Why "Dawn Treader" Will Sink the Narnia Franchise
Prince Caspian was a better movie than The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I know I’m in the minority when I say so, but there are several reasons why the second movie was better than the third.
Caspian may have had a lackluster performance at the box office. It may have botched a few things (like Aslan and Lucy’s conversation – “every year you grow, so shall I” and the rebellious streak the writers gave Peter), but the movie stayed true to the storyline and intent of Lewis. The additional scenes creatively enhanced and explored the hints that Lewis himself had placed in the book.
For example, even if the attack on Miraz’s castle was invented, the writers added a moving vision of self-sacrifice, as one of the animals – in cruciform fashion – holds up the gate while everyone else escapes. Lewis would have been pleased, if not with the story departures, then surely with the intention and tone.
Not so with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Believe me, no one wanted to be a bigger cheerleader for this film than me. I wanted to love this film as much as I love the book. It pains me to speak critically of a movie that has so many things going for it. So first, let’s look at the positives.
What I Liked
Will Poulter plays the role of Eustace Scrubb precisely the way I have imagined this character to be.
Reepicheep is more valiant and honorable than ever, stealing the show in more ways than one.
The special effects are outstanding. (We watched the film in 3-D. Nothing is added by seeing the film in 3-D, but it is still a fine presentation.)
What Narnia-lover isn’t excited to see the Dufflepuds on the big screen, the Magician’s book, or the Dawn Treader itself? I couldn’t help but enjoy the movie – primarily because it’s based on a book I love. But I was disheartened by the changes in storyline, changes which ultimately mangle the theological vision of the book.
Eustace the Hero?
I was deeply disappointed in how the filmmakers handled Eustace’s time as dragon. In the book, Eustace becomes a dragon for a short period of time. Aslan does his work, and Eustace is transformed back into a boy.
In the movie, the writers decided that lengthening the time Eustace is a dragon would serve the plotline. Eustace becomes the movie’s hero. In fact, he goes from zero to hero within a half hour. Lewis would never have allowed such a move. Why? Because the point of Eustace’s time as dragon was to show his need for Aslan’s transformation – apart from anything he could do himself. The book shows Eustace as a loser who is shown mercy. The film shows Eustace as a hero getting his reward.
Another aspect related to this change irks me. In the book, redemption for Eustace looks remarkably ordinary. He becomes a crew member and takes his place on the ship with the others. He joins the team. There’s something distinctly Christian about Lewis’ vision of redemption that leads to an ordinary, common life among a community of redeemed individuals. Unfortunately, the filmmakers aren’t satisfied with the subtle redemption that leads to a mission-focused community. Eustace has to become the hero whose efforts bring salvation to the rest.
The Temptation Scenes
I don’t know where to start with the temptation scenes and the green mist. (Note to the creators of Lost: if you sued Fox for stealing your smoke monster idea, you’d win.)
I understand the need to give an episodic book like Dawn Treader a little more continuity. The added plot device of the seven swords was helpful to the film and not harmful to the book. But the temptation scenes are a disaster – not in how they are acted, but the message they send.
How in the world does Lucy’s temptation for beauty become a message that tells viewers, “Just be yourself.”? Yes, the film gets it right that “evil is inside you.” Glad to see that. But the film teaches that the resolution to the evil in you comes from being true to your deeper, better self. Willpower saves.
More than that, the way to overcome temptation is simply to know temptation is coming. When the time of testing comes, everyone thinks, “Gee, we’re being tested.” And once tested, you receive your reward… which leads to the worst misstep of all.
The Noble Shall Inherit the Kingdom of God
The final scene on the shore looks wonderful. Aslan is majestic. The special effects are extraordinary. And thankfully, the writers keep the words of Aslan to Lucy and Edmund – you shall know me by another name in your world. Chill bumps, anyone?
But my satisfaction was dashed when the rest of the scene turned upside down the entire theological vision of Lewis. “My country is made for those with noble hearts,” says Aslan. Really? In the context of the film, the message is: be true to yourself, become a hero, and then you can head into Aslan’s country. That this vision of salvation has C.S. Lewis’ name on it is a travesty.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is well worth seeing. Despite its flaws, it’s a good movie. The filmmaking is outstanding. The casting is superb.
But – as I said in the title of this post – I believe The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be the last of the Narnia movies. It does not maintain enough of the original vision to captivate Narnia fans. Neither do the changes benefit the movie in a way that would attract new fans to the series. Ever since Prince Caspian, the franchise has been sinking. Dawn Treader, unfortunately, isn’t good enough to keep it afloat.