Normally by the third movie of any series—like the Chronicles of Narnia—audiences have a pretty good idea of what to expect. But there's still an air of nervous uncertainty hovering around The Voyage of The Dawn Treader.
Part of it stems from the under-performance of 2008's Prince Caspian at the box office, compared to the runaway success of 2006's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The movie series has since changed hands from Disney to Fox, and though previous director Andrew Adamson remains onboard as a producer, he has passed the directing reins to an agnostic, Michael Apted (Amazing Grace). With both previous films, fans have nitpicked about whether the movies have remained true to C. S. Lewis's books.
Such are the challenges of big screen adaptations, and the Narnia series is no exception, especially with its Christian themes and nuances. But Voyage would seem a better fit for a movie treatment than the comparably dull and straightforward plot of Caspian. Call this one a step in the right direction, but a mixed bag nonetheless.
Returning to Narnia are the two youngest Pevensie children from the previous movies, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes). Like the Harry Potter movies, it's a pleasure to see these child actors grow with their characters. They're front and center with cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), an insufferable brat who does nothing but whine and complain both in the real world and in Narnia. He's about to learn some life-changing lessons the hard way. [See our interview with Poulter.]
The trio finds itself at sea with Lucy and Edmund's old friends King Caspian (Ben Barnes) and the warrior-mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) on the royal ship The Dawn Treader. Their quest: To explore the eastern ocean in search of seven exiled Lords of Narnia and perhaps sail to the end of the world where the homeland of Aslan is said to be found. Along the way they'll encounter many trials and dangers—slave traders, invisible creatures, cursed treasure, a sea monster … and wait, a malevolent green mist?
The storytelling changes from the book come early on, but not all of them are bad. For all its many strengths, Lewis' Voyage is very episodic—perfect for bedtime stories, but lacking the strong narrative needed to bridge a blockbuster adventure. The filmmakers have shuffled the various island adventures around, shortening some while extending others. For example, the Dufflepuds "appear" much sooner and amount to little more than a cameo, while the dragon storyline arrives later and remains for considerably longer—and quite differently—than in the book.
And then there's that pesky green mist, which steals its victims away to Dark Island, where our darkest nightmares come to life. I just wish the sequence wasn't so reminiscent of Ghostbusters'Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Fans may balk at these changes, but they do help create a better flow on the big screen. The climax is stronger as a result, and many scenes from the book remain intact. It's at least a more interesting movie than Prince Caspian.
But it lacks a sense of the awe and wonder that marked Wardrobe. This time, Lucy and Edmund return to Narnia with some surprise but precious little wonder, and since Eustace hates Narnia on sight, he ends up being a poor entry point for us. It all feels more on autopilot after two movies.
The bigger problem is the script, which relies on predictable dialogue and fantasy contrivances. The Dufflepuds played to mystery and laughs for at least two chapters in the book. Here they're barely a footnote (no pun intended) worth mentioning. Worse, their master Coriakin has zero charisma, existing only to deliver some clunky exposition about defeating the evil mist by finding the seven swords of the seven Lords and laying them at the table of Aslan. Why? To set a goal for the movie, I guess.
The same could be said of the scene at Aslan's table, where Caspian finds a new romantic interest in the form of a living star. It's all discussed and revealed with the interest of a third-rate fairy-tale. Not that Lewis' original story delved much deeper, but the Voyage movie often barrels along as if it has no time for character development or more intelligent plotting. The focus is primarily on the big swashbuckling climax at Dark Island, as if it can't arrive there quick enough. If only filmmakers had taken 15 minutes more to better explore the sights, wonders, and characters of Narnia, we might have a better movie.
It's still certainly watchable with its "what happens next?" quest. The effects are good, though I'd add that the 3-D version adds nothing to the film. It's entertaining enough for its target audience, even if grown-up kids (like me) cry foul over the details.
The Christian ideas are more prominent in this film, playing up the theme of overcoming temptation—Lucy's subplot concerning self-esteem is greatly amplified and generally effective. Eustace's beloved scene of redemption—his "undragoning," as Narnia fans often call it—has been considerably shortened, but it might not have played as well on the big screen as it did in the book. There's something to be said for the altered plot allowing Eustace more time to come to a place of repentance before his restoration, and there are nods to the book in a later exchange in the movie. But the moment of his transformation whisks by so quickly, it's almost a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene. It makes for a cool special effect, but lacks the gravity and meaning made so clear by Lewis's pen. But Aslan remains a strong Christ figure, particularly in the closing scenes when he mentions "his other name" in our world.
These themes seemed to resonate with the primarily Christian audience I viewed it with; a post-screening discussion confirmed that. But there are bound to be disgruntled fans, and both perspectives have a point. The film is merely okay at best, and that's disappointing. With such strong source material and the future of the franchise uncertain, this fairly good Voyage should have been much better.
For more articles and resources about this movie, see our Voyage of the Dawn Treader special section.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- What scenes indicate Lucy's main temptation? What happens when she first attempts to read the beauty spell? Why does she rip out the page? What happens when she reads it later? Explain Aslan's comments to her and the irony of Lucy "forgetting herself" in the process. Based on her response to the little girl's comment about being like Lucy someday, do you think Lucy has overcome her self-esteem issue?
- Why did Edmund want to enlist in the army so badly? Whose shadow is he living in? What is the significance of Peter's sword in Narnia? Who has ownership of it? What do Edmund and Caspian argue about in the scene at the golden pond of Deathwater? What is Edmund's main temptation? What does Caspian offer later to help him overcome it? How does Edmund ultimately prevail?
- Why does Caspian doubt his ability to lead? Whose shadow is he living in? Does his true temptation face him at Dark Island or at the border of Aslan's country? Why does he decide not to enter Aslan's country? C. S. Lewis once noted that a good man considers whether or not he's evil, while an evil man does not. How is this similar to Caspian questioning his ability to lead wisely and Aslan's response?
- Describe Eustace's motivations for the first half of the movie. How does his behavior change after his transformation? Is his transformation merely magical, or does it reflect something more? What does this tell us about our own sinful nature? How can we shed our own ugly skins and become more "real" again? Can we do that by ourselves?
- Based on Aslan's farewell to Lucy and Edmund, why did he bring them to Narnia (and why did Lewis write these stories)? What is Aslan's other name, and do you think there can be any question of who it is?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action, but it's nothing to become too alarmed about. There are a few scenes of swordplay in keeping with the other two Narnia films—swashbuckling action, but no blood. The sea serpent makes for the scariest scene for younger children. Also, a little girl's mother is kidnapped, which might make younger viewers anxious. There's also a scene involving slave trade.
Photos © 20th Century Fox
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more
Read These Next
- TrendingRussell Moore: I Already Miss Tim Keller’s Wise VoiceThe late pastor theologian gave strong counsel to me and so many others in ministry.
- From the MagazineEve’s Legacy Is Both Sin and RedemptionThe first woman tried to get free of God. But when she aligned herself with God’s purposes, she became the ‘Mother of All the Living.’
- RelatedSammi Cheng: ‘Not Having a Smooth Path Allowed Me to Be Gentler and More Humble’The Hong Kong Christian actress and singer experienced God’s grace in depression and marital crisis and grew in her acting career简体中文繁體中文
- Editor's PickBecome a Shadow of Your Future SelfManifesting isn’t the answer. Consenting to holiness is.