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Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG)


by Roxana Hadadi

A lot of movies try to be epic. Ridley Scott tried to recapture the glory of “Gladiator” with May’s “Robin Hood,” which was pretty embarrassing. Peter Jackson is attempting to recreate the massive success that was his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with a stab at its prequel, “The Hobbit.” And since 2005, director and producer Andrew Adamson and Walt Disney Pictures and 20th Century Fox have been desperately trying to make their adaptations of C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novels, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” as affecting and widely loved as Jackson’s take on Middle Earth.

Unluckily for them, however, the latest film in the franchise, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” suffers from the same problems its predecessors, 2005’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” and 2008’s “Prince Caspian,” did – a profound lack of imagination. It may seem strange to say that, given that the films are based on Lewis’s world of mythical kings, talking animals and wild adventures, but the “Narnia” flicks never seem to get it quite right. The action isn’t exciting enough, the images aren’t beautiful enough and the plot isn’t dramatic enough – and with “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” all those missteps combine into making a sometimes-satisfying, ultimately blurred-together film.

For those who haven’t seen the previous two films before seeing “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” get on it. You’ll need to know before heading in about the Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley); their first adventure in Narnia, which unveiled them as the country’s kings and queens of old and which brought about the end of the evil White Witch’s (Tilda Swinton) reign; and their second excursion in Narnia, which introduced them to Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes). And you’ll also need to be aware of Lewis’s profound Christianity, which colors the plot with allusions to how lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) is really a form of God and believing in faith will keep the Pevensie children safe.

The religious themes aren’t overbearing – you’re not necessarily getting hit over the head with a Bible here – but if you know they’re there, they become impossible to ignore, a distracting annoyance that pops in the littlest of dialogue. When valiant mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) tells Lucy that “We have nothing, if not belief,” it’s not a sermon, but it’s certainly not agenda-less, either.

OK, so if you have all that down, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” becomes easier to understand. With Peter away at university and Susan traveling in the U.S. with their parents, Edmund and Lucy are left with an aunt and uncle in London at the beginning of World War II, forced to get along with their annoying cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). Yearning to return to Narnia – which Eustace refuses to believe exists and which Peter and Susan cannot go back to, because Aslan dictated in “Prince Caspian” that they had learned everything they could from their experiences there – Edmund, Lucy and their obnoxious relative become magically transported there through a painting in Eustace’s house, ending up in the water near the Dawn Treader. Caspian, now king of Narnia, is traveling on the ship to try and find the seven lost lords of Narnia, whom he hopes will help him defeat a yet-unknown-enemy.

With Edmund and Lucy at his side (Eustace is more prone to hiding in corners of the ship, scribbling away in his diary about how he thinks everyone around is certifiably insane), Caspian plans to travel to the Lone Islands to find the lost men – but along the way, the teen-warriors must battle slave traders, Caspian’s self-doubt and various temptations. Lucy yearns for Susan’s beauty, Edmund longs for gold so his family can be rich and self-sufficient and Caspian aches for his father, whom he wishes could provide him guidance in not only leading Narnia but becoming a better man. But none of those obstacles compare to their final foe, a mystical force that is never truly explained but poses an undeniable threat, defined by “things you can barely imagine,” according to the ship’s captain.

It all sounds urgent enough – the fate of Narnia depends on their actions, etc. – but director Michael Apted (Adamson directed the previous two “Narnia” films but only produced this one; Apted will also direct the series’ fourth film, “The Silver Chair”) doesn’t seem to get the pacing quite right. The scary stuff – slave traders, evil mists, the White Witch’s hold over Edmund – never seem that threatening because Apted doesn’t fully delve into their motivations or give us many scenes with them; things seem sped up and consolidated, much like the “Harry Potter” films do, in order to keep the film’s runtime trim. But without that sense of impending danger, the children’s obstacles don’t translate as truly dire – and because of some changes Apted makes to the book’s original plot, the reason for all the bad stuff is never fully explained, either. For younger viewers, though, that could be a good idea – the film’s only truly scary scene is a final battle with a many-toothed monster, but older kids should be able to handle it.

Nevertheless, some of the film’s scenes are certainly pretty, such as when a random spell causes a downpour of beautiful, pristine snow, or exciting, like when a dragon tries to communicate with the crew of the Dawn Treader. And though Keynes, always compelling as the most conflicted Pevensie child, delivers a solid performance here, it’s Poulter who steals the show – as the whining, disbelieving Eustace, he provides some of the film’s funniest moments by acting like a “hysterical interloper,” as one of the Dawn Treader’s crewmates calls him.

But for the most part, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” fails to deliver on the kind of thrills you would expect from a film promising big battles and fantasy adventures. And when it comes to 3-D, the higher ticket price is totally not worth it – only a few of the battles benefit from the effect, and if you really want to imagine water splashing on you, go to Six Flags. Only diehard “Narnia” fans will appreciate this adaptation of the series’ third installment – its lifelessness will leave most audience members dreaming of more.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is rated PG.


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