Sunday 25 March 2007

Sunday 25 March 2007
DIRECTOR: Adrew Adamson
WRITERS: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (based on the novel by C.S Lewis)
CAST/VOICES: William Moseley (Peter Pevensie), Anna Popplewell (Susan Pevensie), Skandar Keynes (Edmund Pevensie), Georgie Henley (Lucy Pevensie), Tilda Swinton (Jadis The White Witch), James McAvoy (Mr Tumnus), Liam Neeson (Aslan), Ray Winstone ( Mr Beaver), Dawn French (Mrs Beaver), Jim Broadbent (Professor Digory Kirke), James Cosmo (Father Christmas), Patrick Kake (Oreius), Kiran Shah (Ginarrbrik), Elizabeth Hawthorne (Mrs Macready), Judy McIntosh (Mrs Pevensie), Shane Rangi (General Otmin), Michael Madsen (Maugrim) & Rupert Everett (Fox)

Four wartime siblings evacuated to the countryside discover a wardrobe that leads to the land of Narnia, where they discover their appearance is part of a prophecy...

Undoubtedly fast-tracked as a result of The Lord Of The Rings' success, C.S Lewis highly-regarded novel (the first of seven) is adapted for the big screen courtesy of director Andew Adamson, who cut his teeth on the first two Shrek animations.

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
(herein LW&W) concerns the four Pevensie children, evacuated from London to the English countryside during the Blitz. It's during a game of hide-and-seek in a sprawling mansion that youngest sibling Lucy discovers a wardrobe that leads to Narnia, a wintry wonderland populated by talking animals and ruled by an evil White Witch.

It's not long before all four Pevensie children (brave Peter, cautious Susan, sweet Lucy and cynical Edmund) are embroiled in the affairs of Narnia, which has been stuck in winter for hundreds of years. The Pevensies are amazed to discover their presence was prophecized and heralds the return of Aslan (Liam Neeson), a mighty lion who must defeat the White Witch Jadis (Tilda Swinton) to secure the royal reign of the Pevensies.

Andew Adamson ensures LW&W is a faithful adaptation. The film is bright and colourful, the special FX are of a high standard, the acting/voice-overs are generally good and the pacing is strong.

At face value, LW&W is a triumph, but while it's enjoyable and fun for younger children, Adamson fails to make Narnia's opening salvo really soar. The truth is, LW&W is afraid to take risks or provide anything other than dependable and vibrant action beats. Yes, I know it's a children's film, but the heart and soul is missing from Narnia. As an epic, it's disappointingly minor and inconsequential.

The performances are acceptable, but only Georgie Henley hits the right note as Lucy Pevensie. William Moseley is stiff as Peter, Anna Popplewell is underused as Susan, while Skandar Keynes makes a great start as traitorous grouch Edmund, only for his character to fizzle out once forgiveness is granted.

It's always difficult when success rests on young actor's shoulders (just as the Harry Potter team), but LW&W drags your attention away from the children with its effects pretty quickly. By the time a climactic battle is underway, your concern for the Pevensie clan has been usurped by ogling all the Minotaurs, Centaurs and giant eagles.

Despite all the creatures we see along the way, their cumulative battle failed to arouse me in the wake of Lord Of The Rings' own epic brawls. FX teams will never make talking animals convincing (the structure of their mouths will just never synch with human words), but the CGI beavers were nicely animated. The hybrid men (half horse or half goat) were rendered well, as were the bullish Minotaurs and the impressive lion Aslan. Remember when CGI hair and fur was considered impossible?

The most pleasing thing about Narnia's production design is the vibrancy and flair of colour. After the muted pallete of the Rings' trilogy, it's nice to see some fantasy sequences in bright daylight. Snowy Narnia is simply enchanting in the opening half, the crossing of an icy river is beautiful and the finale's grassy battle sequence is sumptuous.

Tilda Swinton is impressive as the White Witch, the only person who's bothering to grab the material by the scruff of the neck. Swinton's androgynous features again serve her well post-Constantine, giving Jadis a creepy sense of asexuality. Early moments spent tempting Edmund with Turkish Delight are lovely and she sells a spooky sacrificial scene very well. It's just a shame she's underused everywhere else and her eventual comeuppance is criminally fudged.

Overall, LW&W is fairly unexciting but solid entertainment for undemanding children and fans of the books. There's not much life to anything beyond Tilda Swinton and a neat turn by James McAvoy as kindly faun Mr Tumnus. In particular, the quartet of child leads are totally ambivalent (passable as naive kids, implausible as battlefield troops).

For the target under-10s, Narnia's first chapter is colourful and cheerful, totally able to entertain for a few hours. But, more discerning viewers will spot an empty-hearted epic when they see one. It certainly doesn't inspire eagerness to see the next six, particularly sans Swinton...


PICTURE: The film's 2.35:1 ratio is slightly reduced to 2.18:1 and has some grain in the darker sequences, although most of the film is vibrant, rich and colourful.

SOUND: A brilliant sound design of DD5.1 (and DTS if you have it) that does a great job of bringing Narnia to life around you. Deep bass, good mid-range, clear dialogue and nice use of directional effects.


Commentaries: There are two commentary tracks. The first involves director Andrew Adamson and the four child stars and the second finds Adamson joined by production designer Roger Ford and producer Mark Johnson

Discover Narnia: Basically, fun facts in the form of pop-up information from co-producer Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis. Not very many of these, sadly.

Bloopers: The usual assortment of mildy humorous and "you had to have been there" comedy goofs with the cast and crew. Four minutes long.

Creating Narnia: A documentary that includes 'Chronicles Of A Director', a 37-minute documentary. 'The Children's Magical Journey' is 26-minutes of featurette focusing on the child stars. Then there's 'Evolution Of An Epic' that includes 'C.S. Lewis, From One Man's Mind', 'Cinematic Storytellers,', 'Creating Creatures' and 'Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River.' All of these are enjoyable enough, but 'Creating Creatures' is easily the best as we're treated to two 9-minute passages that show us how the film's creatures were created and costumed.

Creatures, Land And Legends: In here are 'Creatures Of The World' that gives background on the assorted mythological beings in the film. There's also 'Explore Narnia' which is a map of the country that allows you to highlight locations and get information.

Legends In Time: This is a timeline to events in the story, with audio narration. As always with a Disney Special Edition DVD, getting through the extras requires a lot of clicking!

The two discs come housed in a double, slim-line keep case, further enclosed in a cardboard slipcover designed to resemble and open like the wardrobe closet in the picture. It's quite an attractive proposition and the quality of the discs far outstrips the actual film itself.