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Review: 'Voyage Of The Dawn Treader' Is A Cruise Ship To Inanity

by Gabe Toro
December 6, 2010 10:48 AM
18 Comments
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In “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader,” we return to the Pevensie siblings and their adventures across the mystic lands. However, because the last film, “Prince Caspian,” didn’t exactly set the world on fire, we get everything at a discount: hence, instead of four Pevensies, we get two. Sea serpents don’t just pay for themselves. What a world that would be.

It’s always something magical but eerily unexplained in the 'Narnia' films that gets the kids to the fantastical realm. In the first one, it was a closet, and the second a whizzing train, but here, it’s a painting. The children hang it up on the wall of their dwellings, another drab British abode populated by their cousin and his father (the latter unseen, because the production could only afford so many faces). The cousin of note is played by Will Poult, the young bully from “Son Of Rambow,” who here plays Eustace, a nitpicking worrywort who might as well wear a shirt that screams, “ATHEIST.” He’s a pacifist who doesn’t believe in fantasy and fairy tales, and spends his time reading, as he puts it, “books with FACTS.” Little charmer.


Little Edmund (the DC Comics-sounding Skandar Keynes) is now 16, but determined to prove himself with an eye towards enlisting in the army. The assumption is that, when pressed, he will tell people of his considerable war experience battling fairies and dwarfs in Narnia, but nosy sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) puts the kibosh on this idea. She, too, is battling her own inadequacies: now a full-grown teenager, she yearns to have the beauty of her older sister, who previously romanced Teen Beat dreamboat Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes). While a pretty young girl in her own right, reality dictates this is one of those problems that just can’t be resolved.

But why bother with reality when the Pevensies and their cousin are swept away into magic-land via magical painting? In an instant, they are floating at sea, the watercolors engulfing their bedroom in a wave of Jesus liquid. Conveniently in the territory of real-world-painting-nexuses, the now-King Caspian and his crew are sailing nearby, and they rescue the children and bring them aboard the ship. Long story short, is there an evil that needs to be vanquished? Do they need children to bear weapons to get out of this mess? Is there a minotaur? Does Simon Pegg voice a chivalrous, sword-fighting CGI mouse? If you’ve seen a 'Narnia' film, none of this will be a surprise. If you’ve seen 'Harry Potter,' none of this will be a surprise. Hell, if you’ve seen “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” or “Eragon,” your attention span will handle it with one eye open.

Most of the action is seabound (read: on a tacky set) with a couple of adventures off the shore. One of them involves the children arriving at a small village where they are kidnapped and sold into slavery by swarthy men in robes and headdress. Lest you feel that Disney wouldn’t release a scene where one of the Pevensies is auctioned off to an obvious rapist, calm your concerns: Fox is handling the distribution this time. Whole new ballgame.

The assumed strength of the 'Narnia' movies, the notion that there is no limit to the magic present, is also a weakness. Every territory lends itself to its own spells and intrigue, meaning that there appear to be no rules to the action onscreen whatsoever. Well, unless you consider Aslan the gatekeeper. The furry lion overlord who sounds a lot like Oskar Schindler keeps showing up in their time of need. And by time of need, we mean when Lucy is looking in the mirror praying for beauty tips. Or when Eustace needs to be changed into a dragon to become a “believer.” Or when he wants to show off Heaven. Things like that.

As a result, Narnia keeps throwing things at these kids. You’re not supposed to raise a stink when you realize that a group of pathetic, invisible, one-legged dwarfs are at the bottom of the Narnia caste system, which seems messed up when they lead Lucy to a magical book of spells they can‘t read. Blame the weak education system for one-legged dwarfs in this Narnian ghetto. These spells sit in this book during a climactic battle with sea serpents (“Sea serpents?” one character wonders incredulously while standing next to a giant, sassy Minotaur) because they would alter too much about the characters and cause them to, apparently, believe in themselves just that much less. It’s fear of change and victory for the status quo that fuels the 'Narnia' imagination machine -- the movies seem to be one real step removed from a genuine horror film in their “return of the repressed” story beats.

Three movies into the 'Narnia' series, this style of filmmaking has simply become cynical and perfunctory. Part of this comes from the staid direction of Michael Apted, a skilled storyteller and capable journeyman who seems lost with the intricate CGI-battles. The first two films benefited from the competent technical skill of animation vet Andrew Adamson. Apted, by comparison, has essayed a number of smaller character dramas, but with no actual characters to mind, he’s lost aping the imaginatively bankrupt visual vocabulary of every single fantasy movie that’s arrived before and ignoring the limitations of the visual effects in easily the worst the series has seen yet. More predictably, the 3D, from a post-conversion process, is flat and unconvincing, muting the film’s sole visual flourish, the vibrancy of the bright blue ocean setting. This is thrown into sharp focus with the film’s failure of visual geography -- Apted fails to hide the fact that the sets are much smaller this time around, shooting them as if they were expansive dioramas and not a couple of square feet in a studio somewhere.

Did we mention the plot, involving some MacGuffin-fueled chase for seven bearded Gandalfs (called “Lords,“ but clearly just a squad of Ian McKellen impersonators), hinges on the Earth being flat? Not only is Narnia’s sorta-Earth one-sided, but at the end of the world, instead of falling off, you arrive at an actual Heaven? It’s one of many instances 'Narnia' uses to flatter ignorance, though the simplistic Christian overtones of these films seem more of a sad portrayal of the inane sturm und drang of studio fantasy films than any specific backwards celebration of faith. Like the characters approaching the fringes of the Earth, the good bet is that this series has reached the end of the road. We couldn’t be happier. [D-]

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18 Comments

  • Kate | January 1, 2011 9:46 AMReply

    The problem with the review is that it hates C.S. Lewis' concepts, and the reviewer hasn't read the books or seen the film. It is set during WW II; Peter and Susan are very clearly in America, as noted in a letter read at the beginning of the film. Edmond, an experienced soldier in Narnia, attempts to enlist in the British army, but Lucy accidentally prevents him. The now teenagers find a picture hanging in Eustace's spare bedroom. And so forth.

    :Jesus liquid"?? A remarkably silly remark. OK, you're an atheist. The film doesn't care.

  • tyler | December 8, 2010 1:59 AMReply

    I am very happy that this review brought out the loonies. Terrible movie.

    By Gabe Toro on December 7, 2010

    Typical bs from the author just a quick hit and run without adressing ANY of the comments not all are bad why even have them?

    I LOATHE the Narnia series but this review barely touches the problems in the movie as mostly all non-indie reviews in this site just, don´t review them is a waste of yours and our time.

    I wish this site just published news because all of the editorials and reviews are amateur, baldy written and would be thrown out at any legitimate publication without a second glance. You are good at reporting stories stick with that.

  • Gabe Toro | December 8, 2010 1:41 AMReply

    Tyler,

    The studio wants us to cover the movie. By writing a review, we are doing so. Unfortunately, the movie is not worth any further bandwidth. Sad truth. Better luck next time, Narnians.

  • JB | December 7, 2010 11:49 AMReply

    It's fantasy and Ben Barnes is in it...that's enough for me to be entertained. Forget politics, religion and argument...if you don't like it don't watch it again...I'm looking forward to seeing it and spending a couple of hours with my head somewhere else.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | December 7, 2010 9:40 AMReply

    Samson, while we're playing the 'let's quote G.K. Chesterton game:

    "...let there be one single-clause bill [enacting] that every Jew must be dressed like an Arab... If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious... The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land."

    So, you know, pretty thin ice.

    More importantly, the idea that a reviewer has to know the story before they see the film adaptation is a ridiculous one. The point of a movie absolutely should be "to entertain you in some new way;" if it only works if you know, and have drunken the Kool-Aid on, the source material, it's broken.

    Top review, Gabe.

  • Leo | December 7, 2010 7:22 AMReply

    Reviewer-dude. It's an allegory/fantasy. If you know the underlying story, you can understand the characters and events. If you don't understand the story, the hope is that you will. The purpose of the movie is not to entertain you in some new way, but to tell the story.

  • Nyssa | December 7, 2010 6:16 AMReply

    Speaking of inanity...how about that review? Nevermind the aforementioned lame jokes or the obvious lack of appreciation for fantasy -this review was a waste of time. Should the movie makers be critized for failing to successfully adapt the substance and spirit of C. S. Lewis' story? Definitely. But this reviewer's work is even sloppier than that which he condemns. Should the moviegoer need to read Dawn Treader to understand the movie? No. Though in general I prefer it when movies are as true to the stories that inspired them as possible, I'll admit that departures sometimes work.

    This situation is different, however. The reviewer should have read Dawn Treader before wasting words on problems just as fantastical as the fairies and dwarves he sneers at. Legitimate flaws, such as bad acting, bad writing, bad directing, bad sets, bad camera work or the use of 3D (a gimmick used by many movies and appropriate in few) should have been discussed in regard to their effectiveness in conveying the story. But the reviewer knew nothing about the story. Perhaps the movie is so horrifically bad that nothing was explained, but perhaps this lazy reviewer was simply too dumb to understand the story (in which case reading the book won't
    help anyway).

    As for the issue of Christian influence in The Chronicles of Narnia: I'm an agnostic bordering on atheism, and I adore the books. That said, whether or not there is a God has as much to do with the flaws or merits of this movie as the reception of Prince Caspian had to do with Peter's and Susan's absences from Dawn Treader.

  • Gabe Toro | December 7, 2010 6:02 AMReply

    I am very happy that this review brought out the loonies. Terrible movie.

  • Eed San Crozet | December 7, 2010 5:34 AMReply

    I think that, actually, both sides of this argument are at least partially correct. First of all, I do agree that the art of the film should stand alone. You should not have to read every book every film is based on to be able to understand the film's merit. For example, Howl's Moving Castle is, in my opinion, a very beautiful-looking film with a nostalgic charm. And it doesn't follow the book at all. Twilight followed its book to the point of madness, and was a puke-drenched abomination. I have never read The Exorcist, but I can still appreciate the film. Also, just because something is in the source material, this does not mean that it should be in the film. I think that we can all be happy that the rat scene from American Psycho was (thank God!) never filmed. So, whether or not a plot point was in the book does not mean that it translated well on screen. If the voyage comes across as a pointless, CGI romp through allegory land, fed by contrived motivation, and spurred along by mishandled appearances by Aslan, I am going to guess the plot did not translate well. Could it translate well? I think so. Nearly anything can be turned into a good film (see The Social Network). But, the approach may have been wrong. (It was 3D, so my guess is... it was wrong.)
    That being said, the review really did not help me very much. I had to infer a lot from the critique, since much of it seemed like an anti-Lewis rant. Now, I know Lewis is out of vogue, thanks to every word out of Philip Pullman's mouth for the past eight billion years (he's surprisingly older than you might think...). However, I felt like this desire to be in the cool (although, really, are His Dark Materials fans actually "cool", or just fantasy nerds with the legitimacy of controversy to lend some pretentiousness to their tales of talking animals and flying witches and daring children going against big, mean, evil empires?) hurt the review. Are the points silly because they are Lewis, or are they just silly because the film is bad? The film looks terrible, so I'm guessing it was poorly executed. However, would this reviewer have liked any adaptation of the book? I have no idea.
    Anyway, I doubt I'll see this, because I don't really like fantasy (not since I was in early high school), and the movies seem hell-bent on destroying my childhood memories with gross commercialism. That being said, I didn't particularly like this review, either.

  • Pilar | December 7, 2010 4:00 AMReply

    La crítica del artículo me parece fuera de lugar, mezcla el contenido con palabras como cristianismo o Jesús, y lo relaciona con el niño al que no creía en los cuentos de hadas, es una analogía que NO viene al caso.
    El asusto del bien y el mal es también tratado en EL señor de los anillos, y su crítica fue buena inclusive ganó varios Oscar.
    Para mi la película es muy buena, contando que se hizo con bajo presupuesto para efectos especiales, POR SUPUESTO que espero la siguiente entrega, con BEN BARNES, quien me recuerda a Leonardo Dicaprio en sus comienzos.

  • Samson | December 7, 2010 3:53 AMReply

    It's Christian, therefore it has to be hated.

    "There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions."

    "If there were no God, there would be no atheists."

    - G.K. Chesterton

  • Wash | December 7, 2010 2:18 AMReply

    Gentlemen, a movie should be graded on its merit as a film. Poor writing or characterization are not justified simply because they were "in the book". The movie isn't being graded for accuracy, its being graded on its entertainment value and execution in this medium, film.

  • Mike | December 7, 2010 2:16 AMReply

    Well, Justin, some people react to "Christian" movies by bringing out the claws and overlooking the obvious.

    To wit: It's Eustace, not Eustache. How on earth did an allegedly capable movie reviewer not know that?

  • Thom | December 7, 2010 1:13 AMReply

    Yes, all these things are true of the book.

    That doesn't excuse the movie of being a big, muddled pile of "meh." Apted - or the writers or producers - dropped the ball here. Not much a ball to drop IMHO as the previous Narnia flicks are forgettable diversions.

  • Simon | December 7, 2010 12:30 AMReply

    It "being in the book" is never an excuse to put something bad in a movie.

  • Justin | December 7, 2010 12:05 AMReply

    This is not "Earth". Narnia is another world (like another dimension). It can be flat if it wants to. The 7 "Gandalfs" are really old advisors to Caspian's that have been missing for years. They should have beards. Christian overtones are essential to Narnia. Aslan is the God of Narnia from the beginning to the end of the books. Focus on the "bad directing", "lousy sets", or "bad special effects" before you ridicule a classic story.

  • Greg | December 7, 2010 12:03 AMReply

    Yes, please read the book. Most of the book IS set on a ship, they DO a lot of island-hopping, and your jokes ARE lame. Read the book and then you'll see why the movie seems so confusing to you . The grade should be a C+ at best.

  • Justin | December 6, 2010 11:50 AMReply

    It might be a good idea to be just a little familiar with the book before you villify the movie for trying to stay faithful to it. Edmund and Lucy are the only 2 of the 4 in it because they are the only two in the book! Peter and Susan are told at the end of Prince Caspian that there are not coming back to Narnia. Pretty much everything you mention, like flat Narnia, sea serpents, Aslan appearing, one legged dwarfs, etc. are IN THE BOOK!

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