Starring: Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes, Georgie henley, Will Poulter, Tilda Swinton, (the voices of) Simon Pegg, Liam Neeson
Director: Michael Apted
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni, C.S. Lewis (novel)
Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
Original Score: David Arnold
Running Time: 115 mins.
New director, new studio, the latest instalment of the Narnia saga comes at us refreshed and revitalised after the last episode, Prince Caspian stalled at the box office. Not a flop as such but it was a franchise that demanded a big budget to bring it to life, something past studio Disney seemed unwilling to lavish on what it must have considered a dead horse, clearly seeing some potential it has been saved by Fox for which many fans I suspect will be grateful, especially given that in it’s new home it has found potentially the most exciting story in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader along with the a new director in Michael Apted and the culling (save a brief cameo or two) of two of the weakest actors as the focus switches to Lucy and Edmund.
On the upside Narnia is in keeping with the past two films though in that respect it also shares the same flaws as those films did along with a couple of extras thrown in to boot, these aren’t the kind of things that can spoil the film but they very much leave it wallowing in the wake of much better fantasy adaptations such as The Lord of the Rings, and the more obvious Harry Potter, particularly unfortunate bearing in mind the short release gap between this and Potter 7a only a few weeks ago.
Where the boy wizard is slipping into very dark territory however, as all franchises seem to feel the need to do the Narnia series has always, in staying true to the source material, never veered anywhere other than family friendly (and I mean all ages), with the darkest moments to be found in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’s Christ allegory in Aslan. Again this ham-fisted religious sub-text is prevalent, perhaps even more so in some scenes and lines (Aslan, “In your world I go by another name…”) this has always been an issue in the Narnia films and while Caspian veered away from this a little Dawn Treader steers ever closer again. Parable is no bad thing but when handled with the finesse of a sledgehammer it does little more than grate on you as borderline preaching!
Over-looking this, which is subtle enough to ignore until Aslan’s arrival in all fairness, there is enough rollicking action to stop you ever being bored though whether it stands up to repeat viewing is unlikely owing to a far too episodic structure. Where Prince Caspian had a fully formed narrative arc with enough depth to immerse you this time around there seems to be very little at stake with a quest that pulls Edmund, Lucy and cousin Eustace back into Narnia to recover 7 swords to place on a table, for what reason I can’t recall even now. What this does do is allow for plenty of mythical creatures and some great set pieces that excite temporarily but are in truth just exerts from much better films.
Where the film wins a small victory is in some of the performances, not showy but not bland, Reepicheep (this time voiced by Simon Pegg) and Eustace (Will Poulter) make for one of the years better double-acts and are both afforded the more rounded story arcs with everyone else largely reduced to bystanders waiting to react to the next monster or haphazard event, save for Caspian himself. Apted having released Barnes of his annoying latino/Spanish accent seems to act in a much les stilted and more convincing way, looking to be having fun in a part that should be. He is the rollicking centre giving drive in the way that Sam Worthington seemed unable to do in the similar Clash of the Titans, the guy has charisma and a commend that makes him the perfect Caspian.
If only the rest of the events unfolding around him matched that level of consistency and fun and Narnia would edge ever-closer to the other magical franchises it so obviously strives to run with, hopefully if Fox get another crack at the series more of the wrongs will be righted and a great rather than good to middling film will come of Narnia…
Another middling visit to Narnia awaits with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, some pitch-perfect turns make this more than forgettable and some of the effects and magical touches ht the mark but all to often the tone is set to coasting through an episodic and uninvolving nature.