|Chronicles of Narnia, The: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2-Disc Collector's Edition)|
|Written by Darren Gross|
|Tuesday, 04 April 2006|
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe tells the simple story of the four Pevensie children (Susan, Lucy, Peter and Edmund) who are sent away to the country to escape the WWII London Blitzkrieg. Whilst exploring the house of the professor they’re staying with, they discover a large wardrobe that leads to a magical world called Narnia, which is home to all manner of fantastic creatures, from fauns and centaurs to minotaurs, dwarves and talking animals. Unfortunately, Narnia is currently under the cursed oppression of the White Witch who has kept the land in perpetual winter. The arrival of the Penvensie children has been prophesied to bring an end to the witch’s reign which puts them all in extreme danger from her and her evil minions, but finds them strong allies in the talking forest creatures, and most importantly, the all-powerful talking lion, Aslan.
Disney’s obvious attempt to create another mega-hit Lord of the Rings style franchise, this faithful adaptation of Lewis’s book is a glossy and handsome-looking film and has been given a large, occasionally breathtaking scope, some delightful magical moments and fine visual effects. Unfortunately, its vision is significantly compromised by a sluggish last half and extremely uneven and often unengaging performances from the young actors playing some of the Pevensie children. Georgie Henley is absolutely perfect as Lucy, hitting all the emotional beats, and (most importantly) conveying to the audience a genuine sense of wonder and delight. The other child actors frequently look blank, awkward and uncomfortable and their attempts to convey sibling banter and rivalry frequently annoy rather than endear. They’re also way too comfortable in the world of Narnia, especially since they are supposed to be skeptical and fairly unimaginative. So much is made of them refusing to believe Lucy’s claim that Narnia exists that their bland reactions (they take it in stride) to the multitude of fantastical, mythical creatures and the constant new sights and sounds makes no sense.
Thankfully, the majority of the supporting performances are of such an extremely high caliber that one is often drawn into the film, charmed and delighted by computer animated characters like Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (brilliantly voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French) or Aslan (voiced elegantly by Liam Neeson) but the film kind of droops the instant it cuts away to any of the (non-Lucy) kids’ disappointing reactions. Jim Broadbent is captivating in his four brief scenes as the professor and the film draws your attention whenever he appears on-screen.
Tilda Swinton as the White Witch is effectively menacing and powerful, (she’ll scare the little tykes) but becomes a bit camp in the final battle. Despite that, the Witch is still palpably evil but all the sadism, murder and mayhem she unleashes calls for a much nastier comeuppance than the one she receives.
All in all, it makes for an entertaining, occasionally enchanting but not great adaptation, but young kids will surely rate this a couple of notches higher.
The print source and image quality are pristine as one would expect with such a huge release from a major studio. Colors are rich and vibrant, and perfectly match the theatrical screening I attended last year. Close-ups are particularly sharp, with wider shots seeming a slight bit softer. The layer break is well hidden and non-disruptive. The DTS and Dolby Digital tracks terrific and are virtually identical, though the bass on the DTS one sounds microscopically louder. The sound is rich and enveloping, the dialogue clean and intelligible. The LFE and discrete surrounds are extremely effective in the opening London bombing sequence and in the melting ice scene. Quieter scenes are also well-served and the wide dynamic range of the music score is perfectly presented. Both tracks are mixed a bit loud: when dialogue is at a sufficiently audible level, it causes some of the louder scenes to be a bit overbearing at times, and I found myself adjusting the volume a few times during the film.
Disney has also released the film in a single-disc edition which includes the bloopers, commentaries and Narnia pop-up facts, but none of the other material. That will probably work just fine for casual fans, but the additional extras on the second disc are fairly extensive and worth watching. The featurettes tend to blend together but combined offer a solid chunk of information on the making of the film. The brief featurettes in “Cinematic Storytellers” and “Creating Creatures” are particularly insightful and interesting and “Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River” dissects the many different techniques used to piece the scene together. The majority of the behind the scenes bonus features are free of conflicting opinion, salient tales or controversy, but they’re interesting and several notches above standard EPK promotional material. The featurette on C.S. Lewis is a disappointment; it is shorter than your average theatrical trailer and covers his entire life in such a brisk, hurried fashion, that none of it is made memorable or makes any impact at all. It’s the one gaping hole in the box set, and presumably something more substantial will be included on a future release. The bloopers are only mildly amusing, but a painful/funny outtake of the minotaur running into battle and falling flat on his face is pretty hysterical. Unfortunately no deleted scenes or trailers are included. Apparently, the deleted scenes are being saved for an extended edition (mentioned on the commentary track) that will be released several months down the line.
The first commentary track with director Adamson, producer Mark Johnson and production designer Roger Ford is a solid companion to the featurettes. It allows the three to discuss the film and its various challenges at length and they point out dozens of interesting tidbits, and elaborate on how they approached certain challenges in the adaptation. The second commentary track features Adamson and the four lead child actors. Adamson repeats some of the stories from the other audio track, but it’s a fairly entertaining listen and everyone is playful and clearly enjoying each other’s company.
The packaging erroneously lists the running time as 135mins. It actually runs 143 mins.