It’s a magic journey into a world where animals can talk, mythical creatures roam the forests and humans are only a thing of legend. The world is Narnia and the journey is that of a great Lion, a terrible Witch, and four unsuspecting young London children who are taken to the mysterious land by a very special Wardrobe. For decades famed author C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” have enchanted children and helped set the bar for fantasy writing. Modern day fairy tales, the profound but playful stories begin with “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”. As Lewis himself would have pointed out, this sort of adventure isn’t aimed at kids, but at the kid in everyone, no matter how old they are. You may want to stay away if long ago you smothered your inner child with the pillow of adulthood practicality. On the other hand, you just might want to indulge yourself. With this movie the story is brought to life in a way that could be just what you need to breathe life back into your long lost imagination.
Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are four young siblings living in War World II London. To save them from the dangerous Nazi air raids, their mother sends them to live in the boring countryside manor of a man they know only as “The Professor”. During their explorations of the house they encounter a room containing nothing but a magnificent wardrobe. Inside, where they would expect to find the back wall, they discover the branches of pine trees in a frozen forest. Exploring a little further, an amazing land unfolds before them, the land of Narnia.
They quickly come into the hospitality of two talking Beavers who are rather excited to find four human children wandering about their land. The presence of the humans is to them the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. They believe the children have come to join forces with Aslan, a great lion and true king of Narnia, to defeat an evil Witch who claims to be queen and has covered the land in an eternal winter. Despite the dangers they face, the children decide to do what they can to help and soon find themselves in the middle of a war for the future of Narnia and the greatest adventure of their lives.
There is so much that could go wrong bringing this classic and beloved story to the screen. The fact that five of the six main characters are either children or a talking lion is a frightening place to start. Whatever fears fans of the book might have had, Andrew Adamson puts them to rest. His quartet of young actors playing the Pevensie children are absolutely perfect, giving honest and endearing performances. As for Aslan, he may very well be the most perfect CG creation to date. No matter how hard you try to find the flaws, there are still moments when you swear you’re looking at a real lion. Not just Aslan, but all the animal characters are near pixel perfect. Their emotional expressions are so perfectly crafted that you’ll smile when they, cry when they face defeat, and cheer when they charge into battle.
Of course, there’s always excitement generated when a movie of this caliber announces an extended edition release. Sadly enough, this is one case where the reality doesn’t live up to the hype. The film meets the requirements of being an extended edition by feathering in an extra ten minutes, but most of it is so subtle and brief that unless you’ve recently watched the original theatrical version you won’t even notice the new updates. Fans of the battle scene have the most to cheer about with some of the more dramatic new footage being added to that part of the movie. I was looking forward to some of the finale celebration footage that showed up in the trailers but was tremendously disappointed to find that for whatever reason it wasn’t included.
With The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe Adamson and his cast and crew have not only made a wonderful movie, they’ve laid a tremendous foundation for the other six stories in the series. Whether or not they all get made, there’s no question that they’re off to a perfect start. Following in the grandest traditions of other fantasy film DVD packages, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe graces us with its third release in as many months. This version, titled the “Four Disc Extended Edition” is well named indeed. The film is an extended version of the original and the four discs are a sort of extended version of the Two Disc Collector’s Edition released a few months ago.
The first disc is pretty much the exact disc released before, the key difference being the extended footage in the film. The other material, including the blooper reel, commentaries and Narnia fun facts are all carry-overs. Of course, it’s wonderful that they’re included but it could lead some owners of the 2-disc edition to experience a bad case of double-dip heartburn.
To rub salt in the wound, the second disc is the exact same one from the previous edition, but nevertheless an extremely impressive disc packed to the rim with all sorts of goodies. Several featurettes give you a good start into the world behind the camera. Chronicles Of A Director takes a long look at Adamson’s journey in creating the film. He sets the tone with his explanation of how he got involved to begin with. “After doing Shrek I didn’t want to do anything like this. I really wanted to do a small character based movie . It was just a book that was so dear to me, it was a story that was so dear to me, I couldn’t handle the idea of not doing it, letting someone else do it,” he says. The next forty minutes are an exciting exploration into his process. Adamson’s eloquence in discussing his vision and choices is almost as thrilling as watching the movie itself.
Moving on, the next featurette shifts from director to actors and looks at the experience of the movie’s four young stars. The Children’s Magical Journey opens with the footage from the first day on the soundstage set of Narnia for Georgie, the actress who plays Lucy. With a gleeful smile Adamson blindfolds her outside the front doors of the building. In what I would describe as a genius choice, he has his actress brought on stage completely unable to see the wintry world of Narnia he and his team have created. The camera rolls, the blindfold is removed and both Lucy and Georgie experience the magic of Narnia for the first time. The rest of the children’s experience was no less magical.
The rest of the second disc is dedicated to the design and technical sides of the filmmaking process. Folks like the production designer, composer, effects supervisor, costume designer get a chance to take you inside their own fantastic worlds. What’s refreshing is that they don’t just talk about their work the film, but about their art in general. It’s almost a brief introspection into the various technical aspects of the world of film. The personal stories make it that much more enjoyable to watch. There’s also a bit about C. S. Lewis and the secondary characters in the story, and that’s where the extended discs take their cue.
Disc three is dedicated completely to the man behind Narnia. A feature length biography film on C. S. Lewis is the sole feature but well worth the watch. His life and experiences are chronicled in his own words and through the words on his writings with a special emphasis on his love of creating stories for the children in everyone. Disc four extends the behind-the-scenes action with a innovative featurette called Visualizing The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: The Complete Production Experience. Instead of breaking the material out into separate pieces, they are incorporated into split screens as the movie plays out in real time. Interested in the Witch? Tilda Swinton has a few words to say when the character first appears in the film. Later on when the Witch pulls out one of her more elaborate props, the design team talks about creating that prop as the movie plays in a window right next to it. Most of the material is repeated from the second disc but it’s fun seeing it in the context of the film as it goes along.
It’s always hard to know when the pinnacle release of a film has arrived. It would certainly seem that a four disc extended edition would be the end of things, but the package’s flimsy (but beautiful) cardboard case and lack of any extra printed material (no collector’s booklet, no fold out map of Narnia, nothing!) would suggest there’s still at least one more major collector’s edition somewhere on the horizon. That said, I imagine it’s no coincidence that this is being released right before the holidays. If you’re looking for a gift for your favorite Narnia aficionado, look no further. This release is sure to please.
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