Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

2005's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and 2008's Prince Caspian were flavorless but basically tolerable affairs, held back more by their bland casts (outside of Tilda Swinton's White Witch) and visuals, especially cartoony and weightless CGI talking animals, than any deficiencies in the larger plot. But with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Disney has seen fit to bless us with the first Narnia that doesn't just out-and-out suck but is one of the worst movies of the year and could eventually go down as one of the worst of this young decade. Until I saw this movie I was wondering how and if they were planning to adapt all seven of C.S. Lewis's books; now I'm just praying they take this lumbering corpse of a franchise out back and put two through its skull. Congratulations, Lewis, you got me praying after all. Mission accomplished.

Most everyone who's gone through puberty has been purged from the cast. Younger Pevensie siblings Lucy and Edmund are back along with Reepicheep the talking CGI swordsrat and King Caspian the poor man's Orlando Bloom, but Susan and Peter are off in America, reduced to a couple tiny cameos in flashbacks and dreams. Taking their place is Lucy and Edmund's pompous cousin Eustace Scrubb, who spends the entire first half of the movie in histrionics, talking down to people and hating Narnia and everyone in it. While it sounds and is obnoxious, I disagree with reviews that claim he ruined the movie. The movie ruined itself, and shrill asshole or not it was a relief to have at least one character with a personality, more than can be said for either of Eustace's cousins.

Frankly, I wouldn't have cared if they had just cut out the middle men and focused on Caspian and Reepicheep. I doubt there's a single person out there who can claim to be legitimately invested in the Pevensies as characters, because there's nothing there to invest in. In 2010's lamest cinematic subplot, Lucy spends most of the movie fantasizing about being as pretty as her sister Susan. I could sort of relate, because I spent most of the movie fantasizing that she and her brother would fall off the Dawn Treader and drown.

The story picks up three Narnian years after Prince Caspian with Caspian sailing the world on the titular Dawn Treader to find the seven swords of the seven missing lords that will ambiguously defeat some ambiguous evil for some reason upon being reunited. It's the series' most clear-cut adventure movie to date. I hate to use that positively-connotated word, adventure — this is an "adventure" much in the same way that CBS's $h*! My Dad Says is a "comedy" — but it's the best way to differentiate it from the more warfare-based narratives of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and especially Prince Caspain. No armies charging each other here, just lots of sailing and visiting islands with some goofy trap or creature on them. Naturally, we watch Eustace mellow out and become a better person during the journey, which means that when The Silver Chair descends upon us with the cold inevitability of death he'll be just as bland as his cousins.

There is absolutely no explanation why one real-world year amounted to 1,300 Narnian years between the first and second movies but only three Narnian years between the second and this one. If they wanted it to be three Narnian years later the Pevensie kids really should only have had time to take a shit and a shower and then head right back in after Prince Caspian.

It all comes down to a battle against a giant CGI sea monster entirely made up for the film because it's tough to adapt a book that's just a religious parable about going to heaven. It's all pretty boring and weightless but at least I can pretend that it makes up for never getting the battle against Pirates of the Caribbean's Kraken that we were promised in Dead Man's Chest. (It doesn't, but that's why I said "pretend.") Then Aslan shows up and drops some heavyhanded Jesusness on us by talking about how he has a different name in our world and we all must know him by it, which was lame until Aslan's voice actor Liam Neeson hilariously trolled Narnia fans in real life by saying that Aslan could have been talking about Mohammed.

The worst part of the movie is a close call between Lucy dealing with a bunch of invisible one-footed garden dwarves in a scene that feels like it was deleted from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Edmund having visions of the White Witch again (Tilda Swinton is, along with Peter Dinklage in Prince Caspian, far and away the best actor to have graced this series with her live-action presence, but that doesn't mean we need to keep visiting the same well over and over), and Reepicheep telling us "we have nothing, if not belief." Yes, I get it, movie, Jesus rocks! Is that sledgehammer enough to drive the point in or should I run and fetch you a hydraulic press? Voyage of the Dawn Treader was directed by Michael Apted, the same man who in 1999 gave us The World Is Not Enough, so I guess I have to congratulate him on his proven ability to take franchises to their lowest points ever.

1 Star out of 5

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