DVD releases can be a good chance to do a gut-check. I've often remarked that it's much harder to make a bad movie than it is to write a good review. After all, a filmmaker lives with a project for years at a time and probably knows its faults better than anyone.
A reviewer, on the other hand, goes in with a mostly open and uncluttered mind, has a reasonable expectation of being entertained for at least half an hour or so, pays attention well enough to get a few quotes mostly right, mulls over the wording of a reaction for forty-five minutes or so, and then takes an hour to crank out a fairly polished thousand words. And all this stretched over maybe three or four days. What a hardship!
Fair Initial Reaction?
So I'm often surprised when reviewers feel they can dismiss, or praise, a given film with any measure of authority. By comparison, if one were to write an academically sound essay on a novel, one would read the novel thoroughly once at a minimum, take copious notes, reread huge sections with laser-like attention, mull over the symbolism and themes for a few days, and then take hours upon hours to craft some eloquent prose.
This is not at all what film reviewers do, by and large.
And with the constant workload of having more and more films to see, reviewers also don't often get the second or third chance they'd like to see a film and find out whether their initial reaction was fair and/or justified.
Lucky me! I actually had two chances to see THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER before it was released, and the DVD gives me my third look. And I'm glad now to have had some distance from the hype, the "film as rhetoric" cultural posturing that the Narnia franchise represents, and my own "can't we just get this over with" impatience. Seven years is far too long for me to be living with Narnia, and I didn't even like it to begin with!
So what's my reaction now, after having had some distance from the whole hullabaloo? What's my take on THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER at this point?
What's the Difference?
I agree with many detractors who point out that the central Quest for the Seven Swords is silly and contrived when there was a plenty good quest already built into the story: the search for the Seven Lords. Lords/Swords, what's the difference? Well, one's pretty people-centered, and the other conjures up all kinds of opportunities for battles and such that just don't enter into the original story.
I also lament that that Eustace's sojourn in a dragon's body was stretched out through two acts of the film's story rather than remaining an episode of the rising action. Also, I wish the Dark Isle had been encountered on the route to Ramandu's Island rather than being the object of the final sword quest. And yeah, the mist was a cheesy CG hammer over the symbolic head.
But that's just me.
Respects Original Tone
I still defend my original assessment that this is the only one of the three Narnia films thus far that really respects the tone of the original children's novellas. If THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is "light fantasy for kids," well, isn't that just what it should be? If it preaches too much for some and not enough for others, though not precisely in the way that the original did, wasn't that exactly what Lewis’ books did?
On one level, we expect far too much out of our films, and on another we don't expect enough. I, for one, am glad to see a studio take a "less is better" approach to epic filmmaking; and when the result is less convoluted, less frenetic, and more colorful, well… I'm pretty pleased.
Now, if there had just been something in the way of real special features on the DVD, and not just three minutes of deleted clips and the usual commentary, I'd have been really pleased.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action. This really almost feels like a G film. I recently re-watched THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, both released with the MPAA's G, and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER strikes me as similarly mild.
Courtesy of the film's distributor, Greg screened a promotional DVD of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER .