Now in the hands of Fox, Narnia becomes a different property, one with a different feel and style. For one, this is the cheapest entry in the series, ditching many of the fantastical creatures while still providing a mountain of vivid imagery. Narnia remains a fantastical land, filled with extravagant set design and still a small selection of creatures brought to life via CGI.
Battles remain high energy, although the focus has shifted from war-like scenarios to a more contained spectacle. Gone are the roving plains and majestic camera sweeps as armies clash, and in their place are hulking sea serpents. A brief skirimish with a band of slave traders is hardly up to par with what was presented prior, franchise directing newcomer Michael Apted shifting to a less violent, calmer tone. Then again, it probably wasn’t him, but Fox making that call.
Casting has shifted too, Anna Popplewell here under limited, almost useless terms. She’s replaced by the family’s cousin, a gloriously overdone PitA played by Will Poulter. While the character can be immeasurably illogical, failing to believe in Narnia even after even after having a conversation with a minotaur, the performance is superb. He’s spiteful, mean-spirited, and completely convincing, not to mention a grand departure from the typical heroine that used to occupy this role.
Dawn Treader’s narrative push involves seven magical swords, evil spirits, personal fear, and a religious backdrop that might be the least contained of the series. Where as previous films dealt with it in subtle ways, under the umbrella of Fox that has all be tossed to the wayside.
Still, the film is high energy, and where the lower budget intrudes on the scale, costumes and other designs remain high priority. It clips along at the quickest pace, this the shortest of the franchise by about 20-minutes. The studio also braced for the possibility this wouldn’t succeed (there’s a reason Disney dropped it), capping the story off at what, if need be, is a suitable wrap-up. Character’s have completed their journey, they’ve grown up, and it feels like a complete trilogy despite losing some its luster here. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]
There’s some rightful debate about what Fox has done to both the video and the audio here. Dawn Treader shipped to theaters with a 2.35:1 presentation, the Blu-ray given a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. We’re not quite dropping back into an era of pan-and-scan, Fox opening the frame to expose additional information on the top and bottom. It still feels off, the framing routinely incorrect or wasteful.
Aside from the ratio gaffe, Dawn Treader becomes the first in the series to be shot digitally, Apted utilizing the Sony CineAlta F23, and it’s worse off for it. Even ignoring the ghastly, unnaturally smooth motion given to much of the film (that completely clashes with the first two), Dawn Treader never finds its depth. Black levels never resonate like they should, falling apart within the interior of the ship. This is despite a fairly blistering contrast on the other hand, just barely avoiding the “hot” designation on a regular basis.
There’s a haze of noise to much of the movie, constant enough that it’s easy to mistake this for a fuzzy film stock. It’s never terribly intrusive on the action, situated in the background to remain less of an annoyance while only occasionally popping forward to make its presence known. Other scenes suffer from a usual round of processed appearances, light ringing, and other general digital artifacts.
The benefit is certainly not detail, most of it held back for close-ups. An exception are the effects, Aslan and Reepcheep the animal creations loaded with fur. Each of their digitally crafted hairs are meticulous, and close-ups dazzling. The final battle with the serpent is impressive too, the creature spewing water as it dashes above and below the surface line. Every droplet looks defined and pure, no artifacting getting in the way of image quality. Likewise, establishing views of incoming islands as the ship approaches are jaw dropping in their beauty. They carry a wealth of natural sharpness and dazzling definition.
Colors vary in their intensity, Narnia given a variety of palettes. The best part? It only succumbs to the atrocious teal and orange once, a nighttime camping sequence that is offensive for only a few minutes. Most of the film contains bright, lightly saturated primaries, flesh tones quite natural and the red wood of the ship left to its own devices. It feels very earthy, clean, and untainted, not quite as bright as previous films in this series, but still enough to stand out on its own. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]
Fox decides to ignore the source again for this DTS-HD mix, dropping two of the surround channels from the theater for a general 5.1 mix. Is it too expensive to mix those extra channels for 7.1 at home? The effect isn’t that glaring, or at least not as much as the video framing. At 34:13, voices begin to swirl around the soundfield quite effectively, although the rear pans are a bit stunted. There’s a gap, minor sure, but also inexcusable.
Dawn Treader carries with it some weighty audio, matching up to its predecessors in some way at least. Storms ravage the ship, thunder not held back from the low-end. It probably doesn’t hurt that waves slam into the hull either, those pushing additional force into the sub. Boards creak effectively too, the power of the sea having an effect on the interior sonically.
Action is accompanied by an enjoyable, fresh score from David Arnold, given some power in the fronts, and a presence in the rears. Balance is superb, sword clashes, roaring monsters, and the crew screaming all evident against the rising musical force.
There are two highlights here, the type of stuff you’ll come back to merely to hear it explode into an audible bliss. A brief dragon assault at 1:03:00 is great, the creature panning through the stereos with ease, and the tracking sublime. The sea serpent gets this one riled up too, slamming into the water with a thunderous push, igniting the low-end with his roar, and ensuring water continuously spreads through the soundfield. It’s a shame we’re cheated out of those two channels. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
No extras as this review is based off a rental exclusive copy; Fox never sends new releases out in time for their release. [xrr rating=0/5 label=Extras]