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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

April 7th, 2011

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader - Buy from Amazon: Single-Disc DVD, Two-Disc DVD, or Blu-ray

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was a huge hit back in 2005; it didn't quite fill the void The Lord of the Rings films left, but it was still a financial success. Prince Caspian only earned half of what its predecessor earned domestically, which was enough for Disney to drop the franchise. Fox stepped in, but the box office number eroded further with Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Is it better than its box office would suggest? Or is it time to retire the franchise?

The Movie

After the events of the second film, Lucy and Edmund have moved in with their aunt and uncle, and their annoying cousin, Eustace. Edmund is not handling the transition back into the real world particularly well and tries to sign up for the army. Their stay in the real world isn't long and quickly Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace, and all transported to Narnia, or to be more specific, an Ocean in Narnia. They are quickly rescued by Prince Caspian who explains to them he didn't summon them to Narnia. In fact, in the three years since they were last there, he had managed to bring peace to Narnia, so he's not sure why they are even there.

Prince Caspian is on a quest to find the seven lords his evil Uncle Mariz had banished. They were last known to be on the Lone Islands, which is where he was sailing when he picked up the three kids. Along for the ride is Reepicheep, who wishes to sail to "Utter East", the end of the world, Aslan's country. When they get to the Lone Islands, a small party goes forth to explore leaving Reepicheep and most of the crew behind. They first find the place strangely deserted and the first people they meet are slavers, who capture them in short order. In one of the older prisons is Lord Bern, one of the seven lords Caspain is looking for. It seems that there is a green mist that attacks the islands and six of the seven lords went forth to discover the source of this mist, only to never return. Afterward, Lord Bern lost control of the island and now the slavers grab anyone they can, selling those that are valuable, and sacrificing the others to the mist. The crew rescues them and Lord Bern gives Caspian the sword Aslan once gave him. Aslan had given these swords to each of the seven lords to protect Narnia, which means Caspian must get them back.

The details of this adventure are squarely in unacceptable spoiler territory, so I'll end the plot synopsis there.

Having previously reviewed the first two films in the franchise, I have to say this one is by far the weakest. It feels like a by-the-numbers Sword & Sorcery adventures with the characters just going through the motions. The adventure is broken down into small segments that really don't feel like they are attached to a cohesive whole. For instance, each of the temptation scenes play out like separate episodes of a TV show and not part of the same movie. Speaking of which, the action scenes seem like they are from a TV movie rather than a tent-pole release. It's like they've been scrubbed out anything that might harm their chances with family audiences, but in the process, they've also scrubbed away too much of the danger. (This was especially true of the early fight with the slavers.) As for the quest itself (collect seven swords and bring them to Aslan's table) it reminded me of countless bad quests from the many, many RPGs I've played over the years. Each time they got closer to their goal, there was no sense of great accomplishment.

As for the trio of coming of age stories, they are a little too ham-fisted to be compelling. Lucy and Edmund deserved better having been in the franchise since the start. Meanwhile, Eustace went from a pain in the ass, to a huge pain in the ass, to a good guy so fast, there's was no real time to appreciate his story arc. Also the actor, Will Poulter, was just so good at making that character unlikable that I wasn't particularly interested in watching him turn around.

There are some good action scenes, and some parts of the film look great, but overall it's not enough. Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader runs under two hours, which makes it the shortest installment in the franchise by about 30 minutes. However, it still feels padded, for lack of a better term, and it could have been trimmed by about 15 minutes without hurting the plot at all.

The Extras

The only extras on the single-disc DVD are the audio commentary track and some deleted scenes.

The extras on the Blu-ray are found in an explorable map, which has six locations, each with lots to look at. Most of the extras found here are short featurettes, many under a minute long, with information on the locations and creatures from the movie. There are some more substantial extras, including an audio commentary track with the director, Micheal Apted, and one of the producers, Mark Johnson. It's not the most energetic track I've heard, but it's not listless either and there's plenty of information. (This particular extra is found on Magician's Island, for those that don't want to hunt it down.) Deleted scenes are found on Lone Island, Ramandu’s Island has a game and a special effects progression featurette. The Dark Island has two substantial featurettes, the first is on the transition from the real world to Narnia, while the second is the creation of the titular boat. The boat itself has a few interviews.

The Blu-ray also has a couple featurettes for their BD-Live extras.

As for the look and sound, the film was shot in High Definition, so as you can imagine, it's practically flawless. Blacks are incredible, colors are bright, the level of detail is astounding. There is a bone of contention that some have raised about the aspect ratio. The film was originally shot in 1.78:1, but it was shown in theaters as a cropped 2.39:1 ratio. The Blu-ray goes back to the original 1.78:1. For some, this is an issue. I guess I understand wanting to see the movie as it was in theaters, but the Blu-ray preserves the original intent. As for the audio, it's immersive with the surround sound speakers getting a workout, as does the base.

Looking at the various prices, the Single-Disc DVD costs a mere $16, but with only an audio commentary track and deleted scenes, it's only worth a rental. The Two-Disc DVD and the Blu-ray cost the same, and since the Blu-ray comes with the Single-Disc DVD, it is clearly the better deal.

The Verdict

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was a great movie, but not quite an instant classic. Prince Caspian was good, but not great. Meanwhile, Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader is only average. The episodic nature of the story and the desperate desire to avoid any rating harsher than PG hurt. If you loved the first two films, you'll probably enjoy this one enough to make it worth picking up. The Blu-ray is a much better deal than either the Single-Disc DVD or the Two-Disc DVD. However, for those that just liked the first two, stick with a rental.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader