The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (2 Disc Collector's Edition) Review
It's 1940 and having been evacuated from London because of the air-raids, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anne Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), aged between 14 and 8, are staying with the elderly Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent) in his aging mansion. Whilst it rains outside, the children explore the house and Lucy finds a room that is empty but for an old wardrobe, which she climbs into. Passing by some fur coats that are hanging there, she comes upon a wintry forest with a lamp post at a clearing in the centre. As she marvels at this sight, a faun, Mr Tumnus (James McAvoy), appears and takes Lucy back to his cave, where he reveals to her the history of Narnia and how the White Witch changed it from being a beautiful, sunlit land into one that now remains under a permanent bed of snow. Taking Lucy back to the lamp post, she finds her way back through the wardrobe to the empty room to tell Peter, Susan and Edmund of her adventure. But despite the passing of hours in Narnia, she had been gone less than a minute in the real world.
Lucy's brothers and sister, though, do not believe her stories of Narnia and Edmund, in particular, takes pleasure in teasing her. A few days later, though, during a game of hide and seek, Edmund follows Lucy through the wardrobe into Narnia but sees neither his sister nor Mr Tumnus. Instead, he meets the White Witch, Jadis (Tilda Swinton) who promises him Turkish Delight should he convince his brother and sisters to come with him next time. Meeting Lucy by the lamp post, Edmund takes his sister back to the house where he denies having been to Narnia, telling Peter that it was just a joke he was playing on Lucy.
But as the days pass and Lucy returns to Narnia, Edmund, Peter and Susan all travel through the wardrobe where they find their younger sister and that Mr Tumnus has been arrested by the White Witch's secret police for treason. As Lucy convinces them that they should rescue him, they learn more about Narnia and that there is a prophecy concerning the return of Aslan the lion (Liam Neeson) and how two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve defeat the White Witch. Edmund, though, has little but Turkish Delight on his mind but soon, that is but a trifling matter as a battle wages for all of Narnia...
If, to the more dedicated reader, that looks familiar, it ought to as I borrowed it from my review of the Bill Melendez's animated The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1978) when it was released late in 2005, appearing on DVD as this live-action version premiered in the cinemas. A canny piece of scheduling from Optimum, there must have been many a parent who brought it home thinking that it would surprise their children and, although it probably did, it's likely not the kind of surprise they had in mind. Where the little'uns would have been expected to see a CG Aslan in all his glory, they might well have been disappointed at the Children's Television Workshop's animation, whilst the polo neck jumpers sported by the four Pevensie children would be a world, or at least a generation, from the armour worn by the figures that fell out of their Happy Meals.
Unsurprisingly, though, there's not a great deal that's been changed between the old animated version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and this. Prefixed with The Chronicles of Narnia, which suggests that there's a great deal more of Narnia to come, this is a thoroughly faithful telling of CS Lewis' story. There's no updating of the story for modern times nor even for an international audience. Even a game of cricket in the lawn of Professor Kirke's mansion remains intact, which one can only assume was considered being replaced by a game that American children could understand until tradition won out. The Pevensie children travel out of London on a steam train that winds its way through valleys before arriving at their destination - a deserted station that's little more than a raised platform either side of the tracks before being brought to the home of Professor Kirke on the back of a horse drawn cart. That they're guests of Professor Kirke is told to them regularly by his ill-tempered housekeeper and though they're given a free rein of the dark and dusty mansion, they're told to be quiet. So clearly reminiscent of a time long since passed, one where children were neither seen nor heard, it's a wonder Past Times don't package it and sell it to ex-pats flying out of Heathrow but it still works. A little dull perhaps but this early part of the film works well as a contrast against what follows.
So far, though, and so Harry Potter but when Lucy hides in a wardrobe during a game of hide-and-seek and, in doing so, discovers an entrance to Narnia, the film settles into the familiar tale of the Pevensie children realising their destiny as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. Here, though, as in the book, the animated film and the BBC adaptation, the character of Lucy is the one that CS Lewis is more interested in. It is she who discovers Narnia - not to mention its good side in the figure of Mr Tumnus - and the tension between Edmund and Peter first flowers over Edmund not so much believing in his little sister but in actually wanting to upset her. It is Lucy who has the, if you'll pardon the pun, lion's share of the best scenes in the film. Indeed, reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe as a story about innocence and the eventual loss of it, it is only with Lucy's maturity that the Pevensie children must return home. Peter and Susan are, by the time they arrive in Narnia, on the cusp of young adulthood, Edmund looks to have already hit adolescence but it is Lucy who remains innocent. Yet, as she reaches adulthood, their future in Narnia is seen to be short lived. Tainted by adulthood, the Pevensie children must return home but only when Lucy's innocence has passed, not necessarily that of the others.
If that sounds muddled, you could either blame this interpretation of it or that the actual story is a bit of a jumble of the Old and New Testament and is often heavy with Christian symbolism. The sacrifice of Aslan leads to his resurrection whilst the absence of Christmas, and hence no birth of Christ, leads to a land that is constantly in the throes of a bitter winter. And yet, it's never particularly convincing and never less so than in Aslan's talk of Deep Magic and even Deeper Magic, which looks here, as it has always done, of being a deus ex machina, finding a way of bringing Aslan back without ever actually explaining it. Whilst not the fault of the filmmakers, it's still disappointing that more care wasn't taken with this hokey old story to actually try and explain it.
What is the fault of these filmmakers, though, is how unbalanced much of the pacing and the look of the film is. The opening scenes, certainly up to the arrival of Father Christmas, is much better than what follows, as has always been the way with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but the battle, which ought to be the most exciting sequence, doesn't quite come together. It may be that Lord of the Rings, by not being aimed at children, could be more bloody and more visceral but this feels weak in comparison. Much of the CG action is good but, again, there's a rather spotty approach to the creatures with a Minotaur or two, a few tigers and a cyclops in amongst the throng of the Queen's army being no match for thousands of Uruk-Hai. Even having the Queen's chariot being pulled by a pair of polar bears looks all very good but is there any reason they ought to be there other than, thanks to the creature rendering, that they could be. Oddest of all, though, was the sight of one of the Queen's battalions and wondering if it consisted of a lot of very short creatures and a few normal-sized ones or of three giants and a lot of grotesque humans.
Mention of the Queen brings us to the cast and although there's been much written about Tilda Swinton, it's really a part that ought to have been given to Cate Blanchett but who, I assume, was not really considered due to her playing of Galadriel in Lord of the Rings. That's a shame as Swinton looks too brittle in the role, acting through her pursed lips much of the time, and never quite as majestic or as confident as the queen ought to be. James McAvoy, who I could take or leave in Shameless, is a revelation here, though, portraying Tumnus' desire to be a decent sort whilst also hinting at his treachery. But it's the children who are key to the success of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and none more so that Georgie Henley, who's just wonderful as Lucy. As one of the special features shows, Henley was brought onto the Narnia set blindfolded and director Andrew Adamson caught her first sight of it on film but they needn't have bothered going to such lengths. Of the four Pevensie children, she's the one who gets it right all of the time and is as good as Anna Paquin was in The Piano or as Kate Maberley was in The Secret Garden. Otherwise, William Moseley, though a decent enough actor, comes with a look not dissimilar to Prince William, which appears to be as far as character development needed to go whilst Anna Popplewell as Susan does her best but is stuck with the rather dull back end of this particular Pevensie pantomime horse. As Edmund, Skandar Keynes isn't bad but he suffers from having to portray one of the villains for half of the movie, during which he's not called upon to do much more than scowl.
As Buena Vista's answer to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - and let us not forget that that's exactly what The Chronicles of Narnia intends to be - this makes a solid start to the series of seven Narnia books that will surely follow as films, albeit out of chronological order. Whilst never as magical as it ought to be - it's a touch too lead-footed for that - it's still a good family movie and once Andrew Adamson and Disney get into their stride, the series should improve as did the Harry Potter series over at Warners.
You would expect The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to look good and mostly it doesn't disappoint. The CG effects occasionally let the film down, never moreso than in the bombing of London that opens the film, but once the Pevensie children arrive in Narnia, the film is a stunningly pale colour lit up with occasional flashes of colour. The picture is clear with very few faults in the encoding and the print is spotless, leaving the first half of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe looking superb.
But as the snow clears and the camera gets closer to the Pevensie children, there's something not quite right about their skin tones, being a touch too smooth and scrubbed where they ought to look more natural. There's no loss of detail, as the screenshots from the battlefield attest to, more that the human actors, William Moseley and Skandar Keynes, look a touch less natural than the likes of the Minotaur. Granted, this is only noticeable on a big television and it may be that the fault is in how a plasma screen treats the image but it is so very obvious.
Of the two English audio tracks - Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS - the latter is so much the better that it would be a shame to not have the DTS decoder to enjoy it. This track isn't just louder than the Dolby Digital option, more that it's got a much greater dynamic range, it's clearer and has a wonderful response to even the lowest of sounds in the mix. It also makes superb use of the rear channels and in the battlefield, they give the sound stage presence in the room.
Commentaries: There are two included on this set, both of which feature Andrew Adamson. The first is a track that he has recorded with the child stars of the film - William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley - whilst the second is a more technical one, in which he appears alongside producer Mark Johnson and production designer Roger Ford. As you'd expect, the commentary with the kids is a chatty, sometimes bratty one, with a good deal of arguing between Skandar and Georgie of the, "Yes I did!"/"No you didn't...I did!" kind. Andrew Adamson tries his very best to keep order but the silences during his contributions do tend to suggest that the children were less than interested in them, preferring to watch the movie and talk about their own favourite moments. The other track has Adamson and Johnson together with Roger Ford dialling in from Australia and is more interesting from a point of view of actually making the film but they do tend to drag over the details of the film.
Discover Narnia Fun Facts: With the help of Douglas Gresham, the nephew of CS Lewis, bits of trivia about the land of Narnia pop up throughout the film once this has been selected. Available as a subtitle and presented in English only, this isn't terribly interesting but not a bad thing to dip into occasionally, particularly in those scenes that hold your interest.
The Bloopers of Narnia (4m36s): You wouldn't expect anything less from the director of Shrek, would you?
Chronicles of a Director (37m59s): Having expected something like a day in the life of Andrew Adamson, this is actually closer to a making-of from the perspective of the director, beginning with how he was brought onto the project and ending with him discussing the sense of family that he engendered with the actors, specifically the four children, and the crew. Whilst there are other contributors - James McAvoy, Tilda Swinton and Weta's Richard Taylor are all interviewed - this is Adamson's show and he grasps the opportunity to talk about his love of Lewis' book, of his ambitions for The Chronicles of Narnia and of his delight
The Children's Magical Journey (26m23s): Although only a little time has passed between the making of the film and that of this feature, it's clearly been enough to drop Skandar Keynes into the middle of puberty. Where he stood upright in the film, there's now a pronounced slouch, his hair has grown and his words slur into one another in the fashion beloved of drunks and teenagers. Otherwise, this is a fairly standard behind-the-scenes look at how the four child actors took to the making of the film over a production that lasted twelve months. It does, though, begin well, showing the crew blindfolding Georgie Henley before carrying her onto the set of Narnia for the first time to capture her marvelling at how beautiful it looked. What follows may be quite dull at times but that's a great moment.
Evolution of an Epic: Broken into four parts, this collects all other, and in some cases unrelated, features, which provides more of a background to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe than is given elsewhere. Beginning with From One Man's Mind (4m15s), which describes the upbringing of CS Lewis and his writing of The Chronicles of Narnia, it's followed by Cinematic Storytellers (55m06s), which allows contributors to the film the chance to describe what it is they do. Where other discs might only have offered a page or two of text, this allows Weta's Richard Taylor, KNB's Howard Berger, editor Sim Evan-Jones and producer Mark Johnson, amongst four others, a short feature to talk about their work on the feature.
This is followed by Creating Creatures (53m30s), which is a collection of short features on eleven of the various beasts and characters in the film, including the White Witch (7m02s), Aslan (9m40s), the Wolves (3m55s) and the Satyrs (2m36s). Director Andrew Adamson is a key contributor, as are Weta's Richard Taylor and KNB's Howard Berger but a great many members of the crew get their say in these features. Finally, Anatomy of a Scene - The Melting River (11m31s) looks at what went into this one scene from the point of view of the director, the crew and the three young actors balancing on top of a piece of foam on a water tank.
Creatures of the World (14m16s): Less technical than Creating Creatures but concerning the same characters and animals, this uses text and illustrations from the book and from the production art to describe the inhabitants of Narnia. What's best about this feature is its use of other books in the Chronicles of Narnia series to explain the origins of the land, how Aslan came to create it and how the White Witch came to rule over it.
Explore Narnia: Using a clickable map of Narnia, this mixes CG graphics and footage from the film to allow the viewer to explore five locations from the film - The Lantern Waste (1m58s), the White Witch's Castle (1m00s), the Battlefield (55s), Cair Paravel (1m07s) and The Stone Table (57s). The DVD Credits are also in here, hidden away so as not to draw anyone away from the actual features.
Legends In Time: Using two scales, one for the years passing in Narnia, the other for England, this describes the events of the film in terms of how many years passed as they were crowned kings and queens whereas, through the wardrobe, time stood still. Hence, fifteen years and almost eighty-two hours passed in Narnia between Lucy's arrival and her leaving with her brothers and sister whilst a little over an hour passed in England.
As for the actual packaging, it's amongst the very best that I've seen and that even if you have no interest in the film, it's still worth a look next time you're in a Megastore of any particular hue. Using a cardboard slip case that actually stays shut when you want it to, the wardrobe-styled keep case pulls out to reveal Lucy Pevensie standing by the lamppost at the entrance to Narnia. Opposite this is a breakdown of the special features, whilst, with the two discs, there's a nice booklet on navigating the disc as well as two prints of concept art. It's just a superb set, making it difficult to understand why anyone would choose the single disc edition over something as beautiful as this.
But, of course, it should be about the film and not the packaging. Like King Kong, which has been accused of being too long by far, this goes on much longer than the Bill Melendez version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe without really adding very much whilst some of the casting, particularly Tilda Swinton, just doesn't work as it should. Whilst not the classic that the Lord of the Rings films were, for anyone with children, though, this is the sort of family film that will have you sat on the sofa together, keeping them quiet for a touch over two hours. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe looks impressive, it's been handsomely made and it's a good telling of a classic piece of children's literature, almost everything that a responsible parent could ask for coming up to a long Easter break.