So there I was, sitting in my seat awaiting the start of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third film in the series. As I tore open the plastic bag containing a set of 3D glasses, I came to a worrying realization: Although I remembered greatly enjoying the previous Narnia film, Prince Caspian, I had by now forgotten just about everything concerning the plot and the characters. Would that mean I would be lost watching this new film? Fantasies are a great cinematic distraction, but if they’re part of an epic series released over several years, keeping track of key events can be next to impossible. To my surprise and relief, the film makes the occasional reference to previous events but doesn’t dwell upon them. In other words, I was allowed to forget the previous films, sit back, and immerse myself in nearly two hours of pure entertainment.
Adapted from the novel by C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader begins with a painting that gushes water into a bedroom and ends with a battle between a ship and a sea serpent; in between, we encounter fairy tale creatures, witness acts of magic, and follow the leads on a quest to save Narnia – and themselves – from slave trading and the forces of darkness. I guess what I’m saying is that this movie is a fun, exciting, great-looking fantasy adventure that adults and children will enjoy. That it has joined the 3D bandwagon is really of no concern to me, since the process is now about as commonplace as drive-in theaters were fifty years ago. See it in that format if that’s what you prefer. I personally think everyone would be much better off saving themselves a couple of bucks and sticking to traditional 2D.
At the beginning of the film, we find the youngest Pevensie siblings, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), spending the summer holiday with their uncle and insufferable cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), who does nothing but complain, complain, complain. Their older siblings, Susan and Peter (cameos by Anna Popplewell and William Moseley), have matured enough to start living their own lives; Susan in particular has joined her parents on a trip to America. Thanks to a painting of a ship at sea, Edmund, Lucy, and cousin Eustace are transported back to Narnia where they board the Dawn Treader and reunite with King Caspian (Ben Barnes, who seems to have forgotten the Spanish accent he used in the previous film) and the swashbuckling talking mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg).
Caspian’s mission is to seek out the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia. The Pevensies are happy to tag along, but Eustace is not; he’s far too rational and proper to believe that a magical world could ever exist. As he continues to make life difficult for everyone, the Dawn Treader sails from one island to the next claiming the swords of the Lost Lords with the intent of gathering them at the table of the great lion Lord Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). Our intrepid leads will engage in a number of harrowing adventures, including encounters with a band of slave traders, one-legged troll creatures, a pond that turns ordinary objects into gold, an evil green mist, and a dark island that can bring to life one’s darkest fears. Caspian and the Pevensies will have to resist temptation numerous times along the way; Lucy must not wish herself as beautiful as her sister, Edmund must not hunger for more power, and Caspian must not think he was a disappointment to his father.
Since the Pevensies have been well established, let’s focus on Eustace. Say the word “Eustace” – does it not sound an awful lot like “useless”? At the start, he’s exactly that. But then he goes through … a transformation, and by the end of the film, he proves himself more useful than most of the other characters combined. He initially has a contentious relationship with Reepicheep, who continuously taunts him for his profound lack of adventure and skill. In due time, they will become friends, which is just about right for this kind of film. As for Poulter’s performance, he has the whiny, stuck up, snot-nosed twit stereotype down to a tee.
There’s an unfortunate tendency for fantasy epics – especially ones adapted from books – to be so overloaded with material that they alienate general audiences and appeal only to those intimately familiar with their sources. What I’ve been enjoying about the Narnia films is that, while all connected by recurring characters and themes, each chapter is generally self contained. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader could have easily existed within a closed universe, defined by a plot that only an elite few would understand or care about. Fortunately, director Michael Apted and writers Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Michael Petroni had all audiences in mind. This includes people like me, people who like a film at the moment it’s being watched but don’t necessarily retain any information about it afterward.
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20th Century Fox