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Originally published December 9, 2010 at 8:45 AM | Page modified December 9, 2010 at 2:25 PM

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Movie review

'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader': Series hits rough waters

"The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," the third in the series, looks cheap and desperate but has some rewards in ideas and relationships.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2 stars

'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,' with Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter; and the voices of Liam Neeson, Tilda Swinton, Simon Pegg. Directed by Michael Apted, from a screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni, based on the C.S. Lewis novel. 115 minutes. Rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action. Several theaters.

Except for a few familiar faces, the uninspired, desperate-looking "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" doesn't bear much resemblance to its predecessors in a film franchise based on C.S. Lewis' beloved "Narnia" fantasy novels.

The first movie, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," had traces of magic and dynamic relationships.

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" was more prosaic, yet ambitious and somewhat soulful in its own way. The action-heavy sequel was meant to be one link in a long, mood-shifting story with several more features to go.

"Prince Caspian" made $420 million at the worldwide box office, but the "Narnia" series has been overhauled anyway. Recent articles suggest the project may never be completed.

Director Andrew Abramson, who made the earlier adaptations, has been replaced on "Dawn Treader" by journeyman filmmaker Michael Apted ("Gorillas in the Mist"). Apted is clearly in rescue mode. Working with what looks like a straight-to-video budget — in startling contrast to the other, more lavish "Narnia" releases — the director hopes the less-impressive production will succeed on ideas and character development. It partially does.

This time, only two of the original Pevensie kids, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), are called back to Narnia, with their obnoxious cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) in tow. There, Caspian (Ben Barnes) needs their assistance on a mission requiring faith to avoid such destructive temptations as power, vanity and greed.

Aslan the Godlike lion (voiced by Liam Neeson) and a computer-generated version of Tilda Swinton's the White Witch make cameo appearances. They're not essential to "Dawn Treader's" immediate story, but their thin presence is another reminder of the film's cut-to-the-bone economy.

More embarrassing is the Dawn Treader itself, a warrior ship that looks like a cheesy, theme-park exhibit.

The best, and freshest, thing about "Dawn Treader" is the relationship between returning mouse warrior Reepicheep (charmingly voiced by Simon Pegg) and Eustace, whose transformation from brat to hero is most rewarding. You might walk out of "Dawn Treader" wondering where the "Narnia" film series went, but there are some satisfactions.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

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