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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, and Will Poulter
written by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Michael Petroni & directed by Michael Apted
Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
79%

Edmund (Keynes) and Lucy (Henley) are miserably sitting out World War II with their obnoxious cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Poulter), when all three of them are unexpectedly dragged to Narnia through a painting of a ship sailing the open sea. Plucked from the ocean, they are brought aboard the Dawn Treader and meet their old friend King Caspian (Barnes) on an expedition to locate the seven lost lords who were forced to flee Narnia for remaining loyal to Caspian’s father many years before. But larger trouble is brewing, and they soon discover that they must also recover the seven swords that belong to the lords in order to stop a mysterious green mist that threatens to cloud the world with evil.

With this third entry into the Narnia franchise, the series may finally be earning some distance from the label “Lord of the Rings lite,” but continues to distance itself still further from C. S. Lewis’s beloved book series. The degree to which the filmmakers’ tone-deaf approach to adaptation proceeds from a conscious attempt to improve on a story that has already withstood the test of time or from an inability to comprehend how these stories function remains unclear. I suspect some combination of both may be to blame. There seems to be little rhyme or reason governing the plot that has replaced the story of the book, while many of those semi-familiar elements that remain are jarringly devoid of context.

The episodic nature of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader seems to have given the writers the impression that they could disassemble it and then piece it haphazardly back together without anyone noticing much difference. The question was not “how we can translate what is on the page to the screen,” but “how can we rewrite the story in a way that strings all of the most exciting bits together?” The result falls apart as an adaptation and as a chapter in the larger story, but it works so hard to maintain even a tenuous connection to its source that it cannot function well as a film, either. The challenge is to explain why without simply producing a list of complaints (which I could certainly do).

However, to do this properly would take up entirely too much space here, and would be largely irrelevant to a review of the film. Any fans of the original book will have spotted the problem from the plot summary, and everyone else will remain unswayed by an attempt at fidelity criticism. Suffice to say that the plot feels like exactly what it is: an attempt to impose a rather silly impetus into a story that was already eventful enough to fill a 2-hour film. There is no longer much time left to stop and smell the roses (or, rather, the sea air); or, for that matter, to flesh out the characters, mature their relationships with one another, develop the themes, or much of anything else that gives a film depth and dimension and makes it worth revisiting. What we have is diverting, certainly, but utterly forgettable.

It is that much sadder to see that this needn’t have been the case, thanks to the involvement of so many talented people with the film. Will Poulter, whose magnificent performance in Son of Rambow left me with no doubt about his abilities, hits Eustace’s marks right on the nose. The chemistry between Eustace and Reepicheep (now voiced by Simon Pegg, replacing Eddie Izzard; a marked improvement) is incredibly fun to watch as their relationship develops. My only complaint is that Eustace spends so much of the film as a dragon that a great deal of the process transpires in CGI, without Poulter’s involvement.

However, this trip to Narnia really soars in the visual department. I don’t think I saw anything that I didn’t like. The disastrous, shallow storytelling will quickly fade from memory, but I won’t soon forget the Magician’s garden and mansion, the frightful sea serpent, or the look of the Dawn Treader itself. On the level of design, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is practically flawless. Everything looks exactly as it ought to, and is beautifully conceived and rendered. If only its literary and spiritual vision were as clear as its actual vision.

The upshot of it all is, if you like fantasy adventures and you can forget that you’ve ever read a book called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, then this movie is a fine way to pass the time while you wait to see David Yates finally wrap up the ever-declining, seemingly interminable Harry Potter film franchise. If, on the other hand, you see no reason why you should have to watch yet another favorite book series mauled beyond recognition on the big screen, by all means, stay far, far away. Douglas Gresham and the suits at Walden Media are unlikely to get the message at this point, but you’ll feel a lot better about yourself. You can’t stop them, but happily there’s no law that says you have to watch.

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~ by Jared on December 12, 2010.

One Response to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”

  1. […] “MovieGoings” blog: Dawn Treader review + “Lost at Sea: Walden Media and […]

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