Title: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Directed By: Michael Apted
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Ben Barnes, Gary Sweet, Simon Pegg, Bruce Spence, Arthur Angel, Shane Rangi, Liam Neeson
Ready to go back to Narnia? Well, you’ll get the opportunity in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – kind of. Yes, the film is part of the beloved series, but the third installment just isn’t up to par in many aspects, so when director Michael Apted takes the action out of Narnia and aboard the Dawn Treader, the world we’ve grown to love is almost entirely absent. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t some fun to be had out to sea.
Lucy and Edmund (Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes) are stuck in Cambridge living with their obnoxious cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) while Susan and Peter (Anna Popplewell and William Moseley) are off on “adventures” in America. With wartime tensions keeping Lucy and Edmund from joining their older siblings, the two are desperate to escape their bleak reality and return to Narnia. Finally the time comes and they’re transported to the magical ship, The Dawn Treader, through a painting, as is Eustace, who isn’t thrilled about going along for the ride.
Upon arriving, they’re reunited with Caspian (Ben Barnes), now King Caspian, and briefed on the situation. Innocent people are being sacrificed to a mysterious green fog that has the power to make your darkest thoughts a reality. In order to defeat it, they must collect the seven swords of the Lords of Telmar and place them on Aslan’s table. The trouble is, these swords are scattered across various islands, each of which poses a new threat.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader wastes no time getting to the action. In fact, the pace is a prime asset all the way through the film. Once the kids arrive on the ship, it’s battle after battle until the film culminates in a monster attack featuring a beast that puts Clash of the Titans‘ Kraken to shame. Like the first two films, the visual effects all-around are quite impressive, but, unlike The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, the excitement of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is almost entirely reliant on its imagery.
The entire series has a very childish tone, but this time around, this sensation comes across as downright silly rather than youthful. Much of this stems from the painfully simplistic dialogue. Not only do the characters constantly use tacky lines, but they’re always stating the obvious. Rather than just have a character return from a trek in the woods, another character must verbally announce his or her return. As much as this alludes to plain old poor writing, it doesn’t have much of an effect on the film’s ability to entertain.
That’s really all The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is, entertainment. Unlike the first two films, this one lacks depth. Edmund does battle with a case of middle child syndrome and Lucy struggles with the feeling that she’s not as pretty as Susan, but they’re addressed in such a basic fashion that Apted only scratches their surfaces, making them mere occurrences rather than important issues in the characters’ lives. Eustace is the only one to show his layers, which is quite convenient considering if the franchise continues, he is the focus of the fourth book, The Silver Chair. Upon arriving in Narnia, Eustace is as bratty as they come. He’s a little too annoying for the first 30 minutes, but from then on, becomes the only character with any heart. He develops a particularly touching relationship with the skillful swordsman – er, swordsrat, Reepicheep (voice by Simon Pegg) and together, the two completely steal the show from the primary characters. Part of this certainly has something to do with performances. Poulter is so clearly giving 110%, Barnes, Keynes and Henley wind up coming across as quite wooden. They aren’t terrible; they’re so clearly just doing what they’re told that they never manage to merge with their characters quite like Poulter.
Another element that doesn’t gel is the realm of Narnia. Yes, we know that they’re there and some of the characters are the same, but the world feels so drastically different that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader could be part of a completely different set of films. No, none of the kids, even Popplewell or Moseley, delivered outstanding performances and the Narnia films always had a degree of silliness to them, but the first two films were engaging enough that they made the viewer feel as though he or she was actually in that realm. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader you’re merely an outsider looking in and while that’s fun for the duration of the film, very little resonates.
By Perri Nemiroff