Principal Cast : George Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Ben Barnes, Simon Pegg, Liam Neeson, Gary Sweet, Laura Brent, Bruce Spence, Billie Brown, Terry Norris, Nathaniel Parker.
Synopsis: Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, together with their obnoxious cousin Eustace, return to Narnia and join King Caspian on a journey to rescue nine missing Lords. Fantasy hijinks ensue.
You have to wonder what was going through the minds of the Disney executives when they decided to forgo any further production of the Narnia series after only two films. Okay, so the Narnia films were nowhere near the box-office juggernauts that CS Lewis’ contemporary, JRR Tolkeins Lord Of The Rings, had been for New Line Cinema, but was that any reason to ditch the project after only two generally well received films? Questionable studio decision aside (perhaps related to the economic downturn, or perhaps related to the fact that Narnia wasn’t turning into a Harry Potter or other massively successful franchise!), Disney handed over control of the Narnia story to famously control-hungry studio 20th Century Fox, and incoming director Michael Apted. Touted as the “most un-filmable” of all the Narnia Chronicles, Voyage Of The Dawn Treader not only had to overcome a cumbersome title and a waning audience, but also the transition from two different studios with differing expectations.
Much like the previous installments of the Narnia franchise, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is typically episodic in nature, as most quest films are – although, with the Narina films, it becomes a little annoying after a while. Along with being episodic, Dawn Treader is also quite naff: the characters are badly handled by director Michael Apted, the screenplay strips back any sense of wonder and amazement for the sheer thrill of “hey look, it’s another special effect”, and the two leads are uniformly annoying. Lucy and Edmond, two of the worst characters from the previous films (Edmond is a dick, while Lucy comes across as not quite cute and more just a know-it-all pain in the ass) are placed front and center this time, alongside returning character Caspian – of the entire ensemble cast, only Ben Barnes acquits himself well in this debacle. Newcomer to the Narnia story is Eustace Scrubb, performed by a convincing Will Poulter, who does the “bratty wanker” kid character quite well. While the rest of the cast stumble through massive set-piece after even massive-er set-piece, Poulter’s character has an arc which is considerably well thought out. His transition is the most obvious of the lot, but the way his character journeys through the film, from opening annoyance to actual human being, is well filmed.
As I mentioned, the rest of the supporting cast consist of computer generated characters (Simon Pegg voicing the cutsey Reepicheep) and generic fantasy stereotypes; a cast given virtually nothing more to do than stand around looking bewildered a lot. The effects are quite pleasing to the eye, for the most part, but they tend to overwhelm the horrendously thin script and bloats the film out by adding more and more eye-candy to look at. It’s all a bit pointless, as if Apted couldn’t be bothered with story and just decided to go for CGI broke. It might sound horrid to say this, but Apted’s gone the Michael Bay route and just created a film which exists simply for its own sake, instead of something designed to move a story and characters along a predetermined path. Sure, Dawn Treader isn’t as obnoxious a film as anything directed by Bay, but the elements so profoundly wrong with much of Michael Bay’s work appear in plentiful quantity here: badly written characters, a disjointed sense of time and place, and a strangely ambivalent sense of drama underwhelming the blah-blah razamatazz of the action sequences. Now, as I’ve mentioned many times, Michael Bay never pretends to be a serious director, but Michael Apted and the Narnia series has marketed itself as a semi-serious fantasy epic with something to say.
CS Lewis’s Christian messages within the text of the original novels are given light here, for the first time in a Narnian film (to the best of my knowledge), with Aslan all but claiming outright to be a manifestation of God, and his “land” the Narnian equivalent of Heaven; none of this is a bad thing, on its own, I guess, but with the complete lack of forethought or development of this aspect in the previous films (or, to be honest, in this one!) the sudden religious overtones strike me as too-little-too-late. It’s a “what the..?” moment. Poor scripting has led to a half baked idea built into the film to keep the fans happy, while casual viewers will be sitting there confused.
The nutshell review of this film would simply read “boring and uninteresting”. It’s that simple. Voyage Of The Dawn Treader is big on visual effects and money-shots, but low on emotion and the sense of fantasy the original Narnia film tried to get going. The characters’ arcs within the film are underdeveloped, the narrative meanders through a variety of gorgeously rendered but emotionally vacuous set-pieces, and the impact of the film is akin to having your face massaged gently with kittens. It’s fantasy-lite, a horrid mishmash of unsubtle theologising and corn-dog cliche, overpowered by mind-numbing visual effects and a whirligig of locales and characters. Voyage Of The Dawn Treader has, in my opinion, ruined the chance this franchise had to step up and deliver a great series of films. Dead, buried, gone.