January 19, 2011


98% more boat than other posters!
Or, to give it it's full title: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (TCoN: TVofDT). Now, before I get to talking about the third film in this (somewhat) struggling fantasy franchise a quick word on the preceeding works: I haven't seen the second film, Prince Caspian, and I thought The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was downright rubbish. I haven't read any of the books past The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So any preconceptions I may have had about the franchise were set relatively low. Having said that, this is the only post-Potter young-adult fantasy franchise to actually be a franchise; all the other attempts have stalled out after the first film. Not so with C. S. Lewis' Christian allegory. Make of that what you will.

Things begin in war-time London (again), with Edmund (Skandar Keynes) attempting to volunteer in Her Majesty's army. He is, of course, a bit young (not that that stopped many) and is turned away (despite being a Narnian King and all that). He and his sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) are currently being forced to stay with their fastidious cousin, Eustace Scrubb (the very welcome Will Poulter, from the delightful Son of Rambow) while their two older siblings Peter and Susan swan about in the States. Just as Edmund and Lucy are wishing for an escape from their intolerable circumstances, all three of the kids are literally swept up in a new Narnian adventure with King Caspian and mouse swordsman Reepicheep. Fantasy type guff ensues.

Well, that's a bit of an unfair assessment: the eponymous ship and her crew engage in some Odyssean style adventures, but it's really all a little confused. I think the quest begins with Caspian looking for some lost Lords who supported his father against his evil Uncle. But at the first stop they encounter slavers and spooky weird green mist and so the quest comes to include hunting down the slavers and freeing their captives. But continuing on the sea-faring adventures run into some sort of wizardy type who explains that the green mist is, in fact, coming from the source of all Evil. So now they're searching for the missing Lords, the slavers and Evil: the Lords took upon themselves to destroy the Evil Source, the slavers are working for Evil (somehow) and Evil is, well, evil. It's a quest that just keeps getting bigger! Oh, and Eustace turns into a dragon. Which is a damned shame as Will Poulter is sorely missed.

New DGA President Michael Apted is an interesting choice to direct a kid's fantasy film; his previous work includes the 7 Up documentary series, Gorillas in the Mist and The World Is Not Enough, which is perhaps the closest he's previously come to helming a fantasy picture. Mind you, Alfonso Cuaron was a bit of a wild pick and Prisoner of Azkaban is one of the better Potter films. Apted has screenwriter Christopher Markus back from the previous Narnia films, but he's really lucky to be blessed with the best actor from the original quartet, Georgie Henley, and the outstanding Will Poulter. Henley, despite being 5 years older and in the midst of her teens, manages to still convey that absolute sense of wonder whenever something magical happens. Eustace is the total opposite to Lucy, stomping about the Dawn Treader refusing to believe any of it is real. It is a character that very easily could have received no audience sympathy (see Edmund in the first film), but Poulter is just a joyous performer to watch with excellent comic timing, especially as most of scenes call for him to interact with a CGI mouse.

Aside from the story and pacing issues, my biggest struggle was with the film's underlying themes. Not just the Christian allegory (which is made pretty explicit at the end), but also the monarchistic militarism. Just something about the whole blanket acceptance of these kids as almost holy royalty... it just doesn't chime with me and my worldview. But the stories are also remnants of their time: London was being blitzed and England was sending her young men off to war and the Commonwealth hadn't yet disintegrated.

All that aside, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is an enjoyable enough fantasy film, with plenty of visual thrills: the art design is beautiful and the visual effects commendable. It's more than a step up from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but no matter how good any of these sequels are, none of them can beat that indelible image of Lucy, standing beneath a lantern staring in childlike wonder at the newly discovered Narnia. 

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