Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Simon Pegg
Directed by Michael Apted
Based on the book by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia were a very influential series in my childhood and I have enjoyed seeing these books adapted to the big screen. However, when I heard that Walden Media was having trouble coming up with the money for the third installment of the series, I knew that was the least of their problems. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is probably the densest and most symbolism heavy book in the seven and doesn’t have so much a plot so much as it is a series of short stories threaded together by a common goal. I honestly thought that perhaps a five episode television miniseries would be better at conveying this particular story than a compact two-hour movie.
Disney jettisoned the Narnia series after “Prince Caspian” didn’t make the kind of money that the studio wanted. Twentieth Century Fox was quick to get there hands on the property, as they have been looking to create a lucrative fantasy franchise to par with “Harry Potter”, as seen with their failures in “Eragon”, “City of Ember”, and “Percy Jackson”. So Fox can claim to have both saved this series as well as having condemned it.
The film begins with Edmund and Lucy having to stay with their unpleasant cousin Eustace, before the three children are suddenly plunged into Narnia once again. Given the dense material it only makes sense that we start off into things without any delay.
King Caspian exposits to the children that Narnia is at peace now, and that he is on a quest to find the missing seven lords who were briefly mentioned in the last film. I’m not sure why it’s necessary that the king himself go on this voyage, and makes him seem like a bit of micro manager. While Edmund and Lucy are all to happy to be back in Narnia, while Eustace is easily irritated by this strange new fantasy world. But the purpose of their quest soon switches gears as our heroes discover a green mist that swallows up innocent sailors. We are told it is a force of nature that is subtle and seeks to corrupt and influence those we go near it.
The establishment and exposition on this green meanie comes a little late into the game. Our heroes our told by on old wizard that to defeat the green mist, they must reunite seven swords on an island in the east. Everyone just responds, “Sure, why not?” So that it what they do.
For all the complaints I’m about to unleash, one the things I really did like about the movie was its lighthearted tone. Other recent fantasy movies like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” have gotten gradually darker, whereas “Dawn Treader” keeps things fun and has some good humor to it. While the story may have been changed to suit the big screen, I’m grateful they didn’t follow the trend of making the series darker in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.
One of the most obvious changes in this movie, (besides the plot) is Simon Pegg replacing Eddie Izzard as the voice of the warrior mouse, Reepicheep. His performance in this role easily steals the show. While the effects are impressive in this movie, it’s easy to see were most of the money went and I think it was pretty well spent.
Eustace’s naivety with his newfound surroundings is used primarily for comic relief. Thankfully he is used sparingly and effectively, as his incorrigible tendencies and cowardice could have easily made him intolerable if he were overused. During one of their many island encounters, a magic spell turns Eustace into a CG dragon. This results in a lot of his character development arc happening off camera, as the dragon isn’t as capable of showing emotions as his human actor, no matter how pig faced that actor might be. I imagine this change was a bigger part of the movie than it was in the book so that Dragon Eustace and Reepicheep could have more scenes together since both creatures were created by the computer, and the animators wouldn’t have to worry about mixing live action with animation when those two were together. During this time, Reepicheep gives Eustace the “You are meant for a great destiny” speech. It’s the kind you only get from movies and inept guidance counselors who don’t have any form of helpful advice. It is a trope that I hate so much.
There was no central antagonist in the original book, so the green mist was an invention for the film, and it makes sense that they would want to try and tie things together in a bit more familiar action movie-fight to the save the world plot. Also, after having the last two films with big bads that had to be beaten in a “Lord of the Rings” style battle charges, the idea of a subtle and intangible evil that seeks to tempt and influence our heroes seems like a cool idea. The only problem is there was nothing subtle about the green mist. Every time our heroes were tempted to do something wrong, the green mist would appear in the background just in case we were too dumb to figure out on ourselves.
Because the purpose of their voyage spends time switching gears there really isn’t a sense of anticipation, or anything that makes us excited about reaching the end goal. It really does feel as if our characters are making it up as they go along. Also since the book is so dense and the film is rather short, a lot of development and vices of the characters feel very compressed. It makes a lot of the various island adventures and magical creatures they encounter seem superficial. For example, after agreeing to defeat the green mist, Lucy gets herself a groupie, a little girl whose mother was taken by the mist. She has nothing to do with the plot, its just pathos, serving as a reminder that they are out here to actually do something. Edmund has a subplot about wanting power and Lucy has a subplot about wanting to be beautiful like her sister (which really could just be solved by applying “Whore Red” lipstick), but both subplots are resolved about as quickly as they are introduced.
The final conflict, is a bit weird. Not because it was scary, but because it was a touch inconsistent. After sailing into the dark island, we learn that the dark island has the power to manifest as the fears whatever you are thinking of. Edmund reacts by saying “Oh, no, I couldn’t help but think of it!” The others ask “What?” At least three people within earshot of me in the theater whispered to their neighbor “The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!” Sadly, this is not the case. I thought that since the Green Mist appeared to Edmund twice in this movie in the form of the White Witch from the first movie, and tempted him with power, saying that she “can make him a man”, that she might have manifest as a psychical evil to defeat for the final fight. But no, instead Edmund’s greatest fear is a sea serpent.
The ending feels a bit tacked on. After defeating the big evil, they spot an island on the horizon and decide to check it out. Edmund even says, “Might as well”, and I have to agree, they’ve come this far without any sort of plan or purpose, they might as well check that looks remotely interesting. In the book, reaching “the end of the world”, was one of the primary goals of their voyage, but now it’s nothing more than a rushed conclusion without any weight given to it. When given the choice of sailing to “the end of the world”, Caspian says he wants to go but cannot because he feels responsibility he left behind that we have never seen and have never been mentioned before this time. Aslan the lion shows up to remind us that he in fact still in the movie despite having made one other very brief appearance earlier. Also to remind that, just in case we forgot, he is supposed to be Jesus. There is some foreshadowing for the next movie in the series, but in all honestly I don’t think it’s going to happen. I am thankful that we got to the third movie, and that seems like a decent place to stop.
There is decent action, acting and effects, but no real anticipation or sense of build up. Instead we just have compressed character studies. There is a sense of risk, just not a whole lot. This is easily the weakest of the series, which is a shame is it is one of the stronger books of the series. It’s not boring at all, its just not very engaging either.
3 out of 5. Their heart is in the right place, just not in the pace.