Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
PLOT: With their older siblings in America, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), stuck in WW2-era London, are forced to seek shelter with their disagreeable cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter). During an argument over an old painting, Lucy and Edmund find themselves once again swept into Narnia, now with Eustace in tow. They end up on the Dawn Treader, commanded by their friend, former Prince/ now King Caspian (Ben Barnes) which is tasked with finding lost Narnians, forced into slavery and sacrificed to an evil island that lives off fear.
REVIEW: Like scores of other children, I grew up reading C.S Lewis THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA. As a child, his epic story of ordinary children being swept into a world of magic and adventure thrilled me, but alas- we all have to grow up sometime. By the time THE LION, THE WITCH, & THE WARDROBE hit theaters, I was about twenty-five, and far beyond the target demographic of these films. As a result, I never bothered taking the cinematic journey into Narnia, until now.
Ive heard that the first two installments of the series were pretty good films, but the relative failure of the grandly budgeted PRINCE CASPIAN has resulted in THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER being shuffled from Disney, to the more budget conscious Fox. Right away, its obvious that DAWN TREADER is more of a B-movie than the other more lavish installments, with most of the film taking place in tight, controlled environments.
Part of the problem may be the replacement of director Andrew Adamson with the more workman-like Michael Apted, who approaches Narnia the same way he approached the Bond series with THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, which is with a great deal of laziness. Theres virtually no energy injected into DAWN TREADER, which should be a fun fantasy, but comes off as dull, dull, dull! Dont go into this film expecting any imagination or style, because you wont get it here. This is a paycheck job for Apted, whos much better as a documentarian with his brilliant UP! series. The only thing he contributes is the presence of Bond composer David Arnold, whose score works overtime to drum up excitement in the numerous dull action scenes.
Of course, being a big family film coming out around the holidays, DAWN TREADER is in 3D, but this seems to be yet another post-conversion. In fact, if you remove your glasses during the film, youll notice that relatively little of it actually seems to be three-dimensional, other than the CGI.
This brings me to the one area where DAWN TREADER truly excels: the special effects. One of the reasons I avoided the first CHRONIC (what?) CLES OF NARNIA was that Aslan looked so damn cartoony. Fur is notoriously hard to animate realistically with CGI, but I guess the VFX really have come a long way in four years, as Aslan (once again voiced by Liam Neeson) actually looks pretty damn real. That goes for the swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep, voiced by Simon Pegg, and manages to enliven the proceedings somewhat.
Of course, the two main kids, Lucy and Edmund, once again played by Henley and Keynes are pretty good as theyve had two other movies to grow into their roles. Henley in particular seems on the verge of becoming a really good actress. Her character arc, which focuses on her gradual entry into adulthood, is the best part of the film- and the only time it really gels. Ben Barnes legion of female fans will be happy to note that he returns as Caspian, this time sporting a pretty-boy half-beard, which I suppose is meant to signify that hes older.
However, the cast does have one liability, and thats young Will Poulter as Eustace. Now, I get that hes SUPPOSED to be annoying, but geez. For the first forty-five minutes of the film, he was like nails-on-chalkboard, and I could actually hear some of the adult audience members groan in annoyance every time he popped up on-screen. Luckily, he gets turned into a dragon midway through- thank God (or Aslan). Future installments of the franchise are focused on Eustace, so if the film does well financially, I suppose were doomed.
Luckily, DAWN TREADER doesnt have the same epic length as the first two films, and its all over and done with in less than two hours. I suppose as childrens entertainment the film works. A buddy of mine brought his two kids, ages 3 and 5, and they both loved it. I suppose if youve got a couple of really young children, NARNIA might make a passable afternoon of entertainment, although parents will want to bolt for the exit before the horrible Carrie Underwood theme song starts up under the credits.
Older kids will likely be much better off at either the new HARRY POTTER, TANGLED or TRON: LEGACY. For older fans of the C.S Lewis classics, I hate to say it, but theres really not much for you here. This is kids entertainment through and through, and something I doubt will be even remotely of interest to anyone over ten.
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