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Dawn Treader Movie Review


If I were to write a brief review of the new Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie it might go like this....
Return to Magic? Yes, but not C. S. Lewis' magic.
Return to Hope? My hope for the faithful continuation of the Narnia movie franchise is dimmed.
Return to Narnia? Was it even C. S. Lewis' Narnia?
However, I find it impossible to stop with such a brief and too depressing review....
On the positive side, one of my favorite moments in the new movie is the arrival of three children from our world (Edmund, Lucy and Eustace) on the Narnian ship itself. That moment in the film gave me the same feeling I had reading the story as a child—the feeling of wonder and joy at being back in Narnia again.
However, this story isn’t really set in Narnia. Rather it takes place upon the sea, east of Narnia. Furthermore, I kept getting the feeling throughout the movie that I wasn’t in C. S. Lewis’ creation at all. That’s because from the Dawn Treader’s first stop at the Lone Islands to the reaching of Aslan’s Country at the end of the film, so much has been changed from Lewis’ original book. (For those who haven’t seen the movie, which I urge you to do, I warn you that the rest of this review will be a huge spoiler.)
At the beginning, the movie does more to set the scene in England during the Second World War than Lewis’ original book. This is not bothersome but rather helpful and artfully done. The problems, for me, begin once the children from our world reach the Dawn Treader. One of the main difficulties, from my perspective, is that the movie rather drastically changes the sequence of the adventures as they are portrayed in Lewis’ original book….

Book

1. Lone Islands
2. Storm
3. Eustace’s Dragoning and Undragoning
4. Sea Serpent Battle
5. Goldwater (Deathwater) Island
6. Island of the Voices
7. Dark Island
8. Ramandu’s Island
9. The Silver Sea
10. The End of the World

Movie

1. Lone Islands
2. Island of the Voices
3. Eustace’s Dragoning on Goldwater Island
4. Ramandu’s Island
5. Storm
6. Sea Serpent Battle on Dark Island
7. Undragoning of Eustace
8. The Silver Sea
9. The End of the World

Does this change in sequence matter? I believe it does. All of Lewis’ Narnia stories contain symbolism, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader being, as Lewis said, about the “spiritual life”, is one of the most heavily symbolic of all seven books. Sequence is very important in this story because it gives us a picture of the sequence, or journey, of the spiritual life from beginning to end.
As I point out in my book, The Hidden Story of Narnia, it is significant that this voyage begins with an enslavement story because that is where the Bible says we all start as human beings, enslaved to sin, ever since Adam and Eve.
At least the movie starts in the right place. However, it quickly gets off track. In the book, Lord Bern rescues Caspian from slavery, and in that sense, he is a Christ-like figure. This is completely lost in the movie.
In the book, following the rescue from slavery, there is a time of peace followed by a storm at sea. This too is symbolic of the pattern of the spiritual life. Again, the sequence is changed in the movie.
In the book, it is also significant that Eustace’s dragoning and undragoning happen towards the beginning of the story. Eustace’s story is one of conversion, and conversion is something that happens toward the beginning of the spiritual journey. In the book, we see Eustace transformed and then growing, changing. In the movie, Eustace isn’t undragoned until the end. This is a mistake from a symbolic standpoint.
The book tells of Eustace tearing off one layer of dragon skin after another. This is, in my opinion, depicted rather lamely and incompletely in the movie. In addition, the way the movie shows Aslan “magically” changing Eustace back into a boy again, rather than actually tearing off his dragon skin, fails to depict the pain of spiritual/moral transformation. Furthermore, I was very disappointed that the movie did not show Aslan throwing Eustace into a pool of water after tearing off his dragon skin. I believe that, in the book, this is an important baptismal symbol and so it is a shame that it is completely left out of the movie.
The sequence in the book of undragoning, sea serpent battle and temptation on Goldwater Island is also important. Once again, as I point out in The Hidden Story, I believe Lewis is dealing here with the ancient evil triumvirate of “the world, the flesh and the devil”, though in the story it comes in the order of: the flesh, the devil and the world. Still, in the story the three are linked together. This linking is completely lost in the movie by moving the sea serpent battle to the climatic point in the film simply for dramatic effect.
Does that dramatic effect work from a cinematic standpoint? Yes. However, for my taste it is telling Lewis’ original story in a manner far too different. Lewis once noted two sources of inspiration for his story: Homer’s Odyssey and the legends of St. Brendan the Navigator. Though I have tried to understand, in the end I fail to comprehend why the makers of this movie felt they couldn’t tell Lewis’ story in the same episodic fashion in which he wrote it. If it was good enough for Homer, St. Brendan and for Lewis, why is it not good enough for Hollywood?
I think it is also significant that in Lewis’ story he treats of the Magician’s Book (symbolic of the Bible) after Eustace’s undragoning. The Bible is one of our greatest helps in the spiritual life, most especially after conversion.
I really don’t like the way the movie lumps together Goldwater and Eustace becoming a dragon on the same island. Then there is also the lumping together of the storm, sea serpent battle, Dark Island and undragoning of Eustace.
When we are finally led out of the darkness, thankfully, towards the end of the film, we are led by a bird. (I couldn't even tell if it was an albatross as in Lewis' book, and in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.) However, we don't get to hear Aslan's voice whispering to Lucy from the albatross: "Courage, dear heart!" In the movie one has little sense, as one does in the book, that it is Aslan leading them out of the darkness. No, in the movie the characters must battle their own way out of the Dark Green Island. Sad.
I think Lewis’ depiction of one temptation per island is so much clearer and more meaningful and significantly progressive than the mishmash presented in this film version. If one were to compare Lewis’ map of The Great Eastern Ocean with the map the filmmakers were working with, one would have two completely different maps, and thus we have two rather different stories.
The events on Ramandu's Island, as shown in the movie, are also a disappointment. The sense of the sacramental nature of Aslan's Table, so clear in the book, is muddled in the movie. Furthermore, isn't it rather startling that we get to Ramandu's Island but never meet Ramandu? Did I miss him? In addition, we never see Ramandu being fed by birds with fire-berries from the sun, nor do we see Aslan's Table being renewed. Sigh.
Finally, when we get to the very end of the world, in the movie version, we don’t meet a lamb cooking fish, a lamb that becomes a lion, as we do in Lewis’ book. My eleven-year-old son pointed out this difference to me and said that he felt it was the most important thing the filmmakers got wrong. Why? Because it is the clue Lewis put into the story to guide every child to understand Aslan’s identity.
Yes, the filmmakers thankfully kept in the movie some of Aslan’s important statements from this final chapter in the book. Certainly, the ending as portrayed in the movie is still very emotionally moving. Even the Queen and Liam Neeson shed a few tears when they saw the ending at the premiere in London. One can understand why.
However, in the end I think most lovers of the Narnia books shed a few tears at the end of the movie for a different reason. We could not help but be disappointed with all the things left out of this movie that could easily have been included. Then there were the many things that were added to the movie (green mist, White Witch, seven swords, following the blue star, only to name a few) which were not in the book and could have been left out of the film without detriment. Finally, as we have clearly seen, there are the things which were rearranged from book to movie which could have been left in the order Lewis originally had them … for a reason.
I wouldn’t want to leave my readers thinking there was nothing I liked about the film. It was visually stunning, funny, and even moving at points. Viewers like my wife, who have never read the book, may enjoy the movie immensely, just as she did. Will Poulter as Eustace stole the show at many points with his masterful portrayal of one of C. S. Lewis’ finest characters. I hope we get to see Will in The Silver Chair … and that leads me to my final point….
If you haven’t yet gone to see Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the theater, I hope you will. Despite all the changes the filmmakers have made from book to movie, it is still a wonderful film for the whole family, well worth seeing on the big screen; and it is a film that still retains many of Lewis’ important themes such as courage, honor, valor, the importance of resisting temptation and cultivating a deep desire for “Aslan’s Country”.
Despite my disappointment with many things changed and left out of Lewis’ story, I will go to see the movie again. Most certainly, I will see it in 3D, which I haven’t done yet. Perhaps I will even enjoy it more the second time through, now that I am over the shock of the first viewing. Maybe after seeing it the second time I will even write a happier, more positive blog than this one....

Comments

hvlawson said…
Beautifully said, Will! What a true review! Although the movie was visually appealling, I was very disappointed in the sequencing. Lewis' words in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader were masterfully detailed in painting a picture of the Christian journey. I was disheartened to see the additions in the movie that weren't in the book. Furthermore, I'm saddened that the choice was made to veer from Lewis' vision. There was still a message in the movie, but it was one lacking all that C.S. Lewis offered in the book.

I am thankful that I was able to read the book with my students. Tears rolled as we read the last chapter and Reepicheep, the spiritual warrior, finally laid down his sword as he had fought the good fight. Aslan's words to Lucy in knowing him by his name in our world was so exciting and moving to explain to my students. It goes without saying that Eustace's dragoning and undragoning in the book became the pivotal point in showing my kids that we can't take away all of our sins (scales) away only God (Aslan) can. Needless to say, my class has grown and developed as Eustace did in the book. They're truly a different group of students from having read the book.

Thanks again for the review, Will! Many blessings to you!

Heather Lawson
Bristol, Virginia
Will Vaus said…
Thanks Heather for your wonderfully detailed and appropriate comment! It is so good to hear of your experience reading VDT to your class. I read the book to my son Joshua's fifth grade class back in September. They enjoyed it and want me to come read more to them! In a way I was glad to find out that my son was the only one in the class who had a clue as to Aslan's name in our world. To me that suggests that good seed was being planted deep in needy soil.

Blessings back to you!
Ken Symes said…
The message conveyed by the movie is still very much from the novel. The important speeches are almost word-for-word. One of the main criticisms against this movie is the amount of non-sequiter parts! Adding all the things you would have liked from the book would only have amplified this criticism. For example, the Lamb cooking fish would have been totally lost on most of the audience except for the most Christian as the scene is totally disjointed from the entire book -- it works only if you know John 21.

The movie genre has to be tighter and more focused. I think they found a brilliant way of doing this with the collection of the swords and they still preserved the most important character elements and temptations. We leave the movie seeing how Eustace, Caspian, Edmund and Lucy each battled significant temptation and emerged faithful to Aslan. Personally, I found the elongated experience of Eustace as dragon to be far more compelling and true to the typical conversion experience. In the book, you feel that Lewis is trying to compress many ideas about the transformation of Eustace into one small chapter. The moviemaker picked up on this and saw the advantage of stretching it out and giving Eustace more of a chance to show his change of heart.

Will, I am very interested in your insights about Lewis' writings as I run a website which publishes daily readings from C.S. Lewis. It's called Mere C.S. Lewis. I just happen to really like this movie though I am true and loyal to Lewis as I can see you are too ;)
Will Vaus said…
Dear Ken,

Thanks for your detailed comment. I don't happen to agree with your perspective on the changes from VDT the book to VDT the movie, but that's o.k. There are as many different perspectives as there are movie goers. So far I would say I liked the first two movies better than the third and I liked LWW best of all. I think that is because LWW is the best of all seven books and because the movie was more faithful to the book.

However, I still think VDT the Movie is well worth seeing on the big screen. I plan to go back next week and see the 3D version. Perhaps I will post another review then.

And I am glad for every person who is going to see VDT in the theater and enjoying it. I think that gives us a better chance of seeing a new movie version of Silver Chair... at least I hope so.

Blessings,
Will
Rachel said…
Hey, don't forget Dawn Treader comes out on blu-ray and DVD April 8th....TODAY! I am so excited!
Will Vaus said…
Thanks for the reminder Rachel! I hope to pick up my copy tomorrow!! Can't wait!!!

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