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Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Posted on December 15, 2010 | Back to Movies and Television
Here be spoilers.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the third installment in the movie franchise based on the popular children's books by C.S. Lewis. In this story, Edmund and Lucy, the two youngest Penvensie children are magically transported back to Narnia along with their unwilling and unpleasant cousin, the regrettably-named Eustace Scrubb. At first it is not clear to either Edmund or Lucy why they have been summoned back. In the previous movies, their return to Narnia usually coincided with some great peril, but now it seems that the kingdom is at peace and being well-managed by Caspian, the young king who was introduced in the previous film. But, as is usually the case with Narnia, appearances are deceiving. Caspian is at sea, investigating the fates of seven Narnian lords who vanished years earlier. It doesn't take long for him to discover that an isolated island outpost has been overtaken by slave traders who are abducting the citizens and offering them up as "sacrifice" to some mysterious mist that appears out of the waves. Hundreds have vanished, just like the seven lords, their fates unknown. Thus begins the most quest-driven plot of the movies so far, a tale that clearly pays homage to the likes of Sinbad and Odysseus.
Although a competent installment in a series that has been consistently well-crafted, The Dawn Treader suffers from the same ailment that hurt the most recent Harry Potter film: slow-pacing. This is particularly unfortunate when you spend the extra bucks to watch the film in 3-D, where that visual technology seems under-utilized at best. Even the splendor of the Narnian landscape seems muted in this outing.
Part of slow feeling of The Dawn Treader may have something to do with the director. The first two films were helmed by Andrew Adamson, the guiding force behind the popular and consistently exciting Shrek films. Adamson declined to direct Treader for personal reasons, handing over those duties to Michael Apted, who has made some noteworthy films but few that could be considered fantasy and virtually nothing for younger audiences. Put simply, it felt like Apted just didn't understand the demographic attracted to the Narnia films as well as Adamson. Instead of building suspense and a real sense of danger at pivotal moments during the film, he relies more on silliness and melodrama. These are not things that most kids and teens enjoy, but rather things that adults think they should enjoy. One early example is when a Lucy is abducted by some invisible beings known as Dufflepuds. Instead of making the scene suspenseful (after all, one of the main characters is being held captive), Apted instead settles for a cheap laugh by making the Dufflepuds bumbling circus freaks rather than the deformed and cursed creatures that C.S. Lewis wrote about.
But for me, if there's one major shortcoming to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it is the inability of the film to resolve the pivotal character of Edmund. If you remember way, way back to 2005 and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund was a browbeaten and angry child who betrayed his family, in the words of the White Witch, "for sweeties." By Prince Caspian (2008), Edmund had become a confident young man who acted largely as the major domo to his older brother, Peter. But, in the Dawn Treader, there doesn't appear to be much for Edmund to do. He has no leadership role to assume. Caspian is clearly the king that Narnia needs and he's been tremendously successful in bringing peace and order to the realm during his very short rule. Nor does Edmund go through the painful adjustment of reconciling his life in Narnia to that of twentieth century England, as Peter did in Caspian. In fact, at the end of the film, he's looking forward to returning to England. (Really? You want to leave Narnia? What's wrong here?) So Edmund becomes a mostly passive observer of the events in Dawn Treader, which is both unsatisfying for the character and waste of Skander Keyes, who has done so well portraying the troubled "middle child."
In terms of performances, most of the cast provide some memorable moments. Ben Barnes is adequate in his reprise of the Caspian character, but for some reason has lost his wonderful Telmarine accent and now speaks like, well, the Penvensies. Points lost for continuity on that one, folks. We get nice glimpses of both Peter and Susan (William Mosley and Anna Popplewell) and the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) in nods to the first two films. The always awesome Simon Pegg does a good job as the voice of Reepicheep, the warrior mouse introduced in the last film and who plays a much more important role in this movie. But the real standout performances come from two of the youngest cast members. The first is Lucy (Georgie Henley), who nicely combines her dreamy-eyed ethereal qualities with teenage angst. The second is the Penvensie's cousin, the cranky and arrogant Eustace, played by seventeen-year old Will Poulter. The kvetching Eustace is compelling if not sometimes grating. I found myself very conflicted over the character as the movie proceeded, at times hating him, mostly pitying him, and finally liking him. It's not an easy task for any actor to inspire those diverse reactions from an audience, but especially when one is as young as Poulter. That being said, one does get the feeling that actor was encouraged too much to chew the scenery. Poulter is better in his quieter moments. He is also a good omen for the Narnia franchise, as the character of Eustace takes over from Edmund and Lucy as the protagonist for the next two stories, The Silver Chair and The Last Battle. Hopefully Poulter will be back for both of those, a little more mature, a little less shrill.
In the end, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a decent addition to the Narnia series, but I don't think one that will ever be hailed as the standout installment.