The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010): United States – directed by Michael Apted
Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some scary moments and action violence
This third entry into the Chronicles of Narnia series has a new distributor, and a smaller budget, but this is not immediately evident. After Prince Caspian failed to live up to its enormous budget, Disney dropped the Walden Media production, and Fox picked it up. Thus, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes to us courtesy of Fox Walden.
I have not read the Narnia books in many years, and will take other’s word that this entry includes some of the plot of Dawn Treader, with some other strains from The Silver Chair. Nevertheless, the plot here is rather straightforward. Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are the two remaining Pevensie children, stuck in England during the war. Peter and Susan are in America, along with their parents. So Lucy and Edmund stay with their cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter), a whiny, petulant boy who sneers at their fanciful notions of Narnia and its magic. Naturally, a painting on the wall starts pouring water as they fight, and they are all sucked into the sea.
A passing ship helps them aboard, crewed by Caspian (Ben Barnes) and Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg). Lucy and Edmund are happy to be back in Narnia, while Eustace is skeptical of everything he sees. Here is the first misstep, as there is no sense of wonder in any of the film’s characters. The world of Narnia is brilliant and magical on screen, but it is difficult to empathize as none of the characters are awed by its appearance.
Caspian’s ship is headed to the East, to round up unruly islands. Also, a mysterious mist has been stealing people. Caspian must find his father’s seven friends, the Lords of Talmar, and travel to the island of Ramandu in order to find the Dark Island and defeat the evil. This cannot be done without the help of Lucy and Edmund, and naturally Eustace also has a role to play.
If the plot sounds trite, it actually isn’t. There is a great deal of mythology involved, and, while the story is simple, there are lots of smaller details. The world of Narnia is beautiful, even in 3D, and the lighting effects on the water are marvelous. In fact, all of the special effects are competent, causing one to wonder why the previous installment couldn’t have also been completed on a reduced budget.
The script is adequate, and only a few lines are reduced to utter cheese. Aside from these brilliantly obvious moments that the cast feels the need to utter, the screenplay is adequate. Unfortunately, in chopping the film down to an under-two hour runtime, parts of the plot feel unnecessarily hurried. Particularly toward the end, there are several jumps in time that occur without helpful exposition. A scene where Eustace finds redemption takes place suddenly and without any set-up.
There are other problems with the film, even though it remains enjoyable as a whole. The acting is adequate, and Henley is particularly effective. Barnes doesn’t quite have the charisma to fully portray the king of Narnia; he lacks presence, oftentimes.
In spite of its problems, Dawn Treader is fun. It’s an adventure tale, with swashbuckling, good vanquishing evil, and a complex mythology that the film only scratches. And even if the climax is a bit brief and too easily resolved, there are positive themes to enjoy and a pleasant aesthetic to appreciate. One of my quibbles, one heatedly debated by Christian, Lewis-loving critics and other critics less familiar with the book series, is a line uttered by Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) that clearly delineates his analogical relationship as God. It is too obvious and forceful; the power of any message comes across in its subtlety, in allowing the audience to interpret and understand on their own. Fans of adventure films won’t mind, though.