The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Another disappointing entry in the Chronicles of Narnia film series.

Andrew Adamson had never made a live-action film before he stepped behind the camera to make the first two films in The Chronicles of Narnia, and it showed. The acting was mediocre, the visuals were colorful but flat, and Narnia felt about as big as Central Park. For the third installment in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there's a new director—Michael Apted, who has a significant number of movies under his belt. But the reasonable expectation that a more experienced artist might be able to redeem a so-so franchise proves unfounded. Almost nothing about this picture is an improvement, except for a sense that Lewis' fantastical land might actually take more than a few days to explore. Otherwise, it's just more of the same.



The movie's flaws aren't just isolated to the acting or the visuals, though. Like its predecessors, it exhibits a mild impatience with its own source material. On the surface, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader prides itself on bringing Lewis' magical story and insightful theology to life for the world to admire. I can't get past the feeling, though, that what we're really watching is a child who desperately wants to steal attention away from his older, more impressive cousin, The Lord of the Rings. The Narnia stories are children’s literature. They are short, packed with meaning and derive much of their beauty from their simplicity. Yet the filmmakers behind the series seem intent on trying to steal Peter Jackson's thunder by adding in more action than necessary and borrowing from other sources to “improve” certain plot points.



Just take a moment to consider the plot of Lewis' book. Lucy and Edmund, the youngest of the Pevensie siblings, have been sent to live out the rest of World War II with their bratty cousin, Eustace Scrubb. They're understandably miserable. Then, in a moment that defies all logic, the children are pulled inside a painting of a ship at sea and find that they've landed smack-dab in the middle of Narnia. There, they find that Caspian, who was upgraded from a prince to a king in their last adventure, is looking for seven lords who went missing back when his evil uncle stole the throne. The heroes travel from island to island, encountering danger, excitement and the missing lords as they go. Eventually they disembark on a distant land where they discover three of the men they're looking for locked in a deep sleep. The only way to break the spell is for the heroes to travel to the end of the world and leave one of their party behind.



The filmmakers get much of this right, but the rest is hopelessly muddled. Instead of just looking for the seven lords, Caspian is tasked with finding their swords, which—for some reason—have magical powers when brought together in one place. On top of that, the heroes have promised to discover the mystery behind an eerie green fog that causes people to disappear. And did I mention they also have to destroy a black, wispy island inhabited by a sea serpent?



I don't know whether we have screenwriter Christopher Markus to thank for these changes or Douglas Gresham, the movie’s producer and Lewis’ stepson, but it's all too much. This is exactly what I’m talking about when I say the Narnia series is acting too grown-up for its own good. Instead of embracing the simple plot of the book they're adapting, they try to make the story feel more complex. But the changes they've made for this big screen production only contribute to its confused sense of itself. The movie doesn’t know what it wants to be or where it wants to go, so it goes nowhere, and it goes there with as much bluster as it can.



There are two notable aspects of the movie that do deserve praise though. One is the addition of Simon Pegg to the cast. He replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse. His passion for life and unshakable faith in Aslan perfectly capture the light-hearted yet absolutely serious spirit of Lewis' work, and Pegg makes us feel this using just his voice. Actors Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes and Ben Barnes—as Lucy, Edmund and Caspian, respectively—feel stilted by comparison. Will Poulter is good as Eustace, but it's hard to get over his voice, which makes him sound like James Cagney on helium.



The second thing I admire is that the film includes Aslan's admonition to Lucy to look for him in her own world. “But there I have another name,” he tells her. “You must learn to know me by that name.” If the rest of the movie seems to drown out Lewis with its noise, here he's allowed to shine as brightly as the sun gleaming off the ocean waves. This is pure Lewis, without the extra bells and whistles, and the lines, as voiced by Liam Neeson, have enormous power. If only the rest of the movie came as close to hitting the mark.

Andrew Welch writes about movies for RELEVANT and lives in Texas.

43 Comments

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Anonymous reviewed…

I do believe these movie adaptions are considerably better than most other book-to-screen films. I found each movie as captivating as each book and Dawn Treader was no exception.

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Alex reviewed…

I just saw the movie yesterday (a little late I admit) and, while I agree with the above reviewer on many points, I also know that it is unrealistic to put too high expectations on the movie if you love the book. Movies aren't meant to be straight adaptations and if they were its possible many fans would be even more disappointed, which tends to happen (wonder why...). Now I'm by no means a fan of the narnia-books and have only read up to voyage of the dawn-treader which was where I began to lose interest, though I still intend to read the entire series eventually as I'm a huge fan of most of Lewis' other writings. What I didn't like however was the fact that (spoiler alert) Eustace (contrary to the book if I remember right) had to be changed into a dragon as if that would somehow please the audiences idea of 'valour' rather than him simply remaining a boy and facing dangers more potently. Instead his character is subjected to this metamorphosis as if some kind of way to placate audiences into saying 'All right, it makes sense that a dragon would attack a sea snake.' This seems lame and unfortunately (at least to my limited experience of narnia) to be a cop-out on Lewis' idea of characterisation. Besides, it could have been one of the otherwise lacking scenes where not every other crew-member (excluding reepicheep) was a complete jerk towards Eustace just because he was a prig (did the directors unknowingly fuel bullying in this way?). We all know (or should know) that children pick up these unspoken messages much more easily. Anyways, I might be reading into it a lot, perhaps because that was the one scene from the book that actually stuck in my mind. But it was also one of the most moving scenes from the book, which the movie spoiled unnecessarily. Anyone agree?

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Young Bryana reviewed…

Regardless of the source material and themes, this was a crap movie, through and through. It had the production value of a decent high school play. The script was filled with poorly executed scenes that seemed to be resolved too quickly (like Edmund's jealousy of Caspian and their conflict over the possibilites of the "gold water") in order to cram less important action sequences and bad CGI monsters into the movie.

Also, I know they're stuck with the actors now, but it's unfortunate that they couldn't replace them. Edmund's ridiculous lisp and Lucy's constant obnoxious grinning was destracting. The thought of Susan as an ideal beauty is laughable. Caspian's portrayal as a regal leader is unrealistic. Just a complete train wreck from beginning to end. The only redeemable aspect of this movie was the end scene with Aslan. If they would have tried to extend the power of that scene to the rest of the movie, I wouldn't have been bored for an hour and a half.

I think the reviewer was being nice.

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Sonnet reviewed…

I was also disappointed in this movie. But that is because I grew up reading the books. When I told this to a friend who had seen the film and enjoyed it, she said, "Then I guess I'm glad I haven't read the books yet." A sad response but one which brings a point: if you want to watch the movie for the movie then fine, but if you want to watch it because you love the book - and all the previews advertised it as "Lewis's classic masterpiece" - then you'll probably be disappointed.

I can't think of anything the movie changed that was for the better. It seemed that while trying to make certain scenes more dramatic all that was achieved was that the meaning was stripped away. The book is full of parallels and meaning that a child can grasp but an adult can also fully appreciate. Yes, the cinematography was beautiful. Having a visual of Narnia and the Dawn Treader was great. Yet every change to the plot made the film feel more and more like a comic book adventure instead of a classic masterpiece brought to life.

I was surprised by this because I actually enjoyed the first two movies. Yes they changed a few things, and had a few laughable additions such as Caspian and his kin having Spanish accents (I think they were trying too hard on that one, and it was even funnier that Caspian's accent magically changed to a British one in this last film), but overall I felt that the heart of the story was still intact. If any more films are made, which seeing as how the franchise is doing well they probably will, the writers need to swallow their pride and realize that their changes and additions to Lewis's stories are not an improvement, but are instead destroying their credibility and the chances of any fans of the real stories buying a ticket to the next installment.

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Hisbeloved1 reviewed…

I am no film reviewer, but I can say that I took a group of young people to see the film, 1 of whom had been suicidal and the Holy Spirit definitely used the movie's many Biblical messages to reach through to touch her and get her excited about God's power, majesty and desire to reveal Himself to all He has made. I was equally pumped up as I sought to relate the story's symbolism to my own Christian walk, especially with regard to spiritual warfare we face every day - it put the everyday warfare in epic perspective, taking it out of the mundane to where it rightly belongs.There is no such thing as 'just another day' in the Kingdom of heaven.

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