the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Home Vision Entertainment presents

The Chronicles of Narnia (1988-90)

"In the country, nothing ever happens!"- Edmund Pevensie (Jonathan R. Scott)

Stars: Richard Dempsey, Sophie Cook, Jonathan R. Scott, Sophie Wilcox, David Thwaites, Warwick Davis, Jean-Marc Perret, Camilla Power
Other Stars: Jeffrey S. Perry, Barbara Kellerman, Michael Aldridge, William Todd Jones, and others
Director: Alex Kirby

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (bloodless battles; some potentially frightening moments for very young viewers)
Run Time: 08h:01m:15s
Release Date: 2002-08-27
Genre: fantasy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-AA+ C-


DVD Review

During the second world war, the children of London were evacuated to the country to avoid the persistent air raids. Four of these youngsters wound up at the Kilns, the Oxford home of C.S. Lewis. Inspired to entertain them with inventive stories, he made a few notes based on their situation, and some of his own favorite childhood stories. Later, in 1950, Lewis published The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the first of his 7 tales that would become The Chronicles of Narnia.

Created for television 25 years after Lewis' death, the success of this nine-hour production immediately demands suspension of our disbelief: all special effects are created without the digital wonders we expect today—admittedly, they're a bit light for 1988 as well. Composite effects are boldly apparent; the talking animals are plainly actors in fuzzy costumes, and Aslan is barely animatronic, but all are splendid, nonetheless. Any creatures that could not be portrayed in either of these ways are rendered as hand drawn animations, much in the style of Pauline Baynes, Lewis' original illustrator. While all of these effects are obvious to our more sophisticated senses, they easily bring this dangerous and wonderful world to life for any willing viewer. The screenplay is astonishingly faithful to the spirit of the books; the sets are lavish if small, and great detail is given to costumes and props.

The acting, direction and battle choreography are also remarkable for such a limited production. The children are especially believable, whether they are annoyingly loutish or bravely defending Aslan on the battlefield. There is an abundance of role models here, from the bravery and will of the young girls, which equals that of their brothers to the mighty Reepicheep, Prince Caspian's most noble soldier, a mouse.

Lewis, personal friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, was an atheist who became a Christian in 1931. While his stories of Narnia are threaded with biblical symbolism, there are references to many of the ancient myths and religions of Europe as well, both for good and evil. Most of these allegories will, however, be lost on younger audiences who will find themselves charmed, frightened and delighted by this ambitious and magical presentation.

Disc One

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (02h:41m:27s)

"Haven't you been wondering where I was?" - Lucy

In this first installment, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are packed off to the country home of the Professor Kirke for the summer to escape the war. Bored on a rainy day, they explore the old house and Lucy enters a large old wardrobe in the attic. This ordinary cabinet opens into an extraordinary world of fauns, dryads and talking animals, under a spell of eternal winter. When she returns through the doors, it takes much convincing for the others to believe what Lucy claims to have seen. Eventually, they all enter together and their great adventures in Narnia begin.

The White Witch is responsible for the bleak, endless season, and she has lured the obstinate and selfish Edmond with promises of trays laden with Turkish Delight if he will betray his siblings and their Narnian friends. Aslan, the brave and ancient lion king returns to his people and, together with the four children, wrest Narnia back from the clutches of the evil witch. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are honored as kings and queens before returning back through the wardrobe to their world, in which only moments have passed.

Disc Two

Prince Caspian (00h:55m:56s)

"I sometimes wonder, Friend, if you do not think too much of your honor." - Aslan

Some time has passed in the real world, and the four children are magically whisked back to Narnia. Centuries have come and gone in Aslan's kingdom; tales of his existence—as well as the reign of these human children—are all but forgotten in the mist of Narnian memory. One who does believe the old tales is young Prince Caspian, who finds himself exiled after his Uncle has a son of his own. The children meet with him in the company of the forest creatures, and together—under the guidance of Aslan—fight the evil King Miraz for what is rightfully Caspian's inheritance.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (01h:49m:22s)

"Will no one silence that mouse?" Prince Caspian

Several years have passed in our world; Susan and Peter are now too old to return to Narnia. Lucy and Edmund are suddenly drawn back in while visiting their impossible, litigious cousin Eustace in the countryside. Through a painting in Lucy's room, the three children find themselves fished out of the water by none other than Caspian—now a young man, and king—aboard his glorious sailing ship, the Dawn Treader.

In the time that has passed (Narnia time is much quicker than ours), Caspian has set out on a quest to find the seven lords who had once been loyal to his father, banished by the murderous King Miraz. (This septet of nobles appear to be parables for the Deadly Sins.) They set ashore in The Lone Islands, where slave traders separate the children and crew from Caspian. Before they leave, slavery will be abolished and the laws of Narnia restored.

Sailing on into a bit of heavy weather, our heroes are put to the test again and again in the service of Aslan to right all the wrongs that have befallen the loyal subjects of Narnia as, one by one, they track down the missing knights. Eustace—called "Useless" by his shipmates—is scorched of his selfishness in a most unpredictable way.

A great high seas adventure for the children, complete with sea monsters, sorcery and a beautiful princess for Caspian to win.

Disc Three

The Silver Chair (02h:34m:30s)

"Yet while I lived, all lived under me." The Black Night, reciting from ancient verse

Cousin Eustace, now the only Pevensie child allowed to return to Narnia, takes schoolmate Jill Pole along with him through a garden gate into Aslan's fabulous domain. The lion king appears to Jill and gives her four things to remember, signs to be obeyed in order to insure their success—their mission is to find Rilian, lost prince of Narnia, son of their old friend Caspian. The pair meets Puddlegum, a marshwiggle, their guide on this great journey that takes them through a land of giants into the Deep Lands of the underworld.

In this dark and loathsome domain, our "overworlders" encounter the Black Knight, who has spent years enchanted by the evil Green Lady, who tortures him in a silver chair that fills him with a vile rage. It is her plan to battle for power in the world above, with her mysterious masked knight at her side.

Can Jill remember the signs, and is Eustace now competent to risk this perilous adventure? A charming and agreeable end to an epic and beloved fantasy.

This production truly captures the wonderment of childhood, the innocence infused in the original stories. The Chronicles of Narnia will make you wish you were young enough to venture through the wardrobe yourself and inspire children to furrow through their closets for signs of magic and adventure.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image is faithful to the original production, shot predominantly, if not completely, on video, with no sign of age whatsoever. Any apparent flaw in lighting and contrast is as originally appeared, conceived to give Narnia its enchanted glow, or to allow the spooky elements to disappear into shadows. There's not a spec of dirt nor were any digital anomalies visible in this OAR 1.33:1 transfer. Sumptuous.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The audio is almost too precise, as every step, crackle and breeze is heard with sharp clarity. Although monaural, the sound is surprisingly encompassing across the front soundstage and holds up at high levels. The score, both subtle and triumphant, perfectly balances with and supports the dialogue. This is easily the best mono track I have heard in a long time.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 79 cues and remote access
Packaging: Nexpak
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Excerpt from the BBC program, Bookworm
  2. Photo Galleries
  3. Trivia Quizzes
  4. Booklet and illustrated cards
  5. Recipe
Extras Review: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Silver Chair sport 26 chapters; Prince Caspian has 9 and Dawn Treader, 18. Each disc includes its own gallery of photos and individual trivia quizzes (conceived for younger audiences), based on the stories. When all are answered correctly, the viewer is rewarded with a keyword that can be entered on Home Vision's website in order to download souvenirs of the program.

Additionally, the first disc has an episode of the BBC program Bookworm, featuring a visit to the Kilns, Oxford, and the C.S. Lewis Society. Lewis' stepson, Douglas Gresham, tells a few anecdotal stories about the writer.

The tri-pack case features a booklet with brief background information on C.S. Lewis and four perforated cards bearing illustrations of the titles (which can be used as cover art should you want to break the set out) printed on textured stock.

Lastly, a creative inclusion is a card extolling a brief history of Turkish sweets and a recipe for the devilishly yummy Turkish Delight. Whip up a batch and you'll feel more sympathetic toward Edmund when he first encounters the White Witch!

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

"I've been on motorboats and ferries that were bigger than this!" And indeed, we've seen modern productions with bigger budgets, Eustace. However, if you can still be charmed by pre-digital production magic, you will find yourself swept into C.S. Lewis' fantastic world of dwarfs and giants, dragons, marshwiggles and talking beasties.

To turn a phrase: To get to Narnia, all you have to do watch this delightful production, beautifully transferred in reference quality to DVD.

debi lee mandel 2002-08-25