The Narnia films have served as child-friendly option to Lord of the Rings; that is what they are and they are honest about it. The first two books (or second and fourth depending the order you prefer) had a very straight forward formula: there is trouble in a magical kingdom, human kids are magically transported there, they face great odds followed by an epic battle, and Aslan appears at the very last minute to save the day; Voyage of the Dawn Treader, however, is quite different. The third (or fifth) book is more of a travelogue across a sea of wonders than the battle for the kingdom, like its predecessors were. And I can understand why adapting this installment would be a greater challenge than the first two. Sadly, the filmmakers did not live up to the challenge. By collapsing the story to serve formula, and not taking the time to appreciate the world of Narnia like its predecessors Voyage of the Dawn Treader turns out to be a very unimaginative film. This is very disappointing because the book is possibly the most imaginative and surreal of the whole series.
However, I will try to restrain myself from comparing the book to the movie while writing this review.
The story opens once again in England during the war. The blitz is over so the youngest of the Pevensie children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are living in London with their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). Meanwhile it is made known that Susan is studying in America, and Peter is probably fighting in the war but it doesn’t matter; we were already informed in the last movie they will not be appearing in this one. Like in the previous films it does not take long before the kids are needed back in Narnia and are transported magically through a painting, not to Narnia proper but to the Eastern Sea. They are rescued by the now King Caspian (Ben Barnes) who by now seems to be expecting them. We are briefed in the situation: a dark Island made entirely of mist has been threatening the Narnian shores; Caspian is leading an expedition on board the Dawn Treader to find the swords of the seven Lords of Telmar because that will break the spell stop the mist. So off we go.
The writing is quite flimsy and the plot does not get any more involving as the story progresses. Unlike the first film where lots of attention was given to Edmund’s character change from an annoying lying brat to a worthy and trusted leader, Eustance’s similar transformation in this film seems to come out of nowhere. One of the achievements of the first two films was that they were able to write some depth to the book’s flat characters, in this film it feels like the took an iron and flattened them even further. As for the actors, they do what they can with this material. Like the Harry Potter kids, Henley and Keynes prove that a character can grow up but still hold on to the character’s essence. And Poulter deserves a special praise for his portrayal of Eustance. As annoying as his character is, Poulter brings some charm to the role and some life to the film. It is unfortunate he spends half the movie as a shoddily animated dragon.
However unlike the cast, who seem to be trying their best, director Michael Apted feels underachieving. Andrew Adamson, who directed the first two, had a background in animation and developed a storybook style that was more than fitting for the material. Apted’s background lays in TV, James Bond, and Gorillas in the Mist; his gritty down-to-earth realistic style is not as fitting for the franchise. Narnia was not meant for queasy cam and fast cutting, and 3D even less so. I did not mind the directorial changes in the Harry Potter movies because each new director seemed like an upgrade but this is not the case for Narnia. Likewise, the special effects come out to as lazy. We have said it before; with today’s technology and with these movies’ budget, sloppy special effects should be unacceptable. So many dragons have been made for previous films that there should already be a step-by-step guide on how to animate a dragon that feels real out there. I know dragons do not exist so I technically cannot judge how real dragons in a movie appear to be. Well if they were real, they would certainly not look like this one, guaranteed.
Overall this was either a mediocre attempt to make children’s book fantasy come to life on the screen or a commonplace development of cinematic fast food aimed at young ones simply for the sake of profit. Either way, I have seen much better manifestations of the two.