As a child, Judge Paul Pritchard searched his parents' wardrobe for a doorway to Narnia, finding only a gimp mask.
Our review of The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader (Blu-Ray), published April 14th, 2011, is also available.
"I will have the orange, then I will have satisfaction!"
For a franchise that looked to be dead in the water when Disney dropped it following the comparatively poor box office of Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia sees itself in reasonably rude health with the release of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. A marked improvement over the previous installment, this suggests a series still finding its feet, but three films in, offers enough family adventure to fill the seat soon to be vacated by Harry Potter.
Facts of the Case
One year after their last visit to Narnia, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie (Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes, respectively) find themselves spending a dull holiday with their annoying cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). Eustace is aware of the Pevensie's claims to have been transported to the magical world of Narnia, but is entirely dismissive of them; that is, until a picture on his bedroom wall transports Eustace and the Pevensies back to Narnia, and straight into a reunion with King Caspian (Ben Barnes).
Caspian is aboard his ship, The Dawn Treader, on a journey to find the seven banished Lords of Narnia. While Eustace refuses to believe any of what he sees, much to the chagrin of the swashbuckling rodent Reepicheep (Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz), Lucy and Edmund are more concerned about why they have been called back to Narnia. Initially all seems well in the realm, but when they come across an island where slave traders are sacrificing its inhabitants to a mysterious mist, the children realize that once again sinister forces are at work.
Setting off for Dark Island, the apparent source of the mist, the Pevensie's, Caspian, Eustace, and Reepicheep must cross uncharted waters, battle sea serpents, and travel to the end of the world.
Talk about hitting the ground running. No sooner has The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader started, than we are thrust straight back into the world of Narnia (6-min 34-secs, to be precise); there's barely enough time to offer a cursory reminder of the World War II backdrop these films are set against. This pace continues unabated during an opening half hour that rarely pauses to catch breath, and is full of spontaneous bursts of action that leave little time to introduce new characters, let alone reestablish existing relationships. In fact, it's all a little too busy, meaning that less-attentive viewers may find themselves a few steps behind.
Thankfully, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader drops down a gear during the second act, which is notably heavier on exposition, but far more engrossing. The pacing feels more assured, as the characters are finally given a little room to breathe. Having already established Lucy, Edmund, and Caspian in earlier installments, the stage is set for newcomer Eustace to come to the fore. Not too dissimilar to Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Eustace is a snotty little so-and-so who is quick to dismiss his fantastical surroundings whilst searching for the nearest British consulate to aid his return home. Eustace is by far the most engaging character, despite being the most unappealing (initially, at least), proving once again that naughty children make for far more exciting characters than their "goody two shoes" counterparts; to that end, it's a relief that both Peter and Susan's roles are reduced to cameos. Whereas the Pevenise children's arcs are limited, Eustace's is far more satisfying—if not a little obvious—as he comes to learn the rules of Narnia the hard way. Together with Simon Pegg's Reepicheep (who steels every scene he's in), Eustace forms a winning partnership that is both a source of much comedy, and, in the film's denouement, actually quite touching.
A criticism often leveled at The Chronicles of Narnia revolves around the Christian themes that run throughout the series, and during the more character-centric second act of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there's little effort to conceal the obvious Christian allegory. I've never had a problem with it personally, and I doubt many children will pick up on it. Still, it does become a problem when characters are reduced to being slaves of the plot. We get to see a reawakening of Edmund's dark side, but it's too fleeting to be meaningful, and serves little purpose other than to preach about the evils of greed. Caspian's lack of faith too closely mirrors the anxieties shown by Lucy, who is left with little else to do other than smile politely and mind her P's and Q's. Too often character developments feel forced, and do the film a great disservice, as it is a fine adventure in its own right. Admittedly the film takes it lead from the book on which it is based, but had a little moderation been shown when adapting the book, it's very possible many of these stumbling blocks may have been avoided. What little restraint the film may show with regards to its Christian values is pretty much blown out of the water during its final moments when Lucy asks Aslan if they will ever meet in our world; his response is less than subtle: "There I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there." Still, as a parent I'd much rather my son watch these simple morality plays than some of the more ill-mannered offerings out there.
The film takes an inevitable turn towards darker waters during its final act. As our heroes race towards their journey's end they come up against a colossal sea serpent, leading to a titanic showdown. Filled with dynamic camera work—not to mention the sight of the impressive beast itself—the entire sequence is visually sublime, confirming the marked improvement in CGI over earlier installments. The scariest and most exciting sequence in the film—filled as it is with acts of derring-do—it is arguably the finest moment in the franchise so far, and should get pulses racing. In spite of this the film remains suitable for most children. From personal experience, I can confirm my two nephews (aged four and six) caught the film on its theatrical release and thoroughly enjoyed it. As a bonus, those who grew up in the Eighties can even enjoy a nod to both Ghostbusters and Predator.
Though the DVD sent for review was a screener, it must be said the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer thoroughly impressed. The picture is sharp throughout, with vibrant colors that almost burst out of the screen. Black levels are top notch, while detail levels are high, even in darker scenes. The 5.1 soundtrack also scores well, with a well-balanced mix that fully encompasses the viewer. This single-disc edition of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes complete with a director's commentary. More informative than entertaining, the track nevertheless offers up a few tidbits that make it worthwhile for fans of the series. Backing up the commentary is a selection of deleted scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader structure is episodic in nature, with our heroes journeying from one set piece to another and each island visited acting as its own mini-adventure. In one respect this may benefit younger viewers, as those with a shorter attention span will have little trouble keeping up. On the other hand, it does detract somewhat from the epic nature the franchise is clearly striving for.
Though villains are plentiful in their numbers—and accepting we get an exciting climax—this one lacks a real nemesis for our heroes. Unlike The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and, to a lesser extent, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader doesn't really give us anyone to root against. A cameo by Tilda Swinton only further serves to remind us of the loss her character's demise is to the series.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, having been somewhat disappointed with Prince Caspian. The shorter running time is far more child-friendly, with Narnia now front and center from the off. The occasional narrative stumble aside, including the rather unfortunate lack of a real villain, this proves to be the most satisfying entry in the series so far, and raises expectations for future installments.
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