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By Elias Savada | December 10, 2010

Unlike its well-received predecessors, 2005’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which introduced movie audiences to the beloved characters in C.S. Lewis’ best-selling 1950 novel, and the 2008 sequel “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” based on the second in the series of seven volumes that follow the adventures of teenage children traveling to a fantasy realm to battle evil forces, the latest widescreen cinematic edition, based on the 1952 book, feels feeble and undernourished, with drab use of 3-D effects to boot.

The fictional wonder world of Narnia is again home to Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley, reprising their roles) joined by their nasty, insufferable cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), the only character that seems to have any dimension here. Residing in London, the three are washed overboard in their London home by a strange seascape that fills their room with sea water (the best fx sequence in the film, although I did wonder where the fish were) and whisks them to a rendezvous with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) and his resourceful but not entirely human crew aboard the titular ship.

Relatively mundane adventures follow, perhaps because returning scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are slumming with an assist from Aussie native Michael Petroni. They craft an amiable roller coaster ride, although there’s a certain lack of adventure in what should be an adventurous journey. And when everyone expects 3-D to enhance the experience, it, instead, drains the color and life out of what should be a radiant encounter with a fantastical world, particularly one captured by award-winning cinematographer Dante Spinotti (“L.A. Confidential,” “The Insider”), now collaborating with director Michael Apted on their third film. Other technicians also have worked with the director on previous efforts (composer David Arnold, editor Rich Shaine), or on earlier Narnia films (costume designer Isis Mussenden), but there seems to be a technical disconnect in this extension of the Narnian tale. Harry Potter never has this problem, although Lewis’ tales can’t measure up to the juggernaut enjoyed by J.K. Rowling’s wizardly adventures, be they in print or on screen.

As for Apted, sure he helmed the big budget James Bond feature “The World Is Not Enough” and worked on several episodes of the costume drama tv series “Rome,” but his best remembered efforts have been in the character-driven “Coal Miner’s Daughter” or as the chronicler following the British class system in the 1964 documentary “Seven Up” and its series of follow-up films that capturing the status every seven years of 14 children growing up in England. (The next installment, “56 Up” is due in 2012.)

There’s barely a wisp of Aslan (Liam Neeson) and the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) in this chapter.

I’m also wondering if the switch to Fox had something to do with the film’s failure. The first two features were distributed by Disney and helmed by Andrew Adamson, who is a producer on “Dawn Treader.” There was a budget dispute with Walden Media and Disney pulled the plug, opening the door for Fox (which runs a greatly adored news network–Not!) to step in.

The best part of the film is the fish-out-of-water relationship that the hysterical 17-year-old Poulter captures in numerous episodes. At first disbelieving of his transport to a world where his cousins are king and queen, he doesn’t take easily to some of the creatures he confronts in Narnia—friendly as they are to Lewis’ readers and the films’ viewers—especially Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse voiced by Simon Pegg (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Star Trek”), who provides plenty of spunk for a small rodent. This relationship changes and deepens as the film progresses, especially when Eustace has a life-altering experience that threatens his human existence.

There’s enough intrigue about dark and evil islands, seven lords and sword seeking, fire-breathing dragons, blue stars, a cursed green mist, and a very large sea serpent to keep youngsters interested or scared. I suspect most families will (and should) stick to catching up with Disney’s marvelous animated tale “Tangled.”

Unfortunately for this latest episode of Narnian lore, just and valiant don’t seem to cut it if you’re sitting there in the audience, although fans of the books and the movies may not be as bothered as an old fart like myself, who was two when the book was published. For those who enjoy it, the best to you. Episode four, “The Silver Chair,” is in development by Fox and Walden. It will feature more of Eustace, so I’m crossing my fingers.

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  1. Dan says:

    It’s an excellent movie. Go and see it! Our family will be going again. We all loved it. Not sure what this reviewer expects or what his preferred genre is. Unless you want to be disappointed with every film of this type that comes out, quit expecting them to be on the level of “Lord of the Rings”. Remember, this is PG and not PG-13.

  2. Mark Bells says:

    The DRAB thing. Everyone knows 3D sucks light from the process and that most of the animated films overdrive the color to compensate. Avatar was electric blue, you’ll remember. Dante didn’t do that. He kept the palette very believable, I thought and while muted, in a properly bright theater (hard to find) the images popped quite nicely for me and the 3D was subtle but wonderful. I prefer that over swords in my face. But I agree that the real problem is with the story. Good for the kids, maybe but tiresome for the grownups.

  3. Larry Longstreth says:

    Pretty cool review, though I disagree that Narnia can’t measure up to Potter either on the page or on the screen. I haven’t seen a true film masterpiece from either franchise, but if Narnia’s “2 for 3” so far, I’m pretty sure those odds kick Potters “2 for 6” record, or whatever it is.

    I dug the books. Especially the later ones. I thought they were adult themes hidden beneath the guise of children’s stories. Again, especially the later ones. Silver Chair and Last Battle are just plain dark, esp Last Battle. I think the notions and ideas proposed by those stories are about as mature as possible, but that they go way, way over the heads of readers who need something far less subtle to explain what’s going on. I also think, as is sort of the case with the films, that those great concepts are somewhat lost in translation if the adapters of the material aren’t in tune with them to begin with.

    I’ll take the kids to see “Narnia 3”. It’s eye candy and and for them, it’s magic. For me, it’s a hell of a lot better than watching Daniel Radcliffe.

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