The Chronicles of Narnia, on BBC One (UK) / PBS (USA)
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There were seven books by C.S. Lewis, in this series. I read them all when I was a kid, but I really should re-read them someday, to write reviews. Of course, I do tend to get lazy sometimes and not want to write reviews of different adaptations of the same story. These three serials (based on the first four books) first aired from 1988-1990. I suppose I must have seen them back then, but I don't clearly remember them, any more than I do the books themselves. But I've got them all on DVD now in 2014, which is when I'm writing my reviews of them. And even before re-watching the old serials, I had seen some newer theatrical movies based on the books. (Of course they had bigger budgets and a more modern look than the serials, which some people might think makes them better. But I think these serials are probably better in some ways, perhaps most notably because they're more, you know, British.) So if I ever do get around to re-reading the books, I suppose for at least some of them, my reviews of the original material will be the third reviews I've done for the stories. But I suppose there are some differences between each version, even if the plot remains essentially the same. Anyway, apparently the serials aired in the U.S. on PBS's WonderWorks anthology, though I didn't remember that. Still, the serials are rather nostalgic for me, particularly the theme music, which I never would have remembered before watching the DVD, but now feels very familiar. Each serial consists of six half-hour episodes (for a total of 18 episodes in all three serials), though I think when they aired in the U.S., they probably aired in three one-hour installments (9 installments altogether). I could be mistaken about that (it could have been two installments of 1 1/2 hours or even one installment of 3 hours), but it's not really important. Anyway, on with the first review....

tek's rating: ¾

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
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See also the 2005 feature film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Caution: spoilers! Like, pretty much total spoilers.

Episode One
Based on the first book in the series. It's set in 1940, during World War II. Four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie, are evacuated from London, and sent to stay in a big house in the countryside. One day, the children are exploring the house, and Lucy, the youngest, looks in a wardrobe, which turns out to lead to a magical land called Narnia. Not far from the wardrobe, in the middle of the woods, there's a lamp post. Anyway, Lucy soon meets a faun named Tumnus, who was going to turn her over to the White Witch. The witch has placed a spell on Narnia that makes it always winter, but never Christmas. And she wants to capture any humans (aka "sons of Adam and daughters of Eve") who might appear in Narnia. But Tumnus has a change of heart, and sends Lucy home. But when she gets back, she finds that in spite of having spent hours in Narnia, no time at all has passed in her world, and none of her siblings believe her story. They look in the wardrobe, but it doesn't lead anywhere. Later, Lucy hides in the wardrobe while they're playing hide and seek, and Edmund follows her. This time they both get into Narnia, though Lucy was gone by the time Edmund got there, and he ends up meeting the White Witch (who calls herself the Queen of Narnia).

Episode Two
The Queen questions Edmund, gives him Turkish delight, and promises to make him a prince if he brings her his siblings, but tells him not to tell them he'd met her. She also learns from him that Lucy had met Tumnus. We get a vague notion of why the witch is worried about humans, because of some prophecy, though its exact nature isn't revealed yet. Anyway, she basically vacillates constantly between scary and sweet; it's kind of crazy that Edmund trusts her at all, but really he's just selfish. (He calls his siblings prigs, but I'd say he's... something that sounds a lot like "prig," but I won't say what, this being a family-friendly review.) Anyway, Edmund and Lucy reunite a bit later, and go back home, but Edmund lies to the others, says Narnia doesn't exist. Peter and Susan are worried that Lucy, who usually tells the truth, must be either lying or going mad. So they ask for advice from the house's owner, Professor Kirke. He's a very likable fellow, and he advises them to believe Lucy. Later still, all four children have a pretty flimsy reason to hide in the wardrobe, and all end up in Narnia. They then find out that Tumnus has been arrested for treason, by a wolf named Maugrim, the head of the witch's secret police.

Episode Three
Lucy convinces the others that they must try to rescue Mr. Tumnus from the witch, because it's her fault her friend was arrested. Edmund protests, but Peter and Susan insist Lucy's right. So they start wandering, unsure where to go, when they suddenly meet a talking beaver. He tells them "Aslan is on the move," and there's this moment where the four children all look up at nothing in particular, with expressions of awe and joy. Which makes no sense, because at this point none of them have any idea who Aslan is, so that scene kind of backfired, for me. I mean, it's news that should inspire awe and joy, if you know who Aslan is... but if you don't, such a reaction is just silly. Anyway, Mr. Beaver then takes them back to his dam, where he and Mrs. Beaver explain things in more detail. They say Tumnus has been taken to the witch's castle, where she turns her enemies into statues. And they say Aslan is the true king of Narnia, a great and powerful lion, who is the only hope of rescuing Tumnus. And they speak of an ancient prophecy about four humans (two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve) coming to Narnia and sitting on four thrones, which would mean the end of the witch's rule, and her life. Which is why she's so eager to capture them and eliminate them. Mr. Beaver says he'll take the children to meet Aslan. But sometime during the conversation, Edmund had slipped out of the house without anyone noticing (which, given the fact they were all sitting around a small table in a small room, seems utterly impossible). But anyway, the kids want to search for him, but Mr. Beaver says that he must have gone to the witch, to betray them. So they'll have to go find Aslan right away, before the witch can come and capture them. Meanwhile, we see Edmund making his way to the castle, debating himself about his own actions. He doesn't want his brother and sisters to be hurt, but he's still angry about the way they talk to him. Finally, he meets Maugrim, who sends him in to see the Queen. When she hears his news, she makes plans for a sneak attack.

Episode Four
The witch sends Maugrim and his wolves to the Beavers' home, to kill everyone. When Edmund hears this, he finally realizes he's made a mistake. If the beavers and humans have already left, the wolves are to go to the Stone Table, where children are supposed to meet Aslan. Meanwhile, the witch and her dwarf servant and Edmund travel to the Stone Table themselves. As the Beavers and humans make their way, they meet Father Christmas. The fact that he's finally able to return to Narnia means the witch's power is slipping. He gives them all presents: to Peter, a sword and shield; to Susan, a bow and arrows, and a horn that will bring help when she blows on it; and to Lucy, a vial of cordial that will heal herself or her friends if they ever need it, and also a dagger. Soon thereafter, spring arrives, which is further proof that the witch's power is slipping. (When I watched this episode near the end of April, something resembling spring arrived in northern Maine, after what seemed like 100 years of winter.) And of course that infuriates her (but then, she's pretty much always furious). Finally the beavers and children arrive at the Stone Table, where they find Aslan, as well as a gathering of other animals and mythical creatures. Incidentally, I should mention that some of the "animals" in this miniseries, such as Mr. Tumnus, the beavers, and Maugrim, are obviously people in costumes. But other animals are just animation that's been imposed on the scene. Not like regular animation, but they look, I dunno, like animated chalk drawings, or something. Which for me... kind of pulls me out of the story. I can believe in animated characters interacting with live-action people in movies like Mary Poppins or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but I cannot suspend my disbelief for this kind of animation. But Aslan himself... actually looks reasonably believable.

Episode Five
We finally hear Aslan speak, and it really doesn't sound at all like the voice is coming from the lion himself, but as I said, at least he looks believable. Soon, Maugrim shows up in the camp, and Peter has a rather silly-looking battle with him, ultimately killing the wolf. Aslan sends the animated creatures to rescue Edmund, which is a good thing, because the White Witch has finally decided to kill the boy, because only three children couldn't fulfill the prophecy. She also summons a bunch of animated ghosts and demons and things. A bit later, the Penvensie children are reunited, and Edmund is forgiven for betraying them. But then the witch shows up and reminds Aslan of something called "the Deep Magic," which includes a rule that means Edmund belongs to her, and she has the right to kill him, a right Aslan cannot deny. So he goes off to talk with her privately, and later returns, saying she's renounced her claim to Edmund. The witch leaves, and Aslan tells everyone they must relocate the camp from the Stone Table to the forest. He then gives Peter some advice about the impending battle. That night, Susan and Lucy start worrying about Aslan, and follow him when he leaves the camp. He goes back to the Stone Table, where the witch and all her minions (animated creatures as well as people in silly costumes) are waiting for him. The girls hide and watch what happens, which is a result of the pact Aslan had made to save Edmund's life. And herein lies the major Christian allegory of the book, which makes it seem odd to me that Narnians would even know about the existence of Christmas. (If Aslan is Narnia's version of Christ, why would they celebrate the birth of our world's version of Aslan?) Then again, maybe their Christmas is entirely secular, I dunno. Anyway, the episode ends with the witch and her army rushing off to attack Aslan's army.

Episode Six
The most ridiculous battle I've ever seen begins the next morning, in the forest. Meanwhile, Aslan comes back to life, because of some even deeper magic that the White Witch had never heard of, from before the dawn of time. He takes Susan and Lucy to the witch's castle, where he breathes on all her statues, and they come back to life, so that Aslan can lead them to join the battle. The witch's army is defeated, and after the battle Lucy uses her healing cordial to save the lives of Edmund and any other allies who had fallen in battle (but not yet died). The next day, they all go to the castle Cair Paravel, where the four children are crowned kings and queens of Narnia. The story then flashes forward many years. The Pevensies are now all adults, having served as good and beloved rulers to their people. One day they're wandering through the woods, and find the lamp post, which they don't even recognize at first. But they return to our world through the wardrobe, and find themselves children again, because no time has passed in our world. They tell the story to the Professor, who says they may find their way back to Narnia someday, but not through the wardrobe. And that's pretty much the end of the story, for now.

Well, I definitely liked the serial, and wouldn't blame anyone for rating it much higher than I did. But I also wouldn't blame anyone for rating it lower. I think part of my own appreciation of it is due to nostalgia, and if this was the first time I'd ever seen it, I might rate it a bit lower, myself. It's not bad, though the production values definitely don't hold up well, and the acting isn't as good as I might have liked, and there were plenty of things that made little sense or felt too rushed. The story itself is rather simplistic, though I really would like to read the book again and see if it's much better than this. (Of course, they are sort of children's books, so it's understandable if they're more simplistic than things written specifically for adults.)

Incidentally, I wanted to mention that the White Witch reminds me of Servalan, from Blake's 7, but it's a different actress. (And I'm fairly sure neither Servalan nor any other character ever is quite so theatrically hammy as the White Witch.) Anyway, I think the only actor from this serial that I've seen in anything else is Sophie Cook, who played Susan. I guess she was previously in The Worst Witch, which I didn't see until quite a few years later. And now that I'm re-watching this serial several years after that, I don't remember her in it. Which is rather a shame; I wouldn't mind seeing her in some other things, but I don't think she's done much else.

Followed by Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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