Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Blu-Ray)
It seems like you can never get to Narnia the same way twice. In the first installment of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, the back of the titular old wardrobe turns out to be a gateway into the magical realm. In the second story, PRINCE CASPIAN, it’s an enchanted railway station that gives our young heroes their ticket to adventure. And now, in the third story, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, it’s an enchanted painting of the ocean that’s the culprit, suddenly and capriciously flooding a child’s bedroom and whisking the children themselves into the distant oceans of Narnia.
The catch this time is that only two of the four Pevensie children make the trip; the smart, shy Lucy (Georgie Henley), and her slightly older brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes) leave their teenaged siblings behind, but are joined for this trip by their greedy, obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), whose disbelief in Narnia is handily refuted by nearly drowning in a few million gallons of enchanted seawater. Not to worry, though; the beautiful sailing ship in the painting has come to life, too, and it turns out to be the Dawn Treader, on a voyage to the end of the world, and captained and crewed by the childrens’ old friends Reepicheep the mouse knight (with Simon Pegg replacing Eddie Izzard on voice duties) and good Prince (well, King now) Caspian, played by Ben Barnes, who seems to have mysteriously lost the Spanish accent he employed in the second movie.
Lucy and her relatives have arrived in media res for a heroic quest; the boy-king and his friends are questing for the seven Lost Swords of Narnia, which they need to awaken the seven Lost Lords of Narnia, who disappeared years ago off the edge of the world after being exiled by Caspian’s evil uncle Miraz (the villain of PRINCE CASPIAN). Their quest will take them to a sinister city where people are sold as slaves, to the den of a sleeping dragon, to a sinister Dark Island shaped like a skull, and finally to the edge of the world itself, where one of their party may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
It’s a straightforward picaresque adventure the quest structure means the story largely consists of entertaining little incidents or vignettes centered around finding each lost lord rather than any sort of overarching plot. That’s the movie’s strength and its weakness; each incident is entertaining, and gives us a variety of situations, but they don’t add up to much more than a bunch of stops along a map. This is ultimately a problem not with the execution of the movie, which is perfectly competent if not inspired, but with the source material. CS Lewis had a gift for writing believable children and coming up with sinister villains and dangerous puzzles for his characters to fall into, but he lets them off the hook too easily: the solution to so many problems ends up being Aslan, the allegorical religious figure. I understand that Lewis’ books are important to many people of faith, but and I might be wrong I don’t think the point of having faith is so that a talking lion will fix your problems for you. Here, Aslan, as voiced by Liam Neeson, intercedes to magically cure whiny, greedy Eustace of being obnoxious, and robs the story of a chance for real character development and honest human interest as a result.
That’s not to say there aren’t pleasures in DAWN TREADER; the cast is enthusiastic, the effects are generally solid (especially considering the production’s lower budget as compared to the first two movies), and veteran documentary director Michael Apted, hitting way below his weight class on this one, works around the limitations of CGI to bring a sense of tangible realism to the proceedings; he can’t make the CGI dragons not seem a bit floaty and weightless, but he makes the actors and the action feel grounded and tangible. The result is a fun confection of an adventure film; not something to enthrall adults, but a good afternoon in with the kids.
Video: An effects-heavy adventure like this demands to be seen at its best, and the 1.78:1 Blu-Ray transfer is up to the task, highlighting the lush and exotic environments of the story. A movie like VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER can only benefit from being seen on the biggest, brightest screen you can get.
Audio: The DTS 5.1 HD track does the job, giving us everything from dogfighting planes to roaring dragons to the rhythmic crack and creak of a ship at sea in vivid, gut-rumbling clarity, all set to a punchy score by David Arnold.
Commentary by Director Michael Apted and Producer Mark Johnson – This is a solid track; Apted is a veteran director of the old school with a lot to say about the nuts and bolts of the moviemaking process, while producer Johnson provides more Narnia-specific insight, discussing subjects like the battle over the film’s distributorship (DAWN TREADER was nearly not made after Disney dropped out of the project) and the film’s slight variances from the novel (including a climactic battle against a sea monster).
Deleted Scenes (4:27) – Four very brief and unremarkable scenes cut from an already trim movie.
The Epic Continues (2:15) – A very short discussion with cast and crew about returning to the movie world of Narnia for its third installment.
King Caspian’s Guide to the Dawn Treader (4:13) – A guided tour of the titular ship.
Untold Adventures of the Dawn Treader (7:20) – An animated short adventure taking place after the main story.
In Character with Liam Neeson (5:06) – Neeson discusses his third appearance as the iconic magical lion.
In Character with Georgie Henley and Will Poulter (5:20) – The young actors playing Eustace and Lucy talk about their roles in the third film.
Direct Effect: Michael Apted (6:27) – The director discusses the challenges involved in taking over a series midway through – a subject he can speak about from experience, after this and the Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.
Making a Scene (9:10) – A look inside the filming of the flooded painting sequence that sends the children to Narnia.
Portal to Narnia (7:22) – Another look at the flooded painting sequence, this time from the point of view of the digital effects technicians tasked with seamlessly taking us from a girl’s bedroom to an enchanted ocean.
Good vs Evil: Battle on the Sea (10:55) – A featurette about the creation of the climactic sea battle.
VFX Progression (13:00) – A sequence of effects shots showing the progress from rough outlines to early renders to finished product, featuring optional commentary by Michael Apted and producer Mark Johnson.
Enchanted Tour of the Narnia Islands (4:24) – A brief overview of the exotic locales visited by the Dawn Treader’s crew during their quest.
Return to Magic (4:33) – The obligatory press kit promotional piece.
Discovery – A series of eight one-minute featurettes focusing on some of the characters and monsters of DAWN TREADER, including Reepicheep, Aslan, the invisible Dufflepuds and the dragon.
Explore – Five separate one-minute featurettes focusing on the locales visited by the Dawn Treader, such as the Lone Islands and the Dark Island.
Search for the Seven Swords Matching Game