The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
April 4, 2006
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Rupert Everett, ,
Carefully marketed to be the next franchisable fantasy film alongside The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) defeated Peter Jackson’s over-hyped juggernaut, King Kong (2005) at the box office in a surprise upset. The combination of a Christmas holiday release date, strong source material (C.S. Lewis’ classic novel) and a family friendly take proved to be unbeatable. A sequel, not surprisingly, is in the works.
It is World War II and the Battle of Britain rages. A mother sends her four children to live in the countryside in order to keep them safe from the relentless bombing that plagues London. They go to live with an eccentric professor (Broadbent) and his stern housekeeper. Peter (Moseley) and Susan (Popplewell) are the older siblings and look after Edmund (Keynes) and Lucy (Henley), the younger ones.
They pass the time playing hide and seek in the professor’s large mansion. Lucy hides in an immense wardrobe only to find that it is in fact a portal to another world – Narnia. Once there, she meets a friendly fawn named Tumnus (McAvoy) who invites her to a cup of tea. Eventually, she brings the rest of her siblings to Narnia which has been trapped in an eternal winter for a 100 years by the evil White Witch (Swinton) who coerces the selfish Edmund to her side while the others ally themselves with the forces of good led by the benevolent lion Aslan (voiced by Neeson).
Tilda Swinton is perfectly cast as the icy White Witch. She resists the urge to go over-the-top with her larger than life character. The Witch knows just what to say and do in order to entice Edmund, playing on his weaknesses. Swinton exudes just the right amount of menace.
The four children are all excellent and quite believable as siblings. Henley, in particular, does a good job as the adorable and precocious Lucy. Her wonderfully expressive eyes convey her emotions and play quite effectively on our sympathies. The filmmakers wisely cast unknown actors in these parts which helps transform them into their characters because we have no pre-conceived notions about them.
The Chronicles of Narnia is a triumph of production design, visual effects and on pretty much every other level of technical expertise as it successfully immerses us in this magical world rich in detail and atmosphere – something that is par for the course for these kinds of films ever since The Lord of the Rings raised the bar so high. The film is also quite faithful to Lewis’ novel and manages to capture the sense of wonder while maintaining the right balance of warmth, humanity and darkness. Although, children who are sensitive to seeing animals being hurt (even though faked) might not want to see this film.
This film places an emphasis on the bond of family. Only when the four children are reunited and work together as a team are they victorious. Despite Edmund’s transgressions, he is forgiven, welcomed back into the fold and given the chance to redeem himself – hence its universal appeal. The fact that the filmmakers did not screw up adapting a book beloved and cherished by so many is an achievement in and of itself. The Chronicles of Narnia is an entertaining and well-made fantasy epic.
The two-disc special edition is jam-packed with extras that cover many aspects of the filmmaking process. But we kick things off on the first disc with “The Bloopers of Narnia,” an amusing collection of pratfalls, blown lines and general goofing around on the set.
One also has the option to “Discover Narnia Fun Fact” that involves various factoids about the film to popping up on the screen as you are watching it. The only complaint of this feature is the infrequency of them. For such a book steeped in trivia (as I’m sure the film is as well) there could have been more facts appearing on screen.
Also included is an audio commentary by director Andrew Adamson and actors William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley. According to Adamson, the purpose of the opening bombing of London was to establish the epic scale and root the film in reality. Not surprisingly, the older kids, in particular Moseley and Popplewell, offer the most coherent comments while Adamson gamely prods them with decent questions. The kids tend to talk about what it was like when they filmed a given scene. This track starts off a little slow but picks up steam as the film progresses.
There is a second commentary by Adamson, production designer Roger Ford and producer Mark Johnson. This is a more technically oriented track as they talk about how WW2-era London was recreated and how Narnia was brought to life. In an unusual move, Adamson shot the film in chronological order so that the children grew and matured like their characters. This is a very accessible track that is not bogged down by techie-speak and well worth a listen.
The second disc starts off with “Chronicles of a Director” that takes a look at the man who directed Shrek (2001) and was subsequently put in charge of this huge epic. He originally wanted to do a smaller scale movie but couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do this movie when it was offered to him. Before any filming took place, Adamson sent the producers a 20-page document outlining his thoughts on all aspects of the movie.
“The Children’s Magical Journey” focuses on the four child actors. Adamson was looking for real kids and not self-conscious child actors. They all talk about how they got the role and how they bonded while making the movie together. They clearly had the time of their lives as evident by their tireless enthusiasm.
“Evolution of an Epic” is broken down into four featurettes. One profiles C.S. Lewis and examines the inspiration behind his Narnia books and takes a look at their enduring legacy. Various technical aspects, from the weapons and armour to the creature make-up and the costumes are examined. We see how they all contributed to bringing the novel to life. Also, a specific scene – the melting frozen river sequence – is dissected into its various technical aspects: CGI, miniatures and soundstages. The amount of work and the scale on which this film was made is very impressively conveyed in these extras. They provide a snapshot of just how much hard work was put into making Narnia.
“Creatures of the World” takes a look at the various types of creatures that inhabit the world of Narnia, from centaurs to satyrs to characters like Aslan and Tumnus. For example, they show how the White Witch’s look changes with her mood. The focus is on the more technical aspects but when you click on the wardrobe icon you get the historical and literary perspective, their traits and physical attributes.
“Explore Narnia” presents an interactive map of the fantasy world. It puts key locations into their context within the story and its distinctive characteristics. This is an excellent guide.
Finally, there is “Legends in Time” that presents a timeline of events that occur in Narnia and how they compare to time in the real world.