Disney // 2005 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // January 1st, 2007
"To the glistening eastern sea, I give you Queen Lucy the Valiant. To the great western woods, King Edmund the Just. To the radiant southern sun, Queen Susan the Gentle. And to the clear northern skies, King Peter the Magnificent."
The second highest grossing film of 2005 was The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and helped show that the world wasn't completely tired of large scale epic films directed by New Zealanders. And after a fairly solid first video release earlier in the year, a four-disc extended edition of the film was released just in time for the holiday season. Sound familiar? Well, like the other releases by Peter Jackson, is this one worthy of double-dipping?
Based on the book by C.S. Lewis and directed by Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2), Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell, Girl With a Pearl Earring), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are siblings who have been sent to live in the English countryside during World War II by their mother as a means to avoid the German bombings. While at the home of their guardian, the fairly rigid Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent, Moulin Rouge) the kids play a game of hide and seek and Lucy discovers a wardrobe with magical powers. The wardrobe serves as a portal to a land from years past, featuring an evil witch (Tilda Swinton, Constantine), a gentle fawn/human hybrid (James McAvoy, Wimbledon) and a talking lion (voiced by Liam Neeson, Rob Roy). This mystical land called Narnia leads the kids on a path of self-discovery and adventure.
It's easy to understand why some may have stayed away from or not paid enough attention to this adaptation of Lewis' book. And I know from personal experience that I enjoyed reading the books growing up, but I'd been so distant from them that the closest exposure I had to it was a several minute parody on the old British comedy The Young Ones from a few years back. But when I did finally see this version, I've gotta say I was impressed by it, and was dually pleased that Adamson saw in it the same things I had. To see the kids place enough faith in the wondrous animals around them and to see that faith returned in the prophecy the animals see in the kids was one of the things I remember taking away from the book. That and where the hell could I find any Turkish Delights.
The performances really sold the film and the story for me too. Quite frankly, Swinton was the most evil character of 2005, and it seemed like no one talked about her when it came to the proverbial best of lists. The kids are supposed to carry the film and do it swimmingly. They hit the right emotional notes where the story calls for them and they're convincing in the large battle scenes at the end of the film (don't complain to me about spoilers, the book's been out for a coon's age).
All in all, the film remains enjoyable after seeing it again (several times in fact, for this review), though if I was going to nitpick on something technically, the video quality seems a little bit off on this. It's partially because there are two commentaries and a subtitled track all crammed together on one. But from a storytelling point of view, it's a thoroughly enjoyable romp, and this film leaves me anticipating how the next one will go.
This new four-disc edition retains those little goodies from the first version of the DVD and includes more. The rundown of everything is as follows:
* Commentary with Adamson and the kids, in which they discuss the production on more of a friendly level, but Adamson sounds like he's included on his own in a separate track that's edited in from time to time. It's not really too bad, but as far as any worthwhile information goes, it's pretty passable.
* Commentary with Adamson, Editor Mark Johnson and Production Designer Roger Ford. This one is much more technically based, with more on what Adamson wanted to do with the story. Ford pitches in via some sort of conference call bridge, and he recalls everything in his field, as well as some of the production logistics involved. Everyone shares their thoughts on what the book was all about (and along the way there was a brief plug for some sort of making of companion book). Ford takes up most of the track with more stories and more details on the set and production design, and everyone recalls what the kids thought of the film. It's better than the original commentary, but the subject matter does tend to get very dry, so listener beware on this one.
* "Discover Narnia" is just your usual pop-up trivia track that runs as a subtitle option throughout the film.
* "The Bloopers of Narnia" (4 minutes) is more the kids making faces at the camera before the word "action" is uttered, so it could have been funnier.
* "Chronicles of a Director" (38 minutes) A look at how Adamson was able to secure the part of helming the big-screen adaptation and how he wowed the producers with his thoughts on concepts, production drawings and other previsualizations. His ideas for casting are discussed, and how he worked with the costume, production design and computer effects departments to get the film done.
* "The Children's Magical Journey" (26 minutes) The stars of the film discuss how they got their parts and how they worked with each other on the set. There is a lot of footage of them goofing around and waiting for the crew to get the scenes set up. There's a lot of film of them going through the process, including wardrobe and weapons, and the effects of puberty on the cast are covered as it related to how to adjust to the production schedule.
Moving onto the Evolution of an Epic section of the disc and the following material:
* "From One Man's Mind" (4 minutes) A quick look at Lewis' life and work get a run through, but considering the extras on a later disc, this is a little pointless.
* "Cinematic Storytellers" (55 minutes) Interviews with Producer Mark Johnson (The Rookie), Composer Harry Gregson-Williams (Kingdom of Heaven), Director of Photography Donald McAlpine (Moulin Rouge!), Editor Sim Evan-Jones (Shrek), Production Designer Roger Ford (Rabbit-Proof Fence), Costume Designer Isis Mussenden (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), Makeup Supervisor (and Oscar winner) Howard Berger and WETA creator Richard Taylor (King Kong) discuss how they were brought to the film, their intents in their particular area, and how they worked with Adamson. Any sort of conflicts and minor production headaches are also recalled in some detail, and their thoughts on the finished product are included. All in all it's a good look at the crew.
* "Creating Creatures" (53 minutes) Those responsible for pulling together the cinematic interpretations of the White Witch, Aslan, Tumnus, and the other mythical creatures in the film are given some screen time. The actors share some thoughts on the creatures and how they look, but this is mostly focused on the test and previsualization footage, and how things looked in various stages of computer animation. There was even some motion capture footage of some of the other stuff as well. The extras who appear as made up animals are given weapons training, and of course the folks at WETA Workshop are given their screen time too, not to mention the world's smallest stuntman.
The Creatures, Lands and Legends section offers up the following:
* "Creatures of the World" (14 minutes) basically like the above supplement, just using more excerpts from the book and drawings.
* "Explore Narnia" (5 minutes) is really more of an interactive map that briefly covers the locations in Lewis' fictional world.
* "Legends in Time" is an interactive timeline that covers both the Narnia universe and the one with below average music and bad dental care (that's England to you commoners).
* "C.S. Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia" (1 hour 15 minutes) is a documentary exploring the life and career of the author. And it's quite extensive at that, with lots of recollections by a dramatic British voice purporting to be Lewis (presumably from a biography or interview of some sort), discussing his life. The piece is frequently intercut with recollections by various people in Lewis' life, historical experts on the author, and contemporary literary equivalents (like Ray Bradbury) and more recognizable fans (like Gandhi's Ben Kingsley) discuss their feelings on Lewis and what made him so great. The talk about Narnia's religious overtones seems surprising when you consider that Lewis was a bit of an atheist for most of his life. And in Narnia, some of the book's elements are discussed, and some of Lewis' other books are covered too. And a Lewis look-a-like is a comic relief tour guide, taking the viewer around to some of the more well known haunts of Lewis. Lewis and his group of contemporaries (like J.R.R. Tolkein) called themselves "The Inklings," and some stories of the group are included too. All in all, it's a very extensive look at the life and career of the beloved author.
* "Visualizing the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Complete Production Experience" is a bit of a de facto "In Movie Experience" done on standard definition. There are a lot of comparison shots of some of the grander scale scenes, with previsualization and the final product, and there's a ton of interview footage with the cast and crew. The technical crew shows some of the challenges that were involved in the film's realization, and the cast discusses the characters they play, and the older cast discusses some of the dynamics their characters use. It's quite the comprehensive look at the production exclusively.
* "Anatomy of a Scene: Behind the Battle" (8 minutes) Much like the second disc, this shows more of the battles on the New Zealand coast, showing the extras getting costumed, the animatics and previsualizations and getting all of the computer generated characters going.
Well in terms of extended editions, there's nothing too "extended" about it. Sure, the runtime of this version of the film is about 15 minutes longer than the first, but most of what's done doesn't add too much to the film itself. Not having the theatrical cut of the film in front of me to do any comparing, it seems like most of what's done just flushed out some more scenes that didn't really need it.
All in all, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe makes for entertaining viewing. It's not extended like Lord of the Rings and the supplemental material tends to be dry from time to time, but it's as comprehensive a look into the film and those who inspired it as possible, and plus you get a nifty little mail-in rebate if you picked this up on the first go around. Feel free to upgrade and enjoy.
Not guilty, court is adjourned, and the wardrobe is closed.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2006 Nominee
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Introduction by Director Andrew Adamson
* Commentary with Director Andrew Adamson and Actors Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell
* Commentary with Director Andrew Adamson, Producer Mark Johnson and Production Designer Roger Ford
* Blooper Reel
* "The Production Experience"
* "C.S. Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia" Full-Length Documentary
* "Chronicles of a Director" Featurette
* "The Children's Magical Journey" Featurette
* "From One Man's Mind" Featurette
* "Cinematic Storytellers" Featurette
* "Creating Creatures" Featurette
* "Creatures of the World" Featurette
* "Explore Narnia" Interactive Map
* "Legends in Time" Interactive Timeline
* "Anatomy of a Scene" Featurettes
* Subtitled Trivia Track
* Stills Galleries
* Official Site
* Original DVD Verdict Review: BBC Version
* Original DVD Verdict Review
* The Land of Narnia
* Into the Wardrobe
* Turkish Delight