Michael Apted | 108 mins | TV (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | PG / PG
I’ve never actually read the Narnia novels, but I did have them read to me when I was very young and, for some reason, I remember Voyage of the Dawn Treader being my favourite. Sadly, this doesn’t quite translate to the big screen.
We’re re-introduced to the younger two Pevensie siblings, still during World War 2, staying with their irritating cousin Eustace. They are of course sucked into Narnia, this time much closer to their last visit: Prince— sorry, King Caspian is searching for some missing chaps, giving a nice excuse for a quest narrative across the seven seas. Or however many seas there are in Narnia.
What that means, unfortunately, is two things that often cause films trouble: an episodic narrative, and a surfeit of different locations and creatures. There’s no shortage of ambition in their rendering on screen, but the film sadly comes up short on occasion. Despite director Michael Apted’s experienced hand on the wheel, the course strays into Syfy Channel TV movie territory at times, with a kind of cheapness that won’t please anyone (though, of course, some simply won’t notice). Elsewhere, sequences that were surely fine in a children’s novel sit awkwardly amidst the grander, Lord of the Rings-y tone these adaptations strive for. By contrast, the epic finale is actually quite scary, surely stretching the bounds of the modern PG certificate… or possibly just demonstrating why more 12As could stand to be rated PG.
Then there’s the ending, which is all a problem sourced from the novel. While The Golden Compass was forced to downplay its atheism in an attempt to garner lucrative box office from grimly non-secular countries, like the United States (which ultimately did it no favours because the news that it was Ungodly and Evil had already got out), Dawn Treader offers no such courtesy with C.S. Lewis’ blatant Christ analogy version of Aslan. I never noticed this when I was little, but as a grown adult it is painful. The level of subtlety here is so low a participant in TOWIE or one of those other dreadful shows would surely be able to grasp that the film is screaming, “here’s Jesus, and that place behind the water is Heaven, and you should all aspire to this!” And it goes on, and on, and begins to feel like nasty propaganda, especially in a family movie.
I actually quite liked Dawn Treader while I was watching it, the distasteful final sequence aside. But looking back, I was kindly glossing over some of its flaws, even before the nasty taste you’re left with at the end. Nonetheless it hasn’t killed the franchise, with a fourth entry recently announced, at long last. I’ll catch that at some point, but, sadly, I’m in no hurry to revisit this one.
This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2013. Read more here.