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Movie Review – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

The Chronicles of Narnia: The voyage of the Dawn Treader is a pivotal point in the Narnia film series. If it can turn a profit then the remaining films will likely get made.

After the box office disappointment with Prince Caspian, Disney got cold feet on the production and 20th Century Fox took over distribution.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe cost US$180m to make and grossed over US$745 worldwide. Prince Caspian had its production budget ramped up to $225m but only ended up grossing $420m worldwide, and it took its time getting there.

Disney ended up parting company with Walden over the production budget for Dawn Treader. Disney wanted it capped at $100m and Walden wanted it set at $140m.

The price difference between Caspian and Dawn Treader is obvious upon watching. While the action set pieces stack up well in Dawn Treader, the story does not allow for the same large scale epic scenes that both of the first two films produced. It is episodic by nature largely taking place in isolated locations with limited cast numbers. So it lends itself well to a smaller budget.

Shooting for the Dawn Treader was supposed to take place in Malta, Prague and Iceland. When production was delayed 18 months it was shifted to Mexico with some shooting to be done in Australia.

Security concerns in Mexico prompted Walden to end up doing most of the shoot in Australia. Cleveland Point on the Queensland coast was where most of the outdoor filming was done.

Many New Zealand viewers will recognise their own White Island volcano starring as Burnt Island.

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we see Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) Pevensie return to Narnia along with their vile cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter).

Susan and Peter are too old for Narnia now and are living in America with their father as the Second World War still rages.

This story is about the coming of age of Lucy and Edmund as well as the redemption of Eustace. The trio find themselves transported back to Narnia via a painting of a ship at sea.

The ship happens to be the Narnian ship Dawn Treader and on board are old friends Prince (now king) Caspian (Ben Barnes) and Reepicheep (Simon Pegg replacing Eddie Izzard) the mouse.

King Caspian is on a voyage to find out what happened to the lost seven lords of Narnia who had sailed east years before. Reepicheep is onboard hoping that they will discover Aslan’s country in the utter east.

One notable absence in the film is the personification of evil in a single character. Apart from a couple of vapoury appearances by the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) we do no have the archetypal villian to heap our dislike on.

Instead the focus is on defeating the fears and weaknesses that lie within ourselves. As this is essentially a childrens movie the subtlety of this may get lost on some of the younger viewers.

For those of a christian persuasion the themes of defeating internal evil and much of the Narnian theology that Aslan talks about will be instantly recognisable. The depth of C.S. Lewis’s understanding of the christian faith and his ability to articulate it in a non-biblical way is clearly on display here.

Given the subject matter and the confines of the story director Michael Apted (taking over from Andrew Adamson who produces) has done well with Dawn Treader. That is understandable given his previous directing credits include Coal Miners Daughter, Gorilla’s in the Mist and Amazing Grace. He has also proven his action genre skills with the James Bond episode The World is Not Enough.

The special effects are all very passable by todays standards. Where there is some weakness is in the cast where Georgie Henley aside some of the others are lacking in acting ability. At times it felt like we were watching an Aussie TV soap.

Skandar Keynes improved as the film went on and provided some real screen precence by the end. However Ben Barnes as Caspian might be good to look at for the females, but don’t expect any Oscar nominations any time soon.

Steven Knight’s script was weak in parts which is a shame because Apted really needed him to come through with something that enhanced the story, not just tell it. Re-using the classic Shrek line about “shutting him up is the hard part” in reference to the talking mouse (donkey) is a bit lame.

Overall though the film is worth a watch and should ensure that the rest of the Narnia Chronicles gets made. They will not and never could be the box office blockbusters that Disney and Walden hoped were going to rival The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter juggernauts.

They will however, given their more modest production budgets always be likely to turn a tidy profit for their makers. As long as they successfully tap into the large christian viewing catchment.

Three out of Five Stars from me.

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