The world is indeed not enough for director Michael Apted, James Bond fans, so he's heading off to Narnia, either because Andrew Adamson had more important things to do in 2010... like "Shrek Forever After", or because they had to kick Adamson to the curb due to people's drawing enough comparisons between this series and the "Lord of the Rings" series with a Kiwi filmmaker being taken out of account. Quite frankly, I think the excitement level of this film is enough to distinguish it from high fantasy "epics" like "The Lord of the Rings", for even the title's underwhelming, because, really, just how extensive of a voyage can this be if it's being led by someone who only treads around dawn? Dawn usually lasts around half an hour or so, so it figures that this "Chronicles of Narnia" installment actually runs under two hours and still be way too long. Speaking of meandering, I think you get the point about my lamely joking about someone who actually voyages during the dawn, but hey, at least give me some credit for trying to come up with a play on the title that isn't "The Voyage of the Yawn Treader" once again, because someone here has to be original, and it's sure not this film. Seriously though, there is at least something different about this film, and that is its being picked up by 20th Century Fox after it got dropped by Disney, as well as its replacing Eddie Izzard with Simon Pegg as Reepicheep. In all sorts of ways, this film is kicking powerful mice out of this franchise, though it's hard to tell the difference, because when it comes to the Reepicheep voice change, all they did was trade out one English comedian for another, and when it comes to the studio change, 20th Century Fox still Disneyfied this subject matter. Jokes aside, this film is decent, but it's a little more watered down than its predecessors, and for a number of reasons.
There's something much less consequential about this film, even more so than "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", but that's hardly an excuse for this film to be so much fluffier than its predecessors, at least to the point of tonal unevenness, for although this is still not the overtly Disneyfied film that we were fearing an installment in this series would be when Disney was calling the shots, what tension there is often finds itself broken by overly fluffy comic relief, while a more realized sense of fluff is sometimes broken by an almost unsubtly considerable attention to the weight of this adventure opus' conflict, however limited it may be. The film is even more uneven with its tone than "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", and such inconsistency goes matched by an unevenness in pacing, because even though this film, at just under two hours, is the shortest of the "Chronicles of Narnia" films by a relatively sizable margin, storytelling is still bloated with fluffy filler and excess material to shake coherency in focus. I suppose the film doesn't put as much attention as its predecessors into its plot's layers, as it just doesn't have time to meander that much, but this installment is somehow arguably about as aimless as either of its predecessors, for thinness to substance is emphasized by the attempts at bloating that only result in pacing inconsistencies, and the attempts at breaking fluff with tension that only result in tonal inconsistencies. If nothing else, the film is at least consistent in familiarity, just like its formulaic predecessors, hitting trope, after trope, after trope, until it becomes hardly anything we haven't seen before out of this series or out an interpretation of subject matter of this type, unless, of course, you take into account that this story is a little more light than usual. The conflict is very much there, but there's something almost fillery about the story concept of this installment in the "Chronicles of Narnia" saga, whose momentum doesn't feel as important, and whose fluff feels too prominent, until what you're faced with is a fluff flick that sometimes tries, but is ultimately nothing all that special. The film does a lot of things very well, but it also makes many mistakes, and it can't afford to challenge your investment that much when it's having to deal with some serious natural shortcomings, whose emphasis wears down on the final product, until it collapses as the most underwhelming of the "Narnia" films, if not forgettable. Still, no matter how many mistakes and limitations wear this opus down, it's an ultimately worthy watch, at least for entertainment's sake, reinforced by sharp style.
Due to its being more about adventure than the depth of "Prince Caspian", this film returns to the fine tastes in dynamic locations of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", enhanced by fine production designs that prove to be immersive, with a handsomeness that is complimented by Dante Spinotti's cinematography. A good bit of style goes a long way in bringing this world to life, and even flavor up action, which is more fluffy than intense, yet it still thrillingly well-staged, with sharp technical value and fun visuals to add to the color of the style. Now, it's debatable if this film is technically sharper, or at least more technically innovative than its almost importantly well-produced predecessors, but this pricy project offers nothing less than fine technical proficiency and style, which isn't to say that direction only has sharp style to offer. Although Andrew Adamson made his share mistakes, and although there's too much thinness to this subject matter to present all that much potential for directorial storytelling, I'm not sure I'm as crazy about Michael Apted as a director for this series in comparison with the now strictly co-producing Adamson, as Apted does not work as well with the performers, nor does he try as hard to place attention into depth, yet the heart of this effort is kept pumping by some effective moments - particularly the surprisingly very moving ending - in which a sense of depth is celebrated as punctuation into a consistently lively sense of pacing, anchored by colorful plays on style and David Arnold's score work. Really, while there are effective occasions to break up much too much underwhelmingness that was not this prominent in the predecessors, if nothing else, this film is genuinely fun, not just in execution, but in concept. I wish there was more meat to this fluffy piece of fat around the edges of a blockbuster series, but this was always to be a much less juicy installment in the "Narnia" saga, with an interpretation that is about as formulaic and uneven as this series' storytelling has ever been, and yet, there is still some worthy thematic depth and sense of consequence here to flavor up a lively adventure narrative, done some justice by a script by Michel Petroni and "Narnia" film series regulars Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that offers some colorful characterization and sharp humor, and by the aforementioned inspired, if overambitious direction. Regardless of what the ambitious filmmakers clearly want you to do, you shouldn't expect much out of this relatively less consequential installment out of an epic high fantasy saga, but if you're willing to get past the loss of meat, there's enough fun here for the whole family to embrace, even if there's only so much beyond that.
When dawn has been broken, unevenness in tone and pacing, as well as much too much in the way of familiarity, behind a story concept that is pumped with natural shortcomings leave the final product to tumble into underwhelmingness, but enough wonderment is captured through lovely art direction, cinematography and score work, fun action set pieces, colorful writing and delightfully well-paced and sometimes effective direction behind an adequately intriguing and dynamic story concept to make "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" a thoroughly entertaining, if somewhat disappointing third outing in the "Narnia" saga.
2.5/5 - Fair