Walt Disney Home Video presents
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Extended Edition) (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
Stars: Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley
Other Stars: Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson
Director: Andrew Adamson
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for battle sequences, frightening moments
Run Time: 02h:29m:54s
Release Date: 2006-12-12
DVD ReviewThe 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.
Disney is following the Lord of the Rings formula in more ways than one; a year after the film's theatrical debut comes this new "extended edition," adding in extra footage and special effects. Far from substantial, the new material, which adds up to around 7 minutes, includes mostly slight extensions of existing scenes, many of them simply sweeping shots of mountains and landscape. There's hardly anything truly new, so if you were thinking of upgrading for that reason alone, don't bother.
Otherwise, this is the same winning film you saw before. It's based on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the most accessible and enduring of the Narnia 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 fawn 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 kids 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, ad 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 animated Bill Melendez version). 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+
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The same praise lavished upon the previous release still applies: in a word, stunning. This widescreen transfer ranks with the best looking live-action releases I've see. 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
|DS 2.0||French, Spanish||yes|
Audio Transfer Review: The audio stands out just as much as the video; this "enhanced home theater" track offers an excellent, active mix. 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. A DTS mix is also included, if that's your preference, but it sounds the same to my ears.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Andrew Adamson, actors Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Anna Popplewell, and William Moseley; Adamson, producer Mark Johnson, and production designer Roger Ford
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Extras Review: This new, four-disc Narnia carries over all the extras from the original special edition, so completists don't have to worry about keeping them both. In order to keep it simple, I refer you to my previous review for the details on discs 1 and 2, so I can cover in-depth the new material on discs 3 and 4.
Disc 3 includes exactly one supplement, the feature-length documentary C.S. Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia (01h:15m:39s). In an interesting, narrative fashion, it tells the story of C.S. Lewis' life, from his youth to his service in World War I to his struggles with his faith and his eventual success as a writer. It provides some insight into the Narnia series, and places a special emphasis on the stories' religious overtones, but it's also an intriguing portrait of a fascinating individual (a lot of the material on his later life will seem familiar to anyone who has seen Richard Attenborough's excellent Shadowlands). Far from a puff piece to promote the film (which isn't even mentioned), it's a worthy biography in its own right. The doc is presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Disc 4 delves back into the movie, via an interesting feature I've not seen before. Billed as Visualizing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it's a sort of video commentary that runs the entire length of the feature. It divides your screen up into three sections, one showing the film, one an interview with an actor or crew member, and one some raw production footage of filming in progress. The split-screen effect is also put to good use comparing storyboards and effects shots with final scenes.
Content-wise, it touches on material already covered on Disc 2, but it does so in such a unique and interesting manner that it's actually more entertaining than all those short featurettes.
Anatomy of a Scene: Behind the Battle (07m:45s) is a more straightforward behind-the-scenes look at the climactic final battle, from conception to filming to digital completion. Pretty typical stuff, but interesting nonetheless.
Art of Narnia is an extensive still gallery with different section for Concept Art, Landscapes, and Maquettes. Personally, I looked at enough stills on the last Narnia DVD, and they still fail to excite.
The packaging ditches the keepcase for a rather bland cardboard foldout. The set is supposed to come with a glossy booklet, but a lot of them are missing for some reason, including mine.
So is this worth an upgrade? Maybe, if you bought the single-disc edition the first time around. The documentary on C.S. Lewis is pretty good, but you might not watch it again, and despite the innovative presentation, the film-specific extras on Disc 4 don't cover much new ground. And even with all those discs, the set is still missing the trailer.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsThe extended edition of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a bit of a disappointment. The new footage is hardly substantial, and the additional bonus features, while entertaining, don't cover much ground not already well trodden by the redoubtable two-disc set. If you've got to have everything Narnia, though, it's the way to go.
Joel Cunningham 2007-01-11