Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes) return to Narnia with their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter) where they meet up with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) for a trip across the sea aboard the royal ship The Dawn Treader. Along the way they encounter dragons, dwarves, merfolk, and a band of lost warriors before reaching the edge of the world.

Tepid third installment makes a mess of its 3D conversion.

Over the interminable 112 minute running time of Michael Apted’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, not a single discernable artistic reason emerges as to why 20th Century Fox would have wanted to adopt the third instalment of Disney’s jettisoned franchise.

Given the relentlessly listless and uninspired approach all involved seem to have taken in the making of the film, one can only assume the purchase of the rights to the ongoing adventures of the Pevensie children was on the recommendation of Mr. Murdoch’s business advisers. Expect to see the exponential exploitation of the Narnia brand in the years ahead, most likely in the form of ultra-cheap, straight-to-DVD spin-offs that will have little to do with the spirit of C.S. Lewis’ work but prove profitable.

Given the first film of the series is a personal favourite that I rate as highly as the Lord of the Rings trilogy in the 'adapted fantasy’ stakes (No. 2 – not so good), such cynicism is sad but cynicism is about all that Apted’s film inspires. Setting aside his role shepherding the extraordinary Up series, Apted has always been a journeyman director whose best work has been in the feature-length documentary field (Bring on the Night, 1985; Incident at Oglala, 1992; Moving the Mountain, 1994) or the result of fully-realised source material, often based on true events (Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980; Gorky Park, 1983; Gorillas in the Mist, 1988). But he has always been uncomfortable as a hired-gun on studio fare, his directorial disinterest evident in the lesser works of Richard Pryor (Critical Condition, 1987), Gene Hackman (Class Action, 1991, and Extreme Measures, 1996), Jennifer Lopez (Enough, 1999) and James Bond (The World is Not Enough, 1996).

He’s not the only one involved with ...Dawn Treader who appears blasé. Ben Barnes, returning in the role of Prince Caspian, couldn’t be less charismatic if he tried. His expressionless performance seems to suggest he just wanted to hit his mark, get it in the can and move on to better things. Also returning are Georgie Henley as Lucy and Skandar Keynes as Edmund, two likable kids whose acting range has not developed that much since the first film. (The casting of the Pevensie children has always been the one liability of the Narnia films; none of them have ever been particularly good.) Favourites from past instalments (William Moseley’s 'Peter’; Anna Popplewell’s 'Susan’; Tilda Swinton as the villainous White Witch; and Aslan, the Liam Neeson-voiced Jesus metaphor) make fleeting non-contributions.

The meagre plot involves the search for seven swords that have been spread far and wide across Narnia; recovering the swords will release innocent spirits captured and kept in the dark recesses of the Lost Islands. Transported from 1940s London to the deck of The Dawn Treader, Lucy, Edmund and their thoroughly unlikable cousin Eustace (played by a thoroughly unlikable Will Poulter, last seen to much better effect as the Stallone-obsessed ne’er-do-well in Garth Jennings’ Son of Rambow, 2007) face-off against....well, nothing really. There are pirates and storms and cloudy apparitions (green, not black like the ones in the Harry Potter films, but mostly the same thing), but there is no specific bad guy in the narrative, thereby lessening any suspense-inducing threat.

Filmed on the Gold Coast, if any of the film’s contributors can hold their heads high it is the Australian technical contingent and supporting cast (which includes Gary Sweet as the ship’s captain and Terry Norris and Bruce Spence as two of the mystical lords). Apted rewards his effects team for their stellar work on the lifelike animated characters Aslan and the rodent warrior Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) by turning the last 25 minutes of the film entirely over to their mastery; they fire up their computer programs for the overused dragon/sea-monster/giant wave effects template. It will send the kids out on a high, but it’s too-much-too-late in storytelling terms.

The post-production 3D conversion benefits from a bright, mostly sun-drenched palette, but blurred images still proliferate. Directors Louis Leterrier and M. Night Shyamalan will be breathing a sigh of relief, now that Michael Apted has taken some of the focus off their respective duds, Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender, in the race for this year’s worst 3D fantasy film hack job crown.