THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE – Harry Gregson-Williams
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
A beloved children’s fantasy for generations, C.S. Lewis’s tales The Chronicles of Narnia have been made into radio plays, audio books, and even an acclaimed mini-series made for British TV in 1988, but never before for the big screen. Walt Disney, Walden Media and Shrek director Andrew Adamson have finally managed to right this wrong, with this lavish setting of the first part of the seven-book series, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The story follows the adventures of the Pevensie children – Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) – who, having been evacuated from London at the height of World War II, are sent to the English countryside to live with their eccentric uncle, Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent). While playing hide and seek in the house one day, the children accidentally discover a doorway at the back of an old wardrobe, which transports them to a magical kingdom called Narnia, which is ruled by an evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), and is in a perpetual state of winter. When Edmund is captured by the Witch, the remaining three children set off across the landscape in search of Aslan (Liam Neeson), the good lion king, who agrees to help rescue their brother in exchange for them joining his war against the witch and returning Narnia to peace and democracy…
Much has been made of The Chronicles of Narnia’s allegorical nature and parallels with modern Christian doctrine – so much so that, in order to capitalise on the burgeoning market for such things, an album of music by Christian pop artists such as Jars of Clay, Bethany Dillon and Rebecca St. James has already been released to popular acclaim. In addition, much has been made of the obvious visual parallels between Narnia and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and many film music fans wondered whether Harry Gregson-Williams’ score for The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe would match Howard Shore’s work on the Oscar-winning fantasy epic. The answer to that is, no, they don’t even come close – although, to be fair, Gregson-Willams’ approach is actually very different from the outset.
Gregson-Williams’ score is actually surprisingly modern-sounding at times, making full use of a symphony orchestra, but also lots of synthesisers, electronic instruments, and modern rhythmic devices. The opening track, “The Blitz, 1940” is a perfect example of this – a fast-paced action and suspense cue with a definite Media Ventures sound, and even sampled Luftwaffe engine noises buzzing in the background. This cue segues into an attractive, yet sorrowful string-and-orchestra cue as the children are evacuated from London, and all is well – until the pop beats kick in, Lisbeth Scott starts her mournful wailing, and all of a sudden we’re not in wartime Britain but in a dance club in Ibiza in 1999. Expectations and preconceptions are a bad thing to have when listening to film scores, but this interlude threw me out of the loop and almost completely spoiled the listening experience – so much so that getting back into the right frame of mind for the Narnia sequences was genuinely difficult.
The lovely “Wardrobe” cue introduces the recurring theme for the land of Narnia, which reappears numerous times throughout the album, but many of the subsequent cues are unexpectedly odd – the unusually emotionless electric violin and grating synthesisers which headline “Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus” sound like they belong in another film, while the Armenian duduk clarinet and whirlwind vocals which together perform “A Narnia Lullaby” make it sound like a rejected cue from Gladiator, or Howard Shore’s The Cell.
“The White Witch” includes some ominous choral sequences, “From Western Woods to Beaversdam” brings in some more of the faux-ethereal Enigma-style world music stylings, “Father Christmas” is a beautiful cue with charming seasonal orchestrations, and “To Aslan’s Camp” provides one of the fullest and most heroic statements of the main theme, but it is not until the final three cues on the album that the score really begins to reach its fullest potential. “The Stone Table” begins mysteriously, with an electric violin and voice duet, forbidding Tibetan thoat-singing, and all manner of percussion effects, gradually building in intensity, until the whole thing explodes into “The Battle”, a 7-minute action cue for the full orchestra and choir.
Many of the ideas, motifs and techniques heard in this cue are variations on the action material heard in Kingdom of Heaven earlier in the year, but whereas that score somehow seemed muted and under-played, here Gregson-Williams allows his orchestra to run riot – the Narnia theme and Aslan’s heroic theme (which sounds like something Trevor Jones would write) play off each other with gay abandon, bolstered by heavy percussion, soaring choirs and a frenetic pace, although even here the anachronistic use of synthesisers are there for all to see. Once the superbly triumphant final cue, “Only the Beginning of the Adventure”, has died down do you realize just how majestic this score could have been had this style of writing been employed from the beginning.
Rounding out the album are four songs, performed by Imogen Heap of Frou-Frou, Alanis Morissette, New Zealand rocker Tim Finn and Lisbeth Scott. All four of them are wholly unremarkable – in fact I would go so far as saying “Can’t Take It In” and “Winter Light” are actually quite bad – and it doesn’t help that Alanis Morissette can’t pronounce the word ‘wunderkind’ properly – it comes out as “wander” (as in walk around aimlessly) and “kind” (as in being nice to someone). It’s difficult to imagine a worse way to conclude the album, and the songs knock a half star off the album simply by being there.
As it stands, and disregarding the peculiar choices of instrumentation, the one truly important thing which seems somewhat lacking throughout The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is ‘magic’ – that intangible sense of awe and wonderment which often accompanies fantastical films such as this. It’s a difficult concept to pin down, and an even more difficult one to explain, but just as you know it when you hear it, you are also aware when it’s not there. Other than during “Father Christmas” and the finale, it’s not there in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I don’t really know why. Personally, one can’t help but feel that the score is a disappointment – the battle sequence and the finale are excellent, and the seeds of a wondrous epic are definitely there, poking around under the electronic embellishments, but they never truly seem to come to the fore in the way one would hope. Perhaps the feeling of disappointment is partly my own fault, because I was looking forward to this score so much, and I know what great music Gregson-Williams is capable of writing, but in the end I was simply left wanting more.
- The Blitz, 1940 (2:32)
- Evacuating London (3:38)
- The Wardrobe (2:54)
- Lucy Meets Mr. Tumnus (4:10)
- A Narnia Lullaby (1:12)
- The White Witch (5:30)
- From Western Woods to Beaversdam (3:34)
- Father Christmas (3:20)
- To Aslan’s Camp (3:12)
- Knighting Peter (3:48)
- The Stone Table (8:06)
- The Battle (7:08)
- Only the Beginning of the Adventure (5:32)
- Can’t Take It In (written and performed by Imogen Heap) (4:42)
- Wunderkind (written and performed by Alanis Morissette) (5:19)
- Winter Light (written and performed by Tim Finn) (4:13)
- Where (written by Harry Gregson-Williams and Lisbeth Scott, performed by Lisbeth Scott) (1:54)
Running Time: 60 minutes 55 seconds
Walt Disney Records 61374-7 (2005)
Music composed and conducted by Harry Gregson-Williams. Orchestrations by Bruce Fowler, Ladd McIntosh, Walter Fowler, Suzette Moriarty and Rick Giovinazzo. Featured musical soloists Chris Bleth, Hugh Marsh and Timo Väänänen. Special vocal performances by Lisbeth Scott. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Adam Milo Smalley and Bryan Elliott Lawson. Mastered by Patricia Sullivan-Fourstar. Album produced by Harry Gregson-Williams.