“So far every person I’ve met in this strange place suffers from the most florid delusions, chasing green mists and looking for lost lords. I can only assume that this is the result of poor diet, or they’re all just barking mad.”
C.S. Lewis created an incredibly imaginative world when he wrote his Chronicles Of Narnia. The stories were an escape, of sorts, from a war-torn Europe. They integrated elements of Christianity in an effort to provide a semblance of hope in the form of a children’s fairy tale. And like all such tales, the world of Narnia was first and foremost a place of magic and bewilderment. It was a place where fantastic creatures of both good and evil thrived, living out epic lives of adventure. It was also a world where only children could enter. The stories became hugely popular, first in England, and eventually around the globe. Since that time we live in a different planet than the one Lewis was attempting to offer a respite from. Still, the images and ideals are remarkably relevant today. With such sweeping grand adventures and marvelous creatures, it’s no surprise that the franchise has found its way into films. The only real mystery is why it took so long. Perhaps it was necessary for the technology to finally catch up, providing a far more realistic and captivating experience. Some credit must also go to the enormous success of the Harry Potter and even the Lord Of The Rings films. With the investment of time and money required to bring such a world into existence on celluloid, there must be some reasonable assurance that, if done correctly, there was a large enough profit to be found. These earlier, and continuing, franchises have overwhelmingly proven that point. It was only a matter of time before the studio that practically invented movie magic would find such a place as Narnia and claim it for their own. When you combine these extraordinary histories together, can there be any question as to the results?
But for Walt Disney, the answer wasn’t quite what they were hoping for. It’s not that there wasn’t a tidy sum to be made. The first film was a complete success. With a $180 million budget the film pulled in $300 million in the U.S. and a total of over $750 million. So an even larger budget was put into the second film, and the drop was considerable. Prince Caspian only pulled in $140 million in the U.S., and the total was well under $400 million, about half that of the first. The drop was too much, and with a large amount of cash needed to bring the third film to life the studio passed. Fox picked up the franchise and put a huge $155 million into the film. The downward trend continued, and this one made just over $100 million in the U.S.. While there is still a plan to continue the series, skipping book four and jumping to book five, I wouldn’t bet the farm that you’ll be seeing the continuing adventures of Narnia anytime soon.
“We spoke often of Narnia in the days that followed, and when my cousins left after the war ended, I missed them with all my heart as I know all Narnians will miss them till the end of time.”
It has been some years since the Pevensie children have last returned from Narnia. Peter (Moseley) and Susan (Popplewell) are with their parents. The two younger children have been sent to live with their uncle where it is hoped they will be safe for the duration of the war. There they must bear the burden of their rather pompous cousin Eustace (Poulter). He’s tired of their stories of Narnia and doesn’t believe a word of it. Eustace barges into a room where Lucy (Henley) and Edmund (Keynes) are admiring a painting of a ship being tossed on an angry sea. They remark that the ship looks Narnian in nature, which brings about a typical rebuke from Eustace. That is, until the painting comes to life. The seas begin to roll, and it is all spilling seawater into the room until it is filled and the three children must fight their way to the surface. They are no longer in the closed room but on the open sea with the painting’s ship bearing down upon them. The ship is the Dawn Treader, and we are once again in Narnia.
Of course Eustace resists the new reality he finds himself in, particularly when he is quartered with a talking rodent named Reepicheep (Pegg). He’s uncomfortable and does nothing but complain. Reepicheep isn’t the only old friend that Lucy and Edmund encounter on board. The ship is being captained by none other than Prince Caspian (Barnes). He is on a vital mission to find seven missing lords who had set out for Aslan’s (Neeson) lands at the end of the world.
When Fox took over the franchise, they made a very deliberate and smart decision to make sure the film fit into the series as flawlessly as they could. As I’ve already mentioned, they gave it a respectable budget so as not to let down the production value. It shows. The creatures and effects here are as grand as anything seen in the previous pictures, and I’ll have more on that later. The cast was carried over from the other films with both Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes returning as Lucy and Edmund respectively. The voice of Aslan remains in the capable throat of Liam Neeson. The White Witch returns for a cameo, once again portrayed by Tilda Swinton. Only Reepicheep has been recast. Eddie Izzard did not return. Simon Pegg did the honors here, and I missed Izzard’s splendid contribution. Even the two older children are given cameos in the film with the original actors. Susan provides a more vital part of the story as Lucy is coming of age and discovering boys. It has made her insecure in her looks which she has compared to her sister, who she envisions as beautiful and more desirable to the boys. It’s the focus development story for Lucy, who gets a far better deal in that area than Edmund. His character is hardly explored here. There is no strength to the way it is written or portrayed here. It’s unfortunate, really, and one of the most outstanding flaws in this rather magnificent film. Instead, the main little-boy focus is on Eustace and his change from annoying and selfish to humble and appreciative of his cousins.
There are many wonderful creatures and beings to be found here. While the screen isn’t as populated with these creations as the previous films have been, it is easier to appreciate what is there. The dragon sequences are among my favorite. The computer wizards here have outdone themselves, to be sure. The creature is covered with wonderful detail and interacts with the real world in quite an impressive fluidity. With the journey aspect of the film, we get to see more locations. Some of these vistas are purely breathtaking. You’ll get a far more feel for this imagined land than you’ve ever gotten before. If you’ve stayed away because of some of the negative buzz, this is your opportunity to come along for a rather spectacular journey back into the world of Narnia.
I’ve spent a lot of time praising Fox for stepping in and staying true to the franchise, all the while delivering a wonderful film. Unfortunately, there are two areas in which I was quite disappointed in this Blu-ray release. The first has to do with the aspect ratio of the video. The Blu-ray does not contain the original aspect ratio of the film, but rather it has been reformatted to a more 16×9 friendly 1.78:1. This could be the beginning of a disturbing trend. Back in the days of square televisions movies were often cropped to fit the screen. The average viewer didn’t want to see black lines on their screen. Today there is less of that, but wider films still require those black lines. I hope that studios will not begin to coddle to the lowest common denominator here and start reformatting wider films down to the 1.78:1. I do understand the director was involved in the reformat, and he had different ideas about the home and theater experience. I find that unfortunate.
The image quality is, fortunately, a better story. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 30 mbps. The image is absolutely brilliant. Colors are bright and pop off the screen at every turn. The deep royal purple of the ship’s mainsail stands in wonderful contrast to the incredibly blue skies. The ocean looks so deep and full of subtle color shifts that I can smell the salt air around it. There are immersive textures. Black levels are superb, offering inky deep blacks and stark shadow definition. The image is sharp enough to cut glass. There is no question this could well be a show-off piece for your system. It will bring the magical world to vivid life. Of that I’m very sure. There is a wide shot of the ship at the break of dusk that is one of the most impressive visuals I’ve seen. I’d love to get a high-res shot of that scene as a desktop.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is just as spectacular. The rousing score bites through at just the right moments. The surrounds can be aggressive and at times just as subtle as you please. It’s on the high seas that the surrounds offer there best and most lifelike experience. Dialog is always clear. Sub response can be quite impressive when it is called to duty. Again, I’m disappointed that the film’s theatrical 7.1 track was not included.
Here is the second area that Fox has failed the release. I completely understand the desire to provide special packaging. But this package is a complete mess. There is no suitable place for the discs to sit, and they easily fall out when the cardboard insert is taken out of the box sleeve. I have heard complaints of glue on the discs which is quite troublesome to remove. I’ve since placed my disc in a traditional Blu-ray plastic box.
The special features are also a tad of a disappointment. You have to navigate an interactive map often for just a couple of minutes for each piece. The material offered is nice, but I would prefer it be in an easy-to-navigate format. It’s strange that the audio and video were altered, presumably for the average Joe, but the packaging and menus were over complicated. Give me faithful audio and video and don’t try to distract me with shiny packages. I intend to keep my movie for a long time, so I need practical packaging, thank you.
First some last words on my harsh criticism of the two places I think Fox fell down on the job. Overall I think they did an admirable job with this release. It wasn’t an easy task to take something like this over, I’m sure. Still, it’s my favorite of the Narnia films. They deserve all of the credit in the world. The issues I have found fault with deal directly with the release and can be corrected with a future release, hopefully offered as a replacement as Paramount did with the DNR-ruined release of Gladiator. Give us standard packaging and restore the original audio and video formats.
While many have dismissed this particularly entry in the franchise, I found it to be the most entertaining of the three films. This story is a considerably better story. Some cite that it isn’t as loaded with battle scenes and epic conquests, but that’s precisely what I liked about this movie. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for the Homer-like voyages. There’s a bit of the old Harryhausen Sinbad series to be found here. The movie has more variety and isn’t always bogged down by the doom hanging over the kingdom. With the ship our characters journey from place to place where they encounter some whimsical and interesting creatures and characters. At the same time the story is also moving at a much swifter pace. This is the shortest of the three films, and it times in just right, in my humble opinion. Even if this is the last we hear of Narnia, at least for a while Fox has made a good show for themselves and fans can rest assure that “there has been an extraordinary turn of events…”