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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Home Vision Entertainment // Unrated // July 12, 2005
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Todd Brown | posted July 12, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie
With anticipation rising for the upcoming big screen adaptation of C.S. Lewis' classic The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe it was pretty much inevitable that the earlier BBC adaptation would attract some attention. Not only are people casting a fresh eye towards the series of late eighties made for TV adaptations of The Chronicles of Narnia from the venerable Beeb, but the set has been repackaged and reissued by the good people at HVE.

Written by C.S. Lewis largely to demonstrate to an obsessively perfectionist friend that writing a children's book need not take nearly as long as his was, The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe has gone on to become one of the most beloved children's books in the world with countless young people following the adventures of the four Pevensie children in the magical land of Narnia as they join forces with the magical lion Aslan to fight the evil White Witch. The frustrating friend's book? That would be Tolkein's The Hobbit. You may heard of it.

While much is made of the religious content of the Narnia books – Aslan is clearly intended as an allegorical Christ figure – you need not know or appreciate any degree of Christian thought to enjoy Lewis' magical world. Narnia is a world populated by intelligent, over sized, talking animals and creatures from world mythology, a world where the natural order has been usurped by the evil White Witch Jadis who has cursed the land to live under perpetual winter – a winter that never ends and where Christmas never arrives. Jadis rules with an iron fist spreading fear through her network of spies and literally wolfish secret police, with any who dare to oppose her being taken away and transformed into stone statues to decorate her castle.

Out entry to Narnia comes with the Pevensie children, four siblings – two brothers, two sisters – sent away from London to escape the war in 1940. The four children – Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy – are sent to the country to live with a man known only as the professor is his grand old country house where they will be safely away from any German bombing raids. Tucked away in an abandoned extra room the children discover an ornate wardrobe that proves to be an entry point to the world of Narnia, albeit a rather erratic one. The wardrobe, the Professor, the famous lamp-post growing in the Narnian forest, and the origins of Jadis would all be explained in Lewis' subsequent prequel novel, The Magician's Nephew, which will certainly be getting the big screen treatment if the coming film performs nearly as well as expected.

A softening of the ending and Aslan notwithstanding this production stays quite true to the book which has both benefits and drawbacks. Fans of the books will no doubt be pleased by the adaptations faithfulness while neophytes may find it all a bit talky. While it was an impressive production by British TV standard of the time it does show the limitations of its roots with the epic final battle proving decidedly non-epic in scale and most of the creatures being simply people in fun fur suits and facial prosthetics while the more fantastic creatures are superimposed hand drawn animations. Aslan himself is a mixture of men in suits and expressive animatronics. It is distinctively a BBC production with all the quirks that implies which, again, will draw mixed responses. Those who enjoy the BBC effects aesthetic will, no doubt, find it a charming affair while those looking for big money flash will be a touch disappointed. On the acting front the children are all serviceable, though played in the broadest strokes, while Jadis is perpetually over the top.

The Video
The DVD is presented in the original 4:3 aspect ratio with a clean transfer of the original video source. It can be a little soft at times but that is a limitation of the source material rather than the transfer. While it has flashes of cinematic style the television origins are evident in the workmanlike lighting and framing that often give things a notably flat feel.

The Audio
The only audio track included is the original mono. It certainly does the job but don't expect a whole lot of flash or a dynamic range of audio.

The Extras
As you may have gathered from the lengthy intro to this I have a long history with this story, having read and re-read the entire series as a child, literally wearing out at least two complete sets of the novels. As I grew older I became more aware of the entire circle of Inklings – the circle of Oxford based writers that included Lewis, Tolkein and the much overlooked Charles Williams – so I probably have some unfair expectations on what I'd like to see included on any Narnia feature set, particularly considering that this is now seventeen years old and produced at a time when people had not yet started stockpiling extra footage for DVD release. So while I do find the extra features rather sparse – a trivia game, an except from a BBC literary program about C.S. Lewis, a stills gallery and a recipe for Turkish Delight – they really are about all you can expect on this sort of release.

Final Thoughts This release will probably be of interest primarily to serious Narnia junkies or for neophytes looking for a quick primer before the new feature film version releases, though honestly if you're looking for an intro to this world I'd say you should be reading the book. While not the definitive screen version of Narnia – all indicators are that the coming film will fill that role nicely, and I actually prefer the animated version of LW&W to this live action release on a few levels – this is certainly a competent and well produced version. It shows its age, but not in a particularly painful way and, as my four year old son will attest, it still plays well to the kid set. Call this a cautious recommendation.
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