The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on Blu-ray

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe on Blu-ray disc

By Jim Bray

Thank goodness for the success of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Otherwise, we might never have seen Hollywood embracing other worthwhile literary fantasies such as this one that came originally from the pen of C. S. Lewis.

I remember reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe when I was a kid, long before I'd heard of Tolkien's series. I remembered little of it other than the fact that I had enjoyed it hugely and had read it more than once. I didn't even know it was part of a series of Narnia chronicles until this movie started being promoted as "The Chronicles of Narnia:"

And, having seen Hollywood adaptations of books I have loved that twisted or cut the original story to eliminate its very soul, (Starship Troopers comes to mind as but one example), I didn't have much hope for LWW.

I needn't have worried. As helmed by Andrew Adamson, of Shrek fame, the world of Narnia is in good hands. I don't remember the book well enough to comment on exactly how true the movie is to it, but it feels right, as I remember it.

Naturally, you have to take liberties when translating from the page to the screen. LOTR is a perfect example, yet Peter Jackson and his team captured the spirit of the books. So has Adamson and his.

The time is World War II, and England is suffering under the relentless attack of Nazi Germany and its bombers. South England isn't safe, and many families decide it's better to tear their families apart temporarily - sending their children north to live in foster homes for the duration - than it is to risk their lives to the death raining down on them from above.

And this is where LWW opens, with the bombs falling and the family - in this case the Pevensie family - torn asunder, the four frightened Pevensie children being sent to an intimidating far-off  estate for the duration.

The kids have little to do, and have been admonished to do even less lest they disturb the professor whose estate it is, so they do what kids tend to do - they make their own fun. And one day, during an otherwise typical game of hide and seek, Lucy hides in a huge wardrobe that, much to her surprise, turns out to be a doorway to another world.

Thus begins a parallel universe story and a grand adventure. It's a tale of good versus evil, of heroes who initially reject their grand quest but who eventually rise to it, and it's a tale of love, courage, sacrifice and redemption.

In short, it has a bit of everything short of sex.

Adamson's movie is big, as befitting the scale of the story. The world of WWII England is rendered realistically, but that's nothing compared to the gorgeous vision of Narnia he has brought to life. From the opening wintry scenes where Lucy passes beyond the lamp post and plunges them all into adventure, the magical world looks just as it should, just as I remember it so many years later.

Naturally, it isn't exactly as I imagined it, since this is someone else's vision, but it's right nonetheless. It looks great, and the creatures that people the land (or is it the people who creature the land?) also look great.

Many, if not most, of the Narnia-ites are wholly or partially computer generated, and thank goodness we are now living in a golden age of special effects: the creatures look great.

On the whole, I couldn't have asked for much more from this movie adaptation of an old favorite.

Disney has pulled out all the stops for this Blu-ray release, too, giving us a two disc set that includes a full meal deal of extras.

The movie itself is on disc one, in 1080p at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. It's an excellent transfer, but unlike the razor sharpness of LOTR it exhibits some softness (perhaps so we never forget it's a fantasy?) that disappointed me a tad. But only a tad. Overall, the picture is terrific, with lush colors and very good black levels.  It exhibits quite a bit of that 3D-like depth fans of Blu-ray have come to know and love (and, dare I say, expect?), though the mild softness does get in the way of it at times. And fortunately, there's no sign of noise or grain or digital enhancement.

The audio is presented in uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround, and it's marvelous. Right from the opening war footage, with its excellent use of the subwoofer, the sound is clear and clean and very dynamic. Dialogue is well balanced and clear, and the musical score soars without overwhelming things.

They've also used the surround channels well. It's used mostly for ambient sounds and effects, though not exclusively, and that's just fine.  

Then there are the extras. Disney is well known for piling on the value with its DVD releases, and it looks as if they're going to continue that tradition with Blu-ray discs. Works for me. My only quibble is that the stuff isn't all in 1080p.

Disc one also comes with two audio commentaries, one with director Adamson and the quartet of youngsters who play the Pevensie kids. Adamson is in charge, fortunately, because the kids tend to blather along at times like kids do, but it's a fun track. The other commentary features Adamson again, this time joined by producer Mark Johnson and production designer Roger Ford. There's lots of meat here for fans of movie making.

Not so meaty is "The Bloopers of Narnia," which is about as lame as most such features. But take heart, there's plenty more to love here.

Discover Narnia Fun Facts is mostly about the book rather than being movie-specific, and it could unfold more quickly and be more detailed, but perhaps that's a testament to the state of kids' education and attention spans these days than anything: can't make 'em think too much, you know!

Disc one also features some HD trailers, including one for the pending Blu-ray release of The Nightmare Before Christmas that has me salivating in anticipation.

Disc two features "Battle for Narnia," a game I got tired of quickly, but that young people might enjoy. I'll warn you now, though: if you're used to playing PlayStation 3-quality games, this one might leave you a tad cold. There's a long tutorial you can skip (which undoubtedly means you'll have more trouble playing the game than you would otherwise), after which you choose your character and embark on your Narnia adventure. 

More interesting to me were the documentaries, which are fascinating and quite in depth. "Creating Narnia," "Evolution of an Epic" and "Creatures, Lands and Legends" are all multi-part docs that are chock full of behind the scenes info, interviews, production footage, bios, special effects stuff and the like.

It's a compelling package that does this wonderfully realized epic fantasy justice.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, from Walt Disney Home Entertainment
143 min. 1080p (2.40:1), uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio
Produced by Mark Johnson, Philip Steuer
Written by Ann Peacock and Andrew Adamson, directed by Andrew Adamson

Prince CaspianThe Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian on Blu-ray disc

They're back! And they're back in Narnia, too, a much different Narnia than they had grown to know and love in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Prince Caspian picks up a year after the Pevensie children – Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – found their way back home to England from their earlier adventure in Narnia. It hasn't been an easy transition, as evidenced by Peter's problems fitting in with a peer group who've never had to save an entire land from evil.

Then, out of the blue, they're transported once more to that magical land we came to know and love in TLTWATW. The journey to the Narnia section of the multiverse isn't accomplished via a backless wardrobe this time, but rather comes upon them when they're in a very public place.

The difference, apparently, is that this time they aren't stumbling onto Narnia but are, instead, being summoned.

Ah, but this isn't the Narnia they remember. That weird time frame that lets them live decades in Narnia while seconds pass on Earth appears to have continued in their absence, and now they find themselves gazing upon the ancient ruins of a castle in which they had lived during their previous adventures.  

This Narnia appears at first to be nearly bereft of Narnians and instead the Telmarines are running the place – and running it into the ground. But handsome and brave Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), who's the rightful heir to the Telmarine throne, has instead become targeted for death by his power-hungry uncle Miraz who wants to ensure his line – and not Caspian's – sits upon the throne.

In the thousand or so years since the four heroes have been in Narnia the Telmarines, have pushed the Narnians to the edge of extinction, to the extent that they don't even think any Narnians remain. They do, of course, otherwise we'd miss all the talking animals, fabulous creatures and other beasts, that help make the land so interesting.

It was Caspian who summoned our heroes back to Narnia, to help him and the Narnian army he's putting together fight Miraz, to ensure his rightful place on the throne and restore Narnia to the Narnians. (continued below)

We get to see a marvelous collection of fabulous characters again this time, including the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard) and many others. One creature who isn't around, but who they miss terribly, is Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the noble lion who, if he hadn't disappeared (so goes the logic of the film's characters) would have the disaster from befalling his beloved Narnia. But he did, and a good part of the movie is Lucy searching for the great beast to enlist his aid. If he's still to be found.

Prince Caspian is truly epic in its scope, though it doesn't quite have the heart of the first outing. Quite a bit darker than the original, too, and filled with more battle scenes, though they're still kid-friendly in that we don't see a lot of severed heads and limbs and we're spared blood flying across the home theater.  

It's still a fine flick, with some marvelous characters and characterizations - and even a bit of romance, as Susan and Caspian find themselves increasingly attracted to each other. We still prefer the first movie (we usually like "origin" stories more than subsequent adventures), but that doesn't take away from the enjoyment of Prince Caspian on its own terms.

Disney presents Prince Caspian in a deluxe, three disc Blu-ray presentation (one disc is a digital copy) presented in 1080p at an aspect ratio of 2:4:1, with 7.1 dts HD Master Audio sound and the many extras are also presented in 1080p high def – which is just how it should be but usually isn't.

Picture quality is excellent, mostly, though the movie also has a kind of soft, pastel-like "fantasy look" that is never as realistic looking as some films. This is okay, but it means Prince Caspian doesn't make as good a reference disc as, say, The Dark Knight, Fifth Element, etc.

It's hardly a deal breaker, and the look is pretty well the same as with TLTWATW, so the consistency works as well, with none of the morphing production values of, for example, the Harry Potter films.

The audio is terrific, though, with a wonderfully dynamic soundtrack that's rich and immersive.

One thing that isn't rich or immersive is the menu that comes up when you first fire up the disc. It tells you there's an update available for download and gives you the opportunity to do it then or later. If you choose later, you'll have to click through this annoyance every time. It appears to deal with the BD Live component, which in this case offers you access to an abundance of extra features online. But it's still annoying.

Anyway, as is so often the case Disney has piled on the extras here, including an interesting "Circle-Vision Interactive: Creating The Castle Raid." This lets you take a 360-degree look behind the scenes of the sequence where they raid the castle. It's a pretty interesting feature.

The BD-Live Network mentioned above includes stuff like an interactive Narnia game, other downloadable features, etc.

You also get an audio commentary with Director Andrew Adamson and some of the cast.

Disc Two includes "Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns", a half hour-plus feature in which director Adamson and his crew return to the land they created for the cinema in TLTWATW.  "Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes to Life" looks at the film's various locations and how challenges such as bad weather wreaked havoc on the production.

With "A Big Movie Comes to a Small Town" we get to visit the town of Bovec, Slovenia and meet some of its townspeople. "Previsualizing Narnia" is a short look at the film's high tech storyboarding techniques that use CG instead of pencil and paper a great deal of the time.

There are also some deleted scenes, introduced by director Adamson, a blooper reel that's kind of fun, "Secrets of the Duel" which, surprisingly enough, focuses on the duel between Peter and the evil Miraz.  

And there's more, such as a featurette on actor Peter Dinklage's transformation from Hollywood actor into Trumpkin, via heavy makeup, and a short look at Warwick Davis, who plays Nikabrik and who is also famous for playing Willow in the movie of the same name. 

The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian
149 min. 1080p (2.4:1), dts HD Master Audio 7.1
Written by Andrew Adamson & Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, directed by Andrew Adamson

The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on Blu-ray

The third in the Chronicles of Narnia films treads quite a different path than the first two films, but is a satisfying movie nonetheless.

One of the first things to notice is that our fearsome foursome of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy is now, except for a couple of very brief cameos, a dynamic duo consisting only of the two youngest siblings, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley).

That's because Peter and Susan have apparently gone to America to spend the rest of the war, leaving the younger kids in the home of their cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter), a snotty brat whose nose is out of joint at not only having the two cousins invading his space but at having to hear their mad ravings about a far off land of Narnia. This kid is even more of a pain in the neck than Edmund was in the first movie.

Of course, from such cloth are heroes made. Or so we hope, because he's awfully insufferable when we meet him.

During one of his whinefests, a painting of a ship at sea suddenly and magically comes to life in a particularly nifty special effects scene that has water spewing from it and quickly filling the room. This is their ticket to Narnia, of course, and a moment later the trio is treading water as a mighty ship – which turns out to be the Dawn Treader of the title – bears down upon them.

Captained by their friend Caspian (Ben Barnes), the title prince of the second Narnia film, they're rescued and, much to Eustace's chagrin, propelled along on a new adventure that takes them across the seas and to a variety of islands in a "Jason and the Argonauts-like" quest in search of a series of magical swords that can help them defeat the evil presence that has citizens cowed enough to offer family members as sacrifices — much like the lottery in Dragonslayer.

It's a neat story, but there aren't a lot of surprises in what feels basically like a blending of Harryhausen's "Jason" with a healthy helping of "Pirates of the Caribbean" added for good measure.  There aren't nearly as many animal characters in this outing as there were in the first, though there's a delightful mouse on hand to help mentor Eustace and add a bit of derring-do to the proceedings.

We generally anticipated what was going to happen next a few minutes before it did – perhaps not exactly the way we thought it would (the transformation of one major character into a dragon surprised us, for example; we figured that character was about to step into a mess of trouble, but not that particular trouble) – so there were few real thrills. But it's a good story, all things considered, and a worthy entry into the Narnia film franchise.

There's good attention to detail here, too, whether in the CG Narnian landscapes or even the Spitfires that fly around at the film's opening, whose Merlin engines sound just right.

We liked the sea voyage aspect of "Dawn Treader" and the way it whisks (well, perhaps "whisks" is the wrong word for the speed of a sailing ship) us from island to island and adventure to adventure (okay, so we forgot to add "Gulliver's Travels" to the movies this one feels a bit like). It's handled well and there are enough interesting new friends and enemies to keep us more than merely interested.

Among the dudes and dudettes Caspian and the children encounter are slave traders, one-footed "Dufflepods," a mysterious magician, a magical pool of water (apparently) that turns anything that touches it into gold – and finally the seven lords whose swords they've been seeking, who are under a slumber spell near Aslan's table. Oh, yeah, and a pretty cool dragon and a climactic sea serpent thingy that nearly proves to be their undoing.

The adventure is filled with life lessons as their characters are tempted – as is the Narnian wont – such as Lucy's struggle with her wish to be beautiful like her sister, Edmund's jealousy of Caspian and lust for power, and Eustace's own journey from snot-nosed brat to – well, watch the movie to see. 

The episodic nature of the story – sailing from place to place – leaves the story a tad disjointed, but not seriously so and in some ways we enjoyed "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" more than the last outing, "Prince Caspian," which may have been more exciting but which was also darker, more violent and less inspiring.

The three disc set contains a Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy and the Blu-ray is up to the task. The 1080p picture is presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio that fills the HDTV screen completely, and it's stunning. Colors and detail are magnificent, and there are some simply gorgeous shots in this movie, and the special effects look great. There's a scene near the end that looks kind of like a 2010 version of the parting of the Red Sea from The Ten Commandments, a great illustration of just how far special effects have come in the past decades.

Likewise, the audio – presented in dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 – is also scrumptious. You know you're in for a sonic treat right from the start, with those Spitfires' Merlin engines roaring through the speakers, and it never really lets up from there. The surround channels are used very well, the channel separation is excellent, and the subwoofer gets a nice workout.

Fox includes some 90 minutes of extras, including:
“The Untold Adventures of The Dawn Treader” Animated Short
King Caspian’s Guide to the Dawn Treader: Legends and Lore of the Great Ship
4 Deleted Scenes
5 Islands Explorations
Narnian Discoveries: Friends and Foes of Narnia (7 featurettes)
3 Behind-the-Scenes Featurettes including Battle on the Sea
Sword Game
4 Fox Movie Channel Presents Behind The Scenes Featurettes
Audio Commentary by Director Michael Apted and Producer Mark Johnson
And a booklet of collectible post cards.

We weren't enamored with the package, which nearly tosses the digital copy at you when you unfold it, while making it more difficult to get at the Blu-ray and DVD. It's easy enough to swap them out, however, and put whichever disc you want into whichever part of the package you want.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
approx 113 min. 1080p widescreen (1.78:1), dts-HD Master Audio 5.1
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni
Directed by Michael Apted

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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