A film review by Craig J. Koban December 17, 2010


2010, PG, 115 mins.


Edmund: Skandar Keynes / Lucy: Georgie Henley / Eustace: Will Poulter / Caspian: Ben Barnes / White Witch: Tilda Swinton / Reepicheep: (voice) Simon Pegg / Aslan: (voice) Liam Neeson

Directed by Michael Apted / Written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni, based on books by C.S. Lewis

To quote its full title, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is the third film adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ beloved children fantasy series and it marks a modest improvement from the somewhat charmless and too-action-heavy-for-its-own-good PRINCE CASPIAN.  VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER returns the series to the bright and vibrant color palette of the first film, THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE and, on many levels, the film is a handsome and lively production.  The series traverses across the often-difficult line of being an exciting and enthralling family adventure that can appease both children and adults.  For that,  THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is a reasonable success.  

Yet, for as pleasing as the film’s production values are and as assured as it’s made, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, like the film that preceded it, seems to be woefully lacking in the one area that helps elevate the truly transcending escapist fantasies above all others: a sense of awe, wonder, and magic.  Part of the problem is that this adaptation of the 1952 source material feels routine, sluggishly paced, and somewhat mechanical in terms of its overall storyline, not to mention that the central heroes’ quest contained within the narrative has more than a fleeting resemblance to the quest of one of Lewis’ contemporaries, J.R.R. Tolkien.  There has been considerable attention paid to the similarities between Tolkien’s universe and Lewis’, and often to complimentary effect, but THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER feels too regurgitated from THE LORD OF THE RINGS to the point where comparisons between the two become more unflattering as far as Lewis is concerned.

THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER discards with two of the quartet of Pevensie children that journied to the magical land of Narnia in the first two films and instead focuses squarely on the youngest pair, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes).  The film opens in our world in 1943 as we see Edmund make a botched attempt to enlist in the military for action in WWII.  With Peter off studying for university entrance exams and Susan off in America, poor Edmund and Lucy feel entrapped by their claustrophobic surroundings in Cambridge, especially since they have to share a home with their belligerent and unendingly annoying cousin, Eustace (Will Poulter). 

One day Edmund, Lucy and Eustace gaze at a peculiar painting of a ship that has visual echoes of Narnia, but things get really peculiar when the children notice that the waters of the painting begin to move and, within no time, their bedroom becomes flooded by the Narnian seas and the kids get whisked back to the fantastical world, much to the shock of Eustace (remember, he is a virgin to the Narnia experience).  They all find themselves on a Narnian ship called, yup, The Dawn Treader that is populated by humans and decidedly non-human patriots.  The Prince-turned-King, Caspian (Ben Barnes, returning from the second film, and thankfully a little less stiff this go-around) oversees the vessel and quickly informs the British children that they are on a quest of utmost significance, one that could tip the obligatory balance between good and evil in Narnia. 

Caspian’s mission is threefold: Firstly, he wishes to explore the eastern seas and hopefully discover Aslan’s Country (Aslan, you may recall, is the lion messiah of the series, voiced with characteristic gravitas and nobility by the very game Liam Neeson).  Secondly, The Dawn Treader is looking for fellow kingdomers that have been captured by slave traders.  Thirdly, Caspian desperately searches for seven lords and their seven swords that have gone missing.  The seven blades in question were given to the lords by Aslan himself, but now that they are missing the lords have had a curse placed upon them that can only be broken by bringing all seven swords back together at one crucial point.  This all leads to a dark, dreary, and evil-plagued island that will test all of the heroes in more ways that one. 

As mentioned, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is a sensational looking film.  Acclaimed British director Michael Apted has replaced Andrew Adamson from the first pair of films and, on paper, Apted perhaps is too fine of a filmmaker for this type of material, but he nonetheless equips himself with some truly auspicious visual effects artisans to make the return trip to Narnia one to savor.  Angus Bickerton and Jim Rygiel, who both worked on the superlative effects for THE LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy, oversee the work here in the third Narnia adventure and it is perhaps the finest looking of the series thus far.  The creature design in particular is a large and noticeable improvement from the previous entries and every thing from minotaurs, one-footed dwarfs (which look suspiciously like hobbits), dragons and skyscraper-sized sea serpents are painstakingly rendered.  Arguably, two of the most agreeable characters in the film are the courageous and sword-slashing mouse, Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard replacement, Simon Pegg, holding his ground well) and one particular dragon that – without spoiling anything – is the product of one character’s somewhat surprisingly emotional and physical transformation. 

I found the performances more relaxed and textured this time around.  Georgie Henley’s ever-maturing Lucy was a bit drab and uninspired in PRINCE CASPIAN, especially considering the wide-eyed exuberance and spunk she captured in the first film.  Fortunately, this new film gives Lucy more of a darkly intriguing character arc (she has some definitive body disturbance issues and a deeply introverted jealousy towards her big sister’s beauty) while still maintaining a sense of bouncy and headstrong spirit for adventure.  Former Narnia-Judas turned swashbuckling hero Edmund has also developed beyond being a shadow under the presence of his older siblings.  Mixing things up to satisfying levels is Poulter’s turn as the borderline insufferable Eustace and the young performer displays an adept precision and timing when it comes to his deeply cynical and amusingly antagonistic diatribes.  Some people have commented on how Eustace is almost too unbearably exasperating of a presence in the film, but I appreciate how he injects the proceedings with some much needed adolescent pessimism.   

Despite my compliments, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER does not seem to have any tangible moments of dramatic suspense or intrigue.  You rarely, if ever, fear for the safety of the Pevensie children in these films, which has the negative side-effect of making the conclusion of their Narnia quests feel that much more anti-climatic and repetitive.  There is not much in the way of forward momentum for these stories: they all seem to begin and end in similar traditions and conduct themselves on the basic premise of kids are whisked away from Earth to Narnia, engage on a quest, and return to Earth.  That’s about it.  At least there is a teary-eyed recognition at the end here where the young heroes begin to understand why returning home to their loving families is more important than staying away from them forever while being in Narnia, something that the previous films did not articulate. 

It’s impossible to discuss these films and Lewis’ literary work without Christianity being introduced, which is always funny because Lewis himself never intended his books to be heavily fundamentalist works, but rather adventure fantasies with familiar spiritual echoes.  Ultimately, viewers can read what they will into lines of self-indulgently portentous faith-speak like “We have nothing if not belief” and “Don’t fall into temptation” and “Don’t run from who you are.”  Okay, perhaps when Aslan tells the children during the conclusion that they will come to know and worship him under another form and name back on earth the religious allegory is a bit more transparent. 

Aslan (that looks as credible as any CGI lion can), for what it’s worth, remains an odd and vague creation in these films.  There are notable and good natured themes for child viewers here of being true to oneself and doing what’s right and just to see evil overturned  – which suggests the power of free will – but then the all-powerful and omnipotent deity of Aslan emerges at crucial times as a force that can single-handedly take matters into his own God-like hands (make that paws), which is in opposition to the notions of free will, because he is able to pre-determine everything…right?  In the long run, why would Aslan need Narnians, a little rodent, a soul-searching dragon, two human children, and a heartthrob King to find the seven swords to rescue the lords out of their enchanted slumber when he is just capable of doing it all himself?  After all, he can enter the minds of his followers and test their faith while conveniently pointing them in the directions of where they need to go.  Plus, when compelled to, he can intervene and end conflicts with the wave of his tail to fit his needs.   How can anything that transpires in these films truly matter and count when a power like Aslan can alter the course of events however he wants? 

Perhaps I am reading too much into a film with a pixalized Jesus lion?  


The film was given a fairly hasty upconvert to 3D by 20th Century Fox, who took over the series from Disney when the studio balked at returning to the series after the box office returns from PRINCE CASPIAN were far from stellar.  The theatre I screened the film at was gracious to offer both the 3D or 2D presentations of the film, so having the option of saving the $4 surcharge and not being forced to see a shoddy and not-ready-for prime-time retrofit in the third dimension was an Aslan-like gesture of wisdom and kindness.







  PRINCE CASPIAN  (2008)  jj

And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of HARRY POTTER films:




3.   PRINCE CASPIAN (2008) jj



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