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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader(2010)
Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their cousin Eustace, are swallowed into a painting and transported back to Narnia and the magnificent ship The Dawn Treader. They join King Caspian and a warrior mouse named Reepicheep for a mission which holds the fate of Narnia itself. The courageous voyagers overcome their own greatest temptations, as they travel to mysterious islands; have fateful confrontations with magical creatures and sinister enemies; and reunite with their friend and protector, the "Great Lion" Aslan.
For more about The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray release, see the The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 2, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter (I), Gary Sweet, Terry Norris
Director: Michael Apted
» See full cast & crew
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray Review
The third entry finds the Narnia series listing in the doldrums.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 2, 2011
The Chronicles of Narnia film series has always been viewed as Lord of the Rings lite—that is, epic fantasy in a more kid-friendly dosage—and fans of C.S. Lewis' adventurous allegorical novels have been decidedly divided on the semi-faithful book-to-screen adaptations. The films' defenders are sometimes, well, defensive—"Hey, at least they didn't reset the stories in Los Angeles and cast them with American kids," is a line I've often heard—and the detractors tend to point out how glossy and lightweight the movies feel, and how far removed they are from the quiet magic, wonder, and majesty of Lewis' novels. Both have valid arguments. The films are admittedly fun diversions and they could be far, far worse, but they pale in comparison to the best contemporary fantasy movies—the Harry Potter franchise, say—and they seem too plasticky and over-processed for a series of books that sprung from the musty, mouldy English countryside. (Which is why I've always preferred the creaky low-budget live-action BBC adaptations from the 1980s.) For this third entry, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a splash of diet Pirates of the Caribbean has been added to the mix as well, but the film seems less waterborne than watered down.
Still, we're lucky to even have a third Narnia film. After Price Caspian's relatively poor box-office performance and a dispute with production company Walden Media—over budgetary concerns and the oft-cited "creative differences"—Disney announced in 2008 that it would no longer co-produce Dawn Treader, essentially leaving the future of the franchise in the lurch. Just one month later, however, 20th Century Fox stepped in as distributor. The deal was not without its drawbacks. Prince Caspian could afford photo-realistic CGI and a truly epic scale on its $225 million budget, but its sequel would only be given $140 million to work with. Unfortunately, the cost-cutting measures do show up in the finished film. Where the previous movies were shot on 35mm and had a filmic, poeticized look, Dawn Treader was shot digitally and has an occasionally harsh, distinctly video-ish appearance that just doesn't jive with what you expect from big-budget fantasy. Some digital rigs to a great job of emulating the rich look and feel of film—the Red One camera, for example—but Dawn Treader's cinematography at times has a made-for-TV quality that's hard to ignore. Likewise, the CGI just isn't up to snuff. While the computer rendered characters tend to look fine—like Reepicheep the mouse and lumbering lion Aslan, both of which have impressively animated features—the digital creations often stand out awkwardly from their environs, and there are a few particle effects that look immediately dated. I'm thinking specifically of a green mist that's featured prominently in the plot; it looks like its been artificially inserted into the footage, which is always a sure sign of bad CGI. Will the film's target kiddie audience know the difference? Maybe not, but adult viewers will.
The story is also a step back from Prince Caspian's violent, battle-driven, teen-friendly action, and an attempt at returning to the first film's childlike sense of awe and wonder. (I say "attempt" because the film is not entirely successful at achieving this end.) As usual, we open in war-torn Britain, where the two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), are staying with their obnoxious cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), a bratty bug-collector and know-it-all naysayer who doesn't believe in Narnia. Yet. Up in Eustace's room, a seascape painting on the wall suddenly comes to life and the three children are swept into it, emerging on the other end of this portal in a Narnian ocean, where they're promptly rescued by the crew of the Dawn Treader, an eastward-bound vessel commanded by none other than Edmund and Lucy's old friend Caspian (Ben Barnes), who has since traded in his princely title for the kingship. Why have the children been summoned to Narnia this time? That's a good question, and one that the film has trouble answering. As Caspian explains, he's looking for the seven missing lords his evil uncle Miraz banished from the kingdom, and we later learn there are seven corresponding swords that need to be gathered in order to repel a foul green mist that has been gobbling up Narnians left and right. "Wait a minute," I can hear the C.S. Lewis-literate among you say, "there are no swords to collect in Dawn Treader, and certainly no verdant, all-devouring fog!" Ding, ding, ding! What we have here are two useless additions that have been shoehorned into the story to give motivation and menace where none is required.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a fan-favorite amongst Lewis' novels, and for good reason; it's a voyage on the high seas that takes its characters to several strange and wonderful island locales, each with its own mysterious backstory. For the most part, the film does capture this adventurous, wind in your face, salt air on your lips spirit. Caspian and the kids fight slave traders on the Lone Islands and encounter hopping, one-footed "Dufflepods" on an islet ruled by a powerful magician. On Goldwater they discover a pool that gives everyday objects the Midas touch, and on the isle of Ramandu they find the seven lords in a spell-induced slumber around a glorified picnic table overgrown with brambles and briars. In between stops, the ship rolls in unsteady waters, storms whip up, and—off the coast of the dreaded Dark Island, the source of all evil—our heroes face a sea monster who appears to be a close cousin to Cthulu. (Correct, Lewis-loyals, this ship versus serpent battle never happens in the book.) Of course, in true allegorical fashion, all of these encounters, battles, and escapades serve a symbolic purpose, and the true thrust of the story —what, you thought this film was actually about finding seven lost lords?—is the transformations in the characters lives thanks to their Aslan-given faith. Lucy struggles with doubt and vanity. Edmund powers through the temptations of greed, his jealousy of Caspian, and his hunger for power. As for Eustace—who, at one point, gets turned into a fire-breathing dragon—let's just say that he finally realizes that he's been an insufferable ass for the bulk of the journey. Redemption, naturally, is in order.
None of this has much weight or consequence. The script, by series newcomer Michael Petroni—with help from regulars Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—plays out like a series of fetch-quests from a particularly repetitive RPG. The video game-like plot structure—go here, get that item, go there, use item—leaves little room for genuine character development. The three penitent children learn their lessons quickly and dutifully, and off we go to find the next sword. At least the movie is briskly paced; at only 113 minutes Dawn Treader is at least a half-hour shorter than either of its predecessors, and this expediency keeps the film from seeming tedious. Director Michael Apted—best known for his Up series of documentaries—has taken over for Andrew Adamson, and although he keeps the story moving and even stages a few crackling action sequences, he never gives Dawn Treader any dramatic or creative urgency. Prince Caspian may have been a wrong step in a darker direction for the series, but you can't say it didn't take that step confidently. Apted's approach is certainly much more timid. The result is a fantasy film that is what no fantasy film should be—predictable. Nonetheless, Dawn Treader will probably capture kids' attentions, which is what matters most for this kind of oversized production. The child-empowering action rarely ceases, there's a cuddly animal sidekick in Simon Pegg's furry pint-sized warrior Reepicheep, and there's just enough of the scary stuff to keep wee ones on the edge of their seats. Presiding over it all is Liam Neeson's Aslan, the King of the Jungle-slash-Lord of Lords who delivers the film's parting, proselytizing message: "In your world I have another name. You must learn to know me by it. That was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ever since fans noticed that Dawn Treader was advertised to have a 1.78:1 framed image on Blu-ray—instead of the "Scope" 2.39:1 ratio with which it was exhibited in theaters—there's been a lot of heated internet speculation about the film's 1080p/AVC encode. Some were espousing a worst-case scenario—that the sides of the picture had been unceremoniously lopped off, harkening back to the dark pan 'n' scan days of yore. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the situation. I've taken several screengrabs from the Scope theatrical trailer included on the disc, and when you compare them to the shots from the 1.78:1 film you can immediately see that no cropping has occurred. Rather, what we have here is another Avatar scenario, where the film was shot in 1.78:1, printed in Scope at 2.39:1 for its 35mm theatrical showings, and then re-opened up for Blu-ray. The key reason for this, from James Cameron's perspective, was to make the most use of available screen real estate, and I'm assuming this is also the intent of Dawn Treader's Blu-ray producers. If you take a look at the 19th and 20th screenshots in this review—the first from the film, the second from the trailer—you can make your own comparison.
Now that we've got that aspect ratio business out of the way, on to the real concern—how well the movie makes the transition to Blu-ray in all other regards. As I mentioned in the review above, Dawn Treader was shot digitally instead of on Super-35mm like its predecessors, and this has led to an image that lacks some of the lushness and vibrancy we've come to expect from the Narnia series. Film, by its very nature, tends to poeticize an image, whereas the Sony CineAlta digital cameras used to shoot Dawn Treader produce a "realer" picture that just doesn't seem to fit with the movie's fantasy theme. (This, of course, is my opinion; you may feel differently.) That said, judged on its own merits and taking into account the way the film was shot, this is a strong, accurate encode that excels in clarity. The texture of Edmund's leather belt and breastplate stand out clearly, fine facial features are easily discernable, and the fur, skin, and scales of the various CGI creatures looks more than adequately crisp. No complaints here. Color is also largely well represented, although you may notice that the screenshot from the trailer has vibrant, stylized colors, while it appears that the filmmakers decided to go for a more natural palette for the finished product. This is a choice, like any other, and while I may prefer the more pumped-up hues of the trailer—which do give the film a more appropriate "fantasy" look—I'm certainly not going to dock the PQ score based on my preference. However, there are a few bright daylight scenes when colors do seem slightly washed out—as if overexposed—and not quite as dense as they could/should be. Contrast is also a bit on the weak side, although black levels are more than suitably inky. I can also say that there are no significant encode issues—no overt banding, blocking, etc.—and that digital noise is kept to an absolute minimum. I like the look of the first two Narnia movies a lot better, but given the circumstances of Dawn Treader's lower budget and all-digital production, the film makes a fairly strong showing on Blu-ray.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Voyage of the Dawn Treader featured a 7.1 surround mix in theaters, but on Blu-ray 20th Century Fox has—for reasons unknown—stuck with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Granted, the percentage of viewers who have 7.1 home theater set-ups is probably a small slice of the film's potential audience, but if you have a ready-made 7.1 mix, why not use it? Still, I don't feel too cheated; two missing channels aside, this is a strong and almost constantly active lossless audio track, one that—cranked loud enough—will certainly put your speakers through the paces. From the start we get WWII-era Spitfires roaring through the rear channels, rushing, gurgling water filling the surrounds during the painting-come-to-life scene, and enough windy, oceanic ambience to convince you that you're at the beach. From here, the sonic insanity only escalates; one-footed Dufflepuds hop around us, their voices circling ominously; storms rage on the open seas, sending rain and spray in every direction; the dragon fight is filled with zipping, cross-channel arrows, leathery fluttering wings, and gut-throbbing LFE undertones. It all sounds wonderful, with rock-solid low-end response, punchy engagement, and clarity throughout the dynamic range. David Arnold's score has similar presence— and sets an appropriately adventurous tone—and the dialogue crests cleanly over these wild aural waves, always clean and intelligible. Even without the extra surround channels, I'm tempted to give this track full marks.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader doesn't come with quite as many substantive extras as the previous Narnia releases, but along with a thoughtful audio commentary, you'll find numerous short featurettes that are worth plowing through at least once. The "Explore" sections are short clips about each location, and the "Discovery" pieces are brief introductions to the various characters/monsters. There are also a few "making-of" style shorts, visual FX dissections, and interviews with filmmakers and stars. A quick aside about the organization of the bonus features: the "extras" tab on the menu leads to a sub-menu where you'll find a nautical map illustrated with five islands and an icon for the Dawn Treader. Clicking these will take you to additional menus where you can access the individual features. It's a bit more trouble than it's worth, especially if you're hunting for a specific featurette, but it's fairly intuitive to navigate.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Obviously, Narnia completists will want to add Voyage of the Dawn Treader to their collections, but the average viewer may want to think twice. This is the weakest entry in the series, in my opinion; its story is more diffuse and it even looks cheaper than its lavish predecessors, which were shot on film rather than digital. Still, considering the circumstances, Dawn Treader makes a fairly strong audio/video showing on Blu- ray, and it comes with enough special features to keep fans occupied for at least an hour or two—more if you include the audio commentary. As I always say with potentially divisive releases, a try-before-you-buy rental might be the best course of action.
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20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader for Blu-ray release on April 8, in a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. In this third installment of the Narnia cycle (picked up by Fox when Disney passed on ...
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