There are seven books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. Depending on whether you’re in the publication order or chorological order camps, Voyage of the Dawn Treader is either the third or the fifth book. Since two of the books that would be before it in the chronology (The Magician’s Nephew and The Horse and His Boy) don’t feature the Pevensie children that star in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, it’s easy to see why they left them out and moved on to Dawn Treader, which goes like this:
Edmund and Lucy and their cousin Eustace come to Narnia through a painting to help Prince Caspian track down and defeat a mysterious evil that lurks beyond the far eastern edge of the kingdom.
Rumor had it that after Prince Caspian, failed to take the world by storm there would be no further Narnia movies. However, I guess somebody at Walden figured that there were still a few dollars to be squeezed out of the franchise, because here we are with the third. I predict Dawn Treader really will be the end of the franchise, though. I went to see it Saturday night on opening weekend and I practically had the theater to myself.
Several factors contribute to this movie not being a success. The first is that Prince Caspian was too much like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The second is that everyone is too busy Christmas shopping to bother to go and see it. And the third is that although Voyage of the Dawn Treader is probably the most interesting Narnia story and was ground-breaking for its time, a lot of time has passed and people have been exposed to an awful lot of derivative fantasies. So many that the Narnia stories actually seem quite generic now.
I need to read this spellbook. Lumos!
From the trailer you may have gotten the impression that the Dawn Treader is traveling to Aslan’s country, and while it’s true that they do make a stop there at the end, the point of the movie is to defeat an evil green mist that lives on the rather unimaginatively named Dark Island and has been snatching people up from a series of outlying Narnian islands. To defeat the mists, they have to collect seven special swords and lay them at Aslan’s special table. Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the plot of every fantasy video game in history. Narnia did it first, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re already tired of it.
So there are these swords, and you need to collect them to release their power, and… why are you sleeping?
One thing that could have made the movie more interesting is exploring the characters’ personal relationships and hang-ups. I don’t necessarily mean having a romantic subplot (there is never even so much as a hint of romance in any of the Narnia books) but giving the kids something to relate to. Lucy (Georgie Henly) feels inferior to her beautiful sister Susan (who is not in this movie). Edmund (Skandar Keynes) has the same hangup as in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: he wants respect and power. Caspian (Ben Barnes) is looking for his dad (who is dead) and Eustace (Will Poulter) doesn’t believe he’s in Narnia.
Gushing painting and talking animals notwithstanding.
They do quite a bit with Lucy and her Susan obsession, but apart from a few arguments and a hug at the end, Caspian and Edmund are just treading water. They’re there to fight and be heroic and give generically rousing battle speeches. But even their strategizing leaves something to be desired. They keep going onto strange islands late at night, going to sleep without posting a guard, and then being surprised when they wake up to find that something bad has happened.
”Good Lord, what’s happened to Lucy?” etc.
The reason Lucy has more character development than the others is that since the Narnia books were written in the 1950s and take place in the 1940s, the girls never had much of a role in the strategy and battles end of things. Lucy spends most of the movie down below either hanging out with a little girl, Gael (Arabella Morton) who stowed away because her mum was taken by the mist, or standing in front of the mirror wishing she was Susan.
“Dear God… I mean Aslan… why can’t I be more beautiful?” etc.
This is, a) ridiculous because Georgie Henley is just as pretty if not prettier than Anna Popplewell, and b) a very outdated attitude toward females. So director Michael Apted and the three credited screenwriters did give Lucy some role in the battles – shooting arrows, getting captured, that sort of thing. But of course all the real successes belong to the boys. Even Eustace Scrubb, their whiny cousin who got dragged to Narnia with them, can’t tell one end of a sword from the other, and has not been Narnian royalty (twice) like Lucy has, gets more of a role in the action.
One arrow does not make you Lara Croft.
And speaking of Eustace: Will Poulter (the boy from Son of Rambow) is flexing his acting muscles rather obviously here, since he seems to be copying his manner of speaking from the most crotchety resident of the local nursing home. Having said all that, it’s not a bad movie. The special effects are good. There are some cool battles involving giant monsters and invisible people, and there’s a rather different approach to having a dragon in the story than the trailers suggest. I won’t tell you what it is because it’s fun to find out in the movie. There’s also a sorcerer guy with a really neat moving magical/holographic map thing.
I want it.
Prince Caspian may not have much of a role, but he’s still Ben Barnes, and there’s a neat-looking cartoon credit sequence that uses the original illustrations that were done for the books. Unfortunately animated credit sequences have almost become par for the course now, so you can’t really count it as anything special. Same with the 3D aspect.
Ooh the ship is really sailing toward me… ho hum..
So should you see it? If you like fantasy and sailing, yes. If you’re a kid or you have kids, yes. It will keep them entertained for a few hours. If you’re a grown up looking for something meaningful and/or different, no. Especially not if you’ve got Christmas shopping that needs doing.