The latest (and by far the most ambitious) filmed adaptation of C.S. Lewis' classic children's fantasy saga, 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' is also the most magnificently realized. Though previous versions (mostly shot for television) had their simple charms, Disney's $180 million-plus budgeted 'Wardrobe' is the first to do Lewis' complex mythology any justice. I still find the film imperfect -- and I have trouble with some of Lewis' spiritual allusions -- but it's certainly an arresting, visually sumptuous retelling, and one that kids undoubtedly love.
Not only are there few on the planet who don't already know the story of 'Chronicles of Narnia,' much of Lewis' story has become undeniably iconic. Who hasn't banged on the back of their wardrobe chest, wondering if will lead to some strange, magical new world? Lewis' imaginative characters and creatures have, along with J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings,' served as the template for decades of subsequent fantasy stories, and while the film's quartet of protagonists -- Edmund, Lucy, Peter, and Susan -- may not give Harry Potter a run for his money, they've nevertheless captivated the spirits of millions of young readers with their pluck and courage. Yet, because the world of 'Narnia' is so beloved and well-known, previous adaptations have been unable to match, let alone exceed, the way generations have always imagined the story. Disney's 'Narnia' doesn't completely surmount such impossible expectations, but it sure makes a hell of a try.
Directed by Andrew Adamson, 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' ultimately works because Adamson (who co-wrote the script with Ann Peacock) is able to condense Lewis' sprawling tale into a coherent narrative, and always makes sure the viewpoint of the film is that of the children. Aided by an inexperienced but immensely likable young cast (Georgie Henley as Lucy is a particular standout), our identification is immediate, and as the kids are essentially orphans, their situation is surprisingly poignant. Rather than devolving into an effects show or a bunch of CGI creatures passed off as plot, 'Narnia's emotional pull is genuine. In fact -- and I'll risk the wrath of the faithful with this -- I actually find the human element in 'Narnia' stronger than that in 'Lord of the Rings' -- the kids in 'Narnia' are more appealing than that dull old Frodo, and the stakes are more riveting.
Less successful for me is Lewis' overall worldview in 'Narnia,' which is a mix of metaphysical mumbo jumbo and, arguably, none-too-subtle intertextual weaving of Christian mythology. Granted, Lewis (an adult convert to Christianity) always maintained that he didn't set out to create a religious parable, but the parallels have been analyzed to death, and it can't be denied that the books have been used for Christian evangelism. For me, the real problem is not that Lewis browbeats us, but that subtly, the imposition of a deity-based ideology in the film diverts focus from the human struggle of the kids. The film, like the books, doles out monologues about iffy spiritual conceits like M&Ms, which feel a bit forced and slows down the pace. In comparison, the world of Harry Potter never gets so heavy-handed and is therefore more universal in its appeal (and more fun to interpret on one's own).
'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's biggest flaw, however, may be that it loses its footing near its conclusion. A stand-alone film in a series designed as a trilogy is rarely fully satisfying (unlike, say, a 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' or 'Star Wars,' where the sequels were not preordained), because it doesn't really resolve itself so much as it just stops. To be fair, that's inherent in the source material, but like 'Fellowship of the Ring,' I couldn't help but feel I was only just getting to the meat of the story when the credits rolled.
Still, 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' is a magnificently-produced film, one filled with genuine wonder, and populated by a strong cast (particularly the child actors). I suspect I would enjoy 'Wardrobe' more if I could be patient enough to watch it all in one sitting with its upcoming sequels, but on its own, it has enough magic and excitement to succeed. Despite some of its more debatable quasi-religious qualities, it's a great family film, and one that -- at the risk of using marketing hyperbole -- is truly enchanting for audiences of all ages.
One of Disney's most eagerly-anticipated Blu-ray catalog releases yet, 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' does not disappoint. This is an excellent 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that can easily stand as a demo disc.
Aside from a few darker moments of slight stylization (which display a decidedly desaturated and blue cast), the majority of 'Narnia' is bright, bold and lush. The sense of depth is simply fantastic -- the "picture window" effect is on full display. The color palette is very pretty, with wonderful pastoral greens and oranges (a rarity, it seems, with most transfers today, which look all hi-tech and "edgy"). Saturation is excellent, with a super-clean look and no chroma noise or fuzziness.
Blacks are rock solid throughout, and contrast is strong enough to deliver the required detail while never sacrificing realism. Even the widest shots are alive with detail and sharpness, and the source print is spotless. Disney has also produced a clean encode, so compression artifacts are not a problem. 'Narnia' looks smashing.
Disney offers an uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) track for 'Narnia,' and it's excellent. Some may complain about the lack of 24-bit resolution, but I was so engrossed in this mix I can't say I minded.
Right from the opening prologue of a WWII attack, the aggressive dynamics are couch-rattling. Low bass is terrific, and the clarity and sheer impact of the entire frequency spectrum is exactly what home theater audio is all about. Dialogue is perfectly balanced as well, so even during the loudest scenes I never had to strain my ears or adjust volume levels.
Surround use is also fantastic. There is rarely a dull moment, even during the quietest dialogue scenes. There's always some sort of minor ambient effect or location sound, plus the melodic score by Harry Gregson-Williams is perfectly blended, for a harmonious immersion throughout. Action scenes, are predictably gangbusters, with the "wall of sound" effect emanating from the rears, and the sense of transparency seamless as sounds move about the speakers. This is a reference-quality presentation.
Disney produced so many extras for the original DVD editions of 'Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' that it needed two full discs to contain it. They haven't skimped on the Blu-ray, which also houses two actual Blu-ray discs (not just the lazy path of throwing in a second standard DVD with extras). Granted, none of the material is in full 1080 video, but the content here is still extensive and insightful. (Optional subtitles are provided on the supplements in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese [both Traditional and Simplified].)
'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' is a lavish mounting of the classic C.S. Lewis tale. I'm not a huge fan of the overtly religious themes of the story, but the film is certainly entertaining (which its huge worldwide gross only underscores). This Blu-ray version is truly excellent, with top drawer video and audio and a wealth of supplements. By all means, if you are a fan of 'Narnia,' this is a no-brainer.