December 12, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third contemporary film based on the Chronicles of Narnia saga by C. S. Lewis. Directed by Michael Apted, it tells the story of the two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy and Edmund, who return to the fantastical land of Narnia with their insufferable cousin Eustace to assist the noble Prince Caspian and the heroic mouse warrior Reepicheep aboard the royal ship, the Dawn Treader. Caspian is attempting to solve the mysterious disappearance of eight Narnian lords in the remote islands of the Western seas, and must do battle with slave traders, sea serpents, dragons, and the spectral legacy of the Snow Queen along the way. The film stars Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes and Will Poulter, the voice work of Liam Neeson and Simon Pegg, features cameos from Tilda Swinton, Anna Popplewell and William Moseley, and has an original score by David Arnold.

David Arnold is an interesting choice to provide the film’s music. He has worked with director Michael Apted before, on films such as Amazing Grace, Enough and the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, but it’s been over a decade since Arnold scored a film with fantasy elements (the last being Godzilla), having spent the majority of his time since then scoring small-scale dramas and comedies alongside his Bond franchise. Furthermore, Harry Gregson-Williams created a fairly solid and popular musical identity for the Narnia series with his scores for The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in 2005 and Prince Caspian in 2008, so replacing him mid-franchise would seem to be an odd decision. But, with a new director at the helm and a new studio holding the purse strings, musical changes often result; besides, changes of this kind didn’t hold back the Harry Potter franchise any.

Written for a full orchestra and choir under the baton of Arnold’s regular collaborator Nicholas Dodd, Arnold’s score is built around two main themes: a swashbuckling, vaguely nautical theme which represents the Dawn Treader itself, and a lyrical, swooning, innocent-sounding theme for the Pevensie children, which is often accompanied by a cooing choral element. Both themes feature in the opening “Opening Titles”, before the Treader theme receives its first stirring performance in the exciting “The Painting”. The two themes are very closely harmonically linked, and often sound as they could flow out of one another at will, one giving way to the other, and subliminally giving the impression that the fates of the Pevensie children and the Narnians are intertwined.

Thereafter, both thematic ideas feature prominently. The Pevensie theme is played lightly at the beginning of “Land Ahoy”, on a tender solo harp in “Lord Berne”, with tongue-in-cheek woodwind pompousness in “Eustace on Deck”, accompanied by pretty Christmas chimes and an angelic choir in “Lucy and the Invisible Mansion”, and with more choral loveliness at the end of “Aslan’s Table”. The more heroic Dawn Treader theme – absent for a great deal of the middle part of the album – reappears in the emotive, almost religious-sounding “The Calm Before the Storm”, and plays a much larger part in the finale. In addition, there is a noble, stately motif for the missing lords and their magical swords appears in “1st Sword”, and an ominous brass theme for the mysterious ‘evil’ at the heart of the story which first appears in “Coriakin and the Map”. These two motifs intertwine cleverly in quite tense and dissonant “The Golden Cavern”, illustrating the way in which the manipulative ‘evil’ is using the point of the quest to tempt the protagonists.

Arnold pays more than lip service to Gregson-Williams’ original Narnia theme in the majestic “High King and Queen of Narnia”, with quiet dignity in “Aslan Appears”, and with an almost-hidden statement of Narnian bravery in “Into Battle”, while the other prominent theme is for Reepicheep, the gallant mouse warrior who accompanies the heroes on their quest. Reepicheep’s theme, unfortunately, is a note-for-note restatement of one of the major themes from Arnold’s score for Godzilla (albeit re-orchestrated to sound charming and feather-light), meaning that cues such as “Reepicheep”, “Under the Stars” and “Ship to Shore” elicit occasional memories of 100-foot tall monster lizards rather than a sword-fighting gentleman rodent.

The action music, of which there is plenty, is likely to be the major focus of attention for those who enjoy his bold, rhythmic style. Cues like “The Lone Island” and “Market Forces” actually have more in common with the action in his recent Bond scores than anything from his earlier fantasy oeuvre, especially through the use of tapped snares, powerful brass phrasing, rattling percussion and highly energetic tempos, although they do dispense entirely with the electronic element that his Bond scores feature so prominently. Elsewhere, cues like “The Green Mist” introduce a portentous chanting choir into the mix, giving the music weight and gravitas, while the Irish-tinged Hobbit-like sprightliness of the “Duel” brings a moment of light relief.

The “Dragon Attack” initiates a change in the action style back to the carnal power of Independence Day, featuring a thrusting bass ostinato, wonderfully deep and dark brass blasts, swirling string and woodwind accents, and a magnificent choral finale. The 11-minute “Into Battle” is the film’s tour-de-force set piece, an enormous culmination of the preceding tracks’ thematic build-up which unleashes musical forces not heard in Arnold’s music for years. Creepy choral performances of the ‘evil motif’ and heroic statements of the Dawn Treader theme eventually become overwhelmed by the enormous orchestral action material featuring flashy brass triplets, gallant ID4-style rhythmic runs, and huge choral outbursts of Latin chanting that really raise the roof. Anyone who has longed for Arnold to return to the glorious action sound of Stargate, Independence Day and Godzilla which made him so popular almost 20 years ago will not be disappointed here.

The nine-minute finale, comprising “Sweet Water”, “Ship to Shore” and “Time to Go Home”, is where Arnold pushes all the emotional buttons, presenting a succession of shamelessly spine-tingling performances of the Pevensie theme and the Dawn Treader theme to accompany the overtly Christian ‘Aslan-as-Jesus’ religious allegory much more forcefully. The music in “Time to Go Home” is especially moving, and stands as some of the most straightforwardly beautiful music Arnold has written for some time, ending the score on an appropriately poignant note.

While The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader may not be as immediately memorable or thematically strong as Independence Day, or have the raw power of Godzilla, there is nevertheless a great deal to admire here. The maturation of Arnold’s writing, especially in terms of the multiplicity of themes and the way in which he uses them, is very impressive indeed, and it’s nice to know that he can still let rip with his orchestra when he is given the opportunity to do so. If you can overlook the Godzilla references, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the best of the three Narnia scores to date, one of the most satisfying fantasy scores of the year, and probably the most purely enjoyable David Arnold score in over a decade.

Rating: ****

Buy the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Opening Titles (1:07)
  • The Painting (2:28)
  • High King and Queen of Narnia (1:33)
  • Reepicheep (0:58)
  • Land Ahoy (1:43)
  • The Lone Island (1:51)
  • Lord Bern (1:01)
  • The Green Mist (1:16)
  • Market Forces (1:53)
  • 1st Sword (1:17)
  • Eustace on Deck (1:11)
  • Duel (1:45)
  • The Magician’s Island (4:30)
  • Lucy and the Invisible Mansion (5:24)
  • Coriakin and the Map (2:58)
  • Temptation of Lucy (1:16)
  • Aslan Appears (0:49)
  • The Golden Cavern (2:04)
  • Temptation of Edmund (1:58)
  • Dragons Treasure (2:53)
  • Dragon Attack (2:30)
  • Under the Stars (2:56)
  • Blue Star (1:04)
  • Aslan’s Table (2:32)
  • Liliandil and Dark Island (1:30)
  • The Calm Before the Storm (1:49)
  • Into Battle (11:03)
  • Sweet Water (2:06)
  • Ship to Shore (3:52)
  • Time to Go Home (2:46)

Running Time: 76 minutes 01 seconds

Sony Masterworks 88697-81142-2 (2010)

Music composed by David Arnold. Conducted and orchestrated by Nicholas Dodd. Original “Narnia” themes by Harry Gregson-Williams. Featured musical soloists Frank Ricotti, Dermot Crehan, Mauricio Venegas, Paul Clarvis, Jan Hendrickse and Byron Wallon. Recorded and mixed by Geoff Foster. Album produced by David Arnold.

  1. anthonye1778
    December 13, 2010 at 6:40 am

    Very good review. I agree with practically everything written. The action music was great, and the themes and their various statements are definite highlights.

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