Director Michael Apted (of Seven Up!, 21, and 49 Up fame) is a sometimes-inspired documentarian who has morphed into having a Hollywood-crossed, hodge-podge feature-film career. His work includes one great biopic (Coal Miner’s Daughter), one unintentionally campy Bond film (The World Is Not Enough), and too many disappointments (like Gorky Park and Nell) to count. Now we can add Voyage of the Dawn Treader to his growing list of well-meant flops.
Here, the Chronicles of Narnia material proves too mystical for Apted. It’s surprising Disney wanted such a realist director, who seems oblivious to the cheesy mechanics needed to draw us into fantasy extravaganzas, to be behind the lens for this. However, Spielberg films seem to have taught him something: Show an awed reaction shot, then cut to the dinosaurs. Otherwise, all we’d get is a whole lot of CGI technology—and the world has more than enough of that.
Instead, Apted opts for little “jokes” to undermine the illusions, as if this story of the young Pevensie kids’ (played by Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes) return to Narnia with their over-logical cousin Eustace (the starchy Will Poulter) was a horror film in need of comic relief. (Though it does feature an island made of 90-percent Mordor and 10-percent inert green fog.) But this adventure movie feels like a series of set pieces without any overall rhythm, even with the mystic swords added.
Apted can’t land on one idea, so he’s stuck with all of them, including featuring Lion Aslan as deus ex machina. The 3-D is unimportant, and, despite a thrilling conclusion, Dawn Treader makes C.S. Lewis’s awkward Christian-allegory epic feel embarrassingly weird. Seems Apted was just too honest for the job.