The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Movie Review - Mania.com



Mania Grade: C

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  • Starring: Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Will Poulter, Ben Barnes, Gary Sweet and Laura Brent
  • Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Michael Petroni
  • Directed by: Michael Apted
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Run Time: 112 minutes
  • Rating: PG
  • Series:

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Movie Review

Everyone on the Jesus boat!

By Rob Vaux     December 10, 2010


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
© Mania/Robert Trate

Three movies in and they’re running out of gas.

 

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader ranks as the best of C.S. Lewis’s seven Narnia books, though it also remains one of the toughest to film. It uses episodic narration, as the titular vessel visits a new island every chapter on a journey to… well, the specifics were always a little hazy in that department. Lewis’s prose made each island a wonder, but in our CGI-saturated multiplexes, such wonders must struggle even harder to achieve the proper sense of awe. The film’s inability to show us every stop on the journey (those time constraints are a bitch), or to fashion a proper climax out of a text which really has none cause further damage. Though never bad, it does feel awfully tired at times, as fantasy fatigue slowly catches up to it.

 

Lewis, for his part, understood the need to keep things fresh. Dawn Treader thus banishes half of the Pevensie children off-screen, leaving only young Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and younger Lucy (Georgie Henley) to carry on. Their horrid cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) steps in to fill the gap, and thanks to a strong performance from the young actor, he becomes the best thing about the film. A magic painting sucks the three of them into the Narnian ocean, where their old friend King Caspian (Ben Barnes) fishes them out. He’s on a voyage to find seven missing Narnian lords, as well as exploring the unknown seas to the east of the kingdom. He’s joined by Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg), the swashbuckling mouse who’s following some kind of destiny, and who constitutes the other half of the film’s foundation. He and Eustace go from nasty rivals to reluctant friends, and the dramatic arc of that progression makes for Dawn Treader’s most engaging character elements.

 

Would that the rest of it could match that dynamic. Instead, it busies itself with various challenges on various islands—each one based loosely on one of the Seven Deadly Sins—while the crew receives the odd helping hand from Aslan the Not-At-All-Christlike Lion (voiced by Liam Neeson). It sticks to Lewis’s prose reasonably accurately, save towards the end when director Michael Apted crams a number of encounters into a would-be finale. His work feels competent, much like his entry in the James Bond franchise. He doesn’t screw anything up and fans of the book shouldn’t be unreasonably put out by the necessary changes of transplanting mediums.  Keynes and Henley both know their parts quite well, and remain pleasant (if not always compelling) on-screen figures.

 

But at the same time, Dawn Treader loses the crispness of Lewis’s prose. The details so lovingly captured by the author remain mere afterthoughts here, conjured in an instant by computer-generated effects of which we’ve seen far too much of. An island of gnomes who hop about on one giant foot feels more staged than whimsical here,  and the overall story contains too many heavy lessons of the “believe in yourself” variety. The nebulous nature of the quest fails to hook us properly as well, and while the script attempts to provide a tangible antagonist to fight, said antagonist proves to be (literally) nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

 

We’re left, then, with Reepicheep: easily one of Narnia’s most beloved characters who has a chance to strut his stuff here. Pegg nails the character’s fanciful side in a way that Eddie Izzard never did in Prince Caspian and of all of Dawn Treader’s figures, he comes the closest to evoking the swashbuckling spirit to which it aspires. Unfortunately, the rest of the film can’t follow suit: too bland, too shopworn and too uninspired to do more than fill in the blanks. Hopefully, Reepicheep’s partner Eustace can give things a boost in the fourth entry… assuming the series survives long enough to reach it.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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okonomiyaki4000 12/11/2010 4:34:55 AM

 "Three movies in and they’re running out of gas."

WTF? The first one was awful already. No reason to make any more after that. In fact, why did they even make the first one? 

dojen1 12/11/2010 5:45:51 AM

Why did they even make the first one? Oko, what do YOU think constitutes a good movie? Sexy school girls in skimpy plaid skirts with their undies showing? (Typical perverse anime fare) I guess my taste is all in my mouth, because I thought the first film was very good. "Prince Caspian" dragged a bit in places, but was a compelling story with a lot to say about man's notion of "we have a right to conquer; we're men!" Lewis' books ARE difficult to bring to film properly, but one should never expect a movie to do a book justice. I'm looking forward to seeing this. Sometimes I think we've become too jaded in our expectations of films. Crews of hundreds work lovingly for months on end to create them, and we dismiss them as "crap"...why? Not enough explosions? I'll give Dawn Treader a chance and watch with an open mind.  Rob, you may not have liked it, but your review was well done.

reefass 12/11/2010 6:04:00 AM

Mania is losing their fan base often degrading good movies such as Chronicles Of Narnia as well as others this site is begining to suck!!!

ChadDerdowski 12/11/2010 7:28:26 AM

I'm not sure I understand your comments, reefass... are you saying that Rob should lie in his reviews?  That he should falsify his feelings about a film in order to protect the fanbase of a website?  

Let's imagine, for a moment, that Rob reviews chocolate cakes in lieu of films.  If Rob ate a cake made of human feces, should he lie to you and tell you it's the most delicious chocolate he's ever tasted so that he doesn't lose the website's fanbase?

Hey... some people enjoy cakes made of human feces.  And that's cool - I'm not trying to insult them.  But if someone tries to pass off a feces cake as a chocolate cake, it's Rob's job to tell you that you're gonna have to wash the taste of crap out of your mouth.  And if you disagree with him, that's cool too.

I hope this clears up any confusion about Rob's reviews, Aslan's alleged Christianity and the fine chocolate cakes that we're baking in the Mania offices.

Wiseguy 12/11/2010 10:32:55 AM

While I won't argue the grade  I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. Let's keep in mind it is targeted at kids, unlike LOTR it doesn't delve too deeply into "evil" if you will and stays away from most things graphic. In the world we live where cynicism is the order of the day, along with sassiness and morbidness most films that keep it simple and wholesome just don't do the job for most of today's pessimistic, acrimonious and sarcastic viewers/critics.

But yeah, I probably would've gave it a B, maybe an A if referring it to kids. I did laugh at that Ghostbusters moment.

And agree with Rob, Eustace did turn out to be the best character of the movie by the end

mac2j 12/11/2010 1:11:58 PM

I pretty much agree 100% with this review... I've been pretty roundly underwhelmed by the Narnia movies.

Maybe its what Wiseguy said ... "they're targeted at kids".... my problem is that they're targetted at either little kids or kids that grew up in the 50s or something.   They look nice - the acting is "fine" - but there is no sense ... no emotion .... no threat .... nothing real or gritty about them.

I guess the most concise way to make my point is to compare the LWW movie to the LWW animated movie.  In the animated movie you feel the fear and suspense.... you pine for Tumnus.... you feel that the betrayal by the younger brother could bring terrible consequences for everyone ... you even hate him for it .... and that was made for children also.  But in the Disney version I felt none of those things ... everything was bright and breezy and fixed in no time ... Aslan's sacrifice meant nothing ...

All these movies are just ok .... but they could have been much better - they really don't do the books justice even acknowledging the problems inherent  in bringing these stories to the screen.

ActionMovieGod 12/11/2010 3:42:20 PM

You people are too picky sometimes i swear....

jsmulligan 12/11/2010 4:46:37 PM

Couldn't disagree more.  I thought it was an enjoyable movie.  Some lovely cinematography (though the smaller budget was noticable in the scale, I think), well acted, good character interaction.  Sure, the plot is a little skimpy, but that is an issue with the source material.

karas1 12/11/2010 6:43:58 PM

I saw the film today and loved it.  It doesn't have to be dark and gritty.  I'm tired of gritty.  I thought the tone of the film was just fine.

And that was one heck of a sea serpent.  The dragon was great too.

HotDogs 12/12/2010 4:30:51 PM

The first movie was missing something major that made it kind of sad.  There were battles, wars, fighting, not one damn drop of blood was shed.  There was a sacrifice yet there was no blood.  I'm sure for some of you thats a good thing but not for me.

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