Disney passed on making The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, an adaptation of the third book in C. S. Lewis's fantasy series, after the second of its two underwhelming Narnia films stalled at the box office. Twentieth Century Fox provided the $140-million budget Walden Media wanted for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but the film is the weakest of the series. Despite the return of the principal cast and some flashy special effects, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a dull slog through a fantasy theme park without a compelling objective.
A year after the events of the last film, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, the youngest two Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), are staying with their obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter) in England when they are all sucked into a painting and end up aboard the Dawn Treader on an ocean in Narnia. After rejoining Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the trio accompanies him on a mission to rescue seven banished lords of Narnia. A mysterious mist has been abducting villagers, and it is revealed to Lucy that she must find the seven swords belonging to the lords and lay them at Aslan's table to defeat the ethereal evil.
From my brief synopsis it should be evident that the narrative of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is not exactly the best in the series. Lewis's third book was always my least favorite, and its unfocused, episodic plot translates poorly to the screen. The first strike against the film is the absence of the elder children, Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell), save a few brief cut-away's. The second strike is the limp Prince Caspian, who struggles to become the leader everyone tells him he ought to become. Strike three, just rent it stems from all the tedious island hopping aboard the Dawn Treader. Lucy, Edmund and Caspian valiantly look for the lost lords, but at no point does this become especially interesting. Lucy is mainly interested in being as pretty as Susan, and Edmund wants to make decisions for himself. And despite a climactic confrontation with a sea serpent, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader lacks a weighty showdown that might have made all the sleuthing mean something.
Director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) does his best to keep things moving, but the film feels sluggish at 113 minutes. The shift from the Mouse House to Fox also affected the film's scale, which feels stunted. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has a couple of nice sets, but the whole affair reeks of penny pinching. The painting that comes alive is a swell effect, but the others are dodgy at best. The big sea battle looks like a bowling alley at midnight, complete with random neon lights and a thrift store sea beast. At least talking rodent Reepicheep (Simon Pegg) is somewhat emotive during his few scenes.
Poor performances by the young actors plagued the first film, but both Henley and Keynes have matured since then. Henley still has an annoying habit of making ridiculous facial expressions of elation over most anything, but her line delivery is much improved. Unfortunately, Poulter does his supremely irritating character no favors. Eustace is truly the Jar Jar Binks or Narnia, trotting around and pouting constantly, and Poulter overacts with ferocity.
While the Harry Potter series found its groove with critics and fans, the recent Narnia adaptations have yet to satisfy. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader makes progress in some areas but falters in others. The result is a tedious, underwhelming fantasy film that is more debacle than spectacle.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Per their policy, Fox's screening disc does not include the final transfer or soundtrack, so I cannot comment on these areas of the disc. If a retail copy becomes available to me, I will update my review accordingly.
If you want substantial behind-the-scenes features you'll have to invest in the two-disc DVD or Blu-ray edition of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This single-disc version only includes a straightforward commentary with director Michael Apted and producer Mark Johnson and a handful of deleted scenes (4:29).
An epic fantasy adventure needs a worthwhile objective for its heroes in order to be truly compelling. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader does C. S. Lewis's book no favors with its uninvolving cruise around Narnia. Lacking in any real danger for the characters, the film is content to go through the motions until its preachy, protracted conclusion. Fans of the series will no doubt want to watch the latest installment, but the film has little replay value. Rent It.