By all rights I should hate the world of Narnia, it features several elements that I generally don’t like in my movies – cutesy kids, blatant religious overtones and allegories, Tilda Swinton, talking animals and did I mention Tilda Swinton? But somehow all of these elements work, the first movie was beautiful to look at and it’s cast of young unknown leads had more chemistry and acting ability than they should have – considering the first Narnia film was their first big starring roles. The first movie turned out to be a huge hit which prompted the Producers to quickly roll production on the sequel – Prince Caspian. The road to the 3rd Installment – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was fraught with as much off screen peril as the treacherous Journey our returning heroes make in the fictional world.
Due to the box office failure of Prince Caspian the Producers of Dawn Treader radically cut the budget of the movie and scaled back the vision and scope of it. Many fans were skeptical and thought the low budget meant that Dawn Treader would not have the same epic scale as the first movie, nor the budget for some of the epic battles in the second movie. The production was troubled from the start and was eventually sold to Fox to finish.
The thing is, if I remember correctly the 3rd book was never meant to be an epic. Its an intimate story about a seafaring Journey on a moderately sized ship – sort of a swan song for the last two Pevensie Children – Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmond (Skandar Keynes) . Director Michael Apted does an amazing job of bringing this story to life. Unlike Harry Potter director, David Yates, Apted isn’t afraid to use CGI and clearly loves the material that he’s directing. The feeling of magic and wonder is still on all the actor’s faces as they experience the magical world of Narnia and it becomes infectious.
I know it’s not fair to compare Narnia to the Harry Potter movies because they are two completely different franchises and I’m one who loathe the idea of comparing movies, but this movie shows that kids can grow up in a fantasy world that gets darker and grimmer without that world losing it’s sense of magic and uniqueness. All of the actors seem to really enjoy just being there together. After three movies together Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes really do come across as siblings. Ben Barnes looked oddly thin and lanky, I don’t know if that was due to the 3D or not. At first I was concerned how they would introduce the character of Eustace (Will Poulter) the Pevensie’s annoying, self involved cousin. Poulter almost steals the movie, his performance never comes across as irritating as his character is in the books.
The CGI work in Narnia is understated and nuanced, when Eustace turns into a Dragon in one of the movie’s pivotal moments, the Dragon looks real and blends in perfectly with the surroundings. I even loved the brave, noble, battle mouse – Reepicheep (Simon Pegg)
I’ve read the book a couple of times but don’t remember much from it, but what little I remember, the movie feels like it’s radically different and all the changes made for a stronger movie. The book is less about action and more about the journey. Apted ratchets up the action in all the right places and outright invented moments to further serve the action. I also liked the way he managed to bring the older Pevensie’s back (who are not in the book) in a couple of cameos.
There are only two things I did not like in the movie – this really goofy moment that’s clearly meant to be an homage to the original Ghostbusters and again the really lame and pointless use of 3D. I’ll admit that I balled like a baby at the end. If Aslan is god, he really is not a nice one. The way he toys with his subject’s emotions by bringing them “home” only to send them away again.
I walked into the theater not knowing what to expect, the early stills and the production turmoil lead me to think this was going to be a disaster waiting to happen, instead I was pleasantly surprised by how much the world of Narnia still has an emotional punch. I’m going on the assumption that, unfortunately, there’s probably no way the rest of the Narnia books will make it to the big screen; I would be really curious to see i if Poulter would be capable of carrying The Silver Chair on his own. If this truly is the last Narnia film, the series will end on a strong note.
Final Grade A-
EM Review by
Originally posted 12.10.2010