Reviews

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Betsy Sharkey
The Los Angeles Times (MCT)

There are sword fights aplenty (as bloodless as ever), but instead of a real story, we are left clinging to individual moments.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Director: Michael Apted
Cast: Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Will Poulter, Bill Nighy
Rated: PG
Studio: Fox Walden
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-12-10 (General release)

If you part the roiling seas of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and look beyond the good vs. evil religious allegories ever present in the C.S. Lewis stories, you will discover the best thing about the present voyage -- a rat and a brat.

For fans of the series, that means the long tail of Reepicheep is back with Simon Pegg giving excellent voice to the swashbuckling rodent whose rapier wit is as erudite as his swordsmanship is sharp. Though the Reepster will be facing greater foes, his biggest challenge is taming Eustace (Will Poulter), the obnoxious boy whose cousins Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) have been forced to bunk with while the rest of the Pevensie clan is off doing more interesting things.

Alas, that is not enough to ensure smooth sailing for director Michael Apted's Dawn Treader, which could do with more devils in the details, including the 3-D, yawn, ones. As it is, our heroes are forced to battle it out with -- Green Mist. See, it doesn't even seem scary when it's capitalized. As is the case with most fairy tales, particularly ones as well loved and well read as Lewis' Narnia series, you know going in how it's all going to turn out, but the richness of the story keeps you coming back. Lewis knew enough to stir up much more than mist in Dawn Treader, which is probably why it will be his that we remember.

Still, on the big screen Narnia continues to be a lovely place for families to visit for a while with its all-knowing lion king Aslan, whose reassuring rumble is once again provided by Liam Neeson, always promising a better world. The introduction of Eustace, and a spirited performance by young Poulter, helps. Though the boy is an irritant, he's also an avid journal keeper, with his entries providing some of the more biting narrative in a film in sore need of it. But as significantly, he's the nonbeliever in the group -- nearly as powerful a narrative force as evil, for Narnia, like Tinkerbell, thrives on the notion of childhood belief.

It's still wartime England, 1943 now, and three years since the Pevensie siblings left Caspian (Ben Barnes) to settle into his kingly role. Susan (Anna Popplewell) is off in America with the unseen parents, while Peter (William Moseley) is busy with university exams, leaving Edmund and Lucy to finish growing up. He tries to join the fighting forces, she experiments with flirting, both get found out for the children they still are.

Most of their days, though, are spent quarreling with Eustace, and in the midst of an argument over the relative worth of fairy tales -- you can guess where E stands on that one -- they notice the ocean in a painting just above them seems to be spilling over the edge. Before you can say, "It's all make believe, or CGI graphics," they're submerged in a watery portal to Narnia. It is one of the film's best effects and far more difficult for the kids to navigate than the wardrobe of the first film, or the subway whoosh of the second. But what has always distinguished the Narnia films is a storybook beauty, ethereal in feel, a tradition continued here by venerable cinematographer Dante Spinotti, known for his high-gloss artistry, though usually on far grittier stuff such as 1999's The Insider or 1997's L.A. Confidential.

Apted, on the other hand, has long been involved in childhood dreams. You can trace it back to the extraordinary British documentary series that started with 1964's Seven Up, looking at the lives of seven British kids. Apted began as a researcher but was soon directing the follow-ups over the years to see how things turned out. His best narrative films tend toward the uplifting sort as well, Gorillas in the Mist and Coal Miner's Daughter among them, which would seem a good match for Narnia.

But the script he is working with for Dawn Treader, from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely, who wrote the first two Narnias, with Michael Petroni joining in for the third, ultimately fails. Oh, there are sword fights aplenty (as bloodless as ever), but instead of a real story, we are left clinging to individual moments. There are funny ones -- the one-footed dwarfs (big foot, tiny bodies, lots of hopping); poignant ones -- the magic dragon desperate to undo the spell; sort of scary ones -- a ghastly sea serpent whose belly is the beast; and flat ones (too many to mention). What you won't find is nearly enough tension as our heroes try to beat back the mist, and (there's always an "and" in Narnia) recover the seven swords of the seven loyal lords who've somehow disappeared, along with the mystical, sprawling adventure Dawn Treader should be.

4

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image