Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Film Review

Since childhood I have been a devotee of the Chronicles of Narnia. More recently, I have studied both film/TV production and theology in college. Needless to say, I have a unique (and complicated) perspective on the adaptation of my favorite childhood books into films.

Overall, Walden Media’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a resounding success. It is beautifully shot and directed. The production design (props, sets, costuming, makeup, and locations) is outstanding. Bringing the iconic Dawn Treader to life is a stunning feat. The CGI (computer-generated imagery) is also masterful. Reepicheep and Dragon-Eustace are beautifully animated and really capture the essence of both of those characters from the book. (The scene where Eustace is crying on the beach and Reepicheep tries to comfort him is my favorite scene in the film.)

The acting is stronger in this film than the previous two, with a few exceptions. Will Poulter as Eustace is a perfect casting choice–maybe too perfect. Simon Pegg does a better job with Reepicheep than the previous film’s Eddie Izzard. Both Skandar Keynes (Edmund) and Ben Barnes (Caspian) appear to have matured as actors. Georgie Henley (Lucy) does an excellent job for most of the film, but there are one or two moments where she comes across as unconvincing. Still, she does an excellent job or portraying the character. Tilda Swinton as the White Witch is chilling. (I hope they make The Magician’s Nephew just so I can see her in the role!)

I’m probably going to surprise people with what I say next. Of the three Narnia films so far made, Voyage of the Dawn Treader seems to be the most faithful to the tone of the original book. (Notice I said “tone”, not “plot.”) Both The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian seemed to be trying very hard to reproduce the epic scale of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. Narnia is wonderful and magical and mystical–but it’s not quite epic in the same way that Middle-earth is epic. Michael Apted’s Dawn Treader captures the “Narnian” feel of the book more clearly than Andrew Adamson’s previous two movies. (Although I have a great deal of good to say about them too.)

While some online bloggers have complained that the Narnia films have somehow de-Christianized the stories, anyone who is familiar with the books and watches the films critically will know that this is not true. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, if anything Walden Media over-exaggerates elements of the latent Christianity in the book. (The line in which Caspian says, “Think of all the lost souls we’re here to save,” is such a blatant double-entendre that I laughed out-loud when I first heard it.) The truth is that the Voyage of the Dawn Treader film retains the essential themes of the book: facing temptation, chivalry and honor, finding redemption.

Along with my positive comments, I have a few critiques. First, as I implied earlier, I feel that the overemphasis on the theme of temptation occasionally causes the film to veer into the pedantic. It also obscures some of the books other themes–such as the joy and adventure of discovery for discovery’s sake.

Second, the “darkness” through-line added to unify and add drive to the screenplay seems arbitrary and unimaginative. I’m not opposed to altering the story in order to make it more cinematic. I know that the art and rules of screenwriting dictate certain necessities, but I would have liked to see a more imaginative solution. It also obscured the book’s focus on the value of discovery for its own sake.

Third, after the invention of a Caspian/Susan romance in the Prince Caspian film, it seems like a major lost opportunity for the filmmakers to almost entirely ignore the Caspian/Lilliandil romance. (Seriously, the two of them actually marry in the book!) It also seems to have certain consequences for the making of The Silver Chair (but this probably is not the place to discuss that).

Bottom line: Go see the film! It’s a well-crafted piece of cinema that is suitable for the whole family. It is fun and beautiful film that also shares many themes that were important to C.S. Lewis: the value of chivalry, the importance of fighting evil within and without, and the Christian promise of redemption.

4 Responses to “Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Film Review”

  1. DominicLovesNarnia says:

    Nice review! Well, so many fans are disappointed in the film, because the plot has changed, cheesy script and so on. As for me, I’m a big fan of the “Narnia” series, and also want to be a film maker soon, the film is good but not entirely great. Yeah, I did liked it, it is a worth watching film and watch it in Theaters 4 times both 3D and 2D, but I think it is a dreadful adaptation because it didn’t captured so much the book, well yeah the Magic is back, because the adaptation of Prince Caspian is a little bit dark and violence, but it is a good adaptation especially The lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as for now no once can beat the Magic of LWW and VDT is really short, and they’ve changed the settings .. in the book after Lone Islands, they go to Gold Water Island but in the film, after Lone Islands, they go to Magicians island.. and I didn’t saw in the film the father of Liliandil, Ramandu and the Sea People. And you know what? The CGI of the Dragon is really really bad, didn’t look realistic, and if you actually in the books it’s Green and ugly but in the film it’s Gold and handsome… :( And you know what Caspian says at the beginning of the film? “Behold are casts aways, Edmund the Just and lucy the Valian: HIGH KING AND QUEEN OF NARNIA”..Lucy and Ed are not High King and Queen..:( Peter is the High King.. and Caspian didn’t talk about Reepicheep’s desire in Aslan’s Country. And he didn’t actually go with Ed, Lu , Reep and Eustace at the End of the Voyage but in the film he go..

    But I liked the idea about the Temptation, the Green Mist it’s good.. but the Sword? not much and also I didn’t like the part when The Lone Islander’s captured by the Green Mist .. that was a cheap part.. I hope they delete it. Over all the film is good .. but not good as LWW and PC.

    But I still can’t wait for the DVD hehehe .. I liked the battle at the end in the Sea Serpent and when Aslan tells Lucy and Ed that they’re not going back to Narnia like Peter and Su.. and he will know him by another name .. they’ve captured in the book. :) Didn’t liked also Gumpas in the film… :)

    • Sorry for the long delay in my response. Thanks for posting this reply to my review.

      I wrote this review because I felt that some critics were being too harsh in their evaluation of the film. No, it isn’t perfect, but in my opinion I feel that it captured the “tone” of the Narnia series better than either LWW or PC films did. I know that might shock some folks, but I stand by that evaluation. Both LWW and PC were laboring under this attempt to be the next “Lord of the Rings”-esque cash cow. And VDT seems to have broken out of that slavish “epicness” and allowed Narnia to be Narnian. Clearly, some people will disagree with this assessment.

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