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Beauty and the Beast

Diamond edition adds to a top-notch film —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Beauty and the Beast fall for each other

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Perhaps you checked out the two-disc DVD edition of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You listened to both audio commentaries, watched all of the behind-the-scenes featurettes. And yet you found yourself wanting to know exactly how they put those talking CGI beavers on the screen with human actors. And maybe you wanted to know who this C.S. Lewis guy was. And how they came up with the design for Tilda Swinton’s gowns.

These and other questions are addressed in a new four-disc DVD edition of the movie. This new edition represents another case of overkill and double-dipping by Disney, but at least the new bonus features are interesting.

The Lion King

Father Christmas brings weapons instead of toys
Father Christmas brings weapons instead of toys

Narnia is the world created by author C.S. Lewis. His novels in the Chronicles of Narnia series are a mix of fairy tale, adventure and Christian allegory. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe begins during World War II, with German bombs raining down on London. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley) are evacuated to a country mansion inhabited by a reclusive professor and his stern housekeeper. A rainy-day game of hide-and-seek leads Lucy into a spare room occupied only by a large wardrobe. As she makes her way inside of it, the fur coats suddenly give way to snow-covered pine trees.

Lucy and her siblings will learn that Narnia is stuck in a perpetual winter, imposed by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), who fancies herself queen of the land. They will further learn, from two friendly talking beavers, that they are probably the four humans prophesied to lead an army against the witch and restore Narnia to the dominion of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson), the lion.

Overall, the film delivers a rousing adventure. The plot is tight and moves at a brisk pace without ever feeling rushed. Though there isn’t much opportunity for character development, the children’s characters feel distinct. The computer-generated effects, integral to a story full of talking animals and mythical creatures, serve the story without being too distracting.

DVD Extras

A new four-disc (!) DVD edition of the movie
A new four-disc (!) DVD edition of the movie

At 150 minutes, the movie on this edition is 15 minutes longer than the version that appeared in theaters, and on the previous DVD. Aside from this, the first two discs of this four-disc edition are basically the same as those in the two-disc edition.

The first of the two commentary tracks on disc one has director Andrew Adamson and the four child actors. They get off to a slow start, with long pauses and much prompting by Adamson, but eventually the kids loosen up. It’s clear that the five of them enjoy each other’s company. Their good-natured ribbing and bickering makes the commentary fun to listen to. The second commentary track, with Adamson, producer Mark Johnson and production designer Roger Ford is not as lively. Also on the first disc is “Discover Narnia Fun Facts,” which has pop-up facts about the book, its author and the production of the movie. Multi-taskers can watch the movie with the facts and listen to a commentary track at the same time.

Disc two covers the making of the movie in great detail. “Chronicles of a Director,” is a 37-minute behind-the-scenes featurette which provides a good general view of the making of the movie. Anyone wanting to know more can watch the shorter features on this disc, or check out disc four. One of the more interesting featurettes, “Anatomy of a Scene: The Melting River,” dissects the melting waterfall sequence, which was filmed in four different countries and required multiple models, as well as computer-generated imagery.

A second section on disc two delves into the land of Narnia, but not very deeply. Compared to the section devoted to the production, this part is rather sparse. An interactive map of Narnia has only five locations on it. Another feature has a timeline which summarizes the action of the book, and compares it to the time that has elapsed on the other side of the wardrobe in England.

Discs 3 and 4

Disc three has C.S. Lewis: The Dreamer of Narnia, a 75-minute documentary about the creator of that mythical land. The film has interviews with various C.S. Lewis experts, as well as his stepson Douglas Gresham (who co-produced The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). Mixed in are segments with children reading passages from all of the Narnia books. The movie discusses his spiritual struggles and ties events in his life and some his other writings with the themes in the these books.

Having read some articles about Lewis, I suspect that this film barely scratches the surface, but it provides a good introduction to the man and his work. Anyone wanting to know more about the world of Narnia beyond Lion should watch this. Strangely, the end credits of this documentary leave out the names of anyone who worked on its production.

Disc four gives viewers the opportunity to watch the movie once more in “Visualizing Narnia: The Complete Production Experience.” As the movie plays, a picture-in-picture (or sometimes two) will pop up on the screen with a look at the unfinished product, or interviews with many of the people associated with the making of the movie. They talk about just about every aspect of the production, from location scouting to the costumes to making those computer-generated beavers look real.

But Should I Buy It?

These features have much greater depth than the usual promotional behind-the-scenes videos that turn up on many DVDs. However, there are so many details that watching them all in one or two sittings can become overwhelming. Between the featurettes, the commentary tracks, the pop-up facts, and disc four, much information is repeated. Owners of the two-disc edition probably don’t need to have the four-disc edition. As of December 2006, both of these editions are selling for about the same price on Amazon, so this four-disc edition is a good deal for anyone interested in the bonus features.

For those who don’t want all of the bells and whistles, a single-disc edition is also available in either widescreen or fullscreen. It has the same extras that are on the first disc of this set and is currently priced about $10 less.

Picture and Sound

Both picture and sound are excellent on this disc. Inevitably, the wide shots of the battlefield lose the impact that they had in the theater. The booming soundtrack is a reminder that filmmakers ought to let the images speak for themselves, rather than overwhelming viewers with loud, dramatic music.

How to Use this DVD Set

There are many hours of material on this set, so make it last. Combine the movie or one of the longer extras with one or two of the short ones. Because the features repeat so much information, spacing your viewing sessions a few days or weeks apart will probably make them more interesting.