By Susan JAMES
Fast-paced and gorgeously photographed in 3D, director Michael Apted’s new chapter in The Chronicles of Narnia, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” works hard to seduce audiences into believing that the C.S. Lewis fantasy franchise is at the peak of its powers. Easily the best of the three Narnia films, “Dawn Treader” tries for a kids’ version of “Pirates of the Caribbean” seen through the eyes of its young central characters Lucy and Edmund Pevensie.
It is World War II in London and for reasons never explained, the Pevensie parents and two elder siblings, Susan and Peter, have sailed off to America, leaving the two younger kids behind in England with relatives. Among those relatives is a particularly nasty young cousin named Eustace, who enjoys taunting the pair. Edmund and Lucy long to rejoin their family but when this seems impossible they begin to daydream about Narnia. While examining a seascape in Lucy’s bedroom, the magical painting begins to pour out the ocean through the frame and before you can say Aslan, Edmund, Lucy and the annoying Eustace are treading water in a Narnian sea.
Rescued by the crew of the royal ship Dawn Treader, they find an old friend, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), on a quest to seek out seven vanished lords who were banished by Caspian’s evil late uncle to a group of distant islands. Accompanying the prince as his lieutenant is the mouse warrior Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg), who undertakes the challenging mission of turning the irritating Eustace into a true Narnian hero.
When the voyagers reach the Lone Isles, they find not the lost lords but a place overrun by pirates. Doubling as slave traders, the pirates are sacrificing boatloads of humans to a strange green sea fog that swallows them up. The crew of the Dawn Treader defeats the pirates but haunted by the fog (think amorphous Dementors), it sails on to a further island controlled by a magician named Drinian, who explains that the source of the fog is located on yet a third island, one where unnamed evil dwells. Following a blue star the ship sets sail for the place to destroy the resident evil by placing the swords of the seven lost lords on Aslan’s table.
While the battle of good versus evil underpins all of the fantasy films of the last four decades, for a movie to work well there has to be a tangible focus for both forces. Harry versus Voldemort, Aragorn, Frodo and company versus Sauron and Saruman, Luke and Leila versus Darth Vardar. Evil shown as a green fog on a barren island just doesn’t make the cut for riveting drama, nor does the lack of a fully identifiable hero. Edmund and Lucy, while well-intentioned, lack heroic stature and Caspian, like Legolas in “Lord of the Rings” or Will Turner in “Pirates of the Caribbean” needs an Aragorn or a Jack Sparrow to lead the way and dominate the action.
“Narnia” is all about visuals and in the end, its scattergun story gets lost in a beautifully shot CGI mist.
See you at the movies!