The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Blu-ray Review
Dawn Treader comes to Region Free UK Blu-ray complete with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Hang on, no it doesn’t. The box says 1.78:1 and, true enough, the image fills my widescreen HDTV. What’s going on? Well for those of you who glossed over my film review you’ll have missed the bit where I slate the directorial/production studio decisions to both shoot the movie digitally and frame it differently for home cinema viewers. The director himself admits, in the audio commentary, that the latter decision was because they thought it made the movie more intimate. I don’t think people watching a Chronicles of Narnia movie was ‘intimate’ – they want broad, epic sweeping shots just like they got in the first two outings. Bad decision. Similarly the digital camerawork has had the irritating side-effect of making everything look far too real – a bad situation to be in when you’re trying to paint a fantasy adventure. Even the best CG can’t stand up to this kind of clinical observation, and much of what’s included in the movie is clearly not the best CG.
On the plus side to all of this, digital camerawork does yield some tremendous benefits when it comes to detail and clarity. The image is pristine, so much so that you can tell that the Dawn Treader has never seen water. Costume texture, background depth, hell even skin detail and buffeting hair in the wind looks superb, all on offer for you to visually dissect. The colour scheme is accurately reflected, a broad and vibrant offering which has true tones and excellent colour reproduction across the spectrum. It’s a bright blue sky kind of visual display, and looks pretty damn good on Blu-ray. That said, I think there’s no denying such an immaculate, clinical rendition just does not suit the material, which lacks all the rich vibrancy, the cinematic breadth and the filmic grain that would only enhance this kind of fantasy production. It looks good, but it just doesn’t do this film any good.
On the aural front we get a thoroughly engaging DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. I only found out after having seen the movie that it was originally presented theatrically with a 7.1 track, so I have to wonder why they didn’t opt for that instead but, niggles notwithstanding, it’s still an excellent offering. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, dominating the frontal array wherever appropriate, and doing so irrespective of the surround activity. On that front we have several riotous moments – from the opening World War II bombings to the climactic ship vs. beast battle, which pulls out all the stops. It’s an atmospheric track, engulfing you at all the right moments and sweeping you up in the thick of things, but there’s also some nice subtle observations around the edges, allowing even the quieter moments to brim with authentic but never intrusive background ambience. With a fine lower end of bass to keep your LFE rumbling nicely this is a demo quality offering which doesn’t quite have the top fidelity to get a perfect score, but comes close.
The extras package for this release is surprisingly bitty. It does have an Audio Commentary and some Making-of Featurettes in amidst the plethora of material, but unfortunately it’s split through a horrible navigational menu which divides the extras into location-denoted elements. Worse still, the majority of extras listed run at a matter of seconds long and aren’t even worth clicking on!
King Caspian’s Guide to the Dawn Treader kicks off this section, which is probably the best of all the location-driven sections. This part is an interactive feature which allows you to look at various specific parts of the Dawn Treader ship itself – Main Deck, State Room, Poop Deck, Map Room and Oar Room – and has a Caspian-narrated brief section dedicated to each one of them. The total runtime for all 4 sections is still only 4 minutes however.
The Secret Islands: Untold Adventures of the Dawn Treader is a nice little gem of an extra for younger audience members who want some more Narnian adventures. It’s an ‘animated’ and, again, Caspian-narrated tale of what the crew of the Dawn Treader got up to prior to the events in the movie and, at 7 minutes in length, quite a lot happens. Worth checking out.
In Character with Liam Neeson is the first of four Fox Movie Channel Presents Featurettes and runs at 5 minutes in length, providing a brief interview with Neeson himself which is shamefully interspersed with a little too much final film footage. He talks about how he got involved in the Narnia projects, how they used computer tracking to get the CG character to mimic his facial expressions and mouth movements, and explains how he went on Safari with his family to gain further insight into the role. Honestly, I think he was being serious about that last part!
In Character with Georgie Henley and Will Poulter continues in the same vein with 5 minutes dedicated to the child actors who played Lucy and Eustace. Their interview involves far too much exposition on the character developments which you will already be aware of having seen the movie (as well as lots of final film footage!), but it’s nice to see the actors out of character and it certainly does reinforce the fact that Will Poulter was remarkably talented in portraying such a different, and painfully irritating, character.
Direct Effect Michael Apted has his own 6 minute interview discussing the themes, plot and drive of the film, and how it was different from the book, as well as noting the elements incorporated from The Silver Chair, another chapter in the Narnia series. Another good interview, which is thankfully slightly less marred by film footage, and has some interesting background reveals into the production.
Making a Scene is basically a 9-minute Fox making-of which has interview snippets from all of the cast and crew members involved, who unfortunately spend far too much time discussing the plot of the movie (coupled with final film footage, this makes this little more than a glorified trailer) before going into a bit of detail on how they shot some of the scenes.
Explore Magician’s Island is a 42 second narrated montage introduction.
Dufflepud Discovery offers 61 seconds of unnecessary summary information on these odd and somewhat poorly realised characters.
Commentary by Director Michael Apted and Producer Mark Johnson. I’ve no idea why the Commentary is hidden away here as the third-place extra on one of the many islands in the extras listing. At least they should have made this one important extra easier to access – it’s probably simpler just to go to the audio options section and select it there! Still, at least we get a commentary, and the lively chat from these two contributors, whilst seldom complimenting one another well, does give us some nice background into the production. They talk briefly about the change in aspect ratio, adapting to the actors who have grown up as the movies have been made, changing Capsian’s accent, and so forth. The director’s deep monotone voice is a little hard to handle after a while, but there’s plenty of information up for grabs here for fans of the franchise.
Explore Ramandu’s Island is just 59 seconds long, but is still a marginally more interesting narrated introduction than the other ones.
Reepicheep Discovery takes 70 seconds to give some thin stuff-we-already-know-from-watching-the-movie background into this character.
Aslan Discovery spends a similarly short and totally pointless 62 seconds about this pivotal God character. Absolutely nothing you didn’t already get from the movie.
Liliandil Discovery looks at this character from the island, spending just 52 paltry seconds with her.
Search for the Seven Swords Match Game is a largely pointless memory-based game which might interest kids who can’t be bothered to crack out a real set of playing cards instead.
VFX Progression with Optional Commentary by Director Michael Apted and Producer Mark Johnson is another remarkably well-hidden gem of a Featurette which spends 13 minutes looking at the various stages of all the key effects, from the footprint boat used to create the wake of the Dawn Treader (a little tug) to the minotaur and the dragon; the work done to improve and enhance the environments and the sets; and comes complete with interesting and informative commentary. Worth checking out.
The Dark Island
Explore The Dark Island is your usual 57 minute introduction.
White Witch Discovery gives us just 36 seconds with this character – almost as much screen time as Tilda Swinton gets in the main feature itself!
Serpent Discovery is yet another short 42 second look at this CG creature.
Portal to Narnia: A Painting Comes to Life runs at 7 minutes in length and is, yes you guessed it, another decent Making-Of Featurette hidden amidst the overwhelming number of stupid tiny extras. The cast and crew discuss how they put the story together; adapting the book and adopting new ideas from other sources; with focus on the initial scene that sets up how the kids get back to Narnia.
Good vs. Evil: Battle on the Sea is also a fairly decent extra, running at 11 minutes in length and focussing on the sea-driven climactic battle sequence in the movie, again with the cast and crew on board to discuss how they brought the serpent battle to life and what they were hoping to achieve in the scene; and plenty of behind the scenes footage playing in the background (including a sped-up look at the Dawn Treader set being painstakingly created).
Explore Narrowhaven is yet another sub-one-minute narrated introduction.
Minotaur Discovery takes a brief look at the minotaur member of the ship’s crew aboard the Dawn Treader, of course merely skimming over the surface of the character and not touching on the effects involved in bringing it to life.
Deleted Scenes. Wow, they kept this one till the end didn’t they?! Another interesting gem, here we get four deleted scenes – The Kids in Narnian Clothes, Eustace is ill, Mutiny and Caspian “Doubt” – which total an extra 4 minutes of footage. There’s nothing vital on offer here, with a frivolous moment designed to mock Lucy’s male attire; and a bit where Lucy has to help a poorly, delirious Eustace. The abortive mutiny sequence is more interesting, but both that and the final added scene are let down by the acting – I’m looking at you Prince/King Caspian.
The Epic Continues is a shamefully short 2 minute ‘featurette’ (if you can call it that), which has the briefest of interview snippets with select cast and crew members discussing the continuation of the series with this particular instalment.
Explore Goldwater Island takes a 50-second narrated look at this enchanted Midas-inspired island with a montage of relevant clips from the movie.
Dragon Discovery takes 56 seconds to look briefly (and fairly pointlessly) at the plight of Eustace.
End Title Songs From Around the World include:
“There’s a Place for Us” Music Video by EMD
“There’s a Place for Us” Music Video by Sonohra
“Someone Wake Me Up” Music Video by Joe McElderry
“Stand Up” Music Video by Stan Walker
“Instantly” Music Video by Sergey Lazarev
“There’s a Place for Us” Music Video by Xander De Buisonje
“There’s a Place for Us” Music Video by Victoria S
Theatrical Traileris 2 minutes long and rounds off a decent selection of extras which is thoroughly obscured by a horrible navigation system and a boat-load of throwaway snippet extras.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a slightly disappointing third entry in the adapted C.S. Lewis franchise. It boasts neither the epic feel, nor the driven narrative required to sustain this kind of fantasy adventure, with a strung-together plot of island-hopping and CG mist which simply does not reach the heights of the previous two entries. The plight is not assisted by the restrictions of an overly shiny-looking boat, the loss of the two elder, better child actors, and the presence of Prince (now King) Caspian – only this time jarringly missing the accent he had in the previous instalment.
On Region Free UK Blu-ray the film suffers further from having a director-approved ‘bigger’ image of 1.78:1, following suit after what they did with Avatar, and removing the cinematic breadth of the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Add to that the use of digital cameras for the first time in the franchise, and this one ends up looking more like an expensive TV movie than a lavish theatrical fantasy adventure. I guess the lower budget really does make a difference.
In technical terms, the release, ostensibly identical to its US counterpart, still boasts great video and excellent audio, as well as a huge selection of extras which – somewhere in amidst the throwaway 60-second intros – boasts a good few quality offerings. It’s just a shame that they’re peppered across a painful-to-navigate extras menu. Fans of the movie should be prepared for a different look at home than in the cinemas, but will otherwise probably be damn happy with this package; those who loved the previous two movies should go in with comparatively low expectations, treat this as a TV movie, and then maybe it’ll lessen the blow of disappointment. I don’t really know where the series will go from here – there are more books but are any of them viable continuations of the story? – and if the films continue on in this vein I’m not sure I really want to find out.
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