Review: "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (The Chronicles of Narnia)

Venturing into the theater with three children strikes a mighty blow to the bank account, but it was worth the adventure that awaited us. Having completed the story only months earlier, and being once burned by "Prince Caspian," the little ones were ready to do battle should the film depart from what they imagined. We were all in for a treat.

The non-spoiler review
My favorite human character was Eustace Scrubb. Will Poulter portrayed the character so well that it made me want to scream like a girl - that is, until he did so himself to better standards than anyone could have asked. He was the brat the audience loved to hate, opening the door to all that was due him.  His character added the dimension promised by the glasses.

Of course, as far as non-humans go, Reepicheep deserves an honorable mention. Having to overcome being a computer-generated mouse who lost his previous voice to Simon Pegg, the furry swashbuckler not only leads in dialog, but he also demonstrates the height of today's technology.  Like the rest of the special effects, these CGI characters were a seamless part of the film.

Yet, there was no magic captured by the Poindexers adorning our faces. While the cinematography was something to be commended, the 3-D "didn't really add anything," in the unsolicited words of my nine-year-old. (Shh! Don't be rude, honey.) I plan on having an example of two-dimensional film-making excellence on DVD in a few months, if it is released as such, but the 3-D seems like an unnecessary marketing gimmick.

The remarkable sound and color complemented one key ingredient in "Dawn Treader:" its accuracy to Lewis' book.  While it would be impossible to have a perfect translation of the book to the screen, the deviations are, in many cases, improvements.  While not everything that made Narmia special to Christians appears in the film, the vital components of the book turn the projector's wheels.

I give the film 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone school-aged and up.

SPOILERS after the jump:

More on the spoiler end-of-things.


After "Prince Caspian," we doubted if we would see another Narnian film on the par with "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." There were two key points of the film that, if not there, would have made the this movie a waste in three dimensions (four, if you include time). The de-transformation of the dragon and the glimpse at Aslan's country (and the Lion) were the identifying forces of Lewis' work: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as echoed in the movie, is a metaphor of the Christian life.  While some other minor details could have made a more convincing case for the film, the imagery there is too powerful not to spark later conversation and contemplation.

Yet, for being the title-wielding character of the last film, there was something missing in this representation of Caspian (again played by Ben Barnes).  He was less complex, certainly lacking that uncertainty clouding his resolve in the book. It not absent in the movie, but he becomes the pillar to steady Edmund's momentary wavering. The book described a youth battling with his inadequacies as king, wounded even greater by Aslan's denial to see the edge of the world with the others. Not only does he win this chance in the movie, but he stands throughout his time on screen with a smiling but kind confidence. His duel with Edmund on Deathwater Island, then, becomes a case of misguided justice rather than royal rivalry. Yet, to be honest, it was a pleasant reversal to the contrived tension between Caspian and Peter in the previous film.

Readers of the series will not be disappointed to see Lucy (Georgie Henley) have her coming of age moments.  She struggles while transitioning from her sister's shadow.  With each of the previous films holding true to Susan's beauty, Lucy believes hers is somehow lacking. While Lucy's journey toward accepting herself takes slight detours in the film (a new character is introduced almost for this purpose alone), the result is the same. The moral lesson is excellent for any girl in the audience, and it allowed the young actress a chance to explore the darker side of who seemed to be the most pure of the children.

Skandar Keynes as Edmund likewise had a difficult role. Similar to the previous film, the movie opens with Edmund struggling with the appearances of normal life. He, having already lived to adulthood in Narnia must once again inhabit his younger, less noble form. When he is washed into Narnian tides, he emerges as the seeming youth who must again face adult foes and obstacles. Thus, Keynes had to portray a teenager who needed not to prove himself to be a man, but a youth with an aged mind who asks the respect of others. While that scenario alone creates a fine line for the actor to walk, the task grows more difficult when Edmund betrays the uncertainty common to even adults. Keynes pulls off a marvelous balancing act, with its highlights being in Edumund's temptation at Deathwater Island and in the offer of the "White Witch" at the movie's climax.

Contrast Will Poulter's Eustace to that of the other children: a lad acting as though he were older and more intelligent than his cousins as set against their maturity and ability. Unlike Edmund, Eustace was a teen who needed to prove himself, going about it in the worst of ways.  His bothersome personality and ever increasing self-absorption implode to create the firestorm of the dragon, emblazoning a moral lesson on what it is to act as a human being.

That brings us to a true highlight in the tale - his inability to change his true nature without Aslan. So important is this point in Lewis' book that I felt the film spent too little time on it, but it was there with full commentary. Eustace recounts that his efforts proved ineffective in contrast to what the Lion had done for him. He who learned what it was to be a boy only after being trapped in the form of a dragon could learn to cope and become a good serpent; however, he would never become whole again without the magic of the divine. Indeed, we can venture to say that Aslan called Eustace into Narnia for this reason above all others.

Speaking of "Him," I was pleased beyond measure that the filmmakers remained true to the conversation at the edge of Aslan's country. While Eustace still had much to learn of the Lion, Lucy and Edmund now need to learn of Him in our world; only, Aslan is known by a different Name here.

One final point to close: what is the fascination these movies have with the White Witch? The more I thought about it, the more I am convinced that her portrayal in the green midst is a foreshadowing for a future role in The Silver Chair.  Consider this: at the end of the movie, Eustace's mother calls up to announce the arrival of Jill Pole.  "Dawn Treader" may not be the final film to grace the theater.

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