With Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Will Poulter, Gary Sweet. Directed by Michael Apted. Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action. 115 minutes.
So, has there been a big groundswell from moviegoers for more Narnia movies? While the C. S. Lewis novels have a strong following, the movies have not engendered the excitement of the “Harry Potter” or the “Lord Of The Rings” series, with fans eagerly anticipating the next installment. To the contrary, while the first film, “The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe,” was well-received in 2005, the 2008 follow-up, “Prince Caspian,” ought to have demonstrated that this allegorical fantasy series was already played out.
However, they had not yet done a Narnia film in 3D, the magic elixir which makes bad movies good and great movies into masterpieces. Or, at least, it lets movie theaters charge a premium for tickets for 3D showings. That may be the real reason that THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER comes lumbering into theaters this week, and not because anyone actually cares about these characters.
The younger of the four siblings, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie (Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes), are back, enduring World War II in England while staying with their bratty and unpleasant cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). This time it is a painting that draws them into the magic realm of Narnia where Lucy wishes she was beautiful like her older sister and Edmund is glad to be a prince rather than just a put-upon schoolboy. They are reunited with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) and are soon fighting slave traders, one-footed invisible creatures, and an evil force which wants to prevent them from reuniting Aslan’s seven swords.
Aslan the Lion (voiced by Liam Neeson) was intended by Lewis to represent Jesus and in case anyone missed that point it’s made in a particularly heavy-handed fashion here. Mostly, though, the movie is about watching the brother and sister, and their unbearably obnoxious cousin, going through the motions of their quest and waiting for the film to end. It’s not very interesting, and while fans of fantasy may find occasional moments of cleverness or of the fantastic, for the most part the proceedings are rather dull.
The 3D effects, obviously added in post-production, are so unnecessary that one is able to watch long stretches of the film without the special glasses. The acting is similarly bland and forgettable, except for Poulter. His character is meant to be a selfish and pompous twit, rendering his performance to the cinematic equivalent of fingernails on the blackboard. Since the ending implies that this is the character who will be returning to Narnia in a subsequent adventure, one can only hope that film is never made.
On one level, “The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader” is innocuous, and families inclined to go for its “wholesome” aspect will probably find what they are seeking. That is all well and good, but it doesn’t make it an entertaining film nor turn it into the equivalent of the Potter or Rings series. Instead, this is a voyage to nowhere that may actually keep young viewers from reading the books.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.