Except I’m going to be calling Narnia 3 (or N3) because it doesn’t really have a lot in common with the book. It’s not a bad movie though, really your enjoyment of it will be proportional to how well you know the source material.
All in all I mostly agree with John C Wright’s review here (except for a minor bit of disagreement on his point about Lucy, expanded below). Since I adore C.S. Lewis, for me, the score is…
First, I have to say that the actors were VERY skilled and over all production design was top-notch. Eustace and Drinian were perfect (and I look forward to Eustace’s return). I have no complaints about this from a movie making stand point. In fact, if you ask me, Ben Barnes would have made a better Prince of Persia than Jake G.
Now, while I love, LOVE Lord of the Rings (the book and movie), part of me is upset at what it has done to fantasy movies of late. LotR was a book almost designed for movies (even 3D), because it was written more with a focus on grand spectacles than on character studies. Harry Potter and the Narnia series, however, are more about the characters involved than the worlds they inhabit (especially Narnia which is remembered more for people like Reepicheep and Mr Tumnus than the landscape of the kingdom. Up until now the spectacle of the Narnia series had been kept generally low (unlike the Harry Potter series, which I consider one of the movies’ worst flaws).
However, when looking at the Narnia series as a whole, #3 (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is also arguably the least adaptable to movie format. While the other 6 books have overarching plots, book 3 is more episodic, fitting more to a TV miniseries format. So the film makers tack on an over arching plot then go about reordering sequences to better fit with this. Not a bad effort, after all, much of the book is describing the design and life aboard the Dawn Treader itself, which you can show in 1-5 minutes in a movie, so I don’t blame them for wanting a bit more. But…
WARNING: Major fan-boying ahead
Something you realize when you’re older and reading Narnia is that Lewis’ deepest points about Christianity are not the obvious ones, but very subtle. While I don’t think it’s intentional, sometimes I have to wonder about the movie makers when they take out the deep, subtle statements about the faith but leave in the blindingly obvious ones.
I did like how the movie went about conveying the necessary background information at the beginning without invoking a narrator. In Prince Caspian, I didn’t terribly mind the bit of conflict between Peter and Caspian over the throne as it did seem natural and something that needed to be addressed (after all, for Peter it’d only been a year, for Caspian, much longer), but Edmund’s similar pride contest against Caspian was unneeded. It should have been all worked out over the last movie and Edmund’s the 2nd king of Narnia, he should be pretty used to another ruler higher than himself (and after the incident with the White Witch, I think Ed served his role gladly).
The lone islands was mostly accurate, though I was disappointed that they removed the nobility and legality from the sequence. Not only is it emphasized that slave trading is illegal in Narnia, but once the slavers are defeated (after a more protracted sequence) there is a ceremony where Caspian “puts right” the laws of the islands and appoints the [formerly] missing Lord Bern the Duke over the lone islands. (and yes, there are 7 missing lords, but there are NOT 7 missing magical swords, that was added in)
After the lone islands, the crew run into a storm (there’s some boat drama, including several things between Eustace and Reepicheep) then they reach an island where Eustace becomes a dragon. The biggest change here is that before he transforms, Eustace watches another dragon there die of seemingly old age (leading to later fridge horror when you realize this was probably once a person as well). The search and discovery gives Reepicheep one of his finest moments, though I suppose his explanation to Edmund was pretty good in the movie. However, the moment of turning into a dragon is the largest turning point for Eustace (note: if your name starts with an E, never EVER go to Narnia) and I felt like it happening later in the movie weakened the impact. The biggest change is his earlier slothfulness (absolute refusal to help) vs his later eagerness to help. A concrete example is that earlier, in the storm, the ship’s mast is broken and ruined. When he’s changed, Eustace is able to use his dragon strength and powers to find a tree and fix the mast in half the time it would have taken. Of course, in the book Eustace doesn’t have the unlimited stamina and lack of appetite that he apparently gains in the movie, so the crew is stuck there, trying to figure out what to do with him, until Aslan comes one night and cures him.
So… Aslan’s cure… Although they try to make mention of it in a voice over, I am disappointed they didn’t show what happened as described. First, Aslan leads Eustace to a secret garden, then orders the Son of Adam to shed his skin (which all reptiles can do). Eustace does so with his great dragon claws, only to find he’s still a dragon. So he does it again. Then again. After this, Aslan tears into Eustace with His claws, putting the boy in great pain but tearing off the skin far deeper until, at last, there is just a regular English boy left. I was disappointed that the movie took away the… intimacy of the scene and the compare/contrast between mortal effort and Aslan’s effort.
After that, they run into the sea serpent (which is over quickly) then the island with the “midas water” (which isn’t volcanic, but lush), THEN they reach the island of the Dufflepods.
Ah the Dufflpuds… one of my favorite sequences. While it generally starts out fairly well (though the Duffers are more comical and lovable), it all starts changing at Lucy reading the book. Although she does feel a moment of temptation to be more beautiful than Susan, her real sin comes from eavesdropping in on one of her friends. Then she makes everything visible and sees… Aslan. They then have my favorite exchange in the book:
“Oh, Aslan,” said she, “it was kind of you to come.”
“I have been here all this time,” said he, “but you have just made me visible.”
“Aslan!” said Lucy almost a little reproachfully. “Don’t make fun of me. As if anything I could do would make you visible!”
“It did,” said Aslan. “Do you think I wouldn’t obey my own rules?”
Lucy’s then rebuked for her nosiness and, after she asks, Aslan tells her:
“Child,” said Aslan, “did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”
Thus we see that Lucy’s sin in the movie is swiftly undone, in the book, her sin cannot be, she is ever stuck with the consequences of her choice, a point I am most sore at the movie makers for cutting out.
We also learn that the wizard is a fallen (sinned) star who is taking care of the Dufflpuds, and it’s not easy task – sometimes Coriakin makes mistakes (or are they?) in the treatment of them. Again, I’m not sure why the film-makers cut out the lesson about the joys – the necessities – of work and that sins do have consequences (plus Coriakin’s character is not done justice).
After this we run into the land of dreams (the climax in the movie) though it’s not quite JUST bad dreams (it’s ALL dreams, which is a bit more horrifying if you think about it) and there’s certainly no Stay-Puff Marshmellow man rip off involved.
Then, at the end, we come to Ramandu’s island, where we learn that Ramandu is a star (giving him a connection and explaining more about Coriakin) and has a daughter (who’s not quite a star, and can’t take other forms). It is revealed that to break the enchantment require the “sacrifice” of one of the crew (of course Reepicheep volunteers) and while Caspian sails far, he doesn’t go to the edge, but returns to retrieve the sleeping lords and his bride-to-be.
Probably what upsets me even more about the movie is that a “civilian” man and girl are added to the crew for… no real reason but to add a bit of heartwarming reunion at the end – they could have been cut to give more time to Eustace, Ramandu, the Dufflpuds, and more.
However, I didn’t mind the green mist as much as the execution of it. Why? Well, in the Silver Chair (my favorite Narnian book), the main antagonist is the Green Witch who’s motivations are not… entirely clear. In this movie, the green mist is given no explanation beyond “it’s evil”, when the movie makers could have easily tied it into the Green Witch as a kind of “first plot” of hers, which is foiled, forcing her to adopt the plot she’s working on in book 4. That the movie makers let this slide is just… unforgivable to me. Well that and the White Witch tempting Edmund again. Movie 2 demonstrated quite clearly that Ed is NOT tempted by her any more.
Still, they gave a shout out at the end to the next movie so… maybe there’s some hope yet. the Silver Chair is (in my opinion) the most “movie-ready” Narnia book of the 7 so there’s no reason for it to get screwed up as bad.
So please go see this one so we can get book 4 made.