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Walt Disney Home Video presents
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

Lucy: But I'm telling you, there's another land inside the wardrobe!
Edmund: I believe her.
Lucy: You do?
Edmund: Yeah, totally. Haven't I told you about the football field inside the bathroom cupboard?

- Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: April 02, 2006

Stars: Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley
Other Stars: Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson
Director: Andrew Adamson

MPAA Rating: PG for battle sequences and frightening moments
Run Time: 02h:22m:54s
Release Date: April 04, 2006
UPC: 786936703801
Genre: adventure


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+AA A+

DVD Review

The success of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings turned the seven slim volumes of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series into Hollywood hottest property. It's the best of both worlds, a fantastic adventure with echoes of Tolkien's epic, and, at its center, four young British siblings who wouldn't look out of place at Hogwarts. The movie is based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the most accessible and enduring of the books, and even if it at times plays a little too much like what it is—namely, an attempt to appeal to the aforementioned, pre-existing audiences—it's still great fun; an inventive, imaginative fantasy that might seem a little cheesy at times, but not to the children for whom the books were originally written.

Like Harry Potter, Narnia provides a glimpse of magical adventures taking place just out of view of the word we know. The Pevensie siblings could certainly use a break from reality. As the film begins, eldest Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), troublemaker Edmund (Skander Keynes), and youngest, Lucy (Georgie Henley), have been shipped from London off to the countryside to escape the nightly Nazi air raids. During a game of hide-and-seek in the large mansion, Lucy comes across an ornate wardrobe and slips inside, only to find herself in the snow-covered land of Narnia, talking with Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a faun who carries an umbrella and is amazed to encounter a "daughter of Eve" in his forest.

Lucy has tea with Mr. Tumnus and learns Narnia is covered with snow because of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton, relishing playing the heavy), a cold-hearted ruler. Tumnus is supposed to turn any human visitors over to the witch (something about a prophecy), but can't go through with it. Lucy heads back through the wardrobe, and finds no time has passed since she left, and she has quite a time convincing her siblings that what she saw was real.

Eventually, of course, the children all find their way to Narnia, and get wrapped up in a struggle to free it from the witch's clutches. Battle lines are drawn, with mythical creatures on both sides. The children are aided by a pair of talking beavers, and pursued by wolves working for the witch, and learn that ancient myth predicts that four human children will bring about the end of the witch's rule. They encounter Aslan (an amazingly lifelike CGI creation, voiced by Liam Neeson in Jedi master mode), the great and fearsome lion who opposes the witch, and are told Narnia's fate rests in their hands.

Lewis was a Christian and a man of deep faith, and his story works as Biblical allegory; though that reading is fairly overt, this is by no means a Jesus movie (even if it is pretty clear what role Aslan is playing). Most people won't be thinking along those lines, though, and the movie certainly works both ways. The Pevensie siblings are your typically polite British children, rarely amazed at the wonders they encounter, but they are also individuals, with quirks and personalities that make them easy to care about. The talented cast of newcomers helps, too; Georgie Henley is particularly charming as big-hearted Lucy, who wears all of her emotions on her sleeve.

Directed by Andrew Adamson, who helmed the Shrek films, Narnia feels like Lord of the Rings for kids (the same prop house worked on both productions). The fantasy world is no less richly imagined—the talking animals are joined by centaurs, cyclopes, phoenixes, and goblins—but the story isn't as deep, more concerned with moments of whimsy (like the meal with the squabbling beavers) than epic scope. But then, in the last third, Narnia suddenly becomes a war movie, and the big final battle is bloodless, but brutal enough that I am amazed the movie managed a PG rating. It's a thrilling climax, but a bit at odds with the quaint story that precedes it (interesting to note that, in the book, the conflict is summed up in a few paragraphs).

I had to roll my eyes a bit as tiny children battled huge, mythic monsters (and there's no way a 12-year-old boy won't look silly in a full suit of armor), but I imagine I would have been jumping out of my seat if I was about 10 (heck, I used to really love the Bill Melendez animated feature; the BBC filmed a version for television as well). It's important for adults to remember that, even more so than Potter, Narnia is for children, and with that in mind, I can't say I find much fault with it. It isn't perfect, but it's a faithful adaptation of the book, fairly intelligent and thought-provoking.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: In a word, stunning. This widescreen transfer ranks with the best-looking live-action releases I've seen. The image is crystal clear, with tons of detail, lustrous colors, and deep blacks. There isn't even a hint of the edge enhancement that plagues many Buena Vista releases, and with nearly an entire disc to breathe, the image is also free of digital artifacting.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The audio stands out just as much as the video; this is an excellent, active mix, whether you choose the DTS or enhanced DD 5.1 "home theater" track. The wide front soundstage blends seamlessly with the surround channels to create an enveloping audio experience. In the quieter moments, the rears are used for subtle atmospheric effects, but they roar to life during the battle sequences, and there's enough LFE to give your home theater a good shake.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Documentaries
32 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Andrew Adamson, actors Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Anna Popplewell, and William Moseley; Adamson, producer Mark Johnson, and production designer Roger Ford
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Gag reel
  2. Interactive map and timeline
Extras Review: There are two ways to visit Narnia on DVD: a single-disc version with a couple of commentaries, and this, the deluxe two-disc version, with special packaging and hours of extras. It's kind of annoying that you're now forced to pay more to get the supplements (anywhere from $5 to $10 at retail; inevitably, the two-disc set isn't as heavily discounted), but in this case, the extra money is worth it. The packaging alone is pretty neat—a regular keep case with cover art that mirrors the famous wardrobe and slides out of a nicely decorated, foldout slipcover. Tucked inside are two pieces of concept art and a booklet with a supplemental guide.

Disc 1 is the same for both releases, and includes a cute gag reel and two commentaries. The first, with director Andrew Adamson and the young stars, is infectiously enjoyable. The kids are all sort of in awe of the experience of making the movie, and discuss it with enthusiasm, sharing stories of how particular scenes were accomplished and ribbing each other like real siblings. Georgie Henley is the youngest, and most entertaining—she tells a lot of those bizarre kid stories that don't really seem to lead anywhere, and it's really amusing. The second track, with Adamson, producer Mark Johnson, and production designer Roger Ford, includes more technical information, but tends to be a little dry—basically, it's all stuff you've heard before if you listen to a lot of these things.

There is also the option of watching the film with a Narnia Fun Facts subtitle track, which includes details about C.S. Lewis' life and the world of Narnia. It's nothing too exciting, though it's worth noting that a few of the pop-ups include spoilers for future films/books, for those who haven't already read them.

Disc 2 includes the exclusive material, and there's a lot of it. Two documentaries serve as the main course: Chronicles of a Director and The Children's Journey. The former is excellent, but a bit familiar. In 36 minutes, it runs down the entire process of making the film, from shooting, to the digital effects, to the score. The emphasis is on Adamson's personal vision for the project, and the piece includes tons of on-set footage to go along with the usual talking-head interviews. The 27-minute The Children's Journey is better; it doesn't so much focus on how the movie was made as it does what it was like to be a kid in the movie and spend a year filming in New Zealand. The four principals are seen in rehearsal footage, on-set, and in interviews, and their enthusiasm for the process practically oozes out of the screen. There's a lot of footage of them acting like normal kids while filming, bugging each other and singing made-up songs and laughing at private jokes, to the point where it sort of plays like a reel of home movies.

In the category Evolution of an Epic, you'll find a bunch of shorter featurettes. From One Man's Mind (04m:11s) is a brief biography of C.S. Lewis, with some background on the Narnia books. Cinematic Storytellers houses eight mini-docs on the people behind various aspect of the production, with a "play all" option and a total running time of around 55 minutes. Talking about their work are Richard Taylor, of prop maker Weta Workshop; creature expert Howard Berger; costume designer Isis Mussenden; production designer Roger Ford; cinematographer Donald McAlpine; editor Sim Evan-Jones; composer Harry Gregson-Williams; and producer Mark Johnson. Each segment is made up of interviews and lots of behind the scenes footage.

Creating Creatures similarly collects a handful of shorter segments. Together, they run 53 minutes and cover the development and design of the White Witch, Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, the wolves, the centaurs, the minotaurs, the creatures known as ankle slicers, Ginarrbrik, the beavers, the satyrs, and the goblins. Some of the production art on display is pretty impressive, and each featurette reveals how design choices illuminate character in ways an audience might feel but never really register. The best is on the White Witch; costume designer Isis Mussenden reveals that she's supposed to be wearing the same dress throughout the film, and it sort of changes to fit her current state, with her crown of ice getting smaller and smaller as she loses control of Narnia. Cool.

Rounding out this section is another featurette, Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River (11m:28s), an in-depth look at all the different elements, from conception to filming to post-production, of one of the big action sequences.

Creatures, Lands, and Legends collects the fluffier bonuses that are more geared toward kids. Creatures of the World (14m:13s) provides brief bios of the same 11 characters and creatures featured in the Creating Creatures segment. Explore Narnia is an interactive map that provides some mythic background on different parts of the kingdom featured in the film: the Lantern Waste, the witch's castle, the Stone Table, the battlefield, the castle at Cair Paravel, and the magical land of Credits, which is right next to Return to Main Menu village. Finally, Legends in Time is an interactive timeline that illustrates what was happening in Narnia and in the real world at different points in the story.

That does it. The only thing missing is a marketing section with trailers, posters, stuff like that. Increasingly, DVD producers seem to forget that marketing is part of making a movie too, and that some of us count those materials as some of our favorite extras.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

The Chronicles of Narnia sort of comes across as Lord of the Rings-light at times, but it is primarily for kids, and it's about as fantastic a pint-sized epic as I can imagine. The two-disc DVD is stunning, with near-perfect video and audio and enough supplements to fill a wardrobe.

 


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