Narnia Quest Part 3 (Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 2010)

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Picking back up World War 2, Peter and Susan are with their father in America.  Lucy and Edmund, on the other hand, are stuck with their unpleasant cousin Eustace.  He is a remarkably anti-social kid.  One afternoon he breaks in on a conversation between Lucy and Edmund.  Lucy notices that a painting on the wall of a ship at sea seems to be moving. As Eustace berates them, water starts to poor from the frame of the painting, filling the room.  Suddenly, the children are afloat in the ocean and picked up by a passing ship.

The ship is the Dawn Treader, captained by Prince Caspian. On the ship, Lucy and Edmund are thrilled to see Caspian, Reepicheep and other Narnians.  Eustice is more…stupefied. Especially by things like a giant talking mouse. Who has a sword. Caspian explains that they are on a mission to find the missing seven Lords that were driven into exile by Lord Protector Miraz.  Reepicheep has a separate mission to reach the end of the world and enter Aslan’s land.

The journey brings them to various islands with a variety of obstacles.  Eventually, they find the dark island in their hopes to vanquish a dark force that is attacking Narnians.

This last part is a bit more confusing.  There is the addition of a Green Mist that is not in the books.  It appears to steal Narnian citizens and taken them from beyond the reach of Caspian. The film departs a lot from the book, changing character motivations and emphasizing others.

Disney was not involved in this film, instead, Walden Media teamed with 20th Century Fox for this installment.  The Narnia films have struggled, in part, from inconsistent releasing.  The first film came out in 2005, the second in 2008 and then this film in 2010. Compare this to the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, which were consistently a year apart.  Or the Harry Potter films, which had a fairly consistent schedule of every two years.  We are seeing Star Wars films already on a regular yearly schedule. Three films in five years easily disrupts momentum that trying to pull off an adaption like this needs.  Especially when Narnia does not have a variety of other outlets to be kept in the front of people’s minds.

And if the films had been ridiculously high quality, one might forgive the inconsistencies.  But there is the problem.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is easily the best of the three films. Will Pouter is exceptional as Eustace and takes him from being an insufferable brat to a good kid convincingly. Simon Pegg’s Reepicheep (taking over for Eddie Izzard from the previous film) gives a likable performance.

The film’s visual effects are strong, and the Eustace Dragon looks great.  And yet, the film never really manages to feel…urgent.  Edmund envies Peter, Lucy envies Susan…the temptation of the White Witch (again!). It all feels like we have been there before, even though the setting is new.

While better than the prior films, it still never gets to be what it wants, because what it wants is to be something other than the story C.S. Lewis told.

Narnia Quest Part 2 (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, 2008)

Narnia_002_PosterComing out three years after the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian picks up in Narnia, decades after the rule of the Pevensie family. The children had lived and ruled into adulthood, but returned to our world as children, with almost no time having passed.  But in Narnia, mankind has overrun Narnia.  The mythical creatures seem all but gone.

Lady Protectress Prunaprismia gives birth to a son, delighting her husband Lord Protector Miraz.  He calls to have the rightful heir to the throne, Prince Caspian, killed. Caspian’s tutor Professor Cornelius helps him escape. Cornelius has tried to teach Caspian in the forgotten ways of Narnia and Aslan. He gives him an ancient battle horn.

In his escape, Caspian runs into the original citizens of Narnia, whom he had believed to be myth.  In a fit of panic, he blows the horn, but the horn is not an ordinary artifact.  It actually calls the Pevensie children back to Narnia. They discover the ruins of their old castle, and come across their old weapons.  The children then discover Telmarine (the ruling class of Narnia) soldiers about to kill the dwarf Trumkin.  After saving him, they start to make their way back to the other hiding creatures of Narnia. Throughout the story, Lucy is certain she sees Aslan, but nobody else seems to see him.

Eventually, they reach and meet Caspian.  Caspian has cast in his lots with the citizens of Narnia against their Telmarine oppressors.  With the help of the Pevensies, they go on a mission to overthrow the Telmarines.

This is an okay follow up, though it pretty much has all the same positives and negatives of the previous film.  It is trying hard to be an epic, instead of trusting the story laid out before it.  The film invents a temptation to bring back the White Witch for the Pevensie kids that is entirely pointless and unneeded.

Prince Caspian is not terrible…but it really is just an average film adaption. Not great.  But decent enough.

Narnia Quest Part 1 (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, 2005)

Narnia_001_PosterDuring World War 2, the four Pevensie children are sent to stay in the remote countryside with Professor Kirke.  A somewhat distant man, the kids try and pass the time by exploring his large home and playing games.  One day, during a game of hide and seek, youngest Lucy hides in a large wardrobe.  She discovers that there is something different with the Wardrobe.  As she pushes through coats, she suddenly finds herself in a snowy forest.

She runs into a Faun (half man and half goat) who timidly introduces himself as Mr. Tumnus.  When he discovers that Lucy is a “daughter of Eve”, he becomes worried and tries to hurry Lucy back to where she came. He explains there world (where there is no Christmas, but a seemingly endless winter) is ruled by a tyrant queen, the White Witch, who demands any member of the line of Adam and Eve should be brought to her.  Upon her return, her siblings do not believe Lucy.  And why would they?

That night, Lucy tries to return, and is unknowingly followed by Edmund.  Edmund meets the White Witch who wants him to bring his sibling to her.  She plays to his ego and desire for fanciful Turkish Delights candy.

Eventually, all the kids enter the wardrobe and find Mr. Tumnus is missing.  They are greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who are…well, talking Beavers.  The kids learn more of the curse upon Narnia, but that many believe the world will be released by the return of King Aslan and the children of Adam and Eve.  And so the children become drawn into a battle to save  the world of Narnia from the cruel White Queen.

The Chronicles of Narnia are the beloved children’s books by noted popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. The series has been adapted in the past.  There was a cartoon of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe from the BBC in 1979.  And four of the books* were adapted for a live action series (also from the BBC) in the late eighties. But the twin successes of the Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter series made things look viable for more fantasy.

And so, Disney and Walden Media combined forces to bring us the Chronicles of Narnia.  They brought in Andrew Adamson, who was known for Shrek and Shrek 2 before this.

Visually, the effects in the film are quite good.  Aslan looks like a real lion, not just a digital cartoon.  The makeup is effect for the creatures of Narnia.  The cast is good.  And yet…the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe feels a bit…flat.  It follows the main beats of the story, but it is clear that, rather than looking to the novels for guidance?  They were looking at the success of the Lord of the Rings.  Overwhelmingly so.  The emphasis is on “epic”.  And this is not really something at the heart of the Narnia books.  The books are short, in fact, much shorter than the Tolkien’s books.  I almost wonder if the seven books total more than the three Rings books.

A certain amount of comparison would be inevitable.  Lewis and Tolkien were close friends.  When it came to their work though, they had very different attitudes.  Tolkien had no real use for allegory.  But that is what drives the heart of the Narnia Books.  The allegory is as important as the story.

And the film does not really water down the allegory. Aslan is still clearly a stand in for Jesus. Though, some might feel that Aslan seems to have less bite.  He seems a bit warm and fuzzy and a little less…threatening…even for the minions of evil.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe very much wants to be the Lord of the Rings, and this causes the film to not carve out it’s own identity against the Lord of the Rings films. Instead, it feels like a pale comparison.

 

 

 

*Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader were combined.

Something Strange Going On That Wasn’t Here Before (Doctor Strange, 2016)

doctor_strange_posterEvery now and then, Marvel Studios opts for a riskier venture for their tent-pole pictures.  In some cases, such as Thor, the risk is levied by the Avenger’s Connection.  But sometimes, that connection is much thinner.  Guardians of the Galaxy and now Doctor Strange.

And what we have here is another Guardians of the Galaxy result.  Doctor Strange is an exciting, emotional, funny trip of a film.  Benedict Cumberbatch carries an arrogance early on in the film.  Stephen Strange is a truly prideful man, but he has very carefully crafted an image.  When that is all taken away, at the end of his rope, he finds a man that had, similarly faced bodily destruction and appeared to have fully recovered.  He is pointed towards Katmandu and a place called Kamar-Taj.  There he encounters the Ancient One who, with her followers Mordo and Wong, begin to train Strange.

Meanwhile, the rebel Kaecilius and his disciples are trying to for ever alter reality.  Doctor Strange finds himself in the “New York Branch” which leads to battles with Kaecilius and his minions.  With Strange Mordo and Wong coming to a final fight with Kaecilius.

The movie manages to skirt the line of seriousness, but an undercurrent of humor.  The humor is dryer than other Marvel films, but it works, as often Strange finds his attempts at humor falling flat with Wong.  There is a fun payoff with that one.

It is hard to ignore the impressive visuals.  Early trailers made things look like it was ripping off Inception.  But Derrickson and his team actually gave us much more.  The film brings to life those trippy multidimensional visuals that Steve Ditko drew in the 60’s with a beautiful and lush feel.

There has been a lot of controversy over the issue of Tilda Swinton playing the Asian One.  In the comics the character was Asian.  And yeah, it was a pretty blatant “Mystical Asian” stereotype.  Which is what resulted in the choice to cast Swinton.  The film does overcome this.  But as written?  They easily could have cast and Asian actor in the role.  There are not a ton of major roles for Asian actors.  Avoiding stereotypes is done in the script and performance.  And I believe this film would have successfully avoided the stereotype, without making one less role for Asian actors.  I do not believe racism was at Derrickson and his casting teams heart.  I suspect it was an attempt to avoid the very issue of racism.  I think they made a choice I would not.  But Swinton is entertaining in the film.

Doctor Strange is one of Marvel’s strongest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It is certainly yet another origin story, but it is handled so very well.  It also has no requirement that you be familiar with the character.  You can enter the film with zero knowledge of the character and fully enjoy this film.

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