National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks & Passes

BY Steven D. Greydanus

May 18-24, 2008 Issue | Posted 5/13/08 at 2:12 PM


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – BluRay (2005) - Pick

The Chronicles of Narnia (1998-2000 - Pick

In case you missed it, the hi-def DVD format wars are over. The winner is Blu-ray, which beat out HD-DVD. The good news is this doesn’t mean your DVD collection is obsolete: Blu-ray players will continue to play regular DVDs. It does mean that if you’re in the market for a new DVD player, you should probably consider a Blu-ray player — and when you buy DVDs in the future, you should consider whether you want to settle for standard or hold out for Blu-ray. (By the way, how old is your television?)

Although the 2005 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has long been available on DVD — in regular and extended editions — this week, coinciding with the big-screen release of Prince Caspian, marks the film’s debut on Blu-ray.

Georgie Henley’s delightful Lucy, James McAvoy’s charming Mr. Tumnus and Tilda Swinton’s chilly White Witch are among the best reasons to see this big-budget blockbuster, which boasts top-notch special effects and sweeping New Zealand landscapes.

Aslan, rendered in amazing computer animation, is a technical triumph, though as voiced by Liam Neeson he’s neither as growly nor as transcendent as he ought to be. As with Prince Caspian, scripting choices somewhat undermine Aslan’s omnipotence, as when Aslan explains that the Deep Magic “governs all our destinies, yours and mine” — a line Lewis never would have written.

Another flaw is the film’s revisionistic sympathy for Edmund over Peter. This partly reflects director Andrew Adamson’s middle-child issues, but also illustrates Hollywood’s ongoing ambivalence about heroic authority figures.

Such missteps add up to the difference between a good family film and the great film it could have been. Still, even in this diminished form Lewis’ story is still worth seeing, and the film adds enough to keep things fresh.

Also worth checking out are the three episodes of the BBC The Chronicles of Narnia, covering the first four books, from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to The Silver Chair.

Although production values, especially in the earlier episodes, are generally lame to modest, with the silly-looking Beaver costumes and a well-made but unimposing two-man Aslan puppet, allow it the suspension of disbelief you would give a local community theater stage production. You’ll find a faithful and enjoyable interpretation of Lewis’ beloved stories. (They get better as they go, too.)

Beautiful, rugged U.K. landscapes, splendid old castles and other shooting locations, and some fairly impressive sets help create some sense of authenticity. Among the child actors, Sophie Wilcox particularly shines as Lucy, while in The Silver Chair Tom Baker (an erstwhile Dr. Who) gives the series’ best performance as the dour but stalwart Marshwiggle Puddleglum.

Content advisory

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Recurring fantasy action and violence and some menace to children, including a basically bloodless but intense battle sequence. Might be too much for sensitive kids. The Chronicles of Narnia: Fantasy menace and scary images; stylized violence. Okay family viewing.