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By Admin | April 20, 2006

Make that two-for-two for those of you scoring at home. That’s two adaptations of popular fantasy novels from the 1950s that have been successfully brought to the big screen. While “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” lacks the depth and epic scale of “The Lord of the Rings,” it’s still a book I enjoyed as a child, and director Andrew Adamson and the cast and crew of this film have done a fine job translating C.S. Lewis’ world to a visual medium.

It probably didn’t hurt that Richard Taylor, who oversaw the creation of costumes, monsters, and miniatures for “The Lord of the Rings,” assisted Adamson for a chunk of this film’s production. Adamson also seemed to have learned a thing or two from Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, as some of the shots in this film have the same feel.

From the casting to the special effects to the story decisions, it’s hard to find fault with this film. Adamson made wise decisions in expanding the book in certain places, such as the opening World War II sequence, and it’s obvious from watching the supplements that he has the same love of the source material that Jackson has for “The Lord of the Rings.”

I won’t bother rehashing the plot, as I’m sure most of you know it already. While I haven’t read the book in a long time, it seemed to me that the most important parts were retained, including the Christian allegory that some people were all excited about. To be honest, I’ll never understand why this film and “The Lord of the Rings” movies get a pass from Christian fundamentalists while the Harry Potter series gets savaged. All three feature plenty of magic use, as well as loads of mythological influences. While I’m not a religious person, I don’t mind the kind of allegory found in this film; I can appreciate a story that doesn’t beat you over the head with a message.

Moving on to the bonus features, disc one features a pair of commentaries. The first has Adamson and his four child actors chatting about the film’s production. If you have children at home, you can imagine what this track sounds like: four motormouths talking over each other as they try to point out everything they want to highlight, while Adamson attempts to moderate the proceedings. Not that it’s a track without value, of course; it’s fun to listen to the kids get excited about the movie all over again, and they and Adamson impart some useful behind-the-scene information.

For a more technical look at the making of the film, Buena Vista has included a second commentary with Adamson, producer Mark Johnson, and production designer Roger Ford, who joins the proceedings via phone. They get into the minutiae of each scene, explaining how it was shot and where it differs from the book, when applicable.

Disc one also includes a “Narnia Fun Facts” track, which features bits of trivia appearing on the screen throughout the film. To save time, you might want to enable that one while listening to a commentary. Four minutes of bloopers round out this platter.

Disc two leads off with “Chronicles of a Director” (37 minutes), which explains how Adamson got involved with the film and what challenges he faced, given the fact that he had previously directed the two “Shrek” animated movies. “Children of Narnia” (26 minutes) does the same for the kids who were cast out of a cattle call that included something like 2,000 hopefuls.

“Evolution of an Epic” is broken into four parts, leading off with the very brief “From One Man’s Mind” (four minutes), which provides an overview of C.S. Lewis’ life. Too bad this set’s producer didn’t take a cue from the “Lord of the Rings” Extended Editions and really delve into the author’s life. “Cinematic Storytellers” (55 minutes) covers the contributions made by producer Mark Johnson, production designer Roger Ford, costume designer Isis Mussenden, editor Sim Even-Jones, KNB Effects co-founder and make-up artist Howard Berger, Weta Workshop’s Richard Taylor, and director of photography Donald McAlpine.

Finally, we have “Creating Creatures” (53 minutes) and “Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River” (11 minutes). The former gets beyond the physical effects to also explain how the filmmakers used the creatures’ personalities to help define their look. The latter gets into the filming of the melting river scene from a special effects point-of-view.

Moving on, you can learn more about the movie’s creatures in “Creatures of the World” (14 minutes), which features brief animated biographies of them, while “Explore Narnia” offers an interactive map with additional information about the world. Finally, “Legends in Time” is an interactive timeline of Narnia events found not only in the movie but also in the other six books of Lewis’ series.

In addition to an insert detailing the DVDs’ features, Buena Vista included two pieces of concept art, one showing Aslan and the other displaying the White Witch. It’s a nice touch for the fans. I should point out that this movie is also available in a single-disc version, if you’re just interested in the film and don’t care about the bonus features.

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