Narnia Pirates, Mouse Seek Swords; Taymor’s ‘Tempest’: Movies

Georgie Henley in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." The film is directed by Michael Apted. Photographer: Phil Bray/20th Century Fox via Bloomberg

Some dragons just aren’t worth the fight.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is the third movie in the second-rate fantasy franchise based on C.S. Lewis’ allegorical children’s classics. A post-filming conversion to 3-D does nothing to improve a rather charmless adventure.

Michael Apted directed this latest go-round, produced by 20th Century Fox after Disney made the first two films. His years with the real-life kids of the wonderful “Up” documentaries don’t seem to have provided skills for drawing beguiling performances from child actors. Two of the three young visitors to Narnia are bland as unbuttered crumpets. The third, played by series newcomer Will Poulter, could grate away a Minotaur’s horns.

Picking up three years after the “Prince Caspian” installment, “Dawn Treader” finds the Pevensie siblings Lucy (an ever-smiling Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes, who at least has an interesting name) transported from World War II Britain to the high seas and dangerous islands of Narnia. Young Poulter -- think Speedy Alka-Seltzer voiced by an angry Glenda Jackson -- is their petulant cousin (and, it turns out, the dim hope for any future sequel).

Ancient Swords

They meet up with Caspian, the friendly Narnian King played by the Orlando Bloomish Ben Barnes. The gang, along with a talking mouse and a crew of amusement park pirates, set out to retrieve seven ancient swords.

Neither Apted nor his screenwriters (Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni and Christopher Markus) are overly concerned with the whys of this particular odyssey, focusing instead on derring-do more frenetic than thrilling. The final battle --with a giant CGI sea serpent -- is by far the most engaging segment of the film.

Mostly unimpressive 3-D (available in limited markets) does little to enliven an unconvincing Minotaur or that haphazardly executed rodent. Sunday school teachers might find use in the godly lion, but their young charges will likely have seen better.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” from 20th Century Fox, opens Dec. 10 across the U.S. Rating: **

‘The Tempest’

Stranded on an island with Russell Brand might be someone’s idea of fun, but director Julie Taymor’s surprisingly dreary retelling of “The Tempest” makes little case for it.

Taymor is best known for her visionary stage works: Her “The Lion King” is a bold meld of mainstream and avant-garde entertainment, and she’s currently directing “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the most extravagant show in Broadway history.

No such alchemy is evident in her earthbound approach to one of Shakespeare’s most popular and accessible plays.

Traditionalists might begrudge Taymor’s gender-switch appointment of Helen Mirren as the exiled Prospero, here renamed Prospera (or “Mom” to Felicity Jones’s waifish Miranda). Yet stunt casting -- Brand overplays the buffoonish Trinculo in Keith Richards drag -- is the least of the film’s problems. This “Tempest” lacks magic.

Filmed on location around the black volcanic mounds of Hawaii (TV’s “Lost” displayed more grandeur than most of Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography here), Taymor’s “Tempest” takes few storyline liberties with the play.

Prospera, aided by her duty-bound sprite Ariel (a wispy Ben Whishaw, done up like “Aladdin Sane”-era Bowie without the lightning bolt), conjures the titular storm that shipwrecks the usurping king and his cronies onto the enchanted island, where all will be set right.

Bard Buffs

With the exceptions of cheating English lit students and Bard buffs hungry for the words, audiences might rightly demand some visual witchery to justify yet another version of the play. (Paul Mazursky’s 1982 “Tempest” at least had some moments of genuine eccentricity).

Instead we get woefully inadequate special effects, particularly with the ghostly, sped-up movements of Ariel. The black leather and zippered costumes are standard modern-dress Shakespeare.

Had it been staged for a balmy summer’s night of Shakespeare in the Park, Taymor’s “The Tempest” might have been a pleasant enough diversion. Onscreen, it’s a forgettable drizzle.

“The Tempest,” from Walt Disney Pictures, opens Dec. 10 in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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