Fantasy, as a genre, has recently gripped mainstream movie audiences with such adaptations as The Lord of the Rings series and the recent Disney telling of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Dragons, knights, elves, epic battles, and awesome swords have all roped in younger viewers as well as hardcore film fanatics. As can be imagined, this recent emergence of great fantasy films into the conventional market has been nothing but a pleasure. Grabbing a taste of these new magnificent films, however, can leave an enthusiast wanting more. It's a little difficult to find quality, well crafted fantasy films and television miniseries from previous decades that will quench that desire. To find a couple of challenging, mildly appealing lemons is common.
This installment of the BBC series The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawntreader is a prime example. While I cannot comment on the dialogue's accuracy to the books since I haven't undertaken those portions of the series, I can give the point of view of a fantasy enthusiast always on the search for a good tale.
Based on the installment in C.S. Lewis' renowned series, we are introduced to Peter, Lucy, Susan, and Edmund Pevensie, four young brothers and sisters who have already ventured to the far away land of Narnia and returned. This story is split into two separate portions: Prince Caspian, and then the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
Up first is the tale of Prince Caspian and his separation from the throne of Narnia. As a young boy, Caspian dreams of magical spells and talking animals. Caspian's uncle Miraz, whom has killed the prince's father to take the throne, is discontented with his nephew's lack of interest in epic battle and adventure. After Miraz and the queen have a baby boy, Caspian's male nurse, Dr. Cornelius, urges him to flee the city. Miraz intends to have him killed to pave a way for the new heir. As he escapes, Dr. Cornelius informs Caspian that the enchanted tales of Narnia's magic and beasts are real. As he embarks, the young prince is given a magical horn that calls upon aid when blown. During dire moments of his escape, Caspian blows the horn that calls upon the four Pevensie children who are awaiting a train at a rail station to return to Narnia. Thus begins a quest to dethrone a king.
The second portion is the tale of the Dawn Treader. After a brief return home, Edmond and Lucy are transported back to Narnia following a quick glimpse at a painting of a ship in their relative's house. Sadly, they are accompanied by their annoying cousin Eustace on this journey. The three are dropped in the ocean next to the Dawn Treader, the boat depicted in the painting. Helming the boat happens to be none other than Caspian himself. From there, the crew sets out on an oceanic journey to find the seven lords that were banished from Narnia by Caspian's uncle Miraz.
In theory, both segments of the story hold potential. However, through this production, Caspian's tale plays out unpolished and obtuse. No matter how accurate the film may be to the book, the dialogue lacks vigor. Both portions suffer from numerous dry performances and outdated effects. Each bestial character is represented by either full-size people or smaller individuals wearing odd animalistic outfits. Plus, the obvious animation elements added to specific scenes are more distracting than appealing. While some of the costume and prop designs for such beasts as lions and dragons are executed with charm, the overall package feels artificial.
However, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader does manage to engage the viewer with a compelling plot and an exceedingly quicker pace than the Prince Caspian. While the initial Prince Caspian segment is a struggle, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader manages to succeed with charm. Bear in mind that the second portion encompasses about two-thirds of the run time. The quicker pace still begins to drag after some time. Nevertheless, the generally sluggish performances and the drawn out pace creates a mood that isn't exceedingly rewarding or whimsical.
BBC's Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes in a single-disc keepcase with a shiny slipcover adorning the package. Included is a nice chapter listing insert with a few liner notes from C.S. Lewis on writing for his young audience.
Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is presented in its original televised 1:33.1 aspect ratio. The color palette pops well from the screen and film flaws seems minimal. Furthermore, the animated sequences carried over fairly well with generally solid detail. Unfortunately, this is a considerably pixilated and muddy transfer. A tint of green is noticeable amongst many dark portions of the film. In short, the quality is colorful, yet blurred and grainy. Though the film is nearly 20 years old and shot for television, I would like to have seen more from the presentation. However, the transfer is far from unwatchable.
One interesting thing that carried over with moderate success is a Dolby 5.1 audio. Granted, purists will enjoy the Dolby 2.0 Stereo from its initial release. However, the use of a few surround elements like rainfall, crashing waves, and battle echoes, were executed fairly well. Since it is a 5.1 from an aged source, it's not perfect; it is enjoyable, none the less. Subtitles for the Dead and Hearing Impaired are included.
Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a bare bones release. I'm certain there are many BBC Narnia followers that would love to see some production clips on specific creature construction, make-up, and costume design. Sadly, all that is available is a series of scene selection menus for each portion of the film.
When a film is separated into two "acts" such as Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it's very difficult to judge a recommendation due to the separated nature of the film. Prince Caspian is a piece that needs a large amount of polish, dialogue work, and potentially some different casting decisions. However, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, while still suffering from the speech issues here and there, was fairly engaging, cinematically interesting to watch, and generally catching as a tale. Narnia enthusiasts might find this to be an attractive way to enjoy their favorite work(s) on screen; for them, I can recommend this piece for a rental. For the casual fantasy fan, however, this disc can be mildly recommended for a Rental, purely to brave through the beginning segment to enjoy the second portion of this tale.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site