Tuesday, December 21, 2010

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

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" *** (out of ****)

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (2010) gives the Narnia series a much needed boast, but, it may not matter in the end, as this may represent the conclusion of the series. However, the film is better than "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (2008). But falls slightly short of the original film, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005).

I've often complained that the Narnia series lacks a certain amount of movie magic. The films aren't told with fascination and joy. The audience isn't "wowed" by the world of Narnia. The film doesn't take delight in introducing us to its characters and make us feel we are witnessing something special. "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" however does have moments of splendor and grandeur. A few times I sat in awe of the special effects and took some delight in where this latest Narnia adventure would lead us.

Watching these Narnia films it has been my opinion that Narnia doesn't exist. The world was created by our lead characters' imagination. They created this world in order to deal with the troubled world of WW2 London. The children's father is a solider fighting abroad. Their mother has not been seen since the first film. They are separated from their family. And as our heroes grow older they face the same identity issues all teenagers face. It is during these moments of great emotional stress when the children have found themselves in Narnia in every film.

There is a key line in "Voyage of the Treader" which is spoken by Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) a wise, old talking lion. He tells one of the characters to remember each life has value. Do not wish to be something else. Learn to appreciate who you are and what you have. That ladies and gentlemen has been the theme of these Narnia films, especially this last (?) adventure.

In "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" the characters learn three lessons dealing with beauty, bravery and the power of imagination. Each one of these themes will have a profound effect on these characters. Lessons which will have an ever lasting effect on their lives.

There are a lot of changes in this latest Narnia adventure. As was suggested at the end of "Prince Caspian" two of the Pevensie children are not along for the journey; Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley). They were the two oldest children. In order to explain their disappearance we are told they are in America with their father. But, because of the war the remaining two; Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skander Keynes) cannot travel. It would be far too dangerous. So, they live with their cousin and we are introduced to a new character, Eustice (Will Poulter) their spoiled, all logical cousin, who feels superior to Lucy and Edmund, especially when he hears their fairy tales about Narnia.

Between Lucy and Edmund, it is Edmund which seems to have grown the most. The movie opens with him trying to enlist in the war. He is tired of being treated like a child. He complains in Narnia he is a king, he fought in battles and lead men. Here, in the real world, he feels useless. He wants to prove to others his bravery. He is a man. Lucy however retains a naive innocent child's mentality. During one moment in the film she seems so pure that she doesn't even have fearful thoughts, she doesn't even feel temptation. She will eventually learn that one day we must all grow up.

That aspect of the film reminds me of Peter Pan. Narnia was a vessel for these children to learn about growing up. In the first two films, Peter, must also learn lessons of bravery and leadership. He must take care of his brother and sisters since he is the oldest one. Now with Peter gone, Edmund feels he too must now step up the challenge. The reason Peter and Susan are not in this film is because at the end of "Prince Caspian" Aslan tells them, they have learned all they can from Narnia. Meaning they have become adults and just like in Peter Pan, when you become an adult you lose your imagination.

The introduction of the Eustice character is two-fold. It is Eustice who learns the power of imagination. Eustice is only concerned with facts and the real world. He has no time to read fairy tales. As he goes along with Lucy and Edmund on their adventure he discovers sometimes we need an escape from reality. His character's other importance to the story is if these Narnia adventures continue we will be going on his adventures. He will pick up where the Pevensie children left off.

Other changes to the Narnia world is Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is no longer a prince, now he is a king. And for the first time Narnia is at peace. There are no wars. All the creatures of Narnia live in harmony and without fear.

This time around the adventure revolves around King Caspian and the gang trying to track down the legendary seven swords of the lords as they sail on uncharted waters. They need the swords because of a powerful, deadly mist which slave traders sacrifice human life to. The only way to stop the mist will be to place all seven swords on Aslan's table.

We eventually learn this adventure will take them to a dreaded island where once they land their deepest, darkest fears will come true. This sub-plot actually reminded me of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (2005). It is on this island the final sword has been placed.

One of the problems I've had with the Narnia films is the human characters aren't interesting. The Pevensie children aren't really memorable characters. King Caspian is rather dull and boring. The most memorable characters were the non-human ones; Tumnus (James McAvoy), the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), Aslan, Beaver (voice of Ray Winston) and in these last two films a swashbuckler mouse, Reepicheep (voice of Simon Pegg). The problem is C.S. Lewis killed off a majority of these characters after the first film. This hurts the films because we have no characters which we are emotionally connected to. And the films no longer have an effective villain.

Directing "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is Michael Apted, taking over for Andrew Adamson, who directed the first two films. Apted has directed titles such as "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988), the Jennifer Lopez vehicle "Enough" (2002) and the James Bond outing "The World Is Not Enough" (1999). With Apted at the helm, "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is actually the shortest of the three films. It has the most action and probably the best special effects. It also has some darker moments. Some of these moments, one including a sea battle with a giant serpent like animal, may turn out to be too scary for younger viewers.

The script was adapted by the same team which adapted the first two films; Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus and a new name was brought in, Michael Petroni, who wrote "Queen of the Damned" (2002).

As I said "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is a better film than "Prince Caspian" and is probably the kind of sequel most viewers where expecting from the series. But it may be too late. After the disappointing box-office of "Caspian" even Disney dropped out and decided not to distribute this film, 20th Century Fox did instead. "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" seems to suggest this is the end of the line, even though more books do exist. I don't believe though that those novels will be filmed and to be quite honest, I don't think I personally want to go back to Narnia again.

"Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is an entertaining film with lots to say about beauty, bravery, imagination and growing up. There is more to the film than what is on the surface. And that will give audience members, who are old enough, something to think about.