Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, reviewed.

My girlfriend is going to have some words for me. Mostly kind ones I'm sure. But if she slipped in a knowing "I told you so" I'd have no right to hold it against her. Just the other day I upset her by panning the latest Narnia film sight unseen. The first one disappointed, I said. The second one reportedly murdered the book, I said. This one apparently added some mystical macguffin to spruce up the adventure with a chase, I said. Humbug, I said. And so she gave me the third degree about how they were decent movies and can't you just go along with the big budget adventure movie and darnit Mike you haven't even seen the thing. The conversation was long distance, but I imagined her face at the time to be scrunched in a cute twist of pouty insistence.

I went with my mom this evening to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader, begrudgingly but not wanting to stay in the house any longer. I came out of the theater pestering my mom because she didn't seem to enjoy it quite as much as I did. VotDT is no triumphant success of thrilling movie excitement, but it is an excellent kids' movie and fun enough to win over a skeptic.

If you don't already know, VotDT recounts a sea-faring adventure involving three British schoolchildren magically whisked away from wartime Britain into a parallel universe filled with mythical creatures and gallantry and adventure. It's adapted from one of a series of seven books by the wildly popular mid-century evangelical writer C.S. Lewis, a Cambridge professor of medieval literature turned lay theologian. The Chronicles of Narnia, as these seven books are known collectively, detail the adventures of English schoolchildren mostly from the same family and decade who live full lives in this alternate universe before returning to the same age in the "real" world. The disjunction in the passage of time might these days cause one to wonder whether someone wasn't trying to convince Leonardo DiCaprio he was a magical king. But enough of that.

Edmund & Lucy have spent decades in Narnia previously and are thrilled when the seascape in their bedroom begins to gush saltwater and hurtle them back into adventure. Their boorish young cousin Eustace, however, is not. The film wrings some laughs from the brat's fussy adjustment to a life of excitement and danger, some pathos from his growing up through the experience.

VotDT does mostly well by their story as known from the book, fleshing details here and there, twisting bits of one adventure and another together. But the book VotDT already suffered from having too episodic a structure, so I actually found (to my surprise) that the plot alterations served both the movie and the spirit of the text. Fancy that! Seen in the right cinematic light, the Dawn Treader's various adventurous episodes start pushing towards the delirious "why not?" fun I remember from moments like Up's dogfighting dogs and King Kong's thrice tyrannosaurus-laden throwdown. Well, it's not that exciting, but the point is I had fun when I didn't expect to.

The acting is serviceable, though Edgar Wright's Reepicheep is fantastic and Georgie Henley still rocks as Lucy, even if she's not the same intensely adorable waif of five years ago. Liam Neeson (or the sound engineer digitally modifying his voice) sounds better as Aslan, and the character is used to better effect. Personally, I would have liked Eustace's deliverance scene* to have been put together differently, but what's on screen works and they managed to retain the meaning. The FX are also serviceable, but nothing so refined as what has been put to work in most blockbusters the past several years. It doesn't look bad, but it also doesn't look good next to something like Pirates of the Caribbean or Harry Potter--it takes little imagination to think that the franchise's loss of Disney backing had something to do with this. But, in the end, it all holds together.

So Rachel, you were right. The movie doesn't suck. It's pretty good, actually. And I think most of the people who bother enough to casually skim my writings would enjoy it, though probably not for top dollar.

*Not to be mistaken with Eustace's Deliverance scene, although several creatures do refer to him as a pig.

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