STUDIO: Disney
MSRP: $42.99
RUNNING TIME: 150 Minutes
• Extended version with enhanced special effects and an extended battle scene
• Commentary by director Andrew Adamson, production designer Roger Ford and producer Mark Johnson
• Commentary by child stars Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell with director Andrew Adamson
• Two Worlds of Narnia featurettes: "Creating Narnia" and "Creatures, Lands and Legends"
C.S. Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia documentary
• "Visualizing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: The Complete Production Experience" documentary
• Anatomy of a Scene: Behind the Battle
• Art of Narnia Gallery
• Bloopers of Narnia
• Narnia Fun Facts
• Collectible 10-page companion guide
• Certificate of authenticity

The Pitch

“It’s Bambi meets The Passion of the Christ!”

The Humans

Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent.

The Nutshell

To escape the London bombing raids during World War II, four children are sent to the country house of the mysterious Professor Fiske. Once there, they discover a magical wardrobe that leads to the land of Narnia and learn of their destiny to free the land from the tyranny of the White Witch. And with the aid of the wise lion Aslan, they might just succeed.

Man, I don’t know what C.S. Lewis was smoking when he wrote this…

"Warriors! Come out and play!"

The Lowdown

I’m remarkably unfamiliar with C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. What can I say; I had one of those fucking ridiculous “working moms” who provided for the whole family rather than just pamper and read fantasy stories to me. So, going into The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I had the opportunity to experience it fresh, unencumbered by previous filmic adaptations or the books themselves. That’s a pretty cool movie experience to have, to feel like you’re discovering something no one’s ever seen before, a cinematic “lost gem”…

…but the feeling’s cheapened somewhat when it’s a movie as unremarkable as The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. Barring some dodgy CGI, it looks like a million bucks (or, rather, 180 million bucks), with some appropriately stirring battle scenes. For a two-and-a-half-hour long film, it moves along at a decent pace and is rarely boring. And most importantly, it features a plethora of talking animals, which delights my inner child like some cool, refreshing crack on a hot summer day. Basically, you could do a whole lot worse when picking a movie to rent on a Saturday night. It’s a solid, wholly unremarkable flick.

The problem is, this film doesn’t want to be unremarkable. It wants to be epic, stunning, unforgettable, even. And on those counts, it mostly fails. It’s just too average and while that’s not a deal-breaker for making a good movie, it is for making a great one. Ironically, it’s because of a great movie that this film is not one.

Because, you see, The Chronicles of Narnia – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe really wants to be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Director Andrew Adamson pulls out all the stops to ape Peter Jackson’s sterling work. Outlandish fantasy world? Check. WETA effects work? Check. Diminutive protagonists? Check. Christ-figure reference? Check. Sweeping helicopter shots of characters walking? Big ten-four there. Hell, Adamson even shot a good bit of the film in New Zealand. I wouldn’t be surprised if, late at night after shooting, Adamson went back to his hotel, put on a Peter Jackson mask, burned some incense made from Orc hair and Brad Dourif’s fake nose, and then spent five hours masturbating furiously while staring in the mirror and moaning “I’m the best!”

Too much? I can never tell. But you get what I mean.

"Oh God yes, will I ever give you Turkish Delight."

And at the end of the day, Andrew Adamson’s just no Peter Jackson. He’s not even in the same league with Bad Taste/Meet the Feebles/Dead Alive-era Peter Jackson. He’s more in line with someone like Chris Columbus: serviceable but unspectacular. He hits all the right notes at the right times, but with the skill of a metronome rather than a talented composer. All his Rings devotion makes large portions of this film feel warmed over and familiar. When Tilda Swinton’s White Queen addresses her army of snarling beasts, I couldn’t help but think of Saruman calling the Orcs to action (and surprise surprise! Many of said beasties look a little like Orcs). Same thing when the Pevensie kids took to the fray in battle; all I saw were the Hobbits charging again. The movie’s filled with moments like that, and they keep it from feeling fresh. Although, to be fair, Adamson absolutely nails the scene where Lucy Pevensie first enters Narnia- it’s a small marvel of real wonder and amazement as the coats subtly give way to pine needles.

Adamson’s direction and tone lacks the gravitas Jackson brought to his trilogy, making everything feel far too light and inconsequential to matter terribly; the opening scene, where the Pevensies are bombed by the Germans, feels like something from a Disney Channel movie starring Lindsey Lohan rather than the frightening experience it need be. The tone hearkens back, actually, to that spate of “intense” adventure films Disney put out in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, movies like the Witch Mountain flicks or Watcher in the Woods or Flight of the Navigator, all of which have the same pleasant but unremarkable feel that Narnia has. However, considering Adamson’s two other directorial credits are Shrek 1 and 2, it’s a small miracle that we weren’t privy to a slew of retarded pop culture jokes and bad celebrity cameos (even though Michael Madsen as the White Queen’s wolf guard comes awfully close).

Wait. That’s a Cockney Beaver? Oh man, I was WAY off!

Still, I stress that this isn’t a bad movie. I’d heard that this was as reactionary a religious film as The Passion of the Christ and wasn’t looking forward to two more hours of being told why my people (Jews) suck. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and I actually really appreciated the references to the Christ story. They helped lend parts of the film a maturity and depth it otherwise lacked. And some of the acting’s just terrific. Tilda Swinton, everyone’s favorite Life Extension representative, makes a great White Queen, all icy malice to Liam Neeson’s more warm and noble Aslan (Neeson lends credible authority to the part, even if it is yet another wise mentor role in a career overstuffed with them). And James McAvoy and Georgie Henley damn near make the film. As Mr. Tumnus and Lucy, respectively, these two are so charming and appealing that I wished the whole film could have been about them and their adventures together; Henley’s a great child actress, completely natural and unaffected (two traits the actors playing her siblings in the film do not share), and McAvoy’s somewhat of a revelation- his sweet, befuddled Mr. Tumnus is a far cry from his work as the morally and ethically questionable Nicholas Garrigan in The Last King of Scotland, and still he’s wholly believable in both roles. There‘s good stuff to be had here, especially as a solid, pleasant enough diversion.

But it’s not great.

Note: This is the “Extended Edition” of the film. If you believe the people at Disney, this version “[features] new and expanded scenes, enhanced special effects, and an extended climactic battle scene,” that bump the movie from 138 minutes to 150 minutes. This version’s the only one I saw, so I didn’t really pick up on anything that felt freshly added or jarringly out-of-place. I guess that’s a good thing. The effects seemed mostly good (except for the CGI wolves. Why, after The Day After Tomorrow, would anyone think CGI wolves still looked good?), and as for the end battle scene, some moments were a little intense, but nothing was too harsh; the disclaimer on the back of the DVD box warning parents of “material that may be inappropriate for children under 17” is bullshit. Any kid raised on Indiana Jones has seen much worse.

Now mirror-act, dear children! Mirror-act for your lives!

The Package

The picture and sound are just about perfect, with a terrific 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer and a vivid DTS 5.1 soundtrack. That’s not surprising, seeing as how the movie’s only a year old, but it’s nice to see good-looking and sounding DVDs; it proves that in the midst of all this Bluray/HD-DVD hoopla, the basic DVD format’s still got life left in it. I’d even go so far as to call this a “reference quality” disc, except I think that’s a bullshit phrase that ultimately means very little. The box art is going for the same “DVD as book” thing that The Lord of the Rings sets have, but I think the silver binding looks a little tacky, and smudges and fingerprints show up on it only too well. Not that I’m concerned with that sort of thing, though…

This being a 4-disc “Extended Edition” and all (yet another nod to The Lord of the Rings. Someone should really be keeping a tally here), the special features are very extensive and abundant. You got the movie, a pair of commentaries, a trivia track, and a blooper reel rocking out on Disc 1. The first commentary has the four Pevensie kids with Adamson edited in separately. It’s an actor’s commentary first and foremost, so cue the requisite back-slapping, car-waxing, and genial trivialities that such tracks entail. One thing: these four children suffer from the British disease of hyper-eloquence, which means that even the 11-year old Henley is better spoken and more intelligent than I am at 21. Fucking Brits…The second track with Adamson joined by producer Mark Johnson and production designer Roger Ford is better and has more information, but it’s a bit too dry, and Johnson is WAAAYYY too pleased with himself. I definitely recommend the “Discover Narnia” fun facts track that runs throughout the movie over the two commentaries. We close the disc with the blooper reel, and if you wanted to see Aslan giving the Queen a mock hummer, or Lucy telling Edmund to fuck off, this is the place to do so. Except not really. Sigh, one can dream, though. It consists mostly of the kids cracking up over nothing and making wacky faces at the camera. Ho ho. Sometimes I think only Judd Apatow-related gag reels should be allowed.

Disc 2 starts with two mostly useless featurettes, “Chronicles of a Director” and “The Children’s Magical Journey.” “Chronicles” has Adamson waxing on about how great a job he did making the movie. If you watched the movie with commentary, you’ve already heard most of what he has to say. The kids’ featurette also suffers from repeated material, but it’s shorter, and has some interesting footage of them prepping behind the scenes. The “Creating Narnia” section, though, is really quite good. There’s one pointless little C.S. Lewis bit that clocks in at 4 minutes, but the “Cinematic Storytellers” and “Creating Creatures” are about 55 minutes each and have solid making-of information. KNB god Howard Berger and WETA head Richard Taylor are really interesting guys, and they have a lot to say in the “Cinematic” section. I was pleased that they were decently frank about the scheduling conflicts and minor production hiccups that occurred along the way. “Creating” is very technical, as it’s comprised mostly of test and previs footage of the makeup and CGI designs, but I find that shit fascinating, especially when I get to watch the KNB and WETA guys in action. The “Creatures, Lands, and Legends” section wasn’t of much use to me; it felt more kiddie-oriented. “Creatures of the World” did the same thing as the previous “Creating” bit, just with more drawings from the novels. And “Explore Narnia” and “Legends in Time,” respectively an interactive map and a timeline covering both Narnia and England, were both well-produced, just not terribly enlightening in terms of movie insights.

"That’s why hair grows there? Okay, I’m letting go now."

Disc 3 has just one feature, the 75 minute C.S. Lewis: Dreamer of Narnia. Minus the embarrassing use of a Lewis look-a-like for the tour guide of the piece, I found this to be a compelling and interesting look at C.S. Lewis. The piece covers his whole life, most notably his creation of the Narnia series, his relationship with J.R.R. Tolkien (natch!) in “The Inklings,” and some of the work produced in that group. More than just a documentary of the man’s life, Dreamer looks at the influence he had, with interviews from Ray Bradbury (joy!) and Sir Ben Kingsley. This was a terrific documentary, and it made me want to read more (any) of Lewis’ work. So job well done, I guess.

Finally, Disc 4 kicks off with the all-encompassing "Visualizing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe: The Complete Production Experience." You get a nice grab bag here of info, from the actors discussing their roles, to interviews with the crew, to more previs and effects comparison footage. Again, there’s a little crossover in terms of insights, but it’s a good feature. The Anatomy of a Scene feature deals with the battle scenes, showing how the filmmakers fit in all the CGI creations and such alongside the team of extras. It’s short, but okay nonetheless, and the shots of the New Zealand coast are stunning. I need to move there like five minutes ago.

As for the 10 page companion guide and certificate of authenticity, well, my set didn’t have those included. I’ll just have to live the rest of my life with the knowledge that my Narnia might not be as authentic as the next guy’s. It’s hard to be a DVD reviewer.

If you’re a fan of the film, I can unequivocally recommend this “Extended Edition” disc. It looks and sounds aces, and the special features are plentiful and (mostly) informative. But if you’re not, Lions Gate just put out a great disc of The Descent; I’d suggest that. Narnia’s just too middle-of-the-road, too “been there, done that.” It’s okay, but I can’t get truly fired up about it. But hey, whatever floats your boat. Whatever makes you happy. Whatever you want. Whatever you…I’ll stop now.

I don’t know why people call Proactiv unsafe. I mean, look what it’s done for Jessica Simpson!

7.0 out of 10