Friday, December 10, 2010


Look at this screenshot from the movie.

Its rather beautiful, isn't it ? There's a great sense
of atmosphere here. There's that Galadriel-like woman shining through the gloom. And there's what looks like an unlikely trio (gasp) obviously fated for greater things clearly on a quest to -

Oh dear.

We've been here before. We've seen this quest - the one ring, the eight horcruxes, and here - the seven swords - before. And arguably, Narnia, along with the Lord of the Rings, harks back to the start of modern fantasy as we know it, both being written in similar post World War II contexts. Tolkien of course let the grimness of the wars filter into a story that pulsated with constant dread; C.S. Lewis elected to take the squeaky clean Christ allegory route. Both are regarded as fantasy classics, high on a pedestal that George Martin, J.K. Rowling, even (blech) Christopher Paulini have since tried to ascend, and succeeded at different levels.

My personal opinion of the Narnia books isn't all that high. I encountered them when I first began to question the pillars of modern organized religion, and the messianic character of Aslan was too much to take, amongst other things. Still, I will acknowledge the place the books hold in the fantasy pantheon.

Which is why it is so very disappointing to see YET another Narnia outing (the third one if you're keeping count) to end up so thoroughly underwhelming. Like I mentioned, we've been here before, and that really isn't the point. Almost all of fantasy can be distilled down to that quest-and-unlikely-hero combination : its always the telling of the tale that makes or breaks it. And its here that Dawn Treader fails.

There is no sense of joy in the proceedings, no feeling of adventure, or trepidation, or dread or loss. There is a paint by numbers plot - the edges sketched out reasonably well by Lewis, with a number of fans regarding this as his finest outing in the Narnia series. But it remains just that, this tattered little sketch : the tapestry that fills it in is occasionally beautiful, but mostly clunky, led by performances that are chiefly phoned in.

One exception though - Will Poulter as the snotty young Eustace is a delight to watch. The screen comes marvelously alive whenever he's in the frame : and fizzles out whenever he goes missing. Dawn Treader is essentially a collection of averagely choreographed and executed fantasy action sequences - again, like so many other fantasy outings - and pretty much all of these remain curiously uninvolving. Okay, save perhaps for that climactic outing with a heavily foreshadowed, truly disgusting sea serpent : but really, its simply because of how shockingly vile the damn thing is, more than anything else.

The Narnia franchise started out with a bang in box office numbers, with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe going on to become one of the biggest hits of the year. The second, Prince Caspian, while a much better movie, went on to under perform in comparision, so much so that this almost wasn't made.

Well, I still can't say it justifies its existence. Until the series gets the visionary director it needs to vitalize it, let it go into hibernation. I'm just going to get back to rewatching the Lord of the Rings Director's Cut.


  1. I think the problem Narnia faces is one where it risks losing out on its core audience of children-who-are-too-young-to-know-better and the generation that grew up reading Narnia and hoping that a director would one day be able to do justice to it.

    If a director comes forward and puts a LOTR-esque twist to it, with dark visuals and scary ogres and the like, the kids will be too scared to open their eyes in the theatre. On the other hand, making it sugar-coated will have put off the loyal following that Narnia has around the world.

    The balancing act that it attempted fails miserably, and we end up with characters like Reepicheep, who one wishes would just fall into a mousetrap and die already. Until the day that a director decides to stray from this middle path, the Narnia line is doomed both critically and commercially.

  2. Completely agree with that Gus - for me, the adaptation that worked the most succesfully was Prince Caspian - it wasn't a very good film per se, but it worked because there was a decent buildup, well developed storyline, and an actually half-thrilling climax. I can't quite point out what it was that placed it above the other 2 Narnia films, but I think it might've been the very prescence of singular auterly vision.

    SO yes, I suppose it really is going to be about a director audacious enough to give narnia a personal twist. that's what made Prisoner of Azkaban the best of the Potter films, and its what let LoTR become the dazzling success it was.

  3. I don't know, I think C.S. Lewis wilfully kept Narnia unscary-- it wasn't very dark (even the scary parts). As for HP, the third book was when things began to get get darker, so it was the perfect movie to change the innocent "we all lived happily ever after" tone of the first two books/movies. Azkaban was a bittersweet ending with Sirius being rescued but Harry could never openly acknowledge him as his godfather.

    Also, Cuaron is a genius.