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The Chronicles of Narnia on DVD:
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe: 1-Disc & 2-Disc Collector's Edition • 4-Disc Extended Edition & Gift Set / Prince Caspian / Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Movie Info)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
Special Two-Disc Collector's Edition DVD Review

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe movie poster - click for larger view, other designs, and to buy The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Theatrical Release: December 9, 2005 / Running Time: 143 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Andrew Adamson

Cast: Georgie Henley (Lucy Pevensie), Skandar Keynes (Edmund Pevensie), William Moseley (Peter Pevensie), Anna Popplewell (Susan Pevensie), Tilda Swinton (White Witch), James McAvoy (Mr. Tumnus), Jim Broadbent (Professor Kirke), Kiran Shah (Ginarrbrik), James Cosmo (Father Christmas), Judy McIntosh (Mrs. Pevensie), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Mrs. Macready), Patrick Kake (Oreius), Liam Neeson (voice of Aslan), Ray Winstone (voice of Mr. Beaver), Dawn French (voice of Mrs. Beaver), Rupert Everett (voice of Mr. Fox), Cameron Rhodes (voice of Gryphon), Philip Steuer (voice of Philip the Horse), Jim May (voice of Vardan), Sim Evan-Jones (voice of Wolf)

Buy 2-Disc Collector's Edition from Amazon.com • Buy 1-Disc Widescreen Edition from Amazon.com
Buy 4-Disc Extended Edition from Amazon.com • Buy 4-Disc Extended Edition Gift Set from Amazon.com


Page 1: The Movie, Video and Audio
Page 2: Disc 1 & Disc 2 Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

Like Walt Disney, C.S. Lewis was born close to the turn of the 20th century and created some of his most enduring work during the 1950s. While Walt was adding television and the theme park to his list of achievements (already notable for his revolutionary success in animated filmmaking), Lewis was in England writing The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven fantasy books for children. First and foremost of these was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, published in 1950. The line would be met with vast, global success; to date, the Narnia books have been translated
into several dozen languages and have sold nearly 100 million copies. Both Lewis and Disney died in the mid-1960s within weeks of their 65th birthdays. As relevant as it would be to this introductory paragraph to say that they crossed paths and saw eye-to-eye, there is nothing to document such a meeting or shared priorities. But, in the decades since their passings, it is undeniable that their names have remained on the mouths of millions as their imaginative legacies continue to be celebrated.

For a tremendously popular piece of literature, Wardrobe took an unusual 55 years to receive feature film adaptation. The book had been tapped for television on multiple occasions: in 1967 as a ten-episode black-and-white series in the UK, in 1979 as an animated two-hour movie from "Peanuts" specials producer/director Bill Melendez and the Children's Television Workshop, and in 1988 as the first of the BBC's four quasi-epic and mostly literal Narnia productions. Wardrobe had even been dramatized on the radio and on stage in England, in the 1980s and late 1990s, respectively.

Finally, in December of 2001, Walden Media announced that it was partnering with C.S. Lewis's estate to adapt Wardrobe into a live action movie and that the six other Narnia books were also being considered for similar treatment with the hopes of developing a franchise. Walt Disney Pictures got involved with the project early in the spring of 2004, having already collaborated with Walden on adaptations of Holes and Around the World in 80 Days (plus a pair of James Cameron-directed IMAX documentaries), and scheduled a fairly global theatrical release for the Christmas 2005 season.

Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy) makes a point to Lucy (Georgie Henley) in her first moments on Narnia. Jadis (Tilda Swinton), who claims to be Narnia's queen, has her way with Edmund (Skandar Keynes) with some Turkish delight and hot cocoa.

Clearly, the climate was right for Disney, Walden, Lewis's company, and the movie industry to see if the fantastic world of this beloved novel could be faithfully and cinematically realized. New Line Cinema's big budget adaptations of the three fantasy books in "The Lord of the Rings" series (written by Lewis's friend J.R.R. Tolkien shortly after Narnia was published) had just been translated into a shade under $3 billion of worldwide box office gross, 17 Academy Awards, enthusiastic reviews, and a zealous fanbase. J.K. Rowling's contemporarily-published "Harry Potter" novels had found about the same success (sans the Oscars) in their leap to the big screen courtesy of Warner Brothers. Large scale fantasy novel-to-film adaptations had quickly become the most attractive listing in Hollywood's holiday season menu.

It also helped that the independent foreign language drama The Passion of The Christ handily became America's top-grossing R-rated film of all-time. Long perceived as falling outside of the mainstream, churchgoers could again be a considerable demographic, for Wardrobe incorporated elements of the Christian faith that Lewis heartily embraced in his early thirties.

The final sign that the time was right for large scale live action Disney films was the smashing success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The action-packed, $125-million-budgeted, well-over-two-hour swashbuckler was easily the most ambitious non-animated Disney film in a long time, and it paid off. Earning $300 million in North America and even more overseas, Pirates easily earned the title of the studio's highest-grossing live action film ever. After fifteen years of regularly churning out family comedies with modest potential, Walt Disney Pictures was ready to take gambles as they had rarely before.

Peter (William Moseley) attempts to be brave and protect Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Beaver from wolf attack. Aslan, Narnia's king, confers with Peter.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (titled with a hopeful franchise conquering brevity) opens during the German air raids on London during World War II. As per a common practice of the day, the four Pevensie siblings (the human protagonists of the story) are sent to the countryside for their safety. They are from oldest to youngest: Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley). For the indefinite future, the brothers and sisters are to stay in the vast and intriguing quarters of Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent).
Amidst the boredom and unease their relocation has caused the Pevensies, Lucy makes a remarkable discovery. In the back of a wardrobe in an otherwise barren spare room, she happens upon Narnia, a snowy world of magic. The first individual she encounters there is the seemingly friendly Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), whose oddest quality may be his decision to trod around in the snow wearing little more than a scarf, if not for the fact that his lower half is covered with fur and features the legs of a goat. Tumnus is a faun, one of many creatures only to be found in Narnia.

After some tea, cake, sardines, and some hypnotic woodwind music with her new friend, Lucy returns to the professor's home through the wardrobe, excited to share details of her wintry afternoon trip. But, though it seemed like hours, Lucy returns to discover that only seconds have passed. This, coupled with the impractical nature of her story leads her three siblings to chalk it up to her youthful imagination. Not long after, Lucy manages to venture back to Narnia. Edmund follows her in and happens upon a woman claiming to be the land's queen (Tilda Swinton). Because Edmund appears to value his appreciation for Turkish delight over his familial loyalties, the second youngest Pevensie does some damage in his brief interactions but denies even being there, putting the land's existence again in dispute.

A cricket game and shattered window later, however, all four brothers and sisters end up getting to Narnia the same way that Lucy and Edmund previously did, through the enchanted wardrobe. There, they learn that Jadis -- who, despite her royal view of herself, is widely considered a witch and responsible for Narnia's interminable winter -- has troubled Tumnus for failing to bring Lucy, a "daughter of Eve" (Narnia-speak for a human being of the female variety) to her highness. Jadis herself is troubled by the fact that sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have found a way into her dominion. The rest of Narnia's diverse inhabitants -- like the friendly Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (voiced by Ray Winstone and Dawn French, respectively) who offer the Pevensies food and shelter -- hold hope that prophecies involving Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the lion who is Narnia's true king, and four human visitors may be unfolding before their eyes.

The four Pevensie siblings share a meal. Jadis has the power to turn things she doesn't like into stone.

As complicated as that premise may sound to the uninitiated, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is, like most children's book adaptations, fairly straightforward and simple to follow, though not without complexities that may or may not be grasped by younger audience members. Like the Lord of the Rings films and Star Wars films and, let's face it, basically any movie that has ever done mammoth numbers at the box office, Narnia relies heavily on the notions of good and evil, the intriguing battle which in some way factors into everyone's lives and beliefs.

That makes Narnia, despite being replete with fantastic imagery of talking animals and man-beast hybrids, a very palpable and engrossing movie. The film, like the Lewis novel it is based on, is easy for anyone to relate with, especially those who have not shut off their imaginations. The passing of more than half a century has not rendered Lewis's world any less magical and it is extremely well realized in this production. The adventure, handful of well-defined characters, and basic alignment of story elements all contribute to a gripping and highly fascinating fairy tale grounded in reality.

Enabling this adaptation succeed are the performances. Here, as often as that refers to the talented human cast (from which, the four young leads, Swinton, McAvoy, Broadbent, and little Kiran Shah deserve much credit) and capable voiceover performers (Winstone and French make the Beavers two of the film's most British and likable characters, while Neeson achieves restrained royalty if not the commanding tone of James Earl Jones's Mufasa), it refers to the technical wizardry of countless individuals whose work is showcased on Disc 2 of the DVD. Without believable effects and lifelike CG-animated characters, the movie would suffer. Just try watching the BBC's version now and not getting a suspension of disbelief break when those beavers first show up. While I may not have the most rigorous standards for technical effects, the work here seems very stellar and pretty close to flawless.

This filming takes a fair amount of artistic liberties in translating the text to the big screen. Most of these changes are minor and serve to, if anything, strengthen Wardrobe as a piece of cinema. While there are those who will object to any tinkering beyond trimming with an adored literary masterpiece, most of the revisions here are to elaborate on things that are mentioned in passing, such as the backdrop of war and the battle which figures in the climax. Between this and the BBC's literal adaptation, there is no question as to what is more satisfying. (It's this.) And I'm very glad to note that the obligatory battle sequence exhibits some moderation, something I feared might not be the case from trailers and all of the Orc-defeating which preceded this release.

The Pevensies join assorted Narnian beings for a jam session held by Aslan. The White Witch takes great pride in killing her foe.

Two final areas seem inevitable in any comprehensive critique of this film. The first is the religious aspect of Disney/Walden's adaptation. While it was marketed to churchgoers in ways similar to how Newmarket and Fox helped sell Passion of the Christ tickets and DVDs, the Christianity in Narnia is a much less evident one. If you're looking for parallels, then it's fairly hard to
miss the Aslan-Jesus similarities and the scene at The Stone Table's resemblance to the events remembered yearly in the Easter Triduum. If you're not looking for religion, it's more or less absent. Elements of mythology and paganism can also be found in the film, making the land of Narnia a blend of cultures and iconic imagery. Being a Christian may lead one to pick up certain things and indeed enhance their appreciation for the film. At the same time, not being a Christian does not hinder in any way. Whether or not you recognize or care about the faith which inspired Lewis, accept the film as a fantasy first and foremost and you won't be disappointed. Only those expecting something overtly theological may be let down by the subtlety of the symbolism.

The other area is less controversial for most people. It deals with a comparison between Narnia and Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. Even with a different format (Tolkien's three novels were epic, Lewis's seven were more child-friendly), the books had a common origin (penned by two Oxford professors/friends in 1950s England) and a common genre (fantasy). Now, being brought to film in similar methods (with a number of crew members in common) and only a few years apart, it seems inevitable that these two series be linked together and discussed simultaneously. Whether it's a case of the Rings films beating Narnia to the punch, the Rings trilogy serving up quicker satisfaction and a release pattern keeping the films very much in the discourse for three years straight, or another reason altogether, critics and Internet fanboys seem to have taken more to Jackson's films than this premiere Lewis adaptation. Personally, I've got to throw my allegiance to Narnia.

Admittedly, I've thought more highly of Lewis's series (at least this particular chapter) than the Rings trilogy before seeing a second of film. But I feel objective in labeling Wardrobe as a film that is far more accessible and fulfilling than the three installments of the Rings saga. Don't get me wrong, I think the Lord of the Rings movies have their value, but unlike many professional and amateur critics, I think there are a number of things separating Jackson's trilogy from sliced bread on that all-important "best things" list. While it's a bit unfair to compare an individual film to a set of three, I found the less restrained color palette, less repetitive structure, and more human nature of Wardrobe all refreshing. Perhaps future Narnia adaptations and endless hype may find me growing wary of these films the way I quickly did with Lord of the Rings, but for now, I would stress that A) I'd rather find myself back in Narnia than Middle Earth and B) there's definitely enough differences among the two to have room (and mixed reactions) towards both film series, even coming as close together as they do.

Oh Tumnus, why the long face? Jadis thinks she's the mane event. Purr purr.

Despite having a cast of unknowns whose most recognizable names were limited to voice performances, a director making his live action debut (Andrew Adamson, whose prior filmography began with Shrek and ended with Shrek 2), and stiff competition from other much-anticipated films like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire before and King Kong immediately after, Narnia outdid even high expectations, becoming the second highest-grossing domestically film released in 2005, having tallied more than $290 million in the US to date. When one factors in the additional $425 million taken in overseas, Wardrobe is the third highest-worldwide-grossing of all Disney films behind The Lion King and Pixar's Finding Nemo. It is little surprise, then, that a filming of Lewis's second Narnia novel, Prince Caspian is currently in pre-production and scheduled to reach theaters in December of 2007.

That's good news for Disney fans and good news for cinema in general. Lewis's tales are ripe for revisiting and if Wardrobe has accurately set the tone, then we're all in for both an exciting and promising franchise.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe makes its DVD debut simultaneously in three separate editions. Besides the typical widescreen/fullscreen divide, there is a "Special Two-Disc Collector's Edition" offered for a slightly higher price. While such a move is unusual for Disney, it's quite common in today's marketplace, with the studio following similar tactics taken by Warner and Universal.
 

Buy The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Special Two-Disc Collector's Edition DVD) from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Home Theater Mix (English),
DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 4, 2006
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Black Dual Amaray Keepcase with Side Snaps,
Cardboard Wardrobe Slipcover, and
Two Postcard-sized Pieces of Concept Art
Buy The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (Widescreen 1-Disc Edition DVD) from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Home Theater Mix (English),
DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: April 4, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps

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VIDEO and AUDIO

As has come to be expected from a new theatrical release nine years into the DVD format, the video quality is here is really, really good. The Collector's Edition is available exclusively in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, whereas the single-disc version is being released in both widescreen and fullscreen flavors. Having only seen the theatrical dimensions preserved (as well as not caring about the reformatted 1.33:1 version), I can tell you that if you wisely go this route, you will not be disappointed. The film holds up wonderfully through both bright snowy scenes and darker moments and it has its fair share of both. There's excellent contrast, next to nothing in the way of unwanted grain, a fantastic amount of detail, and perfect levels of sharpness. The closest thing to a drawback I could observe is minor moiré effect in the end credits and some odd elements. But considering that the movie runs well over two hours, and the disc boasts a healthy offering of alternate audio tracks, this stunning transfer just shows you how good compression techniques currently are and how hard it will be to convince the general public that there's considerable room for improvement no matter how much enhancement the impending high-definition formats promise.

In the soundtrack department, Wardrobe is one of the rare theatrically-released Disney films equipped with both DTS and Dolby Digital. The Dolby track is billed as being a "Home Theater Mix", but either one is guaranteed to please. The sound quality is outstanding. There's little else worth elaborating upon, but to clarify a bit, this is basically reference material and one of the most engulfing live action film soundtracks I've come across. Dynamics are consistent, dialogue is crisp, the directionality and design are both terrific. Moving on...

Four-Disc Extended Edition:

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Buy from Amazon.com

Four-Disc Extended Edition Gift Set:

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Two-Disc Collector's Edition:

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Buy from Amazon.com

Single-Disc Widescreen Edition:

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The Book: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Entire Series: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Page 1: The Movie, Video and Audio
Page 2: Disc 1 & Disc 2 Bonus Features, Menus & Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

Related Reviews:
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - Four-Disc Extended Edition
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Peter Pan (1953) • Alice in Wonderland (1951) • The Phoenix & The Carpet (1997) • Finding Neverland (2004)
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Around the World in 80 Days (2004) • Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) • Stardust (2007) • The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
National Treasure (2004) • Walt Disney's Legacy Collection: True-Life Adventures, Volume 3 (featuring The African Lion)
Chicken Little (2005) • The Incredibles (2004) • Valiant (2005) • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Soundtrack CD Review

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RiffTrax: MST3K meets The Two Towers

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Reviewed April 4, 2006.