The Chronicles of Narnia

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Richard Dempsey, Sophie Cook, Jonathan R. Scott, Sophie Wilcox, Barbara Kellerman
Director:  Marilyn Fox
Audio:  Dolby Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Home Vision Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  169 Minutes
Release Date:  August 27, 2002

Film ***

I never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I do understand what concerns fans of the books had about the movie adaptation.  I've always had similar reservations about The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.  Those were the stories that captured my imagination growing up, and they created worlds in my mind that I don't believe any filmmaker could ever properly visualize.

In the late 80s, the BBC aired a series of made-for-television movies based on the first four books in the series, and now, thanks to Home Vision Entertainment, they are finding their way to DVD.  I had never seen them before, but I approached The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe with my usual hesitancy.

The teleplay is faithful to the novel in spirit, but as I suspected (or feared), no match for Lewis's magical spells that leapt from his pages to our minds so effortlessly.  I think it's a program that older kids will enjoy, probably more so if they haven't read the original books.  Adults and die hard fans of the novel might find the length and lack of visual muscularity a bit tedious.  For myself, I enjoyed the presentation for what it was.  The fact that I yearned for something more was my problem; it may or may not be yours.

It re-creates the original opening novel in the series and tells the tale of four young British siblings, Peter (Dempsey), Susan (Cook), Edmund (Scott), and Lucy (Wilcox).  Sent from London to the country in the early 40s to escape the Nazi bombings, they find an enchanted adventure waiting for them in the form of an old wardrobe that magically leads to another world:  the land of Narnia.

But all is not well there.  An evil witch (Kellerman), who had declared herself queen, put a bleak spell on Narnia, making it always winter and never Christmas.  But there is reason to hope her reign is coming to an end.  The arrival of the four children coincide with an old prophecy about two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve becoming rulers of the land.  And, it is whispered that Aslan is returning.

Aslan is the lion of the story, and an all-powerful and nearly godlike being.  His purity of heart allows for him to make the ultimate sacrifice, which eventually ensures that good will conquer evil.

In life, C. S. Lewis was also a noted Christian theologian (a layman, in his own words), and The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe is a fantasy filled with Christian ideas for those who are paying attention…at the heart of the story is an innocent sentient who is put to death to pay the price for a wayward individual, but returns to life to vanquish evil.  For those who aren't paying attention, the story is rich, absorbing and rewarding simply in its own right.

I'm guessing the budgets weren't particularly big for these films.  Narnia is created mostly by snow and woods.  The Beaver couple are so badly costumed as to be almost vaudevillian.  And Aslan is little more than a big Muppet…hardly the omnipotent being of our memory.  Then again, no physical representation of Aslan might have been satisfactory…even a well trained real lion would have fallen short with all my imagination ascribed to him.

The cast ranges from good to very good, with my favorite turns being Barbara Kellerman's hammy portrayal of the witch, and young Richard Dempsey's earnest turn as Peter.  The running time is long, but it is a necessary commodity in order to capture the essence of the novel with some degree of faithfulness.

Ultimately, it's for the kids, and I don't see why most older kids wouldn't enjoy what this presentation has to offer.  For fans, expectations are high, and some disappointment is inevitable.  But overall, with limited resources and an honest, if lacking attempt at preserving the spirit of the original novel, it's an offering that might just merit a look anyway.

Video **1/2

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was originally shot on video for television, and as such, there are limitations inherent in the transfer.  In some scenes, colors and detail are strong, in others, they are softer and murkier.  Some visible video “noise” is apparent from time to time, especially during darker sequences, but nothing much could be done about it…again, fault the source material.  There's nothing about it that would warrant avoiding the title, to be sure, but it won't be one of your reference discs.

Audio **

The mono soundtrack is perfectly fine…most of the audio is derived from dialogue and occasional musical cues.  They all come across with clarity, so no complaints.  Dynamic range and openness is limited, so no real praises, either.

Features ***

Believe it or not, I think my favorite feature with this title is one that isn't on the disc itself…a recipe card for Turkish Delight!  (Guess what I'm gonna be begging my mum to make this Christmas…).  But the disc includes a nice little interactive trivia game for the kids, an excerpt on C. S. Lewis from Bookworm, and a stills gallery.


No matter what Narnia movie offering is ever brought to the table, my first and foremost recommendation to parents will be to buy their kids the books instead.  That being said, the BBC presentation of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is probably as good as an alternative can possibly be, despite its lack of visual flair.  And, in the meantime, if anybody wants to try that recipe for Turkish Delight, I'm a willing guinea pig!  ;-)