Set in World War II England, four Pevensie siblings – Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter – enter the world of Narnia through a magical wardrobe while playing a game of hide-and-seek at the rural estate of a mysterious professor. Once there, the children discover a charming, once peaceful land inhabited by talking beasts, dwarfs, fauns, centaurs and giants that has become a world cursed to eternal winter by the evil White Witch, Jadis. Under the guidance of a noble and mystical ruler, the magnificent lion, Aslan, the children fight to overcome Jadis' powerful hold over Narnia in a spectacular, climactic battle that will free Narnia from her icy spell forever.
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe has a lot to live up to. The books are multi-million sellers the world over and with The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies succeeding both critically and commercially Disney will be hoping for the same here. Directed by Andrew Adamson (who also directed Shrek and Shrek 2) this was a big gamble with a budget around $US180 million. For the most part this movie is a success. Despite some slightly inconsistent pacing this is an engrossing movie, and one with impressive acting and voiceovers.
Balancing the good of the children is the evil White Witch played by Tilda Swinton. She's not your cackling, hunched-over old hag of a witch, but a devilishly evil, presence commanding tyrant. Voiceovers include Liam Neeson as the lion Aslan, Ray Winstone as Mr Beaver, Dawn French as Mrs Beaver and Rupert Everett as Fox. All put in fine, and convincing, performances.
As with any movie that is based upon a series of books the ending leaves you wanting more. It ends rather abruptly and really leaves you wondering what they do at the conclusion. The ending makes it pretty clear that there is much more to see in upcoming pictures, but it leaves you feeling like you're missing the big picture. Still, the second movie is out in cinemas now, and no doubt heading to Blu-Ray one day, and the third movie has been green-lit for production as well. It must also be said that the ending is no where near as abrupt as that in The Golden Compass.
Overall The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe is a good movie, and is what could be a great start to a big franchise. If you haven't seen this movie yet then sit back and enjoy, if you have seen it I feel your sentiments will, more likely then not, be in line with mine.
Walt Disney Studios are, at this point in time, the most consistent in producing the finest in Blu-Ray transfers. The good news is that this release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe doesn't alter that fact, and may in fact be setting new benchmarks for the company. Encoded at 1080p using the AVC MPEG-4 codec in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 this really is a magical release. The first time Lucy passes through the door into the snowy world of Narnia you will be amazed at the richness of detail. In fact, no matter which scene you are looking at the detail and sharpness to the image is stunning. Black levels and shadows are superb while the entire picture has a rich vibrant colour to it.
Released in 2005 it comes as no surprise to see that there isn't a single blemish or moment of dirt on the print. It is pristine. The compression is also wonderfully handled with not a hint of artifacting from start to finish. Actually I did notice some slight shimmering in some of the opening credits scenes, and there was the odd scene or two where the level of film grain seemed excessive to other scenes. These are, though, extremely minor issues in an otherwise faultless presentation.
There are many other tracks on this disc including an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track encoded at 640kbps. It must be said that this track is also extremely impressive, with only a little less fidelity then the PCM track. Also equal to the task are the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Polish and Icelandic Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, all encoded at 640kbps and - you guessed it - also quite superb. We obviously didn't watch the movie in each language, but samples of each were impressive.
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe on Blu-Ray includes subtitles are provided in English, English SDH, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Polish and Icelandic. Sampling the English track showed it to be accurate to the dialogue on screen.
Audio Commentary with director Andrew Adamson and four child actors Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell: This is quite an entertaining track, certainly more entertaining then I thought it would be. The children are actually pretty enthused about the movie, and the commentary and it's a joy to listen to their experiences while filming this movie.
Discovering Narnia Fun Facts: Basically a pop-up trivia track which plays during the movie. There are some interesting facts here especially as they tend to focus on C. S. Lewis and the novel rather then the movies production. At times the pop-up are a little sparse, but it's worth putting on if you've seen the movie and want some more details.
The Bloopers of Narnia (4:36): I actually felt that this was one of the weakest extras on the Blu-Ray set. The bloopers are - more often then not - simply the actors pulling faces at the camera.
So now we get to the second disc in the set, and certainly the bulk of the extras can be found here...
Battle for Narnia : Now this is, without a doubt the best Java based game I've played on a Blu-Ray disc to date. Essentially a card based battle game we'll admit it nothing like a real game on the PS3, but it could easily chew up a few hours of you life. Well done Disney on the effort that has gone into this game, let's see more in future.
If there is one disappointment with this extensive featurette it's that it is only provided in Standard Definition on this Blu-Ray disc. Surely an upgrade to HD could have been afforded for this movie which was the third biggest grossing movie around the world in 2005.
Creatures, Lands & Legends (13:39/HD): A look at the world of Narnia in two ways. The first looks at the characters through animated storybook sequences with clips from the movie, artwork and storyboards. A second part allows you to click on locations on a map to get details about that location including artwork and film footage. Brilliantly presented this is great feature which, thankfully, is presented in High Definition using the AVC codec.
Review By: Dave Warner