Notes on the Dawn Treader Movie:
As with the Prince Caspian movie, I felt like theVoyage of the Dawn Treader movie was a good movie but a bad adaptation. However, I felt more disappointed with this film than with the last, perhaps because I like the DT book more than the PC book and DT is one of my absolute favorite books in the series. My wife re-read the book just before seeing the movie and so liked it less than I did for all its changes. Nevertheless, she cried at the end of the movie which suggests some power from the book still resonates in the film. What follows are some positives and negatives:
- Eustace—great character, great actor. I liked the comical treatment and the diary entries.
- Eustace’s friendship with Reepicheep worked for me.
- The important end lines: “in your world I have another name.”
- Reepicheep’s sailing in his coracle over the waves and up to Aslan’s country—the way the country was just barely visible above the waves was nicely done.
- The makeup and weeds/overgrowth on the sleeping lords at Aslan’s table on Ramandu’s island.
- The opening sequence, at least starting with Eustace and his diary and moving through the interaction with Edmund and Lucy and the flooding of the room from the painting (and returning that way at the end).
- The Dawn Treader—the ship was wonderful.
- The homage to Pauline Baynes in the credits at the film’s end.
- Reepicheep’s tail and the ensuing duel with Eustace.
- The lilies in the sea (though too little of it).
- Reepicheep comforting Eustace the dragon at night.
- The magic book in Coriakin’s mansion.
- I thought replacing Ramandu entirely with his daughter was an acceptable adaptation (though I missed the fire berries)—I understand the reason of getting more women in this story.
- I liked Reep’s inspirational speech to the still undragoned Eustace near the movie’s end.
- I thought combining Gold Water and Dragon Island into one worked—I know film must adapt books and this adaptation made sense.
- I sort of liked Lucy imagining herself as Susan and appearing in America with her two brothers, and then Aslan explaining that Lucy had really just wished herself away, the consequences of which were dire (though my like-o-meter took a nose dive when Aslan then started telling Lucy about the importance of seeing her own value—self esteem gospel, much!).
- Cutting out the scene with Gumpas.
- Reepicheep’s lullaby: it sounded too much like a 40’s pop radio war time song.
- Edmund’s temptation to usurp Caspian’s power—been there done that in the last movie.
- Coriakin specifically mentioned to be a sorcerer rather than a star.
- Vast reduction of events involving Dufflepuds—we should have seen them paddling about on their feet in the bay.
- General condensation of the story—it felt rushed. It was only an hour and fifty minutes without the credits but could have easily been a two and a half or three hour movie without feeling slow.
- Continual reappearance of the White Witch—clearly she’s only mostly dead and the way she’s portrayed as very much alive suggests Aslan failed to kill her at all in the first movie. I know Lewis says you can’t really kill a witch in the second book, but the movies give her too much life (and she’s not in the third book at all).
- The quick jump to the end—the theme of longing for the Eastern end of the world is de-emphasized to the point of near non-existence. The theme is also lost in Reep’s character where he mentions it but not with any strong desire till the very end of the movie. That the Dawn Treader has no time to sail on the waters of light, that the longing everyone feels, that the pleasure they feel to the point of not being able to take it—that all this is removed or drastically reduced is a shame.
- Eustace’s un-dragoning was weak. It should’ve been the way Lewis describes: Aslan’s words, the pool, cutting into the dragon’s flesh directly (though I could’ve handled the way this was done in the movie if the first two elements had not been taken out).
- I can see why Caspian would speak in an English accent in this film—he’s been around Narnians so long that he picks up their accent. But why would his father (in his vision) speak with an English accent? It’s a small detail, but Lewis emphasized the importance of such details in his writings about stories and fairy tales. This is a real flaw.
- Another real flaw has to do with the contrived additional element: the green fog and the seven swords. First of all the fog is a bit silly if it has no origins than an island and, after it dissipates, there are suddenly a bunch of boats filled with people just sitting on the ocean. Did the fog feed on their souls somehow? They certainly look well enough. Why did the fog take them? I can understand what the producers were thinking. I thought myself about how exciting a movie this could be when there wasn’t an overarching peril to overcome. But the solution just wasn’t very good. And the swords represent a real problem: why would King Caspian the 9th, who hated the ancient Narnians, give seven ancient, magical Narnian swords to the seven lords to treasure? That makes no sense.
- In the end, I think the movie would have been much improved if it had been longer. It seems to me that the producers were so concerned with pace, excitement and a unifying threat that they left out too many wonderful moments. The movie was not even two hours long (if you don’t count the credits), and it would not have “dragged” if it had been two and a half or three hours long. The ending seemed so utterly rushed that the film lost a lot of its power.
Now that the shock is over, I will probably enjoy watching the Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie again. But neither with it nor the Prince Caspian movie am I as pleased as I was with the first film. Wardrobe was far more faithful to its original and contained successful adaptations when it did adapt the book for a more filmic experience. Acknowledging that all adaptations have their flaws, I nevertheless rank The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films as successful adaptations. The second and third Narnia films are not (though I don’t call them bad movies.) What I would like to see in the remaining films is the producers trying to have a little more faith in C. S. Lewis and his vision. “Give it a try, guys. Faithful adaptation worked with the first film. Try it again.”