What do you do when your mildly interesting book-series-to-film adaptation jumps the shark after the first movie, and you still have six more books to go?
The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
At Quality 16
20th Century Fox
Certainly that was the challenge faced by the producers of “The Chronicles of Narnia” films, and you have to admire their determination. Even though Walt Disney Pictures, the original production studio, bowed out after the second film, 20th Century Fox jumped aboard, and the series has pressed on. One miscalculated production after another, they have poured in hundreds of millions of dollars to create fantastic worlds for films that are so cartoonish and laughable that you almost forget they’re based on one of the most celebrated works of children’s literature ever written.
Admittedly, the allegory underlying C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” novels is unsubtle and corny, but there is a certain majestic charm in the characters he created especially for younger readers. None of that translates to film any longer: The latest film in the series, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is an almost vulgarly incompetent production — a thud of disaster for a franchise that actually started out reasonably well with “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe” in 2005.
Two of the Pevensie children, Edmund and Lucy, return in a story set on the decks of a ship in the fantasy world of Narnia. Previously anointed rulers of Narnia by the great Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson, “Taken”), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are joined in their return to Narnia by their silly cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), a bitchy British boy of indistinct intention and purpose. Together, they once again encounter magical people and talking animals before learning a not-so-subtly Christian lesson from a booming lion and being sent back home to wait for the next story.
Business as usual in Narnia. And not a speck of cinematic vision or daring to be found anywhere.
It is said that Lewis himself was very opposed to his stories ever being translated to live-action cinema. He was on to something: There’s only so much you can do to make half-human fawns, talking rats and bison or a Jesus-lion work in a conventional Hollywood blockbuster. And yet, that’s no excuse for the absolute atrocity that is “Dawn Treader”: This material can be handled more competently on film, as well we know from the first movie in the series.
Helmed by Andrew Adamson, “Wardrobe” worked as a fascinating period piece — if one felt inclined to give it some thought — rich with the air and attitude of wartime England. Given that the first film put the silly fawns and talking badgers in their proper roles in this children’s fairytale — maintaining a hint of the real world into which the story was born — it worked on several levels and didn’t need to be defended with defeatist arguments like, “Calm down, it’s just a kid’s movie!”
There is no such introspection or effort in “Dawn Treader.” There’s just a ship, random specters of white mythology (“Lord Such-and-such-ian” — always an old white man with a ridiculous beard), annoying animals and idiotic caricatures of anything that may actually exist in the real world.
And we still have four more films to go! Excited yet?