Bilal: A New Breed of Hero


A future warrior at play as a child.

(2015) Animated Feature (Vertical) Starring the voices of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane, China Anne McClain, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Michael Gross, Cynthia K. McWilliams, Jacob Latimore, Fred Tatasciore, Jon Curry, Mick Wingert, Dave B. Mitchell, Al Rodrigo, Andre Robinson, Sage Ryan, Quinton Flynn, Mark Rolston, John Eric Bentley, Keythe Farley, Sherrie Jackson. Directed by Khurram H. Alavi and Ayman Jamal

 

Dubai’s first foray into animated feature films is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it boasts some truly glorious animation. On the other hand, the human characters are almost without expression throughout. It also focuses on a character from the very early days of the Islamic faith, of a figure who was part of the Prophet’s inner circle, although that is only tangentially referred to in the film and of course Muhammad isn’t depicted at all in keeping with their faith.

The movie is (very) loosely based on the life of Bilal ibn Rabah, a 7th century African man who in childhood was taken as a slave and became one of the first followers of the prophet Muhammad. He is in Islamic culture credited with being the first muezzin who calls the faithful to prayer reputedly because of his beautiful voice.

In the film, we see Bilal (Robinson) and his sister Shufaira (Robinson) watch horrified from a closet as their mother is murdered. The two children are taken as slaves and sold to the cruel idol-seller Umayya (McShane) whose son Safwan (Ryan) may be just a little bit crueler than his dad, although more cowardly.

Bilal grows into a man (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who is prized for his singing voice by his master. Run-ins with Safwan to protect his sister has left Bilal discouraged and essentially accepting his fate as a slave, flying in the face of the wisdom his mother taught him as a child. However, there are others in Mecca who disagree with the idol-worshiping money-grubbing slave-oriented economy and atmosphere of the city. Hamza (Mitchell), a noted warrior and the Master of the Market (Gross) both see greatness in Bilal and gradually win him over to monotheism and freedom. However, despite Bilal leaning towards pacifism, they will have to fight for that freedom – in a place called Badr.

This is a very different kettle of fish for animated features. For one thing, it is a story of a Muslim hero and portrays the religion in a very different light than it is generally portrayed in the West. Few will remember this from their history but at one time the Muslims accepted Jewish refugees driven out of Europe and under Arabic rule they thrived and often worked in the great centers of learning established in the Arabic world.

Sadly, a lot of American viewers won’t be able to look past the rhetoric and will see this as Muslim propaganda and while it certainly leans towards a positive vision of Islam, it is no more propaganda than Christian faith-based stories and animations. Americans are sadly notorious for turning away from the unfamiliar.

As mentioned earlier, the animation is a bit uneven but when it’s good, it’s really good. Strangely though, there is an awful lot of violence and cruelty depicted in the film, much more so than in the average children’s animated film which might give some parents pause. However, those parents who wish to teach tolerance as a lesson should certainly high-tail it to their local VOD site of choice or their local DVD/Blu-Ray dealer because that lesson is certainly honed in on. Sure, the dialogue is a bit clunky (the characters rarely use contractions and end up all sounding like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and full of aphorisms which may drive the average adult batty but it is meant sincerely. I also question the title a little bit; how is a 7th century figure a “new” breed of hero?

The movie got a brief theatrical release in February, more than three years after it had been released elsewhere globally. Likewise, it is only now showing up on home video. This is a pretty solid animated feature which although flawed shows some potential for the studio that the directors established in order to make this film. Although perhaps Americans may continue to resist features that give the colorful and often brilliant history of the Islamic faith, I hope the studio continues to produce them. Learning more about the culture of Islam is the first step in learning not to fear it but rather coexist with it.

REASONS TO GO: The animation is occasionally breathtaking. The story is interesting.
REASONS TO STAY: This is much too long for younger kids. The English dialogue is a bit stiff.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some surprisingly intense violence, child peril, some disturbing images as well as thematic issues.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the depiction of the Battle of Badr, animators brought to life 5,000 human characters and 1,000 horses – more than took place at the actual battle which involved 1,300 warriors and 270 horses.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 53% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Up and Away
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Write When You Get Work

10,000 B.C.


Being chased by a mastadon can ruin your whole day.

Being chased by a mastadon can ruin your whole day.

(2008) Adventure (Warner Brothers) Steven Strait, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Omar Sharif (voice), Joel Virgel, Afif Ben Badra, Mo Zinal, Nathanael Baring, Mona Hammond, Marco Khan, Reece Ritchie, Joel Fry, Kristian Beazley, Junior Oliphant, Louise Tu’u, Jacob Renton, Grayson Hunt Unwin, Fahruq Ismail Valley-Omar, Boubacar Babiane, Joe Vaz, Suri van Sornsen. Directed by Roland Emmerich

Our prehistory as a species before the great empires of Egypt and Assyria is basically a mystery shrouded by the years. Nothing remains of our nomadic existence prior to the founding of cities except for a few artifacts scattered here and there in Africa, China and a few other places. One can’t help but wonder what came before.

The Yagahl tribe lives peacefully in a post-ice Age valley where herds of mastodon placidly migrate every spring, providing the tribe with most of their food, clothing and shelter. Like the aboriginals of North America once the Europeans showed up, the Yagahl are finding it more and more difficult to keep things going; the herds are getting sparser and appearing less frequently and this being the stone age, nobody’s quite got the knack of the gathering part of hunting and gathering yet.

The Shaman, known only as Old Mother (Hammond) has a vision when an orphan is found on the steppes; this blue-eyed girl (Unwin) is going to become the woman of the strongest warrior in the tribe. Together, they would lead the tribe from their current existence and into a time of prosperity and plenty. The current holder of the number one warrior (Beazley) is less sanguine about it; he doesn’t think that the tribe has long enough to wait for the girl to grow up, so he skedaddles, leaving his infant son in the care of his best friend Tic’Tic (Curtis).

Years later, the young son, known as D’Leh (Strait) which is held – the German word for hero – spelled backwards has lived with the stigma of a father who deserted the tribe, something that is the height of cowardice in their culture. He has fallen in love with the blue-eyed girl, who has grown up into a gorgeous woman named Evolet (Belle). Still, he has no chance at being the tribe’s alpha male – that would seem to be the destiny of Ka’Ren (Zinal), a buff, burly homo sapiens. Still, when the mastodon herd arrives, it is the determined D’Leh who gets the kill, but as he sheepishly admits to Tic’Tic later, it was a matter of luck and not courage that took down the mastodon.

Things get really dicey when the tribe is attacked by “four-legged demons” – slavers on horseback, who kill some of the tribe and take the rest as slaves, including most of the healthy men, but worse yet, also Evolet, who has caught the eye of their leader (Badra). D’Leh vows to go after the woman he loves, also knowing that the tribe won’t survive without most of its hunting force. Tic’Tic decides to go with him, as does a reluctant Ka’Ren. They are followed by Baku (Baring), a young teen whose mother was murdered by the slavers.

They follow them over the mountain range, which nobody from the tribe has ever done, and into a steamy jungle where they and the raiding party are attacked by giant carnivorous dodos. Ka’Ren and Baku manage to get captured by the raiders when D’Leh tries to free Evolet prematurely. Tic’Tic also gets injured.

Following the raiders out of the jungle and onto a grassy African plain, D’Leh encounters a Sabretooth tiger and frees him from a trap. The grateful tiger spares D’Leh’s life and later shows up when a hostile tribe of Africans threaten D’Leh and Tic’Tic with spears. A prophecy of a hero who talks to tigers instantly turns D’Leh into a VIP and the tribe is very ready to have D’Leh lead them against the raiders, who are building a vast city with a gigantic pyramid with slave labor – essentially the tribe mates of the Yagahl and all the veldt. However, it’s a tall order; given that the raiders outnumber the peace-loving tribes. However, if D’Leh can convince the slaves to revolt, they might have a chance, but is he the leader that the prophecies say he is?

The cast is mostly unknowns both at the time this was filmed and years later although both Camille Belle and Cliff Curtis have gone on to pretty decent careers since. Of course you have Omar Sharif – who is the off-screen narrator – who is a legend and deservedly so. There’s not a lot for them and their lesser-renowned cast mates to do. The main thrust of the movie is the gee-wow effects and not the story so few manage to rise above the cliché strata although Belle is certainly beautiful to look at and Curtis manages a nice performance.

The effects of the creatures and the raider city are really mind-boggling. If you choose a movie for great special effects and an imaginative setting, this one has both of those in spades. Although Emmerich is not an impressive director, he is at least an imaginative one, and he brings a vision to life of a world nobody has ever seen. In many ways, you really don’t know what to expect next since D’Leh and his fellow Yagahl who have never left their valley don’t know either. The pacing is nice, although the movie tends to hiccup when they move into the romantic part of the story.

The story is…ummmmm, how shall I say this…superfluous. I think the movie might have benefited from some stronger characters and better writing, but quite frankly, there’s nothing that’s really egregious here on that score. Most of the technical work – the music, the cinematography, the editing, etc. – is competently done, but nothing really breaks new ground except the subject matter itself.

This got some pretty harsh reviews, and I can’t say that I don’t see the flaws. Yes, there’s nothing really new here story-wise, but because you are being transported to a place nobody has really even attempted to show in film, it’s kind of a wash. Go in with low expectations for characterization and story and high expectations for action and special effects and you’ll be fine..

WHY RENT THIS: Spectacular special effects. Omar Sharif’s narration.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: No plot to speak of. Writing is poor and characters kind of all blend together eventually.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a scene of human sacrifice, and some of the critters are extremely menacing, particularly the dodo-raptors, who are a cross between the raptors of Jurassic Park and the angry giant birds of Mysterious Island.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The constellation referred to in the film as “the sign of the warrior” is actually Orion. That constellation also played a key role in a previous Emmerich film Stargate.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: The Blu-Ray edition adds a featurette (not on the DVD version) that focuses on author Graham Hancock whose Fingerprints of the Gods opines an advanced civilization that existed during the epoch the movie is set in. Although primarily about his own theories, the featurette does tie in with the movie somewhat.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $269.8M on a $105M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Million Years B.C.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Fiddler on the Roof

Cloud Atlas


Cloud Atlas

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry get a glimpse of the box office numbers.

(2012) Science Fiction (Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Keith David, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Brody Nicholas Lee, Raevan Lee Hanan, Alistair Petrie. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski

 

Some movies are easily described, tackle relatively simplistic storylines and are therefore reviewed rather easily. Some have epic ambitions, attempt to tackle much more complex stories and modes of storytelling and give critics fits trying to describe them.

Cloud Atlas is such a film. Based on a much-admired novel by David Mitchell, the movie was taken on by the Wachowskis (auteurs of the Matrix trilogy) who first got their attentions captured by it when Natalie Portman gave a copy to them on the set of V for Vendetta. They decided to turn it into a movie shortly thereafter and brought in close friend Tykwer (best known for Run, Lola, Run) to help them with the writing and directing.

And it is a magnificent canvas. Six stories run concurrently across six different eras with actors playing multiple roles (and often multiple genders). In 1849, a young lawyer named Adam Ewing (Sturgess) returning home from the Pacific Islands to his home in New England after negotiating a slaving contract helps a stowaway slave (Gyasi). In 1936, a young man who dreams of composing (Whishaw) becomes an assistant to a fading composer with the delightful name of Vyvyan Ayrs (Broadbent) and writes a series of love letters to his lover (D’Arcy) at Cambridge while composing a piece of music that will go largely unheard but will have a major effect on other people as time goes by.

In 1973 Luisa Rey (Berry), an investigative reporter in the mold of her father (Gyasi again) is put onto the trail of a defective nuclear power plant by a physicist – the same man who the young composer was writing in 1936 – and goes after Lloyd Hooks (Grant), who runs the plant with what might not be altruistic motives. She will be helped by a physicist (Hanks) and a security chief (David) while stalked by a deadly killer named Bill Smoke (Weaving).

Meanwhile, in 2012 a dishonest publisher (Broadbent) finds himself with a hit book on his hands after it’s criminal author (Hanks again) throws a smarmy critic (Petrie) off a roof but is forced to seek help when the author demands more of a cut. He reluctantly turns to his brother (Grant) who fools him into committing himself in a retirement home that is something out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest complete with its own version of Nurse Ratched (in this case, Weaving) and with a few fellow elderly inmates concocts a plan of escape.

In 2144 in the city of Neo Seoul, an artificial human being named Sonmi-241 (Bae) finds her life as a restaurant waitress turned upside down when a revolutionary (Sturgess) shows her an entirely new world as he teaches her philosophy and history and she soon realizes that the corrupt world she lives in needs someone to speak up for the downtrodden – and that someone might as well be her, despite grave risks by a nearly all-seeing establishment.

Far in the future after civilization has fallen, a goat herder named Zachry (Hanks) living on a Pacific island in a village of peaceful farmers and shepherds is visited by Meronym (Berry), a member of a technologically advanced society called the Prescients. She wants to be guided to a distant place but nobody will take her because in order to get there they must go through the territory of a vicious tribe of cannibals called the Kona who are led by a particularly ruthless, nasty chief (Grant). Zachry agrees to do this in exchange for Meronym saving his daughter Catkin (Hanan) from death by a nasty infection.

These six stories are told concurrently with the film jumping from era to era, sometimes after only a matter of seconds. Initially it is going to sound a lot more confusing than it is; once you get settled into it, it’s actually not that hard following the stories. And while there is a bit of the stunt casting element (all of the main actors appear in one form or another in nearly every one of the six stories, some in more than one role) you get used to seeing the same faces in different roles thanks to some pretty nifty make-up jobs.

The overall theme here is that someone is being repressed and must face a decision as to whether to accept the repression and imprisonment or to act to end it, whether for themselves or for others. People have the capacity to leap beyond their own needs and give selflessly for the sake of others; not all people act on that capacity but some clearly do. People also have the capacity to force others into lives of servitude and reap the benefits of these actions; not all people act on that capacity but some clearly do as well.

The descriptions of the stories are actually fairly general and don’t really capture the whole magnitude of each vignette. Each story has an epic quality to it and while some are more personal than others (the Tykwer-directed stories in particular) there is certainly a sense that each story has ripple effects that magnify through time. While the stories don’t necessarily intersect directly, they often parallel one another with identical themes told in different ways. The stories aren’t necessarily meant to follow one another so much as complement one another.

It’s an ambitious work and without a stellar cast to carry it off it probably wouldn’t have worked as much. Not all of the roles work every time for the actors and often they are asked to move well out of their comfort zones but I suspect that they loved being pushed into places they hadn’t been or at least rarely go. Berry is intriguing in her 1973 and far future incarnations; Hanks does well in the far future and in 1849. Broadbent is fun in 2012 and more of a rotter in 1936; Whishaw does some fine work as the doomed composer in 1936 and Sturgess as the dying lawyer in 1849 and the somewhat guarded revolutionary in 2144.

Weaving also fares well as the 1973 hit man and as kind of a devil in the far future. Bae, whose work I wasn’t that familiar with to begin with, is magnificent in the 2144 sequence. She reminds me very much of Rinko Kikuchi in Babel. Not just from a physical standpoint but simply in the manner in which she acts.

Definitely this isn’t going to be for everyone. General audiences tend to want their science fiction to be action-oriented rather than thought-provoking (even Blade Runner wasn’t the hit Alien was); sure there’s a pretty sizable cult audience for thinking sci-fi but they don’t seem to be enough to really push movies such as this one into profitability which is a shame because work this ambitious and innovative should be rewarded.

I’m sure a lot of people were put off by the scope of the film, and by the reviews that placed it as cerebral. Not everyone goes to the movies to be intellectually stimulated and that’s okay. I like a visceral knuckle-dragging action movie as much as the next guy. I just like to have the part of me above the neck stimulated as much as my testosterone and this movie does both amply. Simply put, one of the movies that I will continue to debate and discuss with other film buffs for a very long time to come and clearly one of the year’s best.

REASONS TO GO: Thought-provoking and compelling. Awesome visual and make-up effects.

REASONS TO STAY: Some people are simply not going to know what to make of this. Cerebral sci-fi historically not a big box office winner.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a bit of violence, some sexuality, some graphic nudity, a bit of bad language and some drug use (some of it involuntary).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Wachowskis and Tykwer each directed three time period stories apiece, sharing no crew other than the actors themselves. The Wachowskis filmed the 1849, 2044 and far future sequences, Tykwer the 1936, 1973 and 2012 sequences.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/18/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 64% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100. The reviews are pretty mixed but leaning towards the good.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Time Machine (2002)

DRAG LOVERS: Most of the main cast plays members of both genders at various times in the film.

FINAL RATING: 9.5/10

NEXT: What’s Your Number

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning


Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

The reason elephants never forget – elephant school!

(2008) Action (Magnet) Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, Nirut Sirichanya, Santisuk Phromsiri, Primorata Dejudom, Phetthai Wongkamlao, Pattama Panthong, Suppakorn Kitsuwan, Natdhanal Kongthong, Prarinya Karmkeaw. Directed by Tony Jaa

 

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. Apparently the word didn’t make it to Tony Jaa’s neck of the woods. Vengeance is most definitely his.

This is mostly sort of kind of a prequel to his international hit Ong Bak which introduced Jaa, a muay thai champion to the world. Here he also assumes the director’s chair and sets the action 600 years in the past. Tien (Jaa) is the young son of Lord Sihadencho (Phromsiri), ruler of an outlying province. Tien is impetuous and unruly; he wants very badly to be trained in martial arts but his father insists on giving him dance lessons, much to Tien’s chagrin.

Mysterious assassins, sent by Lord Rajasena (Wongkrachang), massacre the family of Sihadencho, with Tien the lone survivor. His troubles are far from over; he is captured by slave traders who tire of his non-cooperation and throw him unarmed into a pit with a gigantic crocodile. Right about then a bandit gang, the Pha Beek Khrut, attacks the village where the slave traders are headquartered and the leader of the Pha Beek Khrut, Chernang (Chatree) tosses a knife to young Tien and tells him his fate is in his own hands. When Tien proves victorious, Chernang takes young Tien under his wing and gives him the martial arts training he’s so long desired.

Soon Tien is fully trained with weapons and hand-to-hand combat both and has become a formidable warrior, likely the best in all Thailand. The time is right to claim vengeance, going after the slave traders first and then Lord Rajasena himself by posing as a dancer during a celebration. However, Lord Rajasena is no fool and has protections in place that even Tien will be hard-pressed to breach, but Tien expects that. What he doesn’t expect is betrayal from very close at hand.

This is kind of a mess. While the first Ong Bak is action packed beginning to end, this one is less so; the story is disjointed and confusing and there really is nothing linking it to the first movie whatsoever (although the third movie in the trilogy serves that purpose). At times you almost want to tear out your hair and just throw the disc through the nearest window.

The good news is that the best thing about the first film is still here and that’s Jaa’s amazing muay thai moves. The climactic battle scene is as good a martial arts sequence as I’ve seen in any film and would be worth the rental all by itself.

Jaa has plenty of charisma which transcends language; he’s an appealing character who could follow Jet Li into the mainstream Hollywood spotlight. My problem is that I didn’t really feel his rage; considering all that he went through that’s key to the movie, giving the audience a surrogate for their own outrage. Jaa doesn’t get mad so much as he gets even; part of it is that getting even isn’t really enough.

I read another review in which the reviewer suggested turning off the sound and subtitles and just watching it as a martial arts exhibition and that’s not a bad idea. I’m not sure if the screenwriting was not up to par, or if Jaa’s inexperience as a director was the culprit, or if the many production problems got the best of the filmmakers or maybe if it’s just a cultural thing. At the end of the day this just isn’t a very good movie unless you happen to like martial arts so much you don’t care if the story makes sense. In that case, this is for you.

WHY RENT THIS: Amazing muay thai sequences and beautiful cinematography of sweeping Thai vistas.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Confusing and incomprehensible; ending is abrupt and jarring.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of martial arts violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Jaa left the production for two months while financing for the film was in flux.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8.9M on an unreported production budget; undoubtedly this made good money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Protector

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Ong Bak 3

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader


The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Anyone who says there are no stars in Voyage of the Dawn Treader is crazy!

(2010) Fantasy (Fox Walden) Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Liam Neeson (voice), Simon Pegg (voice), Gary Sweet, Laura Brent, Bille Brown, Bruce Spence, Terry Norris, Colin Moody, Tilda Swinton, Anna Popplewell, William Moseley, Shane Rangi, Arthur Angel, Arabella Morton, Rachel Blakely. Directed by Michael Apted

When we sail for unknown waters, it takes a certain amount of fortitude. Not only do you never know quite what to expect, but it’s also likely that you won’t return the same way you left.

Lucy (Henley) and Edmund (Keynes) Pevensie remain in England during the Blitz while brother Peter (Moseley) and sister Susan (Popplewell) go off to America – apparently because they’re older, they deserve greater safety. Lucy and Edmund are packed off to Cambridge where they are rooming with their despicable cousin Eustace Scrubb (Poulter) who is an insufferable know-it-all and quite the twit. Edmund would like nothing better than to punch him in the face, but prefers to try and join up for the British Army, although he is too young by a couple of years.

He is frustrated because as a King in Narnia, he has fought wars against superior forces and led armies into battle but here on Earth he is just a silly boy. Lucy is the embodiment of the Stiff Upper Lip but she is deeply insecure about her looks; while Susan is already a bit of a stunner, Lucy feels invisible and ignored by comparison.

When the nautical painting in the bedroom Edmund shares with Eustace begins to change and a Narnian-looking ship appears on the horizon, Lucy realizes magical forces are work and a call back to the magical land is just around the corner. Eustace has always pooh-poohed their talk of Narnia and thinks them barking mad. He’s about to find out how wrong he is.

The sea floods out of the painting and into the bedroom; rather than opening the door or window and escaping the children essentially wait for the room to fill up before swimming to the surface and being greeted by the flagship of Narnia’s fleet, the Dawn Treader. On board is good Prince Caspian..err, King Caspian (Barnes) who is searching for seven lord of Telmar that supported his father but then had to flee for their lives. They carried with them seven magic swords that Aslan (Neeson) had given the Narnians for protection. They don’t know it but they are about to need them.

The two Pevensies are overjoyed to be back in Narnia; Eustace not so much. He thinks that everyone and everything not named Eustace are complete idiots and utterly lacking in…well, anything useful. He is basically the ultimate spoiled brat, a precursor to Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series, only far more venal and wretched.

Also aboard is the swashbuckling Reepicheep (Pegg), the mouse with the gentlemanly mien and the bold attitude. He becomes something of a mentor to Eustace, although of course Eustace detests him at first. There’s more involving a malevolent green mist, an island that is the embodiment of evil and a blue star that is in fact not a star but you get my drift. Eustace also turns into a dragon, a Lord turns into gold and the Dawn Treader will battle a vicious sea serpent before the final credits.

This is based on the third in the six-book series by C.S. Lewis which was meant to be Christian allegories as well as morality lessons for children. Amazingly, both of those aspects of the books were left intact in all three of the movies (much more overtly here).

However, there’s a new director in town; Apted, who has previously directed Coal Miner’s Daughter and The World Is Not Enough. This is kind of a new genre for him and he does a great job, never allowing the special effects to overwhelm the movie but using them when he needs to. While the effects aren’t particularly groundbreaking, they are serviceable – the sea serpent particularly at the end is hideous and scary.

Part of the problem with the first two movies is that the acting wasn’t up to the level of the Harry Potter movies. The child stars were all a bit on the wooden side; thankfully, Keynes has gotten much better and Henley as well, although she still can be annoying in places. Poulter, who was in the indie film Son of Rambow was actually really good, bringing out both the awful and redeemed sides of Eustace nicely.

Barnes also gets to shed the ill-advised Spanish accent of Prince Caspian and comes off much more mature and far more likable here. While the character tends to be much more of a second banana to the Pevensies than perhaps he should be, nonetheless Barnes makes the most of what he has to work with. My only wish is that Apted had let Caspian’s feelings for his father get a little more attention; that was an interesting subplot that seemed to go nowhere really.

I actually liked this film better than the first two and even better than TRON: Legacy to be honest. The books were a big part of my childhood, being a lover of fantasy and science fiction from an early age as I was. Seeing these films is a bit like going home, Dawn Treader a bit more than even the first two (and I thought The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a good solid movie). While the box office numbers have been underwhelming for a movie with this kind of budget, I’m hoping that it makes enough to warrant the making of The Silver Chair. This might well be the most entertaining movie of the holiday season, far more so than the overly grim and overwhelming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and a little bit more than the uneven TRON: Legacy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear like the audiences are giving it the chance it deserves.

REASONS TO GO: The best of the series so far. Poulter brings the horrible Eustace Scrubb to life. Barnes has improved 100% as Caspian.

REASONS TO STAY: Not really groundbreaking effects work and Henley remains a work in progress.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes that are probably too scary for younger, more impressionable children (particularly during the sea serpent battle) but by and large, perfect movie material for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Simon Pegg as Reepicheep replaces Eddie Izzard who voiced the cavalier mouse in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

HOME OR THEATER: This may sound a bit strange but as big a movie as this is, I don’t know that the epic scope is diminished on the smaller screen. I usually recommend the multiplex for movies like this but it might be just as well for you to see it at home.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Holly and The Quill begins!