Sunday, May 8, 2011

Michael Apted's glorious NARNIA chronicle: Third time's the charm

They finally got it right. After designing a filmed version of C.S. Lewis' Lion/Witch/Wardrobe property that began quite well, only to peter out in an endless, poorly-handled battle scene (that was Chronicle One), continuing with Part Two (little more than plots and battles), now -- finally -- comes the good one: Part Three, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER.

Directed by no less a cinematic light than Michael Apted (shown at right), the guy responsible for such mini-treasures as the Seven through 49-Up British TV documentary series, Amazing Grace Enigma and Thunderheart (to name a few), Narnia 3 proves a delightful child's adventure full of exciting incidents, effects that are indeed special, and a climax that is meaningful and moving in just the right measure. (The religious connotations are still here, but this time they seem less religious and more personal.) The former director and co-writer Andrew Adamson has gone missing for this film, and, my, what a difference that makes. Instead of the unending battles (that may have pleased dumb boys of all ages), we now have a seafaring road movie that has our cast hopping from one interesting, enchanted place to the next.

The older kids from the first two films are also missing this time, leaving the stage open for Lucy (Georgie Henley, center, right) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes, center, left), joined by Will Poulter (far left, from Son of Rambow) and Caspian (Ben Barnes, far right). All are very good, but Master Poulter in particular shines. It's his character, cousin Eustace, who must go through the major change, and Poulter handles the role with humor and skill.

Also on hand again is the terrifically well-animated rat Reepicheep (at right above), voiced by the inimitable Simon Pegg, and a gorgeously-drawn dragon, above, who turns out to be someone we know. The effects in this film -- its entire "look," really -- are rather stupendous, and if you can view it on Blu-ray, do. In fact, this is one of the best Blu-ray renditions I've seen over the past year. (The film's fabulous cinematography is by Dante Spinotti.)

If this becomes the final chapter in the current Narnia series, it's a good way to bid adieu; if not, let's hope the lessons Apted delivers will stick. Or might something else be involved here? After making the first two, so-so films in the series, the Disney studio passed on a third, leaving the franchise to 20th Century Fox. What Fox has produced is in every way a better movie for both kids and adults. Kinda makes you wonder, no?

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is available now, for sale or rental, on DVD and Blu-ray.

No comments: