A film review by Craig J. Koban December 17, 2010
CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE
OF THE DAWN TREADER
2010, PG, 115 mins.
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
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
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
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
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
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)
And, for what it's worth, CrAiGeR's ranking of HARRY POTTER films:
1. THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE (2005)
3. PRINCE CASPIAN (2008)
3. PRINCE CASPIAN (2008)
3. PRINCE CASPIAN (2008)