Thursday, December 9, 2010

ADVANCE MOVIE REVIEW: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER-- 4 STARS

http://www.narnia.com/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0980970/

Normally when a movie moves from one studio to another, it's not a good sign.  When that movie is a classic franchise brand like The Chronicles of Narnia, your eyebrow goes up (maybe even both of them).  When the studio that says "no" is Walt Disney Pictures, now you really have to be suspicious.  Sure enough, it was all about money, and it's hard to picture the colossal Disney turning down any chance to make money.

In December 2005, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was a worldwide sensation, becoming Disney's third highest grossing live-action film ever (after the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels) and unexpectedly outgrossing the far more promoted King Kong remake from Peter Jackson.  The movie captivated the family and Christian audiences who came out by the busload.  Disney put its substantial financial clout behind continuing the franchise on the fast track, thinking it now had something to rival the Harry Potter franchise at Warner Brothers.  When it dropped the follow-up, Prince Caspian, in the summer of 2008, Disney expected an equal windfall and missed.  Prince Caspian made less than half of its predecessor, earned dismal reviews, didn't recoup its budget, and had a darkness that alienated those busloads of Christians.  Disney dropped the Narnia franchise soon after, leaving it to get picked up by another studio.

What was Disney's loss is now 20th Century Fox's gain.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has been the most popular book of the franchise (while Prince Caspian was the least popular) for years.  Fox trusted the material, put its money into it, and brought in a different team of filmmakers.  The changes show and the end result returns the Narnia franchise back to its wondrous and adventurous peak from the first film.  Bottomline, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is as good as, if not better, than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

This third film of the series, based on the third novel of C.S. Lewis's seven-book epic story, follows the two youngest of the Pevensie clan, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) who remain in England on vacation after their older siblings, Peter and Susan, left to America with their parents for school.  Their holiday has them stuck with their aunt, uncle, and Eustace (Will Poulter, who quite possibly steals the show), as scheming, complaining, and annoying of a cousin as they come.

When a painting of an ocean-going ship comes alive and fills the room with water, the three of them are transported to Narnia and reunited with the now King Caspian (Ben Barnes, who thankfully dropped the wretched "Inigo Montoya" Mediterranean accent from the last film) and their swashbuckling mouse friend Reepicheep (voiced by the jubilant Simon Pegg).  Caspian is exploring the seas aboard the Dawn Treader, Narnia's first ocean ship in centuries that he commissioned be built.  His mission has been to find the seven banished lords and their lost swords.  Only when the Seven Swords are placed together at Aslan's Table, can a great darkness and evil be defeated.  Needless to say, the path to achieve that is wrought with creatures, magic, power, and tests of will and fate.

As with the entire Chronicles of Narnia series, the Christian undertones and allegories are unmistakable and create a deeply compelling journey in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  While still very violent and scary for just a PG film, this chapter will bring the church groups back in droves.  Also, Liam Neeson returns to make the great lion Aslan as wise and formidable as ever with his voice work.  I hope Liam knows that he can never be a voice actor in any other role again after this series.  He's Aslan for life and that's not a problem at all.

Prince Caspian was very long (150 tedious minutes) and deeply removed from the whimsical and successful spirit of the first film. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, however, under the reins of director Michael Apted, brings back the lost wonder and magic to an eye-popping level.  This film is an example of where 3D adds a lot to a picture and is worth the extra price.  The seafaring scenes and overall cinematography are gorgeous.  The pace, action, and special effects are absolutely amazing and arguably better than those of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.  Its brisk pace clocks in under two hours and finishes with great hand-drawn credits and a dynamite Carrie Underwood song.

More importantly, the journey of our younger Pevensies, the emergence of Eustace, and the dashing heroics of a more mature Caspian this time around and the trusty Reepicheep make for rich storytelling.  You really come to care about the characters and their fates, knowing they are getting too old to return to Narnia for much longer.  Once again, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader brings the series back to its high adventure and captivating wonder.  Fox scored quite a coup to get this and, somewhere, someone soon at Disney will be kicking themselves.  It's a good thing they just bought Marvel Comics and re-upped with Pixar.  Let's hope 20th Century Fox deftly builds off of this and makes The Silver Chair next.  The series deserves to continue!

LESSON #1: BECOMING AN ADULT CAN BE DIFFICULT, YET CHARACTER-BUILDING-- Both Edmund and Lucy are the two youngest in their families. They have always been looked out for and taken care of. They are both teenagers now and have to grow up. They need to become their own person behind no one else's shadow. Every teenager needs to take this step when it's their time. Their time is now and, if you know your books, Eustace's is around the corner.

LESSON #2: FAITH NEEDS TO BE FOUND IN YOURSELF AS MUCH AS IT CAN BE FOUND IN OTHERS-- The use of the word "faith" here might spur the religious connection, but it really is meant to speak to a person's inner confidence. Part of becoming that adult is putting as much faith in yourself and own abilities as you do in others. There's nothing wrong with a team effort and supportive help from others, especially if that teammate is a seemingly immortal lion, but, at the end of the day, the successes and consequences you experience come from you and you alone.

LESSON #3: COURAGE NEEDS TO BE FOUND JUST LIKE FAITH-- Faith and confidence is one thing, but courage is another.  Courage is the action that comes after faith and confidence.  It gives you the ability to act, not just believe and hope.  Yet, at the same time, courage challenge you and has to be found from within just as much as it can be shown to you from the people around you.  The courage to face your fears, let go of your mistakes, and assume your rightful place in the world are experienced by all of our heroic characters to some degree with inspiring results.