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Blu-ray Reviews: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Originally published in Sound and Image, July/August 2008, v.21#8

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe cover The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2005 - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Director: Andrew Adamson
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy, Liam Neeson, Ray Winstone and Dawn French

Movie: 4.5 Picture: 5 Sound: 5 Extras: 4.5

It is normal in reviews of this movie to protest disagreement with its themes. Of the half dozen reviews of this movie realisation of the C.S. Lewis classic I read at the time of its original cinematic release, all of them did so. What is it with people that they will insist on the supremacy of the artistic vision -- unless that vision incorporates Christian themes, in which case it must be rejected (see, also, Gibson's The Passion of the Christ).

As it happens, I'm an atheist, but I salute both Lewis's original novel, and this movie's -- dare I say it? -- spiritually faithful adaptation. Tens of millions knew the story before seeing the movie. To stray from it thematically would have been to betray them. And, let's face it, nobody lays the bait of the conventional, followed by the unexpected trap, better than C.S. Lewis.

Narnia is a land as fantastical and filled with creatures not of this earth as the lands created by Lewis' friend Tolkein. Director Adamson, like his co-national Peter Jackson, proves adept at joining enormous quantities of CGI to live action. The video quality of this Blu-ray release sparkles. It doesn't really matter whether what you're seeing is a scale model, live action or computer generated, it is sharp and detailed and convincing.

We speakers of English score the sound both in Dolby Digital (at 640kbps) and PCM 5.1. The latter gets that standard 48kHz sampling rate. I didn't try any sound format comparisons because the Dolby Digital sound was significantly louder than the PCM (even though its Dialog Normalisation flag was set to 0dB). The half-dozen foreign language soundtracks also get Dolby Digital, and despite their omission from the description on the packet, you do get Polish and Icelandic (as well as subtitles in those languages).

Be patient with this disc. The load times for the BD-Java can be rather tedious. In fact, it appears that Disney is aware of this because a text panel warning of delays is shown soon after disc insertion. For the main disc, BD-Java isn't used for anything especially interesting, yet it adds over a minute to the disc load time. The main function it appears to perform is to change the usual operation of the pop-up menu, so that the main picture shrinks down to a small area on the screen and the menu occupies the rest. What we really do need are Blu-ray players with hot processors to speed this up.

On Disc 2 you get an interactive game in full HD called 'Battle for Narnia'. In 1982 I purchased a Dick Smith System 80 computer (16kB RAM! Cassette tape data drive!) and a text based interactive game. Due to loading times for the BD-Java code, 'Battle for Narnia' is about as exciting as that 1982 game. But the graphics are prettier, although they are not animated.

If you want to know more about how this movie was made, you won't be disappointed. There are two commentary tracks for the movie, and a stack of featurettes on the second disc (US standard definition) amounting to three and a half hours.

Running time: 143 minutes
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC
Sound: English: LPCM 48kHz, 3/2.0; English, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Icelandic: Dolby Digital 3/2.1 @ 640kbps; Commentary (Filmmakers), Commentary (Director and Kids): Dolby Digital 2/0.0 @ 192kbps
Subtitles: English, English for the Hearing Impaired, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Icelandic, Filmmakers Commentary (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Icelandic), Director and Kids Commentary (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Icelandic), Fact Track (English, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Polish, Icelandic)
Features: 'Battle for Narnia' interactive game; The Bloopers of Narnia (SD, letterboxed - 5 mins); Interactive map with location descriptions; Seven featurettes (SD - 210 mins)

Comparison: Blu-ray vs PAL DVD

Here are some comparisons between the PAL DVD and the Blu-ray version of this movie. At the top of each is the full frame (suitably shrunk down) used in the comparison (taken from the Blu-ray), with a 250 pixel wide detail from the frame underneath. The left side is from the PAL DVD. The image was captured digitally from the disc, scaled up from its native 720 by 576 resolution to 1,024 by 576 (to present in the correct aspect ratio), and then, in order to be comparable to the Blu-ray version, from that to 1,920 by 1,080. The detail is from that last scaled version, and has not been rescaled again.

The right side is from the Australian Blu-ray. This has not been scaled at all. Different applications were used to capture the two frames, so I am not comfortable comparing the colour between the two, merely the detail and sharpness. For those visitors from NTSC lands, generally the PAL DVD is just a touch sharper than the NTSC DVD.

Comparison 1

Comparison 2

As you can see from the Blu-ray, Lucy's cardigan really is knitted:

Comparison 3

Pretty hard to make out even in the Blu-ray version, there's no chance that you can tell from the DVD that those two fuzzy blobs to the right are beavers:

Comparison 4

Comparison 5

Can you tell at all from the DVD that this suit of arm has engraving and filigree?

Comparison 6

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