MacGuffin Film Review – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Film Review – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The latest installment of The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, picks up the story a few years after the last outing, Prince Caspian. The three eldest children have gotten too old to be able to transport back to Narnia, leaving only Lucy and Edmond, now teenagers, left to pick up the mantle of saving this enchanted land. This time around, they are joined by their distant cousin Eustace (played as an entertainingly precocious fusspot, who sounds a lot like Veruca Salt, by newcomer Will Poulter).

As the story begins, they are staying in the country with their cousin to stay safe while WWII continues to threaten their native London. Both of the children are bored and annoyed at their living situation, but are quickly swept away, with their cousin in tow, back to Narnia via an enchanted painting of a great ship at sea.

This watery painting delivers them to the Dawn Treader, a great ship captained by now King Caspian, and crewed by a Minotaur, and Reepicheep the mouse (voiced by Simon Pegg). On board they discover they must retrieve seven enchanted swords that were last in possession of seven former noblemen who have vanished in recent years, and deliver them to a magical island.

This outing is ably directed by Michael Apted.  While best known for the documentary “Up” series and for directing the film of Coal Miner’s Daughter, Apted is no stranger to action film.  He helmed a James Bond movie, as well as being behind one of Val Kilmer’s better movies, ThunderheartNothing is particularly standout with the change in directors.  All three movies in this series still feel of a piece.

Based on the series of classic novels by C.S. Lewis, this series has done a passable job over the years of showing some entertainingly family friendly fantasy.  The first story, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, is definitely the most famous of the lot.  However, these movies have always felt kind of like Lord of the Rings-lite.  Lewis and Tolkien were compatriots in the early part of the 20th century.  They both were scholars, both drew from and were influenced by similar source material, and both created intricate realms of fantasy.  No one can really say that one author ripped off the other.  It seemed to be more just a case of two comparable ideas for fiction that were born out of similar circumstances.  So while criticizing these movies is no slight on the books, and while this series has its charms, it never seems to emotionally resonate like Peter Jackson’s franchise does.  We all love Aslan, but his death in the first film doesn’t seem to devastate the audience as much as losing Gandalf in LOTR.  And none of these movies seem to have the emotional weight of watching Sam struggle up Mount Doom carrying Frodo in Return of the King.

Also, it is often said that a story is only as good as it’s villain.  A strong bad guy seems to be lacking in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  These kids are struggling against the remnants of magic that have come before, be it spells that have imprisoned royalty for years, or the incarnate memory of the White Witch (even a CGI-rendered Tilda Swinton is still kind of scary).  The fact that there isn’t much of a foil for their struggles tends to diminish any dramatic tension.

Lastly, while watching this in 3D is by no means painful (see Clash of the Titans as a case in point), it is far from anything special or memorable.  The images didn’t seem underlit or fuzzy like 3D can sometimes do.  But the way the film is shot, nothing much pops out of the screen.  All in all, this is one of the more underwhelming 3D pictures.

While on the whole The Dawn Treader is entertaining, and not without its charms, this outing feels like a more of the same.  Cousin Eustace is a welcome addition to the cast, and the CGI is pretty to look at sometimes.  However, this installment ends up being greeted with a mighty “M’eh”.

Final Grade: B-

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