Video Picks & Passes

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: PICK


Karol: A Man Who Became Pope: PICK


The Jeweller’s Shop: PICK


Content advisory: Narnia: fantasy action and violence and some menace to children. Karol: Some war-related images; brief frank references to Catholic teaching on sexuality. The Jeweller’s Shop: Nothing problematic.

Andrew Adamson’s smash hit The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe recently passed Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire at the box office among 2005 releases, and this week it brings C.S. Lewis’ faith-inflected fairy tale about four children swept up into a war of good and evil in a magical fairyland home to DVD. The film follows the basic plot and structure of Lewis’ story of the battle between the great Lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton), preserving Lewis’ crucial themes of guilt and expiation, sacrifice and redemption, death and resurrection, the triumph of good over evil.

Some departures, though, sap some meaning and thematic richness. Most seriously, Aslan is robbed of much of his awe-inspiring majesty by alterations that consistently minimize his power and his effect on others. Even so, Adamson’s film is a minor treasure. For those who’ve never read the books, the taste of Lewis’ story and themes afforded by the film will send them to the books, while viewers who know the books will return to them — grateful to the film for what it adds to them, and to the books for what the film leaves out.

Karol: A Man Who Became Pope (new on DVD) wasn’t the best of last year’s crop of made-for-TV John Paul II biopics, but it was the first — and the only one seen and praised both by Benedict XVI and John Paul II himself — and last week it became the first to come to DVD. (The best 2005 JP2 biopic was CBS’s Pope John Paul II starring Cary Elwes and Jon Voight, not yet available on DVD.) The story takes liberties with history, but displays a familiarity with the realities of wartime and Cold War Poland and how they shaped Karol Wojtyla’s life and thought.

Key strengths include Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk, well cast not only for his granite jaw, thin blond hair, resonant voice and lean, athletic build, but also for his sense of presence, charisma and projection of intelligence. Few cast members will be familiar to viewers, but one who will is Hristo Shopov, Pilate in The Passion of the Christ, here a Soviet official who is one of Wojtyla’s chief nemeses.

In other JP2-related DVD news timed for the first anniversary of his death: The Jeweller’s Shop, Michael Anderson’s adaptation of then-Archbishop Wojtyla’s meditative three-act play about love and responsibility, at last comes to DVD courtesy of Ignatius Press. Framed as a loosely structured drama spanning two decades and two continents, the story is propelled by ordinary (though sometimes philosophically elevated) dialogue. A mysterious character from the play, Adam, becomes a rather Wojtyla-like priest who takes the young people of his parish on nature hikes in the mountains.

The mysterious jeweler’s shop remains a place of mystery, and there are a couple of moments of magical realism highlighting the indissolubility of matrimony. As translator Boleslaw Taborsky writes, “There are no easy solutions, there is no happy ending. But there is hope, if only we can reach out of ourselves, see the true face of the other person, and hear the signals of a Love that transcends us. To this state of mind and heart we are invited but not browbeaten.” The film also invites us to this state of mind and heart.