Review: Voyage of the Dawn Treader Movie

Structure: One of the main problems with this movie is that it doesn’t start with the same excitement as the other two. Sure, when C. S. Lewis wrote The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, he didn’t start with the Germans bombing London, or when he wrote Prince Caspian, he didn’t start within Narnia, showing an obviously painful birth or an attempted assassination or an intense chase scene. However, even if these events were mentioned later, they became fairly natural starting places for those two movies. Those two movies started right away with a problem, in need of a solution.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the other hand, didn’t start this way. Sure, it didn’t take filmmakers very long to get to the painting and the bedroom filling up with water, but up until that point, the problems at hand are: Edmund wanting to be older, Lucy wanting to be prettier, both of them wanting to be shot of their cousin Eustace, and the lack of certain vegetables due to rations. Not much to really care about. Though, like I said, these scenes move pretty fast and are entertaining whenever Eustace finds his way into them.

When we get to the painting and the room filling up with water, we finally find some excitement, but as soon as it’s over, the excitement is gone. Caspian lets us know that there is peace in all of Narnia, which makes the audience wonder, then why are we watching this film? Where is the excitement? Where is the conflict? Where is the underlying problem in the story? Caspian soon explains that they began an expedition to find seven long lost lords. Okay, so this is a journey story, not a war story. I guess I can deal with that. At least there is a purpose to this film.

So, they begin their journey and arrive at their first stop, the Lone Islands, which is accurate when compared with the novel. There, they encounter some hostility, as they run into some unpleasant slave traders who abduct Caspian (who openly reminds them that he is their king), Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace. Caspian and Edmund they send to the prison, whereas Lucy and Eustace they intend to sell into slavery. This is mostly, though not entirely, accurate. Caspian’s entire operation was more covert in the book, but I suppose the covert rescue operation somewhat makes up for it.

But let’s not go that far ahead quite yet. In the prison, Caspian and Edmund meet the first lost lord, who explains to them what the green mist is. Likewise, I’ll explain the same to you. The green mist is an symbolic embodiment of pure evil as well as temptation. That, and it’s a mist that happens to be green. High-ranking officials (slave traders and slave buyers) at the Lone Islands had been sacrificing low-ranking citizens to the mist so that the mist might leave them alone. So, despite being merely a mist, it has the power to capture people and transport them to another location.

You should also know that the green mist is a filmmaker’s fabrication that doesn’t appear anywhere in the novel. It is there, I suppose, to make the story more exciting, because searching and finding seven lost lords (who felt like exploring the Eastern Ocean with no apparent reason and got themselves either captured or lost) didn’t seem nearly exciting enough. Instead, the lords made it their goal to search for the source of the magical albeit evil green mist and all of them failed in some way. So, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is now not only a rescue mission, but also a mission to find the source of the mist and destroy it if possible, something that the seven lords before them failed to do.

Each of the seven lords were give seven magical swords by Caspian X’s father, Caspian IX. Little did the seven lords know (or little were they able to figure out on their own) that these swords conveniently held the key to destroying the green mist, if only they all brought them to Aslan’s Table on Ramandu’s Island, which is also conveniently located right next to Dark Island, the source of the green mist. All of this, of course, is also a complete fabrication by the filmmakers in order to make a more interesting story, though “seven swords for seven lords” seems a bit lame to me.

But I digress. The conflict at the Lone Islands is short-lived and the crew is merrily on its way again.

After they leave the Lone Islands, they arrive at four more islands that are completely out of order from the book. If they were to remain true to canon, they would have arrived at the islands in this order: 1) the Lone Islands, 2) Dragon Island, 3) Goldwater Island, 4) Coriakin’s Island, 5) Dark Island, 6) Ramandu’s Island. Instead, the film changed this order to: 1) the Lone Islands, 2) Coriakin’s Island, 3) Goldwater and Dragon Island (combined), 4) Ramandu’s Island, 5) Dark Island. The reasons for the changes to the order? I can speculate on several:

In order to give the main characters further motivation to follow wherever the other six lords went from the Lone Islands, the filmmakers introduced a green mist, which the first-found lord explains to them. However, he explains what it is, but not how to destroy it, which is the new goal, or motivation. Coriakin, a wizard, is the perfect know-it-all sort of character who could easily know everything about the mist. So, filmmakers chose to visit his island next in order to explain to the characters (and to the audience) what needs to be done to break the spell.

Next, the filmmakers combined Goldwater Island (an island where a pool that can turn any object into gold is located) and Dragon Island (where Eustace does in fact put a gold object around his wrist and magically become a dragon), I suppose because the two islands both have to do with gold and treasure, which are both causes for temptation. Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace are all three tempted there–as Coriakin warned them would happen mere movie-moments before–by gold, treasure, and by association, power. Caspian and Edmund survive their temptation unscathed. Eustace, however, turned into a dragon, who according the novel was later turned back into a human before they even left that same island.

Because these two islands were combined, they find two swords and two lords there, bringing their total up to three. When they arrive at Ramandu’s Island, they find three more lords and three more swords, bringing their total up to six, plus they meet a star (Lilliandil, Ramandu’s daughter) who informs them that the seventh sword is within Dark Island, which just so happens to be practically within swimming distance. These lords and swords are proving to be far too easy to find. However, when they reach Dark Island, where your darkest thoughts and fears come true, they run into some trouble.

Has this ever happened to you?: When you know you really shouldn’t think about a sea serpent at this very moment, but then you think about a sea serpent, and it becomes real? Well, it happened to Edmund. Yes, there was a sea serpent in the book too. But it attacked them before they arrived at Coriakin’s Island, and it wasn’t due to some wayward thought of Edmund’s. Thankfully, Eustace, as a dragon, was there to fight the sea serpent, which, again may I remind you, did not happen in the book, as he was changed back to a human even before they left Dragon Island.

Furthermore, you have to wonder how incredibly easy and convenient it was for them that the seventh lord just happened to throw his sword into the dragon, causing him to fly away with the sword still sticking out of him and land on a sand bar between Dark Island and Ramandu’s Island, where Aslan came down to change him back into a human and place him just a few paces away from Aslan’s table, where he then placed the sword with the other six. Granted, everything seems much easier in the other films as well when Aslan comes and saves the day, but this just seemed a little too easy.

I suppose I can understand moving the sea serpent to the end of the film, though, because this makes for a much easier climax and story arc than it otherwise may have been. Once the last sword is placed and the sea serpent is destroyed, all the people who had been previously sacrificed to the green mist then emerge. Personally, I still think this whole fabricated green mist business is a bit ridiculous. I don’t mind seeing it symbolize temptation, because it becomes a great teaching tool for younger viewers. You can tell youngsters to keep watch for the green mist, then remind them that whatever the character is doing at the moment they are tempted by the green mist is something that they should not in turn do. But using that same green mist to capture innocent, sacrificed people and transport them to an island many miles away? This is the part I don’t like.

As the movie continues to the shores of Aslan’s country, we come to my favorite part of this film, the resolution. We see a transformed Eustace, a brave mouse who has chosen to continue to Aslan’s country rather than stay in Narnia, and Aslan say many meaningful things to the four children. Caspian stays in Narnia, and the three others return to England. There, filmmakers do something that I think is rather clever. I think that the close of this film feels very much like the close of a trilogy, with no promise of a sequel, nothing to leave the audience hoping for more. This is, I suppose, just in case the film doesn’t do well, and it isn’t renewed for a further four sequels. However, there are a few small hints given that foreshadow a sequel. Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that their adventures in Narnia have come to an end, but he tells Eustace that “Narnia may yet have need of you”. Later, back in England, Eustace’s mother yells up the stairs to say that Jill Pole had dropped in for a visit. Jill is a main character in the next novel, Silver Chair.

However, at the time of writing this, one year and seven months after the release of this film, there has been no announcement about a sequel and it is unlikely that there ever will be. Dawn Treader didn’t do very well at the box office in comparison with the films before it, and its sequel, Silver Chair, is also rather low on the list of fan’s favorite novels in the series. It’s among my least favorite, at least, meaning that it probably would do even worse at the box office if there was an adaptation made for it. The other three books? Those are safer bets, but none of them have character familiarity.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian both did rather well because they both have all four Pevensies in it, which tend to be fan’s favorite characters. Edmund and Lucy are main characters in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but Peter and Susan appear only briefly (though they needn’t have appeared at all, except I think filmmakers wanted an excuse to include them for their character familiarity). The White Witch also appears as a figment of Edmund’s mind out of the green mist, though she really shouldn’t have been a part of this film either. The only character that actually appears in all seven novels is Aslan. The only location that appears in all seven novels is Narnia. England is never once part of the setting in The Horse and His Boy, which is one of the reason’s why it’s my favorite. Because characters and locations change so frequently, for the average film viewer who is not a fan of the books, it would be really hard to connect all the movies together as part of a series. Harry Potter has it easy. Every book (and every film with the exception of one) takes place at Hogwarts. Every book and every movie includes all the same major characters, particularly Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Lord of the Rings has it easy too. All the books and movies take place in Middle-Earth, and all have the same major characters, making them very easy for the average film-viewing audience to accept. Not so with Narnia.

In the end, while I would have loved to have seen every book on the silver screen, I won’t be too heartbroken if the film franchise has indeed come to a close. It was great while it lasted, but realistically it is just not possible to strike gold with the other four un-filmed books as it was with the first film adaptation. Unless, of course, you were able to bring them to Goldwater Island and bring them back out of Narnia.

Actors: Edmund has the flaw of pride as his brother Peter did in the film before him. It appears as he tries to enlist in the army and as he attempts to claim Goldwater Island for himself. However, he learns from his temptation and this sin. Lucy, who in the previous two films was virtually flawless, has her first flaw in this film, that of vanity. You can see it as she wishes she looked more like Susan, and later when she tears the page out of the spell book and uses it to change into Susan for a few scary moments until Aslan changes her back. Both actors (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley, my two favorites of the four Pevensie actors) are the best I’ve ever seen them in this film.

Caspian, as with the previous film, is really not a memorable character for me. He still seemingly continues to fawn over Susan, a remnant of the fabricated romance between them from the previous movie.

The real and true savior and hero of this film is Eustace, played by the brilliant Will Poulter. His character equally hilarious as it is profound, as he undergoes a spectacular change during the course of this story. Not only does his body change from that of a human to a dragon, but his soul changes. You can clearly see it in his journal writing, which provides the narration for this film as well as a lot of its comic relief. His innermost thoughts change from spiteful in the beginning to caring at the end of the film. I sometimes don’t know which Eustace I like the most. The Eustace I can laugh at because he uses sarcasm and spite in his writing so well, or the Eustace in the end who is so kind that I would want for my own son.

Reepicheep (a talking mouse), additionally, is also a great character, and the relationship that forms between him and Eustace while he is a dragon is awesome. It is while Eustace is a dragon that he changes for the better. As a dragon, suddenly Eustace starts helping out and solving problems, which he refused to do as a mere human stowaway before. He creates a fire to warm the crew. He pulls the ship when the wind dies. The crew cheers for him, which makes him feel appreciated. Probably for the first time in his life, he feels useful and welcome and wanted, and Reepicheep, in part, helps him understand that. He tells him that extraordinary things (such as getting oneself turned into a dragon) only happen to extraordinary people. He also tells him that a noble warrior does not run from fear. Seeing the two characters part ways in the end is gut-wrenching.

Aslan, the greatest of all the characters, is full of words of wisdom. He tells Lucy, “You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.” Later, Lucy and the little girl talk about the girl’s mother being sacrificed to the mist. Lucy tells her, “Just have faith about these things. Aslan will help us.” She replies, wiser than her years, “But Aslan didn’t stop her from being taken.” Such real and applicable emotions these are! In the end, Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy, “In your world, I have another name. You must learn to know me by it. That was the very reason you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” I am so happy that the filmmakers didn’t water down the theology of this film. Aslan practically says word-for-word that he is God. In this moment, as Lucy and Edmund say their last goodbyes to Narnia, grow up, and learn to know Aslan by his “adult” name in “their” world, it is as though we are also encouraged to do the same: not only to know God, but say farewell to Narnia.

Visuals: There are some pretty awesome visuals in this movie. I particularly like Coriakin’s mansion, where Lucy casts the snow incantation, which doesn’t happen in the book, but makes for a pretty awesome visual for the upcoming Christmas season (the movie was released in December). However, one of the visuals that I liked the most of the whole movie is very simple. It has nothing to do with computer graphics or an elaborate set. It’s that bedroom where they all find the painting. When Eustace replaces the painting on the wall, they all three watch it move again as it did in the beginning, and Lucy closes the door, completing the film, I get chills up and down my spine every time I see that and hear Eustace’s narration.

Music: David Arnold’s soundtrack is alright, but it is nothing like Harry Gregson-Williams’s previous two. Furthermore, my favorite song from the movie, Carrie Underwood’s “There’s A Place for Us”, isn’t even included in the official soundtrack and must be purchased separately.

Summary: I admit, I have much more criticism (and a much longer commentary) for this film than I have for the previous two films. But, does that mean I am unhappy that this film was made? Absolutely not. An adaptation is an adaptation, no matter how true to the book it is or not. Some die-hard book fans are not able to separate the book from the film in their minds when they sit down to watch a movie. I, on the other hand, appreciate the differences. Just because there are many differences doesn’t mean that they’re all that bad. Sure, I didn’t care for the green mist idea, but there are so many awesome things about this movie that more than make up for one downfall. The lessons about temptation and self-esteem and being true to ourselves, for example, are overwhelmingly positive reasons to watch this movie. That, and chills one can get from watching the ending. I am not saying that it’s my favorite movie of the three. But, if this is the end of the film franchise, as it very well might be, I am glad that this film is the end.