Funny how the tables always seem to turn over time. Look at world of children’s fantasy novel adaptations, for example: nowadays, every single mythical adventure — new and old — gets a chance to either reign at the box office, or rain on it. Why? Mostly, it’s because of that modern computer imagery technology stuff. Gone are the days of lame and limp animal co-stars whose only saving grace is their voiceover talent. Now we can make every variety of critter more interesting than ever before by having them talk, grow opposable thumbs, and even upstage their human stars.
The downside? More often than naught, howe’er, producers seem to forsake any sort of substance for their artistic style — leaving moviegoers with the solitary image of a great big animated turkey and nothing else. Now, if one were to adapt a children’s fantasy novel just a few short decades ago, producers would have had to elect the more classic (and usually preferred) “style over substance” method of filmmaking due to the limitations in the special effects field; limitations that, I should point out, were even more restricted when the producers in question were the BBC.
And that, my friends, brings me to Warner Home Video’s release of the BBC TV’s adaptation of The Chronicles Of Narnia.
Originally broadcast between 1988 and 1990, The Chronicles Of Narnia brings us a fairly modest account of the classic CS Lewis novels: “The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe,” “Prince Caspian And The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader,” and “The Silver Chair.” Each adaptation is divided into six episodes each, and each episode runs roughly in the neighborhood of thirty minutes. As you may have noticed, the second and third books have been combined in this instance, with “Prince Caspian” taking the whole of two episodes up before moving on with the series: apparently, the writers for this series must have thought “Prince Caspian” was a bit on the dull side and would not generate enough viewers. One wonders if perhaps Disney should have considered doing the same thing for their recent feature-length big-screen adaptation which failed to generate enough money in moviehouses.
So, how does this version of The Chronicles Of Narnia fare when compared to said recent adaptations? Well, at times, the series can be pretty captivating (providing you like seeing children’s novels in action, that is) — whereas other times it can be as dull as an Amish bachelor party. The special effects border on passable to being downright deserving of a facepalm (to reiterate: late ’80s BBC TV), whilst the acting and writing itself usually manages to keep the oft-hit-and-miss series together in general. Sure, we all hate child actors (well, I do), but the lads and lasses featured in The Chronicles Of Narnia (Richard Dempsy, Sophie Cook, Sophie Wilcox, David Thwaites, et al) do an admirable job, nonetheless. The series includes notable guest appearances by the likes of Tom Baker (of Doctor Who fame), Barbara Kellerman, and Warwick Davis (among others).
Much like the quality of the series itself, the audio and video aspects of Warner’s release of The Chronicles Of Narnia vary. This was made for British television during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s — long before the days of High Definition — so you have to accept that it won’t look spectacular now and have done with. The same pretty much goes for the audio side of this release. In terms of special features, the set boasts an extra disc of bonus materials, which includes “Past Watchful Dragons,” an interview with J.R.R. Tolkien biographer Humphrey Carpenter about C.S. Lewis; interviews with the cast from the original broadcast dates as well as a 2003 reunion; behind-the-scenes featurettes; a gallery, and even a couple of outtakes.
On the whole, the BBC‘s The Chronicles Of Narnia isn’t the greatest series in the world. Fans of the original books may enjoy it more than others, while some purists might just sit and cringe through a lot of it. Either way, though, it’s worth a shot — just so you can judge for yourself if nothing else.