THE CHRONICLES OF
NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER
STARRING: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes,
Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Gary Sweet, Bruce Spence, Arthur Angel, Shane Rangi,
2010, 115 Minutes, Directed by:
wizards casting spells? A lengthy quest involving the retrieval of all-powerful
weapons? Seems like the production of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of
the Dawn Treader wanted to keep this third installment of the fantasy
franchise as familiar to family audiences as possible . . .
And who could blame them after
the sleepy antics of 2008’s Prince Caspian
effectively halved the box office intake of 2005’s The
Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Financial matters were heading in the
wrong direction, necessitating a shake-up across the production, leaving the new
film refreshingly energetic in the early going, but powerless to fight off the
frigidity emanating from the source material.
As war rages across England,
Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) have moved in with their
uncle, while enduring the pestering presence of their snotty cousin, Eustace
(Will Poulter). When the magical land of Narnia requires their return, the trio
is pulled back into their lost kingdom, arriving on the Dawn Treader, a massive
ship belonging to Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes).
Learning of an exceptional evil
that necessitates the collection of seven royal swords to eradicate, the team
sets sail for the edge of the world, bringing along mouse soldier Reepicheep
(voices by Simon Pegg) for protection. On this journey, the group is haunted by
their fears and envy, exploited by the powers of a dark island while Eustace,
struggling to learn the rules of Narnia, is accidently transformed into a
The world that C.S. Lewis laid
out for The Chronicles of Narnia has been treated with white-gloved respect
throughout these three pictures, but it’s a museum appreciation, lacking
distinctive cinematic firepower to launch it skyward. Dawn Treader makes a
significant effort to up the action quotient of the material, setting sail on a
sequel that’s mindful of forward momentum and swashbuckling efforts, compelling
director Michael Apted to crudely cram in character progression along the way.
For the first act, there’s
electricity here that elevates the franchise, finding a new adventurous purpose
beyond the observance of Narnia wonderment. For 40 minutes, the picture
parries, leaps, and sprints around, pushing the characters to work up a healthy
sweat as the quest is established, arcs commence, and Aslan (the droning
Jesus-lion, voiced by Liam Neeson) is blessedly nowhere to be found.
"Talk of belief, faith, sin, and a few appearances from God himself!"
Once the gang busts up a slave
colony and kicks off the hunt for the swords, the excitement of the film
deflates rapidly, with the script quickly weighed down by the needs of
adaptation, creating little moments for all voyagers involved to keep them busy.
It’s a question of maturation and vanity for Lucy, an internal struggle with
heroism for Edmund, leadership blues for
Prince Caspian, and
general pissing and moaning from a disorientated Eustace.
Pausing the special effects
kills the established oomph, bestowing tedious exposition to actors who aren’t
skilled enough to make their transformations interesting, led around by an
overwhelmed Apted, who shows a shocking disregard for metered reaction. If it
isn’t a slack-jawed, bug-eyed close-up of wonder, it’s not in this movie.
A hardcore demonstration of
obnoxious behavior emerges from Will Poulter, who wildly overplays his role as
the runt of the Narnia litter. The young actor is pure agony to watch,
shrilly stomping around the frame without a leash to make points of discontent
that demand a more refined touch of humiliation. Poulter’s scenes are simply
unbearable, rendering Eustace's journey from brat to fire-breather something to
dread, not enjoy.
Cameos from previous Narnia
residents help the continuity out, and Pegg’s interpretation of the pirate mouse
is expectedly rich with wit and friendly tones of animated encouragement. While
the star power is welcome, it can’t fight spirituality, as the subtleties of the
Christian themes that flow throughout the series are decidedly more pronounced
for the third round. Talk of belief, faith, sin, and a few appearances from God
himself, Aslan, helps to broadly underline the real quest of the characters: to
reach Heaven. The spiritual sentiment isn’t the offense, only the primitive
delivery, destroying the mystery of Narnia and its all-holy cat.
Cursed with a bothersome 3D
overlay (placing annoying sunglasses on ace cinematographic work from Dante
Spinotti) and ho-hum monsters (an attacking sea serpent looks pulled directly
from Predator), Dawn Treader has many obstacles to hurdle before it finds an
ending. Mercifully, there’s a tone of finality here, at least for most of the
characters. Barring a box office disaster, the franchise will live on, albeit in
the clammy hands of flared-nostril wuss Eustace.