Four Torches (Out of Five)
The problem with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the book by C.S. Lewis) is that it doesn’t really have an over-arching plot. It’s mostly just a series of incredibly charming and imaginative, but mostly unconnected adventures on board a boat as it visits island after island. Sure, they’re searching for seven Narnia lords, but let’s face it: Caspian might have an investment in this quest, but we the reader don’t.
Movies, of course, need plots – especially hugely-budgeted kids’ action movies that happen to be the latest installment in a franchise whose previous outing, Prince Caspian, didn’t do so well.
So what are the producers of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to do? Well, they created a plot, sort of out of thin air, rearranging the order of the islands in the book, turning one of those islands into an actual “villain” of sorts, and adding a few other miscellaneous story elements.
Basically, Edmund, Lucy, and their bratty cousin Eustace still join the now-King Caspian on his sea-faring quest on the Dawn Treader to travel east into uncharted waters to find the seven missing lords. But they quickly discover that an evil green mist has invaded the Narnian seas – and they must discover its source and destroy it before it destroys the world.
Not all of the changes to the book are successful – and some of them are downright clunky.
The whole idea of a generic “evil” invading the world struck me as outright contrived and stupid (and the evil’s source seemed both random and shoe-horned into the story).
Likewise, there’s simply not enough time to develop a subplot about child who sneaks on board the ship, and the whole thing seems like a pander to younger viewers anyway.
As for one of the book’s best characters, Reepicheep, his personality, and his relationship with Eustace, has been too softened. Furthermore, the encounter in Dark Island makes almost no sense at all. Why does only Edmund’s fear become realized – and why is his fear so disappointingly obvious and not-scary? (Answer: so the movie can have an elaborate CGI battle sequence!)
Finally, you could argue that all these additions, along with the other existing plot elements, make the whole movie feel too crammed full. One of the best scenes in the book is the moment that Eustace shares with Edmund after having been turned back from the dragon, and Edmund basically says, “You think you were a stinker? You should’ve seen what I did the first time I came to Narnia!” But the hurried new structure of the movie doesn’t allow time for this wonderful conversation — and it also cuts short the enchanting approach to Aslan’s country, which takes some 60 pages in the book.
On the other hand, as in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, some of the movie’s additions and rearrangements are actual improvements on the book, at least for the purposes of the movie.
It makes real sense, for example, to condense Deathwater and Dragon Island into one island, and also to not have Eustace’s transformation into a dragon be resolved so quickly, giving him a chance to “earn” it.
And it makes sense to move Coriakin’s island a little earlier in the story, so he can be the one to fill them on the specific quest they need to undertake (they almost do away with the Dufflepods entirely, but they do make nice comic relief).
Indeed, several of the movie’s best scenes aren’t in the book at all. As in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the opening sequence is extremely charming, and it nicely sets up Lucy and Edmund’s emotional arcs. Meanwhile, the final scene, where Lucy closes the door on Narnia and, simultaneously, on her own childhood, is downright heartbreaking.
There’s also a subplot about Lucy’s resentment of Susan that is very effective. When Lucy steals a spell from the magician’s spellbook, it enables her to make a wish that has disastrous – but wonderfully chilling – consequences.
(Alas, as in the book, Aslan pops up far too often to save the day. Honestly, the story would be much more interesting if he just stayed out of it and let the kids solve their own damn problems!)
One clever joke made me laugh out loud: Caspian gives Lucy her magic cordial, but he also gives Edmund his magic item. But Edmund doesn’t have a magic item that he left behind, you say? Oh, yes, he does — and it comes in surprisingly handy at times!
Finally, it’s worth acknowledging that the movie’s best assets are Georgie Henley, who is still flat-out terrific as Lucy, and Skandar Keynes who is just as good as Edmund. Will Poulter isn’t bad as Eustace — a truly difficult balancing act of a role — but Ben Barnes basically disappears into the woodwork as an admittedly hunky Caspian.
Reading back on my review, you might be thinking: wow, he had a lot of criticisms! So why’d he give it four torches?
The truth is, it is something of a flawed movie — not in the same category as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which mostly worked. But it’s definitely better than the disappointment that was Prince Caspian.
And come on! It’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader! I live for this s**t!
Looking to buy any of the projects mentioned in this article (or any other media)? Support TheTorchOnline.com by purchasing it through this link.