by Vicky Fryer
Each Narnia film feels like a small victory. With huge gaps between instalments and even being dropped by Disney, Voyage of the Dawn Treader’s very existence is amazing. Even more amazing is how little of this trouble is reflected here, as Lucy and Edmund, the younger Pevensies, return for their third adventure, along with their bratty, scientifically-minded cousin Eustace. This time, the plot follows the eponymous voyage of King (née Prince) Caspian into unknown waters to locate seven loyal courtiers, with hopes of even reaching Aslan’s country at the edge of the world. Soon they discover a great danger in these seas: an evil, manipulative mist is stealing people, growing in strength, and seven swords must be brought together to defeat the darkness.
Fans of the book may notice a significant deviation from the simple enough plot, and indeed this is the most altered adaptation to date, dispatching with or drastically changing large chunks of the original. Does it justify itself? Sometimes. The changes – mainly the introduction of a `villain` in the mist – do help to give a more standard (and probably satisfactory) structure to the story, particularly in producing a more familiar fantasy climax. The device of the mist offers a darker look at some characters, yet it also becomes a repetitive sight, lurking in every other shot and truly testing just how terrifying green smoke can be. Its interesting attempts to corrupt enemies also offer mixed success: a fantasy sequence involving an insecure Lucy becoming Susan is well-written with interesting ideas; Edmund’s dilemma, meanwhile, carries less weight and mostly provides an excuse to squeeze in Tilda Swinton’s White Witch, and Caspian’s seems to come out of nowhere.
Indeed, this reflects the entire film: some of it works, some of it does not. If you are willing to indulge a more standard fantasy, there is plenty to enjoy. There is a remarkable amount of continuity in the feel of the films, despite inevitable battles involving copyright. The special effects remain stunning, with magic and talking animals appearing just as real, or even more so, than the humans. There is still the same sense of fun mixed with adventure, albeit with a more obvious religious allegory. However, this is definitely not the best instalment, for any number of reasons.
As a film in its own right, it still serves up good fantasy adventure with heart and humour. Along with the design and special effects (always a series highlight), as well as some truly remarkable locations, much of the film’s strength lies in the interaction between a fantastically written Eustace (Narnia newcomer Will Poulter) and a wonderfully animated Reepicheep (newly voiced by Simon Pegg). Poulter is brilliant alone, often upstaging the more experienced Pevensies (which is promising for Eustace’s own film, The Silver Chair), but together the two have incredible chemistry – impressive considering the latter consists entirely of CG. As usual for the series, the film is at its best when dwelling on wonder and friendship, and somehow making that work.
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