The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Review
My first introduction to the world of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia was an animated adventure of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe that I saw as a child. I can still remember how affected I was by the stripping of Aslan’s mane when he sacrificed himself, not because of the religious allegory but because of the humiliation wrought upon him. So it was with great anticipation that I watched the 2005 Disney adaptation, hoping to relive that same feeling. Sadly I did not. Perhaps it was my older, more wearied self, but I felt that the tone of the film whole was wrong – it was all about that climactic battle and nothing about the sacrifice and journey. Still, the film had very many plus points and I did enjoy it enough to finally pick up the books and read the ‘real’ versions. Despite the simple ‘old’ language used, Lewis’ world was full of fantasy; wild creatures with hearts of gold striving to survive the wrath of the Witch who held sway over the wintered land. His subsequent stories expanded this world and even charted its creation, becoming more elaborate and contained within the prose; and there was the ever presence of Aslan the Lion; protector, creator and lord. It gave me great excitement when I knew that a second book was to be turned into a film, hoping that the makers had learned from their mistakes with ‘Wardrobe, and the anticipation for Prince Caspian was high; sadly though, a combination of misplaced scenes, a drastically wrong tone and a focus on all the wrong characters meant that ‘Caspian was a rather dire experience to sit through. Where was the magic? Buried below a battlefield that’s where. It did, however, manage to make a profit and thus the third in the series was commissioned, albeit with a different company making it (Fox instead of Disney) and a drastically reduced budget. The buzz surround The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was far less since its immediate predecessor was so universally derided, so the makers decided to go all out and changed a huge amount of the book to give a far greater focus to the story. In many ways it works, but in others it completely misses the point. We’ve already covered the film twice already on site, so I’ll not go into too much depth with the synopsis, opting to concentrate on the 3D picture since that is what this release is all about, therefore I’ll make a few personal observations before getting on the with technical review. And since we’ve already covered it you can expect a number of statements that could be considered spoilers – you have been warned.
Peter and Susan are too old to return to Narnia, we’re told this at the end of Prince Caspian, so it falls to the younger Pevensie’s, Edmund and Lucy to carry on the magic. However, time has passed and both are growing older; Lucy is becoming aware of her sexuality whereas Edmund craves more responsibility, even if that means enlisting. We already know that Georgie Henley can act, she was the best thing in ‘Lion, ‘Witch and ‘Wardrobe and even though she was cruelly sidelined in ‘Caspian she still managed to provide a very capable performance – here she is given a story arc that was only hinted at in the books regarding her growing sexuality and this allows her to shine once again. Her wide eyed innocence is gradually replaced with responsibility, her mothering of the child Gael (a character that did not appear in the books) is a testament to that, though her temptation is probably her best scene and one that hits home with the stark reality of being careful what you wish for. Her maturity, like those of her elder siblings before her, means that come the end of the journey this is her last time in Narnia, but unlike the siblings this does not seem forced, but a natural progression since we have seen her develop.
Edmund on the other hand doesn’t fare quite so well. Skandar Keynes puts in a reasonably good performance with the material he is given, but compared to Lucy, who is maturing, Edmund appears to be regressing – a symptom shared with Peter in the last film. He craves responsibility in the beginning and even has an extremely similar line (“I used to be a king!”) showing his frustration – and when he gets to Narnia he too battles with Caspian with regard to leadership. His conclusion, by slaying the serpent, as an allegory for slaying his demons and thus growing from the experience was far too trite for me, and so his journey did feel too forced.
However, the third ‘son of Adam’ and new to the franchise was extremely well realised by Will Poulter. The Pevensie’s are staying with their cousin for the remainder of the war (Peter and Susan are elsewhere) and finding it very difficult. Eustace Clarence Scrubb is an extremely annoying boy – doggedly into fact over fiction, dismissing any notion of fantasy, or magical lands, he is a brat and a spoilt one at that. Our introduction to this thoroughly nasty piece of work is meant to convey all of this information so we come to despise him and Poulter does a remarkable job in the few brief minutes before the adventure proper starts. I did feel that is was slightly rushed as if all the makers really wanted to do was get to Narnia (which of course they did) which is a shame as the whole story is about redemption and forgiveness and Eustace is central to this idea and by sidelining him the makers shifted the focus slightly, making for a less rewarding experience. His time on the ‘Treader was also glossed over; in the book he is troublesome, shifty, sneaky and disreputable, almost to the point of being reprehensible – his journal entries are also a terrific source of comic timing as through his eyes we see a very different world to the one we know exists. In speeding up the story, the makers of the film miss this crucial element, thus his comeuppance in the form of the dragon doesn't feel quite so dramatic and certainly his dismay is never as heartfelt – though the scenes with Reepicheep try valiantly to convey it so. Poulter’s portrayal, though, is absolutely spot on, he is spiteful and arrogant and totally unlikeable, essential for this character early on and he nails it every time.
The same cannot be said for the last main character that of returning actor Ben Barnes as Prince (now King) Caspian. The story is supposed to be set some three years after the previous adventure and in that time Caspian has lost his Spanish accent. Now I don’t have a great problem with that, perhaps regal duties have forced him into a clearer tongue, or time in Narnia sees his accent alter, but honestly it’s no big deal – what I’m more concerned about is he still seems to be the kid fighting for his throne – there is no stately presence for the fellow; no kingly attitude – Even Peter managed to convey this in the first film and he was far younger. The fault lays with both Barnes the actor and the part he is given to play – in the book he was King, searching his land for the lost Lord’s trying to reclaim and reunite the lands – here he is chasing after an evil and needs the Lord’s swords to quell it. Nothing wrong with the idea, in fact both as dramatic prose and as a narrative drive I really like it – but it does dilute the King’s purpose, which, as far as I am concerned, is a missed opportunity.
The rest of the characters have little to do, Aussie actor Gary Sweet puts in a gruff performance as the ‘Treader’s captain Drinian. Simon Pegg steps into Eddie Izzard’s shoes for Reepicheep’s voice and does a pretty good job, while Liam Neeson returns to voice the almighty Aslan whose screen time is remarkably short, but then it was in the book also.
As I have already alluded too, I think the story idea is pretty good as a narrative drive – in terms of the book adaptation it strays pretty far from its source material; there is no green mist that forms monsters from your nightmares, the swords are not needed to stop any evil, several islands were either missing, amalgamated into one or presented in a different order and there is no climactic battle with a sea serpent to name but a few. However, as written the book is a little vague on its reasoning for the ‘Treader’s journey, i.e. finding the fate of the Lords and such changes do make for a more exciting and adventurous film. Where the film strayed from the ideas behind the story, though, things are a little less clear cut. The journey to Aslan’s country was a necessary element to the book as there was a sacrifice needed to resolve the Lords fate; the sacrifice was Reepicheep – a character that is presented as a much loved and loyal servant to Caspian and Aslan, he was an integral part of both the books (Prince Caspian and ‘Dawn Treader) and his sacrifice at the end was a truly, truly heartfelt moment. As presented in the film he goes because he wants to see Aslan’s country ....? What? That makes no sense and it cheapened the character and the end of the film as he had no reason to go. Eustace’s redemption and forgiveness does play out well in the film, though it is slightly sidelined by the fact that as a dragon Eustace becomes an important fighting machine, used for action purposes. I will say that for dramatic purposes it did work well, though his farewell to Reepicheep was far too quickly glossed over. And while we’re at the shores of Aslan’s country, quotes taken direct from the book regarding Aslan’s ‘different name’ do seem somewhat forced and there to appease the fans/Christians that were appalled by the lack of values hidden within the previous film. Whilst they were laboured and, indeed, at odds with the rest of the narrative, I think as a closing sentiment of the picture they work within the confines of the scene, as you can, if you so desire, strip the Christian allegory away and just think that Aslan is saying he’ll always be with the children, no matter where they are or how they change.
The scope of the film is somewhat smaller than the previous films; this can be seen as a budgetary constraint, or since the majority of the film is set on the ship, a necessary advantage. In reality it is a bit of both. However, the film does have a strong drive and whilst the characters and motivations are slightly altered from the source novel at least they are not out of character that much, meaning that there is still much to enjoy. And at least it’s managed to bring the franchise back on course opening the doors for further adventures in Narnia, and that can only be a good thing.