Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

(Movie Review)

I know this movie had gotten somewhat mixed reviews, but I wanted to see it anyway. I had enjoyed the two previous installments in "The Chronicles of Narnia" series (see my review of "Prince Caspian" here).

And, like everyone else in the Western World, I had a childhood nostalgia for the original books by C.S. Lewis.
("The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and "Prince Caspian" had both been read to me. Twice. Once by parents and then again by my first grade school teacher. "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" was the first book in this series I actually read on my own. I was curious to see what became of the Narnia characters, and so I asked the parents to buy me the book when we were on vacation in 3rd grade. I think I actually read this book twice, once in 3rd grade, and then once again in 6th grade. But I haven't read it since then, and so aside from one or two things sticking in my memory, I can't claim to remember it very well.)

And I also saw the BBC TV miniseries version of "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (W) back around the same time, which I don't remember other than thinking it was pretty hokey.

I'm therefore very pleased that this new movie series has come along and is trying to give the Narnia series the big screen treatment it deserves.

It is a pity that this is likely to be the last installment in the series. (Based on what I've been reading, at least. After the disappointing box office performance of "Prince Caspian",this movie only just barely made in the first place. And then because this movie didn't do exceptionally well in the theaters, I'm not expecting the next installment in the series to get any funding. But I'd like to be proved wrong.) But I suppose this series was not the first attempt to film "The Chronicles of Narnia" and it will likely not be the last. Hopefully in another 20 years someone else will take another crack at it.

One of the things that separate the Narnia series from some other book/movie fantasy movie franchises out there is that every story in the Narnia series is quite different from the one that came before it. Unlike, say the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, or "Harry Potter", where each movie has a very similar plot to the one that came before it, the Narnia stories have very different plots for each different book.

"The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" was more or less a straight up fantasy story. There was a lot of wonder about seeing a new world filled with fantastic creatures, and a standard good versus evil epic battle scene at the end.
"Prince Caspian" added in an element of legends and myths. The events of the first story are so far removed in the past that they are only vaguely remembered in the second story, and are treated much like far away mythical subjects.

"The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is yet again much different in tone than the first two movies. It's a sea voyage type story. It almost reads like a fantasy version of Captain Cook's diaries: you go to an exotic land, you encounter strange new people, you go off to the next exotic land.

It is tough material to make a coherent movie out of, to be sure. And because of this, it does require that you be a little bit more forgiving when you watch it. But for those of us who remember the books fondly it is fun just to see the film makers take make an attempt at transferring the story to the big screen.

Despite the fact that this film reportedly was made on a much reduced budget than the previous two films, I did think they did a good job working with the money they had. The various oceans and landscapes that pop up in the film look beautiful, and it is visually very impressive.

I would have preferred to see a few more fantastic creatures. I understand this is partly just because the script didn't call for as many new fantasy creatures, but in the two previous movies, there were lots of exotic creatures just hanging out in the background. Their reduced presence in this movie might have been due to the budget.

The character of Eustace Scrubb is very annoying, but then he was supposed to be written as annoying, so I guess you can't complain about that.
He is also supposed to serve as a lot of the comedy, and this really falls flat in my opinion. He is able to be "plain-annoying" just fine, but he never really rises to the level of "comically-annoying." In my opinion a lot of the attempts at humor in this movie were just embarrassing.

On the other hand, kudos to this movie for working in a cameo for the two older Pevensie children Peter and Susan, despite the fact that the book didn't include them. It was a nice little touch to continuity. As was the return of the White Witch from the first movie.
I'm disappointed that my favorite comedian, Eddie Izzard, did not return as the voice of Reepicheep, but since the character was animated anyway it's not so noticeable when they switch voice actors.

Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky--the current crisis in the middle east


Anonymous said...

I'm a longtime reader and sometime commenter. Seeing as you are an old Japan-hand I think it would be interesting for you to throw some thoughts around on the current situation in Japan. The foreign media seemed to go way overboard only to drop it like a dead fish once the situation in Libya started heating up.

Joel said...

Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately I have nothing insightful to say about the situation in Japan. Not having much scientific knowledge, I certainly couldn't comment about any of the technical aspects of what is going on, or whether the danger is exaggerated by the media or not. And to be honest, since leaving Japan I've only been following Japanese news, including this story peripherally anyway.
All I could say is that all my contacts in Southern Japan assure me that their daily life has been completely unaffected by everything, so the crisis must just be contained to the North. and that's the only insight I would have.

Bryon said...

My goodness I was surprised that this movie was so well done with production values considering Disney wasn’t backing it. There are a lot of supporters of this franchise simply because of the popularity of the book and those who love C.S. Lewis as an author. I’m glad they were able to keep it alive. I like to be entertained and movies are my biggest hobby which is more affordable now that I have a free 3 month membership to Blockbuster with my new DISH Network employee account. Http:// My kids saw this movie and wanted me to get it and I was glad that I enjoyed it as much as they did. I highly recommend it.