reality is that the narratives present in these films are quite standard fantasy fare by modern standards, and neither really does anything too unique with its plot. In Fellowship of the Ring, we find clearly-defined good (the Fellowship) on a quest to defeat a painfully obvious evil (Sauron), and not much else thrown into the mix. Saruman’s betrayal of Gandalf actually could have felt unique had we met him before his corruption by Sauron, but unfortunately the whole scene comes across as awkwardly as the director loudly yelling, “Look! That wizard’s a good guy! Just kidding; he’s breeding an army of Orcs.” Instead, the plot of the movie contains little to no twists (aside from two character deaths, one of which is relatively minor) and acts merely to prolong the inevitable final battle between the forces of good and evil, where said good forces will unquestionably triumph.
Similarly, the first Narnia movie also makes its intentions nerve-rackingly obvious from the start. However, because The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was written as a children’s book, the clarity is even sharper. The main villain is named “The White Witch”, and the main hero is a morally infallible lion (an animal naturally associated with power and protection). Aside from the Biblically allegorical death of Aslan, not too much really happens in the plot of this film either, other than, again, the inevitability of a final victorious conflict. The allegorical nature of the film makes it somewhat unique, but all of its actual plot events are more or less just copied from the Bible.
This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy these movies. On the contrary, actually, they both drew me in with their enriching worlds and excellent ambience. However, I find that these movies provide only that: a world and an overall “epic” feel. In terms of the narrative proper, not very much occurs that couldn’t be predicted immediately by anyone who has so much has picked up another fantasy novel. In this sense, the movies are both quite similar. They don’t have too complex of a narrative, but then again it doesn’t seem that either movie actually tried to have an intricate plot. From the beginning, it is apparent that both movies try to absorb rather than surprise. They find more value in crafting an incredibly believable fantasy realm than in creating narrative twists. In this manner, I feel that both movies definitely accomplished what they set out to do, even if the plots themselves were a little too dry for my liking.