I’ve always gotten the impression that the Narnia movies are somewhat fraught with production difficulties. The latest movie doesn’t dispel that impression. After the disappointing box office of the last movie, Disney dropped out and left Fox to write the checks. (Whether or not it pays off is a matter of opinion, I guess: This film did worse box office than Prince Caspian, but it still grossed over $400M world-wide on a $220M budget. And it’s Fox’s first $100M hit in over a year.)
It’s not the little background news items that make it seem that way, though; usually the movies feel a little conflicted to me somehow. The special effects are always a bit uneven. Sometimes the pacing feels slightly off.
Voyage of the Dawn Treader is like that, only moreso. It has the lowest budget of any of the films; on the positive side, this seems to have encouraged the filmmakers to use CGI more sparingly. I particularly like the minotaurs, which I think are just big guys in bull suits, but with a little CGI to keep them from looking lifeless. Reepacheep returns and, except for a few scenes, looks good.
At the other end, the big effects (a dragon and a sea serpent) are a bit, well, conspicuous. Not awful, just noticeable.
The pacing is brisk, almost breakneck. This may be because they wanted to keep the movie at the two hour mark (which makes marketing easier and allows more showings in a day). This largely works, too, except for the occasional abruptness.
The story has Lucy and Edmund returning to Narnia along with their incredibly irritating cousin Eustace Scruggs. Eustace is one of the great characters in literature, embodying something akin to a literary critic mixed with Richard Dawkins.
Shrill, condescending, unimaginative, rigid—as he’s on the Dawn Treader with its minotaurs and satyrs, he’s deriding everyone as insane for believing in such fairy tale nonsense—and, on top of it all, worthless, Eustace passes his time complaining and avoiding helping.
But of course, this is Narnia, where one may be redeemed, no matter how awful.
Overall, I found this the most moving of the Narnia movies, probably because of Eustace’s transformation, but I was annoyed by the filmmakers’ insistence on bringing the White Witch back to torment Edward (also done in Caspian).
The kid’s been saved. The Witch never bothers him after the first book, that’s sort of the point.
I don’t remember the book that well, but it didn’t seem like the movie stayed that true to it. But as I recall the books seemed to get less tight, narratively speaking, as they went on.
The acting is, of course, good as one would expect. The kid who plays Eustace manages to be convincing as a twit and endearing as a reformed twit. And the actor who plays Edmund did a fine job as the frustrated teenager, who feels his responsibilities acutely and often is stymied in trying to execute them well.
Lucy is maturing into a fine young actress (though, again, the English seem to have some kind of Manhattan Project for child actors, so it’s not unexpected). The older kids are missing from this movie, though Susan shows up in archival footage as an object of Lucy’s envy. (I remember a vague hint in the book, nothing to the extent of what shows up in the movie. But then the book didn’t have Anna Popplewell.)
Liam Neeson returns as Aslan and, honestly, it doesn’t get old to me. You always have the issue of a (literal) deus ex machina in these stories, but the movies have done a good job of making it feel like Aslan’s appearance is tied to necessary changes in the characters, rather than to service the plot.
And there’s something archetypally pleasing about a big rumbling lion deity who’s both protective and powerful.
I enjoyed it overall, as did The Flower, though her favorite is still the first movie.
And I hope they get to do the other four books.