"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" Blu-ray Review
May 21, 2008 by Zach Demeter
You could blame Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films for producing an overabundance of fantasy-to-film adaptations, but while some of them make you cringe at the results, others like The Chronicles of Narnia build off of not only the rich visuals that we’re so familiar with in these fantasy movies (sprawling forests, wide open grassy plains) but also slide in something that so many of these fantasy movies lack: a good story. While the story is really nothing new in the fantasy realm, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is really one of the more visually stunning and well-acted fantasy films to come down the pipeline.
After the war separates them from their parents, Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan Pevensie go to live with their uncle until the war is over. While in the sprawling mansion, the siblings stumble upon a room with a single wardrobe. While the youngest, Lucy, originally uses it as a hiding place, she soon finds the wardrobe to be a gateway to the mystical land of Narnia. Soon all four of the Pevensie children find themselves in the wardrobe after a foul ball breaks a window and forces them all to hide. Once unbelieving of little Lucy’s tale, the four find themselves wrapped up in the warring world of Narnia and do all they can to help.
Despite the rest of my family seemingly excited about watching every fantasy film that comes down the pike, after the sprawling epics that Lord of the Rings turned out to be, I just found myself disinterested in the whole genre. The Rings films did it so well that I felt no desire to watch any other mystical adaptation; after all, what would be the point? Considering I never found the Rings film particularly interesting (entertaining, sure, but I could take or leave the films on any given day), I really wasn’t too interested to check Narnia out when it originally hit DVD. Despite my lack of interest, I watched the film anyway and found it to be what I expected: standard fantasy fair with nothing all that spectacular going on.
Now I realize that my attitude while watching the film had more to do with it than the film itself. Since it’d been so long since I watched Narnia last I opted to rewatch the film for this Blu-ray release before I critiqued it. I pondered just pulling what I could recall about the film from memory but found all of the other fantasy movies that I’d watched since then became one giant Middlenarniaalagaesiaparalelleuniverse Land that bewildered the living daylights out of me. So I once again sat down with Narnia and knowing full well that I wasn’t going to like what was before me, I decided to focus less on my desire to watch it and more on the story and characters.
Well I don’t know if it’s due to the 1080p transfer (which looks absolutely stunning, but we’ll get to that later), but The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was so much better the second time around I had a hard time believing that what I was watching was actually the same movie I was so disgusted and bored with before. I not only got more invested in the characters but I also enjoyed the action sequences and dialogue much more. It was really quite the impressive movie when I took my fantasy-hating-blinders off and I was rather taken-aback that such a sprawling film like this could be rated PG. Surely it won’t hold little kids attention (though there are talking beavers), but it is quite the fine fantasy movie nonetheless.
What really got me the second time around was Edmund’s side story with the witch, as well as the whole battle sequence later in the film. I also picked up on the religious elements of the film a bit more than I had previously and it was just an all-around entertaining film to watch. I’m disappointed in myself that I gave it so little of a chance before.
Of course there were still elements of the film I found displeasing. Certain scenes felt a bit long (I can only imagine what the extended cut is like…and I’m rather surprised it wasn’t included on this Blu-ray release rather than the theatrical cut), but you’ll get that with almost any movie, fantasy or not. Another aspect of the film was that the CGI was sometimes a little too noticeably integrated into the film, which I think has more to do with the clarity of the Blu-ray transfer more than anything since I honestly don’t remember saying “wow that really looks like CGI” so many times on the DVD version. Of course that’s not to knock the visual effects; they were all quite wonderful and well done, but a few stuck out more than others.
Whether it’s because I’d watched other fantasy movies that were much more disappointing than this one (Eragon and Golden Compass, I’m looking at you), but I found The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to be a really strong film which, while it took a second viewing for it to do so, blew me away with both the story telling as well as the acting and visual effects of it all. Overall this one comes Recommended and if you’re like me and were less impressed the first go around, give it a second spin—it might be more to your liking if you know what to expect.
As previously mentioned this two-disc Blu-ray edition of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is the theatrical cut only. Why? I’ve not a single clue; you’d think they’d just go ahead and release the ultimate edition and be done with it. Since most of the content they cram on these discs is all 480p, they could’ve easily still done a 4-disc set and been done with it. For those that are happy with the theatrical cut only, however, we still get a nice overall package. Starting off is a dual-disc Blu-ray case with a reflective foil slipcover. Inside is an insert with the Disney Rewards code as well as a $10 rebate for upgrading to this edition.
There are few extras exclusive to this Blu-ray edition and what is exclusive will hardly impress anyone enough to buy it solely for a few extra games and maps. Still the main reason for upgrading to this release is the video and audio. The film sports an absolutely stunning 1080p transfer that looks magnificent throughout. While I found it a bit dull in the darker scenes (naturally you can’t see anything then anyway, so a hi-def transfer isn’t going to do much for you), but once we got to the sprawling grass fields my jaw dropped at the clarity of it all. I wasn’t impressed with the first Blu-ray I reviewed, but the subsequent releases that I’ve watched since then look simply awesome. On top of the beautiful video we have a rock-solid uncompressed 5.1 track that booms and thunders at all the right moments. The audio isn’t as impressive as the video, but that’s partially due to my setup and also because a lossless 5.1 can only be so much clearer than the compressed 5.1 that I listened to the first go-around with this movie. Louder and clearer is about all the audio has going for it over the old track, but that’s not a knock—it’s a solid transfer all around for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Moving onto the extras on the first disc we have two audio commentaries, both of which have their ups and downs. The first commentary is the more adult-focused and technical oriented one, while the second contains the actors from the film and, as expected with younger ages, is wild and absolutely hilarious to listen to. It was a lot of fun just listening to them ramble and make jokes and as much as I want to know about the technical aspects, hearing some good ol’ horsing around behind the mics is a ton of fun too.
The other extras on the first disc is a pop-up trivia track that plays during the film itself and a blooper reel (4:32, 480p) that takes up so little video real estate that I wondered what was going on with my TV (the aspect ratio is of 2.35:1 but inside of a 4x3 frame so there’s double black bars plus bars on the left and right due to the widescreen TV…in other words there was very little video taking up space).
Moving to the second disc we find “Battle for Narnia” a card like strategy game that runs in 1080p and 5.1 surround. The setup takes some time to get used to but it has its appeal if you’re into the turn-based Magic type card play. I’m not so I bowed out after playing about ten minutes of it and losing horribly (I like my games with less thought process involved, what can I say). Next up after the game is “Creating Narnia”, a multi-part documentary series that all runs in 480p aside from one segment. This is the same set of extras from the original The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe release so don’t expect anything new here. "Chronicles of a Director" (37:47, 480p); "The Children's Magical Journey" (26:25, 480p); "Cinematic Storytellers" (8 parts, 54:47. 480p); "From One Man's Mind" (3:54, 1080p); "Creating Creatures" (11 parts (53:55, 480p); Anatomy of a Scene (2 parts, 480p, 19:18).
“Creatures, Lands and Legends” looks into the various creatures of Narnia (eleven in all, just like the “Creating Creatures” segment). This also runs in 1080p and has a runtime of 13:39; those paying close attention will find a discrepancy on the Blu-ray menu which states this extra as having a run time of 14:42. Not a huge issue, but I notice these things, sue me. Finally “Explore Narnia” (6:49, 1080p) is a big map of Narnia that, upon selecting a specific area, will have video and audio related to that particular selection.
Sure the Blu-ray release could have packed a few more extras on and yes it was a bit disappointing to see a whole second Blu-ray disc wasted when the majority of the content was 480p, but the format is still in the infant stages. I will say that while it’s cool that the Blu-ray tech is being used to create such intricate and complex games such as the card one included here, if that’s all the technology is going to be used for, I can’t say I’m too enthused about it. I love the menu systems that I’ve seen on the majority of the Blu-ray releases as they’re often very smoothly animated and pleasing to the eye, but like the DVD games that were thrown into those releases, I’d rather time and disc space be better used.
Even with the shortcomings this Blu-ray edition still comes Recommended. Whether you upgrade to it is a decision you’ll have to make as, while the transfer if gorgeous, if you’re a big fan of the movie then no doubt you’ll own the four-disc DVD edition which even in standard 480p res easily beats out this Blu-ray release. It’s a very strange thing to release this Blu-ray with only the theatrical version of the film, but I have a feeling we might see a fancier edition when Prince Caspian sees Blu.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is now available on two-disc Blu-ray.