...and then to sea, but that's as far as it goes ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, December 20, 2010

...and then to sea, but that's as far as it goes

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
My rating:

Amongst the entertainment news sources and websites I frequent, none are particularly big on The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, most of them reported on the news of its latest installment with an underlying tone of "huh, does anyone really want another one of these?" A sentiment which I share, frankly, which was why it was a surprise to discover that the series does have its fans. Based on the murmurings I heard during my viewing of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, quite a few of them were with me in the cinema - kids and younger teens, along with their parents. Maybe it's because of the whole Christian thing; Malaysians are a devout bunch, so I wouldn't be surprised if these movies are more popular here than in the godless U.S. Or maybe not; maybe they just like them for being a (relatively) long-running fantasy adventure franchise.

I kinda hope, for their sake, that it's the Christian thing. They'd enjoy it more it that way.

Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) are staying with their fussy and annoying cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), while their older siblings Peter (William Mosely) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) are away with their parents. Before long, they are transported once again to the magical land of Narnia, where they are picked up by the Dawn Treader - a magnificent ocean-going ship commanded by their old friend Caspian (Ben Barnes), now King of Narnia. With a brave crew that includes another former companion, Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg) the warrior mouse, Caspian is on a quest to find seven lords whom his evil uncle banished - a quest that takes on greater importance when they encounter an evil green mist emanating from the distant Dark Island. Only the lords' seven swords can defeat the evil, which plagues everyone with their deepest fears and insecurities - particularly Lucy, who envies her sister's beauty. And beyond even the Dark Island is the country of Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson), in whose faith they must once again rely on.

It's not a war movie this time; early on, Edmund wonders why they were called back, if Narnia is currently at peace. It's a swashbuckling maritime adventure that takes place on the titular ship as well as the mysterious islands on the hitherto-unseen oceans of Narnia. So, kid-friendly Pirates of the Caribbean then, instead of kid-friendly Lord of the Rings like the first two were. Perfectly serviceable approach, given the material in the book, and no reason why it couldn't have been as good as Prince Caspian or even better. But it isn't; it's about on par with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, even though it's not really as cutesy or twee as that one was. It's biggest problem is that it's just not very good; it never achieves the heights of wonder, thrills and poignancy that it aims for.

Michael Apted, man. Just take a look at his resume. I can't help but think he puts his real passion and talent into his more high-minded projects, but treats big-budget Hollywood movies as hackwork. It isn't any one thing that makes Voyage a so-so movie, it's a bunch of little things that all point to a filmmaker who doesn't really have his heart in it. The action scenes are poorly-staged and confusing. The plot is choppy, and many scenes and elements don't feel fleshed-out enough, especially the whole bit with a wizard named Coriakin (Bille Brown); at just under 2 hours, it's the shortest Narnia movie compared to its predecessors which both felt nicely epic at 150 minutes. And it was clearly filmed on digital cameras, which is a jarring change from its predecessors and gives it a slightly blurry and unreal look to the whole movie. (I'm glad I didn't fork out extra for the 3D version.) Apted takes over the directorial reins from Andrew Adamson, whose version I would've much preferred.

But it is a Narnia movie. Which only means anything to fans, but even though I'm not really one myself, there is pleasure to be had in seeing a second sequel and spotting all the little continuity nods. And it is particularly fun to see Lucy and Edmund again; they've always been the more interesting two of the Pevensies, and Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes the better actors. Watching how they've grown up (Henley was 9 when she made Lion, Keynes 13) is neat, and the entire Lucy subplot makes for the film's best scenes, especially since Henley is now 15 but as charming as ever. Edmund doesn't get as much character development, except for the bits in which Jadis the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) makes a cameo appearance again - I thought he'd gotten over all that in the last one - but Keynes is still a charismatic screen presence.

So is Ben Barnes, but he doesn't have much to do; in fact, his character is ill-served in both Caspian and Voyage, saddled here with a subplot about his dead father that never amounts to much. New to Narnia is Will Poulter, who is Eustace the butt monkey of the movie and manages to annoy the characters without doing the same to the audience. At one point he gets turned into a dragon, which is a plot development that really should've been more affecting than it was; it mostly just deprives us of more Poulter and subs him with a not-very-convincing CGI critter. Edmund and Lucy won't be appearing in any more Narnia movies, leaving Eustace to carry the torch - unfortunately, it will be the kinder and gentler Eustace, not the one here who's actually fun to watch.

Then again, whether there'll be any more Narnia movies is in doubt. The first two were distributed by Disney, but they opted out after disappointing box-office returns for Prince Caspian. Walden Media managed to get 20th Century Fox to distribute this one, but I don't think they're gonna fork out for another after its equally less-than-stellar performance - even after the studio supposedly went back to the Christianity-centric marketing angle. Ironically, there isn't much of a Christian theme here, except for an overt bit right at the end when Aslan tells Lucy that in her world, he has another name, and that she must come to know him there. Christians will probably squee at this, and if they do, good for them.

As for me, it was, like Lion, just barely enjoyable; everything it tries to do has been done better in other fantasy franchises such as the Harry Potter movies and, yes, Rings and Pirates. The same of which can be said for all three of them, really. Too bad for Poulter, Apted, Adamson (who is still a producer on this one), Walden Media and the fans in the cinema with me, but I don't think the demise of the series is worth mourning. Maybe if Edmund and Lucy were to return - but then again, I'd rather watch Henley and Keynes in something else anyway. If The Chronicles of Narnia goes down in history as the movies that discovered them, that ought to be the only real significance it warrants.

NEXT REVIEW: Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah
Expectations: peluang kedua, Mamat Khalid