Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I am a longtime admirer of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, and I loved the first two Narnia movies. That being said, I have mixed feelings about this latest film installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Dawn Treader is the least of the movie trilogy, but it’s based on one of the most exciting novels in the series. As far as family-friendly fantasy movies go, Dawn Treader is good, but given the source material, it should have been great.

The novel doesn’t have much of an overarching plot holding it together; it’s more like Homer’s The Odyssey, moving from one action-packed episode to the next. The movie tweaks this structure somewhat with mixed results. Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) and her brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are stuck spending the summer with their insufferable cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter). One day, a painting of a ship begins pouring water into their bedroom, and the three soon find themselves in a Narnian ocean, being pulled aboard the Dawn Treader by King Caspian (Ben Barnes; you may recall that his character was a prince just one movie ago). Caspian and his crew (which includes the crowd-favorite mouse, Reepicheep, now voiced by Simon Pegg) have set out to discover what happened to the seven lost Lords of Narnia.

That overall description matches the book, but in an effort to make the plot seem more cohesive, the movie throws in a bunch of other stuff. For instance, there’s a strange, green mist threatening to destroy all of Narnia (“some say it’s pure evil”), and the only way to defeat the mist is to lay seven particular magic swords at Aslan’s Table. This isn’t great, as it doesn’t make much sense. In the novel, nearly every adventurous episode has some deep philosophy or theology underneath it, but the film trades a lot of that in for some far more generic “good vs. evil” mumbo jumbo. The movie retains some of the book’s meaning, but far too often the lackluster script just skims the surface.

Acting is fair all around, and returning cast members do well, just as in the previous installments. Will Poulter brings great comedic energy to the character of Eustace and makes for a welcome addition. He’s a solid performer, and there’s a small setup at the end of this movie for The Silver Chair, in which Eustace would be the main character. The films have followed the original publishing order of the books thus far, so I assume that the filmmakers have decided to skip over the daunting task of adapting A Horse and His Boy, which is understandable. If The Silver Chair does get made, Will Poulter has proven that he can carry it.

The visual effects are suitable, though not particularly unique or inspiring, with the exception of the scene in which the children enter Narnia through the painting. Through an impressive, well-executed effect, water fills the bedroom and the children soon find themselves in the ocean. But in most cases, the world of Narnia just doesn’t seem as real this time around as in the previous movies. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and then especially in Prince Caspian, the world of Narnia felt lived in. This wasn’t just because of the effects, but because of the sets, the costumes, the lighting, and the pacing. In Dawn Treader the aesthetics should have been imbued with more realism, and the pacing should have been stretched. It’s the shortest of the Narnia movies by thirty minutes, and it could have really used that additional time to deepen the setting, character development, and themes.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader ends extremely well, capturing the spirit of the novel in its final minutes. Overall, it’s a fair adventure movie. I did the always dangerous thing of rereading the novel before seeing the movie, so I was all too aware of the film’s unmet potential. It’s the weakest of the movies, but it could have been the strongest. I said in my Prince Caspian review that Dawn Treader should be the last of the Narnia movies, and I still feel that way. From here on out, the stories get stranger and more abstract, and I’m not sure they would translate well to the screen. The Magician’s Nephew could work as a prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but I still maintain that the final Narnia story, The Last Battle, is completely unfilmable. Especially because none of the other Narnia stories include the Pevensie children, I think they should call it a trilogy and just walk away.

In Prince Caspian, Trumpkin tells the Pevensies, “You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.” If you enjoyed the first two, you should certainly see this one, but don’t be surprised if you find Narnia a more shallow place than you remember.

Note: I saved a few bucks and saw this film in 2-D, and I was glad for it. 3-D glasses always darken the color palette, and from what I’ve heard, the 3-D effects in Dawn Treader don’t add a whole lot.

Click here to view the trailer.

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.

There’s a lengthy sea serpent attack towards the end that could frighten young children, but overall, the tone is pretty adventurous and light. I reckon most kids would enjoy this movie, and while they can understand it without having seen the first two, I recommend showing your kids the first two if they haven’t seen them yet. Those are better movies anyway.

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