Disney’s film-adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is the kind of film that the studio would not have even attempted had it not been for the recent success of Jackson’s Lord of the Ring’s films. Jackson's achievement convinced profit-motivated film studios that audiences were actually interested in epic “fantasy” stories brought to the big screen via the magic of melding live action with CGI…tools which until recently weren’t practically available to render films like these believably on the big screen.
The real question in everyone’s mind when those Disney trailers first rolled depicting ethereal Narnian montages was would Disney really be able to do it? Would a studio that generally tip-toes around religious issues be able to properly represent a story with such strong Biblical allegory without succumbing to the temptation to secularize it for popular audiences? Would the story be faithfully served when translated to the film medium…at least in spirit if not in letter? Would Disney be able to cast off their “Hollywood” style and allow a director to fashion a dramatic story that feels authentic? Would the writers and actors succeed in creating real characters able to penetrate the clamor of digital special effects and maintain the film’s integrity as a character-driven story?
For me personally, Disney succeeded in every regard.
Director Andrew Adamson (who brought you Shrek) went to great lengths to get inside the spirit of Narnia and the movie feels thoughtfully constructed from the inside-out as a result. While liberties have been taken (inevitable when translating a novel into a two-hour film), the spirit of the story survives unscathed. One of the key reasons for this is the perfect casting of the four child-actors. Each fits his-or-her namesake in the novel like a silk glove, and the child-actors are remarkably adept at their craft and unknowns to the world of cinema…allowing the viewer to engage with their performances in the film with greater freedom than one is afforded with familiar faces where the viewer has to struggle to avoid constantly comparing an actor to some previous role. The inter-dynamics between the children are tangibly familial and believably real. Adamson’s diligence at selecting the right actors and working conscientiously to foster their own real-life bonds behind the scenes (which carry over onto the stage) are worth appreciating.
Another key area of the film’s success is the excellent "characterization" of CGI and live-action/CGI-blended actors. Aslan, the Lion “King” of Narnia, could have been a recipe for disaster had not such great care been taken to animate him with the utmost realism. In particular, Aslan’s speech could have easily come across as puppet-like or worse - erred to the other extreme and anthropomorphized his mouth-movements to a cartoon-like degree. Instead, while watching Aslan talk, one can’t help but think “That’s just what it would look like if a Lion could talk”. Very, very impressive.
While in some instances Aslan’s CGI birthright is apparent, the fact never gets in the way or dampens the sincerity that his role demands. Aslan and Lucy form a bond that’s thick with emotional potency and there a few times during the film that it prompts a few tears. For the friendship between a little girl and a computer-generated lion to elicit such a poignant audience-reaction is a testament to the hard work and talent of the artistic team behind the curtain.
Is Narnia a perfect film? Of course not. At times it feels a bit rushed (a 143 minute run-time tends to shave off the edges of a few scenes that feel that they could have had more room to develop). The scene where one moment we see two girls threatened by snarling wolves and the next they have magically ascended into a tree out of harm’s reach…except for a dangling leg that mystifyingly can’t be lifted up onto the bough…had me groaning. I could have used a few more close-ups of some of the sexy centaurs (hey, this movie is for adults as well…). The Witch could have been depicted more sinisterly…and I’m sure anyone who’s seen the film could fill in their own blank or two. However, most of the criticisms I’ve read of the film were actually criticisms of the story…which were inadvertently criticism of the C.S. Lewis novel. So if you haven’t read the book, keep in mind that Lewis was writing a children’s story (though he intended for it to be enjoyed by adults as well). In any event, in order to enjoy any film I walk into the theater with a stack of forgiveness-cards in my hand to deal out when artistic weaknesses that my good taste deems problematic assail me from the silver screen, and Walt Disney’s “The Chronicls of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” left many more of those cards remaining unused in my hand than I had expected. Job well done.
If you care to read more about this very special film, I encourage you to read John J. Puccio’s outstanding review at dvdtown.com:
Dan Ramer also provides a nice read over at dvdfile.com
|Packaging and Presentation...|
Beware…Narnia comes to you in three flavors:
- A widescreen 2-disc SE set (what is reviewed here)
- A widescreen single-disc edition
- A Pan-and-Scan single-disc edition
It’s important to understand this as Narnia is the type of DVD-movie to find it’s way into many stocking stuffers, Easter baskets, and birthday presents. If you have any influence among your clan, use your powers to ensure that no one ends up with a butchered P/S version of this epic 2.35:1 masterpiece. Also, given the relatively small price difference between the single and 2-disc widescreen versions at most discount retailers, I would strongly encourage you to procure the 2-disc special edition.
The 2-disc special edition is a DVD with class. There is an outer cardboard sleeve that mimics an old leather-bound book (sans the embossing of the LOTR extended sets) and the discs are nicely silk-screened with a transluscent design. The DVD package itself is thoughtfully styled to mimic the wardrobe…both on the front and back of the cover. This somewhat severe treatment is anything but typical Disney, and it speaks to the language of sensitivity and artfulness that surround this entire film effort. Rarely do I say or even consider such things, but I confess that I found the DVD packaging evocative…so much so that the impression actually enhanced my pleasure with viewing the film and with this review.
To Disney and the artists who convinced the marketing team to take the risk with this beautifully stylized approach, I commend you!
You know that you’re an obsessed reviewer when you go to the theater not to watch a movie with your friends, but rather to get an impression of what the projected 35mm film print looks like so you’ll have a point of reference when you write your HTF DVD review!
Yes folks, that would be me…
But it has yielded some good things. One of which is my ability in this review to compare the image of this DVD against…not one…but *two* different 35mm film prints I had the opportunity to screen (one of which I saw the very evening before I received the DVD screener). Don’t bother telling me that the human brain can’t retain memory of image impressions like this. I’m an artsy guy and I can assure you that I took note and remembered exactly what I set out to discover. My key issues to recall were: film grain, color, contrast, image detail. Check.
Comparison to projected 35 mm film print:
The two film prints that I saw were both in pristine condition with very little-to-none film damage. The first projection I saw exhibited much better contrast, color saturation, and black level primarily because it was in a better light-controlled environment. However both prints maintained similarities among all other aspects including grain and image detail.
The projected 35 mm print revealed a very natural, easy-on-the-eyes image that had a particularly soft-focus characteristic during most of the film—contrasted by the sharper-focus and depth of field during the battle scenes (which had a distinctly different appearance…I’m wondering if the director switched film stocks or employed different lenses to achieve this effect). Colors also start out somber and gradually become more vidid and saturated as time progresses through the film...another effect that seems to be a result of artistic intention.
Regarding these points, the DVD replicates this precise look and feel of the projected theatrical prints with incredible accuracy. Viewing my DVD at 1.6 screen widths from my projection screen, for most of the movie I could honestly convince myself that what I was seeing looked just like the real projected film print I had seen the very night before. Fine film-grain was visible when appropriate, color and contrast seemed remarkably similar (given the capabilities of my projector’s dimming bulb), and even my guest who had also seen the theatrical film print the evening before couldn’t help but confess that the DVD looked “just like” or “even better” than the excellent print we had both screened.
Narnia is much better looking than the typical “live action” Buena Vista DVD these days. High frequency brick-wall filtering is less damaging than usual, though its effects can still be seen in the lack of fine object detail or most especially the lack of facial detail in distance shots (though I emphasize that the theatrical print didn't have much more). Some very slight edge-ringing could be seen in a few instances (I paused and moved up closer in several shots to verify the occasional halo) but it never was pronounced enough to call attention to itself when watching the movie from my 1.6 screen-width distance. I think that the more restrained use of filtering coupled with the general soft-focus look of the film combine to produce an image that’s very watchable, and very “film like” even when viewed wide-angle as in a front-projection scenario
If how well a DVD replicates the look and feel of the theatrical projected film print is your measure of success, then Disney’s Narnia DVD deserves the praise.
Taking a more critical view...
If we shift our view from the 35 mm film print exhibiting in theaters (which typically endures less than optimal duplication processes during creation) and instead embrace the digital IP or camera negative as the “source material” with which to compare the DVD, some problems do arise. The minor level of edge-enhancement, while not creating a disaster of rippled edge-ringing like Gangs of New York, does at times impart a very subtle, but detectable “electronic signature” that could have been avoided. While the mild HF filtering does maintain the look of the projected print to a faithful degree, I can’t help but feel that Narnia would have been better served by a higher-resolution (unfiltered) capture of the digital IP downsampled to Standard-Definition DVD resolution with a minimum of tampering. The result may have been an image that looked sharper/crisper than the projected print, but it would have also been more satisfying.
I think that the “film print” is a legitimate point of reference for many historical films especially given the involvement/oversight by the director’s in the past…when well-produced release-prints were regarded as “master copies” of the film. In that era, directors often used this last stage of duplication to adjust color timing and achieve artistic results not always present on the IP or camera negative - and hence the release print became the "master" that represented his or her true artistic vision for the look of the film.
However, today’s film-distribution model is different, and in general it is the digital IP that is the “master copy” that a director approves…and then sends off to an unknown fate at a duplication facility. For this reason, I don’t think it would do a film like Narnia a disservice to replicate the look of the digital IP, and I’m hopeful that the future 1080P Blu-ray release will do just that! I'd love to hear what RAH has to say about this and I hope he corrects me if I erred in my understanding.
This DVD does an excellent job replicating the look and feel of the theatrically projected film print. In that sense I am well pleased as a reviewer since I regard that to be a DVD’s most important objective. However, in absolute terms the DVD image does have room for improvement, especially if we change our point of reference to compare the image to that of the digital IP or camera negative.
I would sum that up to say that the DVD image will satisfy wide-angle viewers (especially in comparison to most other live-action Buena Vista DVDs), but should show some notable improvement when 1080P Blu-ray arrives (which will probably look sharper/more detailed than the theatrical prints). If you find yourself bothered by the soft-focus look of the DVD (while we all wait for Blu-ray), it might help to remind yourself that the image is the DVD is entirely consistent with what moviegoers saw in the theater…
All in all I’m pleased. Very pleased.
Picture Quality: 4.5 / 5
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch even on a 32” 4x3 480I TV. Think Outland or Jean De Flourette (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl, PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts etc.)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Kill Bill Vol 1.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements limited only by DVD’s 720 x 480 resolution. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW" and ask you if they are watching HD. Think The Empire Strikes Back, the Fifth Element Superbit or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.|
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
Impressive (uttered in the same voice of Darth Vader addressing Luke in the carbon-freezing chamber). Most Impressive…
Narnia creates a landscape of sound that is as rich and wondrous as the visuals. Dynamic range is powerfully bold. Bass is deep and aggressively employed though always remains controlled and always is used in a way that supports the on-screen context. Surround use could be described the same way—the surrounds are used prodigiously throughout the film yet never draw attention to themselves in a distracting way; the surround activity always strongly enforces the on-screen context in a way that amplifies one’s perceptions that what is being watched is “really happening.”
The soundstage is broad and enveloping. There is a nice sense of depth and the dialogue is well recorded and maintains a natural “round” character that is easy on the ears. Dialogue is never irritating or bright, and if anything the soundtrack (similar to the DTS on Return of the King) errs towards a presentation that is darker, warmer, and more diffuse. Aslan’s vocals (performed by Liam Neeson) are rendered with vibrancy, weight, and warmth—working together to portray a character that is majestic and powerful yet affectionate and welcoming. The recording/mixing team obviously took great care to use the soundtrack as an artistic tool to amplify the film’s expression. This movie is as much about the sound as it is about the visuals, the story, or the acting - it all fits together into an integrated whole.
DTS and Dolby Digital
One thing I can certainly praise Disney for is their consistent effort to provide a DTS option on titles that can really take advantage of it. I expected DTS to be here and am thrilled that, as usual, it takes the audio presentation even further than the already-excellent Dolby Digital track. What I most often discover to be the case I find here as well: The DTS presentation preserves a greater sense of resolution, realism, and timbreal naturalness. It also presents a soundscape that fuses the soundstage more seamlessly with sounds just “appearing” in mid-air without feeling somehow bound to the point-source locations of the speaker array. The soundstage deepens as the fine texture of acoustic subtleties are preserved and the recording has more “air” (to use an audiophile term from my high-end 2-channel days).
Understand that all of this glowing praise of the DTS track is describing a host of subtle, understated characteristics that may or may not communicate a meaningful improvement depending on your playback equipment or listening style. However, for those of you with an audiophile-bent, I think you’ll be in agreement that that DTS presentation is the way to go.
Narnia is an example of a movie that uses sound as an essential tool of artistic expression to make the movie experience come alive. If you listen to DVDs using your TV’s speakers or haven’t managed to upgrade to Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1 you won’t be experiencing the full dimension of the film. Either 5.1 soundtrack is excellent, but this audiophile prefers the more natural sound of the DTS presentation. Of course, just like with the video, we won’t really get to hear Narnia the way it’s meant to be heard until we hear it in high-resolution/lossess on Blu-ray…
Sound Quality: 5 / 5
B&K AVR 212 processor/receiver driving my Onix-Rocket Loudspeaker system.
This is the part of the review that I’m just dreading to write. Not because there is anything bad to say about the special features, but because there’s so much good stuff to type! Oh for the day you can just speak into your computer and have it type for you, or better yet plug my brain in Matrix-style and do a data dump…
Hands down, bar none, this 2-disc Narnia SE is the definitive special edition to come out of Buena Vista this year. It’s incredible, both in terms of content and presentation. It appears as though the special features presentation from the LOTR DVDs have been an inspiration for the Disney Team. They’ve really gone the extra mile to deliver some fantastic bonus items on this disc and every painstaking care was taken to present them in a way that captures the feeling of the fantasy world of Narnia so that everything matches the look and feel of the feature film. Menus are beautifully animated and the layout is sensible and intriguing all at the same time.
I haven’t had a chance to see the single disc release but my suspicion is that it contains what is the first disc of this 2-disc set (including the bonus items on the first disc) and merely omits the second bonus disc contained in the SE. In any event, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to spend the few extra dollars and relish the full suite of bonus material on this 2-disc set. There have been rumors of a later “extended” release of this film on DVD, an naturally many of us are already excited about the chance to buy Narnia on Blu-ray - but NEITHER should compell you to pass up the 2-disc SE in favor of the single-disc release. It doesn’t matter if you don’t view this DVD purchase as your final and forever means to watch this film…get the 2-disc SE.
Have I made myself clear?
- Feature Commentary:Two separate commentary tracks are available on Narnia. The first is with the four children and Director Adamson, and the second is with Adamson, along with production designer Roger Ford and Producer Mark Johnson. Both tracks are enjoyable and will hold interest for fans of the film, though as you may imagine younger audiences will likely glean more enjoyment from the commentary with the kids and older audiences may find more technical disclosures with the adult crew to hold more interest. However, as an adult viewer don’t be so quick to dismiss the children’s commentary. Andrew’s participation with them adds a nice anchor to their playful style and quite often the kids will share some insights that might surprise you. Certainly, if you want a taste of “behind the scenes” you’ll get it with the kids commentary. The film-makers commentary track, as you would expect, offers the film collector a host of technical insights to the making of the film and even casual-viewer audiences will get something out of it.
- Bloopers:Your typical montage of behind the scenes goofs and antics.
- Narnia Fun Facts:Yes, you see that little thumbs-up sticky there. No kidding.
“Fun Facts” is something seen on many Disney DVDs these days. It makes use of a subtitle track (and can actually be turned on/off via the subtitle button on your remote) to pop up trivia or “fun facts” during the movie’s play. While typically this feature is executed in gimmick-fashion, on Narnia it’s handled with much more thoughtfulness and style. Firstly, the appearance of the pop-up messages are a cut above - looking something like a shield or coat-of-arms that tie in aesthetically with the film (ie, not just yellow-font text pasted over the picture). But the most impressive thing is that the content of the messages is actually interesting. It covers everything from making-of trivia about a particular scene to information about an actor to historical facts about C.S. Lewis' life that inspired him in to write his stories. In fact, rather than “fun facts” the name that I’d give to this feature would be “video commentary”…that’s how substantive the content really is. My only criticism of this feature is that at times the pop-ups don’t stay on the screen long enough to full read and digest the text.
- Chronicle of a Director:A very nice featurette on Andrew Adamson’s perspective and the special efforts he made to bring this story to the screen with such sensitivity and care.
- Children’s Journey:A nice featurette spotlighting the four children. We meet them and discover facts about their lives, interesting stories about their casting and experiences on-set. Film-buffs will also find tidbits worth watching here…for instance, we learn how part of the surprise in Lucy’s expression when she first enters Nania is because the Narnia set had been hidden from the young actress until the very moment she was placed inside it to film the scene with the camera rolling.
- Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River:This short feature covers the start-to-finish “making of” the Melting River Scene. It details the various models which were used for special effects, how the floating ice blocks were achieved (which the kids run across) and what was green-screened to pull the entire shot together.
- Cinematic Storytellers:Presents eight film “diaries” from different members of the film team. These were recorded while the film was being made. These features are not very long and are well worth watching…much of what is said relates to film-making (these are not just behind-the-scenes diaries showing actors towel-whipping each other for gags). Find out some nice details from:
- Producer Mark Johnson
- Production Designer Roger Ford (who goes into detail on set design)
- Costume Designer Isis Mussenden (who goes into detail on the costumes for the White Witch)
- Editor Sim Even-Jones
- Composer Harry Gregson-Williams,
- KNB Effect Group co-founder and Makeup artist Howard Berger (who goes into detail about many of the fantasy characters such as fauns and centaurs and how their realism was achieved)
- Weta Workshop Visualist Richard Taylor
- Director of Photography Donald M. McAlpine
- Producer Mark Johnson
- C.S. Lewis: From One Man’s Mind:This enchanting feature about Lewis only has one real weakness in that it’s not nearly long enough…there is so much more that could be told about this man’s life and I would love to have had even more contained here. Nevertheless, this short documentary is a class-act and beautifully narrated. I should note that it is also the only feature that is 16x9 encoded 1.78:1 and appears downconverted from a high-definition source. Image quality is superb.
- Creating Creatures/Creatures of the World:This is one of those marvelous features that feels very much like what you see on “Lord of the Rings”. A beautiful menu pulls up listing eleven of the mythical creatures/characters from Narnia and selecting them details how the effects team brought them to life in the film. Additionally, you can switch modes by clicking a small wardrobe icon and the same menu reappears…only now clicking the characters gives you background information as to the mythical origins of the character and how/why C.S. Lewis may have incorporated it into the story (or Lewis’ inspiration in the case of creatures invented for the story directly). This feature is engaging for both child an adult audiences. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how worthwhile this, and the other features on disc 2, really are.
Creatures/Characters covered are:
- The White Witch
- Mr. Tumnus
- Ankle Slicers
note: there is a “play all” feature so you can watch the list through continuously
- The White Witch
- Explore Narnia:A nicely animated map of Narnia with highlighted areas you can use your remote to access for information about specific places. Kids will enjoy this but it’s worth a peek by adult viewers.
- Legends in Time:This interesting feature shows the chronological timeline of many of the events in Narnia and pulls much more detail out of the book than what is seen in the feature film. I recommend taking a look at this for anyone who’s interested in the story, novel, or rest of the series.
Disney has delivered.
The studio succeeded in bringing C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, to the big screen in a film that maintains the integrity of original story and themes. The DVD's image quality (though not perfect) faithfully replicates the look of the projected theatrical film prints and is accompanied by a reference-setting DTS soundtrack. And when it comes to bonus material, Disney has established a whole new class of “special edition” with this 2-disc DVD presentation.
If you’ve read the books and were fearful of an on-screen adaptation, put your fears to rest. If you’ve seen the film and were fearful that the DVD presentation might not live up to your expectations, rest assured that no such opportunity has been missed. If you’re looking for film to enjoy with the family and want something above the cut of the typically “forgettable” modern-day entertainment fare, or if you want to a film that opens up a great opportunity to discuss biblical allegory or to share your Christian faith, Narnia is your answer.