Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

2010. Dir: Michael Apted. Starring: Geogie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter and Gary Sweet. ●●●○○

As a child I positively devoured C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, expectantly turning each page in a desperate need to find out what happens. I was high on the drama and excitement of the stories, and none more so than The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which as well as having a proper boy's own adventure plot also tapped into my pre-adolescent desire to sail away into the great unknown. Coming back to the story in some way allows me to relive those heady days of youth, however we cannot go back. To use a biblical quote that no doubt Clive Staples would approve of: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Corinthians 13:11.

That is not to say there isn't plenty to enjoy in The Dawn Treader, but before we go on we must remember this is a children's film, adapted from a children's book, with themes and allegorical content that work for children but seem heavily laboured for a 33 year old with no children.

As with the last two films (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian) the story revolves around the Pevensie children who are magically transported to the land of Narnia (a mythical world that borrows heavily from Greek texts and Judeao-Christian theology) via an everyday object - this time it's a picture frame. With the two elder siblings safely packed away to Wartime America Lucy and Edmund (Henley and Keynes) are joined by their obnoxious cousin Eustace, played with elan by Will Poulter. Luckily they appear directly in front of the Dawn Treader, a ship carrying King Caspian on a quest to find the seven missing Lords loyal to his father; or at least loyal until they all ran away and some became obsessed with gold, it's a long story.

The quest to find the seven lords, soon becomes the quest to find their swords and use the swords to defeat an evil mist, and then hopefully be close enough to Aslan's kingdom to take a quick peek.

Each of the chapters in the story, various islands fights and other assorted perils nip by, each with their own style and level of menace. Apted does well to keep the pace about right for the youger audiences with the sense of danger appearing acute but never really life-threatening. Some of the islands have more psychological dangers and it's nice to see they aren't shied away from, trusting the audience to get the beast within feel, whilst the sea serpent at the end is very credibly realised and is a surprisingly complex beastie in terms of it's anatomy.

Will Poulter gives the stand out performance as an unlikeable but sympathetic character, especially in his scenes with Reepicheep the 12 inch computer generated rat voiced by Simon Pegg (replacing Eddie Izzard). Poulter, who also excelled in 2007's Son of Rambow, continues to prove himself a fine actor and one to watch out for overs the years to come.

There are the usual cameos for The Lion (voiced by Liam Neeson) and the Witch (Tilda Swinton) although the later is, unfortunately, only an apparition within the mist, and both of them mainly draw attention to how much the first book is more satisfying and more nuanced a story.

The final scene, almost an epilogue, is a perfect example of the dichotemy at the heart of the film. One the one hand we get some beautiful art direction and overall design features including a wall of water and a sea of flowers as well as the functional yet interesting costume design (interestingly in a 1950's design throwback way where regardless of the conditions on board the Dawn Treader and the extraordinary battles they face all of the sailors retain well tailored clean uniforms). One the other there is some appalling handled dialogue about what it means to go to Aslan's land and how he is known by "another name" in our world.

I guess if I were 9 again I probably would have enjoyed this film very much and would certainly recommend it to children of that age, as it is I can only appreciate it from a distance.

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