Thursday, December 9, 2010

Third Time Is Not the Charm As the Series Unknowingly Lurches Into Self Parody

Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
115 minutes
Fox 2000 Pictures
** ½ out of 5

Article first published as Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on Blogcritics.

It only took Walt Disney Pictures two outings to give up on the C.S. Lewis book-to-film adaptations of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. While there are seven novels, we are now only up to the third film. If the law of diminishing of returns is any indication, then even Fox 2000 Pictures better get ahead of themselves after witnessing the disastrous entry “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (which also seems to be trying to vie for the year’s longest film title).

Whoever thought Michael Apted a wise choice as director was somewhat misguided. Oh sure, he directed one of the James Bond flicks (“The World Is Not Enough”), but the rest of his resume reads of silly entries into the annals of thriller convention. Ranging from the Jodi Foster/Liam Neeson drama “Nell” to the Hugh Grant/Gene Hackman hospital thriller “Extreme Measures,” the only other so-called “thrillers” he’s had a hand in is that disposable “Bond” entry and the rather silly Jennifer Lopez headlining “Enough.”

Maybe the only film the producers at Disney caught was his “Enigma” because his choice as director causes nothing but that title. Serviceable is the best word to describe his craftsmanship here and I suppose when it comes to family entertainment that should be enough. But after the masterstroke that Disney delivered with “Toy Story 3” this past summer, you’d think that Fox would want something a little more substantial for their big holiday tent pole release. Alas, all we’re left with is enough religious head-bashing to make a summer away at bible school seem subtle.

In “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Lucy and Edmund Pevensie (Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes) are living in Cambridge against their wishes with their aunt and uncle and their intolerable cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter, so brilliant in his “Son of Rambow” debut and on “School of Comedy” yet so awful here). Edmund just wants to fight for his country and Lucy yearns to be as beautiful as her sister. Siblings Susan (Anna Popplewell) and Peter (William Moseley) are nowhere to be found aside from some brief fantasy sequence appearances and lucky them.

One day Eustace, Lucy and Edmund are having a closed-door discussion about how much the two siblings hate being in Cambridge and how much Eustace hates them being there. Suddenly Lucy sees water running from a painting on the wall that looks like something out of Narnia and sure enough the room is flooded with water and they are all transported away to sea where they’re all picked up aboard the “Dawn Treader” captained by Prince Caspian himself (Ben Barnes) who is now King of Narnia. Everyone is quickly informed that they must rescue seven lords to save Narnia from “The Nothing.” Wait… this isn’t a new “NeverEnding Story?” Moving on then.

Lots of swashbuckling marches forth while talking mice and walking oxen crack wise. Meanwhile Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) and The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) make even briefer appearances than Susan and Peter whose characters seem to be needed only to further the production values and budget costs.

Along the way there are also lots of references to both better and worse films. Everything from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, the “Harry Potter” series, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “Lost,” “Army of Darkness,” “Aladdin,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and even “Ghostbusters.” That’s right, “Ghostbusters!” Since when does “Ghostbusters” belong in an allegorical Christian film? Maybe what we didn’t know is that secretly “Ghostbusters” itself was just that? Nope, this film is just that ill-conceived.

With all of the effects thrown at the audience (in another awful 3-D conversion by the way), and the surprisingly quick pace, it appears that all of the blame could be placed on the writers. Working with such a beloved novel to base their screenplay on there’s no reason for everything to be so ham-fisted on screen. When the best thing one can say about this is that at least more happens than in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” it’s still not meant to be a compliment as at least that film they were trying to make a great feature even if they wound up merely pandering to its built-in fan base.

While it may have been since childhood that I read any of the “Narnia” novels, they could never have been so overwrought and even pretentious. When David Fincher’s handling of the seven deadly sins is less brash, something has definitely gone awry. Although I do have to give the production designers kudos for throwing in a last minute “Jurassic Park” reference. If you don’t think the “Clash of the Titans” based kraken lookalike resembles a dilophosaurus then you’ve probably fallen asleep. But on the other hand, the film is far too bombastic to afford even that small pleasure.

Photo courtesy Fox 2000 Pictures

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