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"Narnia" DVD Review: Part 1

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The first memories I have of the Narnia books are probably not as they should have been. In an alternate reality, I would have read the series as a child, fallen in love with it in the same reverential manner I did the Star Wars Trilogy, and then wondered my entire life why a movie had never been made. Maybe I would have relished the news that "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" was finally being made into an epic movie. Possibly I would have come out of the theater smiling, at last seeing my childhood imagination realized on the big screen in such a grand manner.

Instead I came into the books much later in life - only a few years ago actually - as I began to read the series to my daughter. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" was the first full-length novel we attempted to read to her, and I could see in her eyes, as she awaited a new chapter to be read each evening, that same glimmer of excitement I had as a kid when I knew the next Star Wars flick was about to hit theatres.

But as an adult, and a voracious reader, I found myself growing more and more detached from the story as I read it. For some reason, Lewis's words were just not hitting home with my heart. In many ways, this feeling carried over into the movie experience of Narnia. Even with the stunning visual effects, epic battles, and the affectionate care you could tell the director took with the translation from book to screen, I still felt oddly detached from the grandiose themes playing out before my eyes. Only the scene of Aslan's brutal sacrifice and resurrection managed to tug at my heart, as director Adamson finally let Lewis's intentional Christian undertones shine through the celluloid.

When "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" hit theaters, our senior reviewer Brian Orndorf graded the film a C. For me the film garners a B-, while the exquisite 4-disc DVD collection easily achieves an A.

DISC 1:

The extended motion picture with additional scenes
Don't get too excited about the words "extended edition" in the title - this is not a Peter Jackson-style edition where entirely new scenes are added back to the film, fleshing out the universe and storyline in finer detail. These additions are mostly quick extensions of a scene, adding a total of about 15 minutes to the film. The most notable additions are an extended stairwell chase, and all new cuts of the ending battle sequence where the giant eagles take on some sort of flying goblins.

The Bloopers of Narnia
God do I love blooper montages. This reel has some really good ones, but also begs the question - why do the people that put these together thing we have the attention spans of a gnat? Bloopers are so quickly cut together that you barely have time to realize why you should laugh before the next outtake is upon you. Editors really need to start giving us time to savor these behind-the-scenes gaffes.

Discover Narnia Fun Facts
You might be tempted to skip over this special feature, given that the title sounds like some kind of lame trivia contest. Instead, turning this feature on plays the entire movie with pop-up trivia provided by Douglas Gresham, co-producer and stepson of C.S. Lewis. I was a sucker for VH1's "Pop-Up Video," and the little trivia-lettes that pop-up throughout the film give the DVD a boost in replayability.

Audio Commentary
Disc 1 contains 2 commentary tracks, one by the director Andrew Adamson and the film's stars, and then one with the production team.

DISC 2:
This disc of the collection has more meat than any of the other discs, so much so that it's amazing that there is no "Play All" option. While a tad laborious to surf through at first, the more you dig the more extras you uncover. Peep the details below:

Chronicles of a Director
Take a journey with "Shrek" director Andrew Adamson, from the beginning of the project when he was offered the film, through the production of the movie as you find out just how much love Adamson had for the novel that he read as a 9-year-old, and how he ingrained that love throughout the fiber of the movie as he created it.

The Children's Magical Journey
Much like the director's journey, we follow the children actors as they talk about their experiences auditioning, playing the children of Narnia, and their thoughts on the process of filming in general. What I took away more than anything from this documentary was just how charming the actors truly are, so much so that it is no wonder they landed their roles.

From One Man's Mind
A very brief, yet concise, overview of Lewis' life, including what inspired the world of Narnia.

Cinematic Storytellers
8 documentaries with various members of the production team, displaying some of our favorite brands of behind-the-scenes footage. The first is with Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop, who shows off conceptual design and weapons. The second is with Howard Berger of the KNB Creature Shop, detailing how they made 170+ creature characters in the film. The third is with Isis Mussenden of costumes who, as you can imagine, walks us through the design of all the elaborate costumes in the film. The 4th piece is on Roger Ford, Production Designer, who says his main job is to "delight the viewer, basically." Apparently delighting the viewer involves more work than we'd ever want to be involved with. Oh yeah, and furnishing the house of beavers. Go figure.

The fifth is with Don MacAlpine, Director of Photography, who essentially is responsible for capturing the scenes as they were originally written. Doc 6 is on Sim Evan-Jones, Editor, who covers the travails of editing a big-budget film, and the trust that is essential with the director. The 7th extra in this section is with composer Harry Gregson Williams, giving us a brief overview of creating music for the world of Narnia. Lastly we meet Producer Mark Johnson, who has the unenviable task of running the film from start to finish. How he manages not to end up in the nut house is beyond us.

Creating Creatures
This is a very cool section of the second disc where you can watch brief documentaries on each of the main creatures in Narnia, including the White Witch, Aslan, Tumnus, etc. The great thing about this extra is that you can focus on the behind-the-scenes footage and creation of one character at a time, rather than having them all lumped together in one featurette where they may not have received such specialized attention.

Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River
This featurette shows all the work involved in one scene, including production, the sets involved, and ultimately how CG is incorporated into the shots of the child actors walking across fake ice on a set.

Creatures of the World
Much like the previous "Creating Creatures," this section of the disc divides the featurettes up by creature characters, but instead of behind-the-scenes footage, you're given character descriptions from the novel, accompanied by scenes of the characters in the film.

Explore Narnia
Upon entering this extra, you're presented with a map of Narnia. Clicking on different places of the map take you on a 3D fly-by zoom of the area, accompanied by a description of the area ripped straight from the novel, interspersed with footage from the film.

Legends in Time
A very cool interactive time-line that takes you through the events of the novel/film in a very visual manner. Going through the entire structure of the time-line helped fill in gaps of my memory from having read the novel so long ago and having just watched the film.

- On to Part 2!


Posted by on December 17, 2006 11:30 PM
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