Movie Review - Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

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for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action

If you’ve already read C. S. Lewis’ book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, you already know what its primary messages were: Believe in yourself. Embrace your individuality. Overcome your fears. Find the seven magic swords before it’s too late. Avoid the swirling green mist of doom. Or, something like that. Or… maybe not.

If you’re searching for a faithful adaptation of a favorite story (that story being Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), then look no further. Really, I mean it. You’ll be too appalled by the plethora of changes from the original to be able to bear reading the rest of the review.
If, on the other hand, you think you can forget or ignore the original story long enough to make it through the review, and maybe even through the movie—if you think you can look at the story and the characters as if you’d never heard of them before… then let’s be fair. Let’s look at the symbolism and the morals of the story—of this version of the story—as if we’d never heard of them before, either.

Sexual Content:

So, yes, embracing your individuality—ordinarily a Worldview topic, but for Lucy, the alternative to individuality is wistfully staring at, and then imitating the way a young nurse coyly flirts with a soldier, so it goes in Sexual Content. The White Witch’s bare shoulders are toned down some by virtue of their being misty-green now (I’ll explain later), and most of the shirtless mythological creatures (Worldview element) are evidently back on shore. The naked naiads, however (being mystical water beings) are perfectly at home swimming (thankfully, pretty quickly) alongside. Both Edmund and Caspian are quite averse to the idea of a shape-shifting female star (Worldview) taking away her physical beauty.

Violent and Intense Content:
Unlike the first two installments of the series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader leaves us completely battle-less. Now, there are some pretty involved fights now and again (…and again), but there’s a lot less order and a lot more gymnastics. Take the fight right after Caspian, Edmund, Lucy and ever-annoying cousin Eustace have been captured by slave traders (a fight that, like most of the other ones, was concocted just for the movie). It’s completely bloodless, with more martial arts than military might, and there’s no organization. It’s every man and girl (Worldview) for themselves—not in a heartless way, but a cocky, it’s-too-early-in-the-movie-to-die sort of way.

Now, the intensity’s another story. For that, you need to skip to the end of the movie (originally the middle of the book), to the fight with the sea serpent, which is far indeed from a daylight clash with Lewis’ “very stupid animal.” For one thing, the movie places it in the waters of the Dark Island, so the scene is, well, dark. For another, everybody’s surrounded by the swirling green mist of doom (a Worldview element to which the slavers send live human sacrifices). For yet another, the serpent itself is large enough to bite the head off the Dawn Treader’s prow (that’s a part of the ship, not a member of the crew, by the way), and it can split itself open quite suddenly, cobra-style, and display hundreds of groping tentacles to an Edmund who was already on edge from dealing with the ghost of the White—now green—Witch (Worldview element)

Caspian’s search for the seven lost Narnian lords—the original purpose of the voyage—turns up a skeleton and a gold statue that used to be a human being. They’re dealt with fairly casually; sometimes very casually. Pity doesn’t seem to be anybody’s strong suit, in this movie.

There’s a bit in the way of name calling (“mullet-mouth,” “jelly-legs,” etc.), some sarcasm and some good-guy smugness. One character compares another’s smell to “the hind end of a Minotaur.” Eustace spouts the minced oath, “where in the blazes;” refers to his annoying former self as a “sod” (insignificant meaning; very significant origin1), and he takes God’s name in vain once.

When it comes to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’s worldview, some things began with the original story, but most are new to the movie. The very first scene has Edmund trying to enlist in the British military under false pretenses, with someone else’s identification, without telling his parents—and then whining to Lucy when he’s found out, that in this world no one treats him like the Narnian king that he is. The immaturity and dishonesty are never resolved.

In America, Susan writes that she and Peter “never see Father, he works so hard.” Lucy raises her voice at her oblivious newspaper-reading Uncle Harold, while Edmund makes faces at him. A new Narnian character leaves his daughter ashore while he goes off with the Dawn Treader to find out what happened to the human sacrifices (one of them, his wife), but his daughter disobeys his injunction to stay behind—with everybody’s approval. The character of Ramandu the star is ditched, and his daughter takes over his role as sage and prophet. View of fathers: negative, disappointing, not worth obeying, or not worth leaving in the script.

Now, stowing away isn’t the only illegal activity that goes unresolved in the film version. Lucy tears out and walks off with a page of somebody else’s spell book, and even the “noble” Reepicheep tells of an adventure he had in company “with a band of pirates.”

And, yes, Lucy was involved with a book of spells. Given the task of making invisible things visible, Lucy temporarily gets sidetracked experimenting with magic for her own amusement before finally reciting the desired incantation. This makes the one-legged dufflepuds and the magician of the place, visible again.

This magician is the one who, with a wave of his hand, produces a magical map and tells Caspian what his journey’s really about. Yes, there are seven lost lords. Much more importantly, there are seven lost magic swords. Only when all seven of them are laid on Aslan’s table (which they will find by following a mystical blue star) will the spell allowing Evil (manifested in the mind-reading green mist) to continue, be broken. It’s Ramandu’s daughter who explains that Caspian must hurry, or “the evil will be unstoppable.”

So, where is Aslan in all this? Good question. Until the very end, he’s largely ignored, save for a couple of appearances to remind Lucy to embrace her individuality. The humans’ ability to resist the green mist’s temptation is found in themselves; as is the strength to defeat the sea serpent and the Dark Island. Aslan’s two-second light-beam-and-albatross answer to Lucy’s prayer is more of a distraction to the viewer than a help to the characters. It’s only when the seventh sword is laid on Aslan’s table that anything changes. After the victory, Lucy says, “We did it! I knew we would,” and when Edmund says, “But we didn’t do it alone,” he’s not talking about Aslan’s help, but Eustace’s.

The concept of “Aslan’s country” at the end definitely gave opportunity for a Christian portrayal of heaven, but even that gets pretty skewed. Aslan tells Caspian that he will not know if his father is in Aslan’s country until he goes there himself, but Caspian’s father didn’t even believe in Aslan. When Reepicheep declares that he is “hardly worthy” to enter Aslan’s country, all the other characters contradict him, and even Aslan says, “My country was made for noble hearts.” When Caspian tries to repent of his failings and says, “I promise to be a better king,” Aslan replies, “You already are.” Even Eustace’s sojourn as a dragon, which in the book fairly clearly represented his sinful nature, is made light of in the movie, with statements like, “Being a dragon wasn’t all bad,” and “You ma[d]e a pretty good dragon.” And, without having a previous familiarity with the book, or maybe a powerful imagination, nobody would be able to pick out a metaphor for salvation from Eustace’s physical transformation.

Reepicheep’s “We have nothing, if not belief,” and Lucy’s “Don’t worry; you’ll see her again… You just have to have faith about these things,” are more like abstract wishes than biblical faith. And, considering his relative insignificance in this version of the story, Aslan’s “In your world I am known by another name. You must learn to know me by it,” is at best extremely vague; at worst, intentionally vague. His next statement, “That is the very reason you were brought here,” doesn’t ring true, either.

As with all Narnia books and movies, the pagan mythological origins of naiads, dryads, fawns, minotaurs, humanoid stars and animals that talk all the time2, need to be kept in mind. Dueling and “satisfaction” (i.e. vengeance) are brought up in this story, and Lucy exhibits some feminism in her sword fighting, superior airs, and masculine clothing.

You know, I don’t actually think it’s a sin to change the story as much as The Voyage of the Dawn Treader did. Silly, but not necessarily wrong. The differences between The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and a biblical worldview are what bother me. Yes, the swirling green mist of doom was a kind of bizarre addition, on the artistic plane, and I think the movie was far from developing it well enough to make us really think that it was going to be “unstoppable.” And the seven-magic-swords subplot was very distracting, and very predictable. But, more importantly, the Christian’s idea of evil is not that it’s “unstoppable,” is it? Nor do we find salvation from Evil in a pile of magic metal. Narnia, this time around, does. Even if there were dozens of Christian elements in the movie, the pagan, occult and humanist worldview elements still wouldn’t be acceptable. But what started out as Christian symbolism in a book with an imperfect worldview, has ended up (beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) as vague clich√©, apart from our reading our own religion into the movie. Such was my impression of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, anyway.

I admit, I made it through the movie without being defiled, seasick, or lured into the occult—and that’s a good thing. But I can’t say that I’d ever care to see the film again. Ironically, a weakness in the filmmaking—the fact that you don’t really get drawn into the seven-swords subplot, and don’t take her too seriously when the girl says that Evil could be “unstoppable”—is what made me decide to leave the yea or nay over seeing this movie up to the individual… over ten years of age, and guided by their parents.

1 “Sod” is a now mild derogatory term, originating from “Sodomite.”
2 Numbers 22:21-28

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