Friday, April 29, 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray Review

The third Narnia film based on C.S. Lewis’ imaginative novels, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a lot of expectations to live up to.  The first movie in the series The Lion, The With, and The Wardrobe, has some nice effects and a great trailer but was disappointing for fans of the novels.  The second movie,Prince Caspian seemed more mature and had some action in it, but it was only marginally better than the first.  This third entry is the first one produced by Twentieth Century Fox after Disney decided the costs weren’t worth the return and let the rights go.  Does Dawn Treader succeed where the previous two failed or does it tread water?  Read on and find out…

Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While being disappointed with the previous two movies, I was slightly hopeful that this one would be more enjoyable since this movie would have a sea adventure full of derring-do and sea serpents.   I love high adventure movies set on ships and I really wanted to like this movie.  Alas, while the movie did indeed have a lot of action, sea serpents, and adventure on the high seas, it still managed to  be a disappointment.
Picking up three years after the events in Prince Caspian, Peter is off getting tutored while Susan is hanging out in America while her younger brother and sister are forced to stay at their uncle’s house in the countryside to avoid getting bombed by the Germans (this takes place during WWII).  For Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are stuck dealing with their annoying cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) who amazingly enough somehow makes Edmund seem more tolerable.  Eustace doesn’t believe their tales about Narnia and mocks them mercilessly until a painting comes to life (in one of the film’s better moments) and they are swept into the ocean in Narnia where fortunately for them, Caspian just happens to be sailing by.
Reunited with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), they discover that he didn’t summon them but he invites them to join his quest to discover the fate of seven lords of his realm that have disappeared.  Edmund and Lucy agree to join him, both happy to be back in Narnia where they feel they can make a difference.   Edmund in particular (as usual) has been whining about how no one shows him the respect he feels he deserves in the real world, so he’s especially anxious to regain his title as High King in this realm.  Reepicheep the mouse (Simon Pegg adroitly taking over from Eddie Izzard), takes an interest in the insufferable Eustace when he catches him stealing an orange and challenges him to a duel.  He sees something in Eustace that no one else can (mainly because they avoid him like the plague).
The adventures continue and they have to deal with slavers, a magician, some weird and invisible gnome-like creatures, a dragon, and the ever present mist that is smart enough to appear as people from your past or at least  like actors from an earlier installment who have no other place to be in the movie.  The movie even adds stuff the script that wasn’t in the book such as a green mist that somehow makes sacrificial victims disappear from the water (boats and all), but never explains what the mist is or how it does what it does or why.  This is the same mist that can affect moods and can trigger the worst qualities of anyone it encounters so it really is a all-purpose mist.  Caspian and company must travel to the Dark Island to stop a great evil, but we are never told what that evil is or why it is evil other than perhaps the mist may or may not come from there.
The movie’s plot makes no sense at all.   The script isn’t very good and there’s never even an explanation of who summoned the kids back to Narnia (although I suppose you could somehow guess that it might have been Aslan).  Another unnecessary addition was the fact that seven swords from each of the missing lords had to be gathered and laid upon Aslan’s table on a island.  So, not only do these missing lords have swords better than the King and the High King of Narnia, but Aslan also has a table on some desolate island for some unknown reason?  It’s also never said how the swords allow Aslan to clear up the evil clouds.
The whole thing is a mess which is compounded by some lousy acting which I realize is an ongoing issue since you it’s hard to recast existing roles, but I wish they would try.  If six different actors can play James Bond successfully, then I think we can at the very least recast Edmund.  It’s a shame since this movie has some great production design elements and some very nice effects shots.  That’s not to say that all of the effects are great because some of them aren’t, but overall this is a nice looking movie.  It had all of the elements to create a great adventure film except a good script and some a few good actors.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

The film’s 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks very nice but has a different look to it compared to the two earlier movies since this wasn’t shot on Super-35mm film like they were but instead digitally.  Because of that, this movie has a sharper clarity to it than the other ones, but it’s lost the quintessential film-like look that worked well to establish a fantasy look for the movies.  It’s kind of a trade off and I wish they had been able to balance the two needs, but this is still a nice looking transfer.  Colors look good and black levels are also excellent and dark as they should be.  Contrast could have been better as there are some scenes that look washed out especially on the volcano island.  There’s no other drawbacks to the quality though, as there’s no sign of edge enhancement or any other digital “improvement” issues that could potentially affect the quality of  the picture.

Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Dawn Treader has a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that’s very active but is missing the extra two channels that were present when this movie was released into theaters.  I’m not sure why Fox didn’t use the 7.1 mix they already had but at least this mix does sound really good.  From the crash of the waves, to the sword-fights, WWII Spitfires roaring overhead, and a fire-breathing dragon, this mix has some power to it.  Although it was barely in the film, I especially loved hearing the Spitfires race across the screen with its engine’s roar panning across the room.  Dialogue is clear and not overshadowed by David Arnold’s score or the effects although I do wish they had been balanced better since the dialogue was a lot lower than everything else.  The mix does a great job utilizing every channel and there’s a lot of nice cross panning action as well.

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars) 

There’s a lot of extras on here divided into different island on a map with no option to just say play all.  What makes it even more inconvenient is that you don’t know what extras are on which island unless you go to the island.  If you want to go back to an extra it becomes a memory game where you have to remember which island it was on which is just poorly designed.  Despite there being a lot of extras on here, this is a case more of quantity over quality.  Most of these extras are EPK fluff.  Almost all of the extras are in high definition however, except for the interviews with the cast and the director.  You will quickly grow tired of seeing the same clip of Eustace fainting over and over again.
Dawn Treader
  • King Caspian’s Guide to the Dawn Treader - A guided tour of the Dawn Treader that covers each section of the ship, from the State Room, Map Room, and Oar Room, to the Main Deck and, and the Poop Deck.  This is kind of cool just because I liked the ship.
  • The Secret Islands: Untold Adventures of the Dawn Treader - This animated extra bridges the events between Prince Caspian and this film.  Some may enjoy discovering this missing info but it really wasn’t necessary.
  • In Character with Liam Neeson - A subdued Liam Neeson talks about playing Aslan and how he went about playing the role and discovering the voice for the lion.  Neeson is one of my favorite actors so it’s always good to see him.
  • In Character with Georgie Henley and Will Poulter - The actors that play Eustace and Lucy discuss their approach to the characters and we discover that the actor who plays Eustace isn’t as annoying as the character he plays.
  • Direct Effect: Michael Apted – A talk with Director Michael Apted who discusses the process and challenges of making this movie.  He seems to have enjoyed working on the film and liked the large scope the movie offered him.
  • Making a Scene - A look at the filming of the childrens’ entrance to Narnia through the painting.
Goldwater Island
  • Explore Goldwater Island - A look at the location.
  • Dragon Discovery – A brief summary of the character.
  • Theatrical Trailer
Lone Islands
  • Explore Narrowhaven – A look at the location.
  • Minotaur Discovery - A brief summary of the character.
  • Deleted Scenes – Four deleted scenes are included but none of them are any good and were rightfully cut from the movie.
  • The Epic Continues - I was hoping that this would cover the next installment of the series, but it doesn’t. Instead the cast and crew talk about this movie some more.
Magician’s Island
  • Explore Magician’s Island – A look at the location.
  • Dufflepud Discovery – A brief summary of the character.
  • Audio Commentary – Commentary with Director Michael Apted and Producer Mark Johnson
The Dark Island
  • Explore the Dark Island – A look at the location.
  • White Witch Discovery – A brief summary of the character.
  • Serpent Discovery – A brief summary of the character.
  • Portal to Narnia: A Painting Comes to Life - Another look at the scene travel from the real world to Narnia.   This one contains more of how they did it than the other one.
  • Good vs. Evil: Battle on the Sea - A look at the sea battle with the Kraken sea serpent at the end of the film.
Ramandu’s Island
  • Explore Ramandu’s Island – A look at the location.
  • Reepicheep Discovery – A brief summary of the character.
  • Aslan Discovery – A brief summary of the character.
  • Liliandil Discovery – A brief summary of the character.
  • Search for the Seven Swords Match Game - A matching game that makes you remember the locations of the seven swords.
  • VFX Progression - A breakdown of several VFX shots at different intervals to show the process from the beginning to the finished scene. There’s also optional commentary by director Michael Apted and producer Mark Johnson if you’d like to hear it.
BD-Live Exclusives
  • Enchanted Tour of the Narnia Islands – A tour of the islands featured in the film.
  • Return to Magic-  Another EPK fluff promotional piece.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of The Dawn Treader in Standard Definition
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Audio Commentary by Director Michael Apted and Producer Mark Johnson
Digital Copy of the Film

Final Thoughts (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While I consider this to be another misfire (three for three), I’m aware that many people haven enjoyed these movies quite a bit.  I think the franchise’s biggest challenge is maintaining the balance between being a movie for children but also something that will appeal to adults as well.  If you liked the first two movies, then you will most likely enjoy this one as well.  If you didn’t like the other entries, then you might as well pass on this one since the odds aren’t good that you will like it.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has been released and can be ordered from the link below.

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