The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (November 28/05)
Based on the second of author C.S. Lewis' acclaimed Narnia series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe has clearly been designed to appeal to the same sort of crowd that flocked to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Right off the bat, director Andrew Adamson infuses the film with a decidedly epic feel - complete with lush cinematography and sweeping camerawork - with the end result a big-budget adventure that effectively replicates the experience of reading Lewis' book. The story kicks off in London during the Second World War, where four siblings - Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skander Keynes), Peter (William Moseley), and Susan (Anna Popplewell) - are shipped off to a country home after it's deemed too dangerous to stay in the city. There, they discover a closet that actually doubles as a doorway into the mystical land of Narnia. After Edmund's encounter with the tyrannical White Witch (Tilda Swinton), the kids learn of an ancient prophecy that says they will be responsible for bringing peace back to Narnia. Though The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is undeniably quite engaging for much of its running time, the film does suffer from some uneven pacing and a distinct case of overlength. Some aspects of the kids' journey can't help but feel reminiscent of Jackson's Rings trilogy, though it's hard to fault the filmmakers for this sense of deja vu. The adventure-oriented second half certainly contributes to this feeling, as the movie essentially becomes a prototypical fantasy epic - complete with a pivotal battle between good and evil. Having said that, there's a lot here worth recommending - starting with the superb performances and stellar special effects. In terms of the former, each of the four child actors effectively steps into the shoes of their respective characters - though it's Swinton who quickly proves to be the most intriguing figure in the film (she's just so evil). The voice acting is just as good, with Liam Neeson (Aslan, the lion of the title) and Ray Winstone (a beaver helpfully named Mr. Beaver) standouts in a cast that also includes Rupert Everett and Dawn French. In the end, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe warrants a recommendation due primarily to its status as a winning piece of old-fashioned entertainment; this is the sort of film that the whole family can feel comfortable checking out, and if this is any indication, there's no need to dread the inevitable follow-up(s).
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (February 2/09)
Though it boasts several effective performances and a handful of genuinely enthralling action sequences, Prince Caspian has been saddled with a needlessly overlong running time that slowly-but-surely renders its positive attributes moot. The plot follows the Pevensie siblings (Georgie Henley's Lucy, Skander Keynes' Edmund, William Moseley's Peter, and Anna Popplewell's Susan) as they return to Narnia 1000 years after the events of the first film, with the bulk of the proceedings revolving around their efforts at battling the villainous (and inexplicably ethnic) Telmarines for control of the fabled city. Director and co-writer Andrew Adamson has forced an epic sensibility onto Prince Caspian that proves disastrous, as the filmmaker's emphasis on the increasingly dull political maneuverings of the Telmarines consistently brings the movie to a dead stop (and also ensures that the opening hour essentially proceeds at a crawl). There's consequently never a point at which the viewer is drawn into the hopelessly dense storyline, with the uniformly less-than-enthralling performances contributing heavily to the atmosphere of tediousness - although, admittedly, it's impossible not to get a kick out of Peter Dinklage's scene-stealing (and lamentably brief) work as a crusty dwarf named Trumpkin. Even Prince Caspian's battle sequences, generally the highlight within an effort such as this, can't help but come off as perfunctory and rote, as the majority of such moments feel as though they've been artlessly shoehorned into the proceedings for the sole purpose of evoking such similarly-themed endeavors as the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series. And while the final battle - as well as the duel leading up to it - is actually quite well done and genuinely exciting, it's simply not enough to compensate for the ineffectiveness of everything that leads into it.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (April 9/11)
The shortest of the Narnia movies (and also the worst), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader follows Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skander Keynes) as they're once again summoned to the magical world of Narnia - where the duo, along with their obnoxious cousin (Will Poulter's Eustace), must assist Caspian (Ben Barnes) in his efforts at retrieving seven magical swords. Filmmaker Michael Apted has infused The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with a distractingly low-rent feel that immediately sets the movie apart from its comparatively epic predecessors, with the use of digital cameras resulting in a shot-on-the-cheap visual style that's often exacerbated by Apted's relentless reliance on handheld cinematography (ie the film often resembles a contemporary Michael Mann production in terms of its look). Even if one were willing to overlook the distractingly inept visuals, however, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader would still come off as a hopelessly inferior piece of work - as the movie has been saddled with a sluggish, thoroughly uneventful midsection that revolves primarily around the characters' episodic adventures (ie the protagonists encounter a race of goofy, one-legged troublemakers). The ensuing lack of momentum ensures that even the most patient of viewers will find themselves growing more and more antsy as time progresses, yet, to be fair, the film does benefit from the inclusion of a surprisingly engaging stretch in which Poulter's character is accidentally transformed into a fire-breathing dragon. The relatively watchable atmosphere proves to be short lived, though, as the movie concludes with a tedious battle sequence that boasts some seriously shoddy special effects - which effectively cements The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader's place as an ill-conceived, consistently underwhelming sequel that simply doesn't fit in with the universe established in the first two films.
About the DVDs: Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with a whole host of supplemental materials, in this lavish two-disc special edition. Disc one contains two commentary tracks, a fact-filled text track, bloopers, and a series of bonus trailers. Disc two is packed with featurettes that cover virtually every facet of the film's production, and it would literally take hours to get through everything. The movie is also available as a four-disc extended edition, which adds approximately seven minutes of footage and a whole host of bonus features (including hours of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a full-length documentary on author C.S. Lewis, and much more). As expected, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian has been outfitted with numerous bonus features and behind-the-scenes materials - bloopers, deleted scenes, commentary, and even a "digital copy" of the film. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader arrives on DVD courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, with the film inexplicably presented in its incorrect theatrical ratio and armed only with a commentary track and deleted scenes.