The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Bloopers, Featurettes, Activities

For more than fifty years, C. S. Lewis' classic children's book "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" has entertained readers around the world. Director Andrew Adamson, of "Shrek" fame, took on the tremendous task of turning this literary work into a fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled motion picture, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment has delivered a worthy Two-Disc Collector's Edition release.

As World War II rages on, the four Pevensie children are sent to live in the mansion of a reclusive professor (Jim Broadbent) to escape the London air raids. While playing hide-and-seek to pass the hours, the youngest sibling, Lucy (Georgie Henley), discovers a wardrobe hidden away in an empty room. But this is no ordinary wardrobe. Stepping inside, Lucy finds herself in a snow-covered forest, where she meets Mr. Tumnus (James McAvoy), a faun. Tumnus invites her to his home for tea, where he discloses that they are in the magical land of Narnia, which is under the rule of an evil witch who has made it perpetually winter—and never Christmas.

Back in the professor's mansion, Lucy is met with disbelief and laughter from her three siblings, who believe she is simply pretending. When Lucy returns to Narnia, however, her bratty brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes) ventures in after her, coming face to face with the witch (Tilda Swinton) herself. She promises to make Edmund a prince if he brings his other siblings to see her, gaining his trust with gifts of Turkish delight. When elder siblings Peter and Susan (William Moseley and Anna Popplewell) finally join Lucy and Edmund in the wardrobe, they discover that they may be the fulfillments of an ancient prophecy and the future rulers of Narnia.

"The Chronicles of Narnia" joins the ranks of other fantasy classics like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Lord of the Rings" in creating an amazingly believable fantasy world. A vast land of snow and ice, Narnia is the stage for an epic battle between good and evil. Liam Neeson provides the voice of Aslan, a noble lion and the creator of Narnia who plans to lead the battle against the White Witch. The mere sound of Neeson's brooding voice instantly smacks of authority and decency, giving the entirely computer-generated character the anchor it needs to remain believable. The enigmatic Tilda Swinton has perhaps her most unusual role yet (unusual in that it's in such a mainstream film) as the deliciously evil White Witch, a high-powered diva who fancies herself a queen. She gloriously commands the screen with her piercing stare and uncanny charm, rivaling Margaret Hamilton in her sheer wickedness.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment has preserved all of the film's magic and wonderment in an excellent DVD transfer. The film is presented in anamorphic enhanced 2.35:1 widescreen. The picture offers remarkable color saturation, and the overall quality displays a pleasing amount of detail with no visible grain. Rich, deep blacks highlight the plentiful night scenes, showcasing deep shadows and good contrast. Day scenes (the climactic battle sequence in particular) feature a vibrant array of colors and sharpness, with characters seemingly leaping off the screen. The movie was deliberately filmed with overly saturated skin tones, and the DVD preserves them in all their fantastical splendor.

The audio is presented in both a 5.1 Home Theater Mix and DTS Digital Surround Sound. Sound effects and dialogue are well-balanced with Harry Gregson-Williams' magnificent score, which is soft and boisterous when appropriate.

In addition to excellent picture and sound, the two-disc release offers a plethora of special features that should answer just about any question one has about the film. Disc 1 features two audio commentaries. The first is by director Andrew Adamson and the four young stars of the film, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, and William Moseley. It is an amusing recollection of memories and anecdotes that should entertain younger audiences. The second commentary features Adamson again along with producer Mark Johnson and production designer Roger Ford. They discuss the technical aspects of the film, including some of the difficulties and challenges of filming the grand-scale epic.

Viewers may also opt to watch the film with the "Discover Narnia Fun Facts" feature, which offers tidbits and trivia in pop-up bubbles throughout the movie. There is also a hilarious blooper reel.

Disc 2 is where the behind-the-scenes magic takes place. The features on this disc are divided into two main categories: "Creating Narnia" and "Creatures, Lands & Legends."

"Creating Narnia" begins with "Chronicles of a Director," an insightful featurette about Adamson's quest to bring his vision of a childhood favorite to life. "The Children's Magical Journey" offers the young stars' perspectives on the making of the film and how it has impacted their lives.

Next is "Evolution of an Epic," which leads the viewer into four informative featurettes. "C. S. Lewis: From One Man's Mind" provides a brief biographical overview of the author of the Narnia books. "Cinematic Storytellers" presents interviews with eight crew members, including costume designer Isis Mussenden and Academy Award-winning makeup artist Howard Berger. "Creating Creatures" takes an in-depth look at the creation and design of the marvelous characters and the actors who helped bring them to life. "Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River" gives a behind-the-scenes look at a suspense scene from the film.

The second category, "Creatures, Lands & Legends" takes a look at the mythical side of Narnia, something that should entertain children and fans of the Narnia books. "Creatures of the World" examines the key creatures and their roles in the story. "Explore Narnia" is a virtual map that allows the viewer to figuratively walk in the footsteps of the children through the magical land. "Legends in Time" is an interesting feature that matches up the events in Narnia with the passing of time in the real world.

All in all, this is a remarkable DVD set that should be in every collector's home. It offers something fresh for both life-long fans and newcomers to Lewis' unforgettable world. With this film, Andrew Adamson proves that he can tackle more than just loveable ogres to sustain audience attention, and he does it with a wide eye and a good sense of humor. With its youthful heroes and imaginative characters, "The Chronicles of Narnia" is a time-honored childhood favorite that has been given new life for future generations.