DVD Review: BBC’s The Chronicles of Narnia (Remastered Version)

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Nearly twenty years before Andrew Adamson and Walden Media began bringing the Narnia novels to the big screen, the British Broadcasting Corporation produced made-for-television adaptations of four of C.S. Lewis’ classic books. These productions have been released to the DVD market a couple of times before, but now they have been digitally remastered for this most recent reissue.
All four productions were adapted for television by writer Alan Seymour and produced by Paul Stone. The programs were originally broadcast in a serial format of episodes running about twenty-five to thirty minutes each. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Silver Chair each ran six episodes long. Prince Caspian was the shortest series at just two episodes, while The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was a four-part adventure. However, the programs have been edited together as feature-length “movies” for DVD.

Disc One: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1988) The adventure begins as LWW introduces us to the Pevensie children–Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy–who are sent to stay at the home of Professor Digory Kirke during World War II. While exploring the house, Lucy (Sophie Wilcox) discovers a wardrobe. She steps inside the wardrobe and finds herself transported into a land of mythical creatures. Here Lucy and her siblings–Peter (Richard Dempsey), Susan (Sophie Cook) and Edmund (Jonathan R. Scott–are drawn into the battle to liberate Narnia from the White Witch (Barbara Kellerman) who holds the land in a perpetual winter. The Pevensies meet Aslan (voiced by Ronald Pickup), the lion god/king of Narnia, who leads them into battle against the Witch and her evil minions.

Disc Two: Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (both 1989) These two adaptations can either be watched separately or run together as a single feature. In Prince Caspian , the Pevensies are drawn back to Narnia where they discover many centuries have passed since their previous visit. The creatures of Narnia have been driven from the land, which has been conquered by humans. They find they have been summoned by Prince Caspian (Jean-Marc Perret), the rightful ruler of Narnia. Caspian’s uncle, King Miraz, seized the throne after murdering the prince’s father, and now seeks to kill Caspian himself. The Pevensies join forces with the prince and the exiled creatures of Narnia to defeat Miraz.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader finds Edmund and Lucy returning to Narnia once again, this time with their priggish cousin Eustace (David Thwaites). Here, they are reunited with Caspian, now a young man and King of Narnia. The king has set sail in search of seven lords who had been driven from the land years ago by Caspian’s uncle, King Miraz. The truly remarkable thing about this story is the transformation of the Pevensies’ cousin. In the beginning, Eustace is spoiled, bratty, whiny and very obnoxious. By the end, he has matured greatly, thinking of others before himself.

Disc Three: The Silver Chair (1990) This is my favorite of the whole set. Eustace Scrubb moves to center stage in this story as he returns to Narnia without his cousins. He is accompanied, however, by Jill Pole (Camilla Power), a bullied classmate from school. Aslan sends Eustace and Jill on a mission to find Prince Rilian (Richard Henders), the missing son of the aging King Caspian. The two are joined in their quest by Puddleglum (Doctor Who ‘s Tom Baker), a Marshwiggle who acts as their guide on their journey into North Narnia. Barbara Kellerman, the White Witch of LWW , returns as the Green Lady, who has lured Rilian into her plan to seize control of Narnia.

Actor Warwick Davis (Willow , the Star Wars saga, the Harry Potter films) plays Reepicheep, a talking mouse in both Prince Caspian and TVOTDT . He also portrays Glimfeather, an owl in The Silver Chair . Davis also played Nikabrik the dwarf in the recent big screen adaptation of Prince Caspian , making him the only actor to appear in both the BBC and Walden Media adaptations of the Narnia books.
Please keep in mind that these adaptations were produced during the late 1980’s and the beginning of the 90’s, and they reflect the BBC production values of that time. If you love the CGI effects of the big screen counterparts, you may be disappointed with these versions. The effects in these programs are more in the order of 70’s and 80’s Doctor Who . But what they lack in terms of effects they more than make up for in quality writing, as Alan Seymour’s scripts remain faithful to C.S. Lewis’ books, and the Christian themes of Lewis’ stories remain intact in their TV versions.
My only real complaint about these DVD releases is the lack of any bonus features. It would have been nice to have seen some featurettes or documentaries included as well as a commentary track. Hopefully BBC Video will one day issue a special edition DVD set with some features. But I am pleased that these versions have been remastered, and I believe that fans of C.S. Lewis classic Narnia books will enjoy these made-for-TV adaptations as much as their big screen counterparts, perhaps even more so.


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