Disney // 2005 // 135 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // April 17th, 2006
"He's not a tame lion."
-- Mr. Tumnus
Following in the footsteps of that other massive fantasy epic produced from the fiction of a religious, caustic British icon, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe smashed onto screens in time for the holiday season and promptly made off with some serious Turkish Delights, propelling the film to number two on the year's box office tally. Now it has emerged from the wardrobe on a handsome two-disc collector's set.
The story of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (henceforth in this review to be referred to as LW&W) focuses on the four young Pevensie children: Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skander Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley). Each child has a different personality trait that will manifest itself in greater detail as their adventures unfold; Peter is the leader, Susan, the nurturer, Edmund, the pain-in-the-butt skeptic, and Lucy the wide-eyed believer.
It's World War II, and the citizens of London huddle in their homes during the frequent Nazi air raids. The Pevensie children are among the huddlers and, fearing for their safety, their parents send them off to the countryside to live in the house of a reclusive professor. During a round of hide-and-seek in the house, Lucy finds a mysterious wardrobe, which, amazingly, leads to a snow-driven fantasy world called Narnia. There, she meets a faun named Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) and the two become friends. But is Narnia the winter wonderland it appears to be?
When Lucy rushes back to tell her siblings about what she found, she is met with apprehension; Edmund is especially cruel in his dismissal of her claims. Unbeknownst to everyone else, though, Edmund sneaks off to check out the wardrobe himself, and, while in Narnia, meets Jadis, the White Witch (Tilda Swinton, Constantine), an evil sorceress who's cursed the land in eternal winter.
Eventually, all four Pevensie children end up in Narnia and soon learn from a pair of cordial, talking beavers that a grand destiny awaits them: they have been foretold to sit on the thrones of Narnia and bring about the downfall of the White Witch. To do this, the children will require the aid of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the mythical Great Lion and King of the Wood, who has the power to garner the forces of good (Centaurs, jaguars and kids with swords) to battle the armies of evil (Minotaurs and goblins), and, if required, make the ultimate sacrifice to secure Narnia's freedom.
I'm a fan of C.S. Lewis and absolutely devoured his Narnia books when I was younger. Prior to this film's release in December, I read through LW&W again (admittedly not really a task worthy of braggadocio as the book can be finished during an American Idol commercial break) just to refresh myself on the story.
The first thing worthy of note about this adaptation is Walden Media's loyalty to the original story. The studio (no doubt aided by Lewis's stepson, co-producer Douglas Gresham) and Andrew Adamson created a film that is very much connected to its source material. Fans of the book can rest easy: Paris Hilton is nowhere to be found in this film. I was pleased with the dedication to the original text, and the obvious Christian overtones -- none more so evidenced by the sacrifice scene -- are preserved.
I've read a lot of reviews of this movie and noticed a number of LW&W clichés pop up throughout. The first cliché is "It's not as good as The Lord of the Rings." Heck, I'll admit that it's no contest. The twist is I don't think these two films are competing in the same division. Yes, Lewis and Tolkien were friends, and, yes, Tolkien wasn't too sweet on Lewis's Chronicles (another oft-repeated nugget of info) and, yes, both author's works were fantasy, but that's where the comparisons cease. The Lord of the Rings, both book and film, capture this sprawling world, complete with its own languages and complex mythology. Tolkien's epic is a massive tome, and certainly tuned more toward an older audience than Lewis's. The Chronicles of Narnia and especially LW&W is a children's story and the movie adaptation is a children's film. Can adults enjoy the books? Of course. But the books, and the films, have different demographics in mind. If this wasn't true, Peter would be hacking off the limbs of Minotaurs. I'm really sick of this comparison, so I'll stop writing about it now. Bottom line: you can't compare these two films; it's not fair to either (though probably more unfair to LW&W).
Cliché 2: "When young Lucy Pevensie first gets to Narnia and her eyes open wide I shared in her wonder!" (Or some other combination of those words.) Not saying that little Georgie Henley isn't adorable and great -- she is -- or that this assertion is false, but frankly, I'm just sick of this sentiment. I think all the kids do very well, with Henley and Skandar Keynes as the standouts. The most memorable performance belongs to Swinton as the White Witch; that girl just oozes malice.
I would argue, however, that the primary star of this film is the visual imagery, and that our humans, as charming as they are, ultimately serve their surroundings. The New Zealand landscape is just as breathtaking and the visual effects work is top notch. WETA and KNB have offered up another bounty of awesome sights, from the Minotaur to the Centaur to the polar-bear-powered White Witch Sleigh of Doom to Mr. Tumnus's furry legs to Aslan himself. If there was one element of the book-to-big-screen translation that likely had most fans apprehensive, it was the rendition of Big Papa Lion. No worries: Aslan looks fantastic, and though Liam Neeson's voice just reminds us that it's Liam Neeson's voice, the character works. The requisite final battle is beautifully shot, though I admit that the sight of giant CGI combatants rushing at each other in waves has lost a bit of its luster. Still it's shot in broad daylight, the colors are striking, and there are genuinely thrilling moments (and yes, I know that this melee was given like 12 words in Lewis's book, but in my book you can never have too much Minotaur slaughter).
The last thing I want to touch upon is the Christian subtext. Yes it's there, and it's hard to ignore. I think it also represents one of the major reasons the film was such a hit, reaching out to that hard-to-reach demographic of Christian families with young kids. Some folks may be put off by the symbolism, but, you know, that's the book. At any rate there are some great lessons of redemption and sacrifice and forgiveness at play here, regardless of your disposition towards the Divine.
Alright, here's my wrap-up: I really enjoyed this movie, both because it's faithfully based on a book I love and it's very well-done. However, I would bet that young children would enjoy it even more, and my unscientific research ("Hey, what did your kids think of Narnia?") seems to echo that. The visual effects are magnificent, the children are a delight, and I was engaged by the action. I think it is a pleasure to watch, but I will admit the film lacks an intangibility, an elusive bit of magic that keeps it from truly soaring. Maybe I'm all "fantasied-out" or perhaps the source material just isn't there for an epic film adaptation, but I found myself one step shy of embracing this film as one for the ages. As one for all ages...yeah, I can see that.
Onto the extras, and wow is this set loaded. The first disc is devoted to the film, with a blooper reel added on. The picture quality is primo, coming in at a crisp and beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors explode off of the screen, doing justice top the lush visuals Adamson and crew have crafted. For sound, you get two 5.1 mixes -- Dolby Digital and DTS -- and both sound great. Discrete channels are used well and the LFE pounds; highlights include the river melting and battle scenes (obviously). Two commentaries accompany. Adamson and the kids deliver a fun track, where we learn about Georgie Henley's "Potty Mouth Bucket" (where swearing crew members had to drop in $2 if they were caught) and what seemed like affirmation from Adamson that an extended edition was forthcoming (a conclusion supported by the lack of deleted scenes on this set). Adamson sits in again for another commentary, along with his fellow filmmakers, where the thrust is more technical. Finally, a pop-up trivia feature can be turned on, which displays nuggets of info while the movie runs.
Now, Disc Two. The well-produced intro menu gives you two options: Creating Narnia and Creatures, Lands and Legends. Drilling down reveals a boatload of stuff:
* "Chronicles of a Director"
This is a 30-minute plus general overview of the entire filmmaking process, with the focus lying on Andrew Adamson. It's a robust feature, and Adamson -- through interviews and on-set diary footage -- transmits his respect for the book, his vision for the film, and the execution of the daunting process.
* "The Children's Magical Journey"
The kids get the spotlight in this segment, which details how all the Pevensie children came to be embodied by this specific quartet. All four actors are interviewed, and we see from their perspective what an epic filmmaking venture is like.
* "Evolution of an Epic"
The nuts and bolts of bringing the film to the screen, starting with "From One Man's Mind," a short overview of C.S. Lewis's life, "Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River," an in-depth look at one of the film's major actions set-pieces, "Cinematic Storytellers" and "Creating Creatures." These last two open up into eight and eleven chapters respectively.
"Cinematic Storytellers" focuses on the major players behind-the-scenes, allowing each of them to talk explicitly about what they did for the film. The elements spotlighted: WETA Workshop, KNB Creature Shop, costuming, production design, editing, director of photography, music composition, and production. "Creating Creatures" runs through the costuming and effects work that went into crafting 11 creatures of the film, from the White Witch to the Minotaur to Mr. Timnus to, of course, Aslan.
Creatures, Lands and Legends
* "Creatures of the World"
The flipside of the "Creating Creatures" bonus, clicking a wardrobe icon will reveal this animated segment, describing how the various creatures fit into the Narnia mythology.
* "Explore Narnia"
An interactive map highlights points of interest in Narnia that, when clicked, open up into more information.
* "Legends in Time"
Another interactive feature, this allows the viewer to engage in the timeline of the film, jumping from Narnia to the "real world."
Here's my lowdown: as a children's film, the genre I believe this film most belongs to, LW&W is excellent. As a general movie that adults can enjoy too, I'd say it is very good. I'm thinking A+ if judged by the former, and a B+ for the latter. That shakes out to about an A- average, which I think is accurate. It didn't blow me away, but the film was masterfully put together and boasted its share of moving moments.
As for this two-disc set: top-shelf, crammed with almost an overwhelming number of extras, and featuring a superb technical treatment.
Not guilty. Now pass the Turkish Delights.
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Discs: #29
* 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: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Director and Kids Commentary
* Filmmakers Commentary
* Blooper Reel
* Discover Narnia Fun Facts
* "Chronicle of a Director"
* "The Children's Magical Journey"
* "C.S. Lewis From One Man's Mind"
* "Cinematic Storytellers" (Eight Chapters)
* "Creating Creatures" (Eleven Chapters)
* "Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River"
* "Creatures of the World" (Eight Chapters)
* "Explore Narnia" Interactive Map
* "Legends in Time" Interactive Timeline