“We have nothing if not belief.”
Okay, let’s cut to the chase and give no quarter and I’ll just say that I was quite miffed by The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Hollywood in its decades has sought to make its mark on classic literature. Often times they succeed and often times they don’t. This unfortunate installment in the series of fantasy films based on C.S. Lewis’s books falls into the latter category and makes no attempt to get out. So far, three Narnia movies have been made, and neither of the previous two was as unsatisfying as this befuddling soup of a movie. These films have devolved from an excellent fantasy series worthy of the name Narnia into generic Hollywood box-office ploys. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is just about as lackluster a movie as the first movie was magical and enchanting. After the hopeful yet slightly woe-begotten Prince Caspian of 2008, we deserve something better. And certainly there are scene in Dawn Treader that are charming and even entrancing, but the overall production of the film accomplishes nothing but bad karma for the next movie if they make one.
The first fifteen minutes of the film are actually pretty promising. It sets up the premise well and in short terms. Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley respectively) have gone to live with their aunt and uncle during wartime while their older siblings are off in America. Also living in this house is their dreadful, pestilent, annoying, whiny, pug-nosed, “enlightened” younger cousin Eustace Clarence Scrub (Will Poulter) who, as we’ll find out later in the movie, almost deserves it. He torments his two cousins almost to the point of insanity until one day, while bickering with each other in an upstairs room, the three children are sucked through a painting into the magical realm of Narnia once again. There they meet King Caspian (Ben Barnes), who we knew as Prince in the previous film, and their mouse friend Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg). Apparently, King Caspian is sailing east to locate seven Narnian Lords whom Caspian’s evil predecessor Miraz sent away many years before. Everything is going rather well at this point. Reepicheep the Mouse is delightful and funny and Georgie Henley is, as always, a joy to watch. In fact, Georgie seems to be the only really good thing in this movie after a certain point. So far, the movie gives every indication of being a nicely done revival of the series, although I can’t figure out what happened to Caspian’s Spanish accent.
But then, it happens! I knew this movie was headed for derision the minute the green mist showed up. “Say what?” Yes, the green mist. The terrifying, bewildering, horror inducing green mist. Actually it’s anything but the previous three adjectives. It doesn’t even look particularly convincing, but the whole idea of an evil green mist invading Narnia strikes me not a little absurd. As Caspian is told by one of the rescued lost Lord’s, there is an evil green mist emitting from the “Dark Island” that finds innocent victims and swallows them up whole.
The “Dark Island” is supposedly a place of pure evil, an idea way out of place in a C.S. Lewis story, for C.S. Lewis believed evil was actually the perversion and / or lack of goodness, not an actual substantial thing. After the episode with the mist, the adventurers, including the tiresome Eustace, travel even further east in order to defeat this evil. They are told by a magician (Billie Brown) that they must travel to Ramandu’s island and place the seven magical swords of the lost Lords on Aslan’s table. Again, “Say what?” You heard me. By doing this, they will break the spell of the dark island. My question is, “Why?” Why will simply placing swords on a table dissolve the evil? Of course, there’s not an answer, as the whole idea of Dark Island and the mist is simply an invention of waterlogged screenwriters who cannot think of anything new. But they didn’t have to think of anything new! That’s why they “adapted” a book! O Hollywood, thy shine has lost its luster.
Perhaps the main problem with the film is the same as we had earlier this year with Alice in Wonderland. What the screenwriters have done is taken an episodic story whose chapters are only related to each other by common characters and tried to make one linear, coherent story out of it. Maybe that would have worked in a more fictional story, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the book is pure allegory. There isn’t one interlude of story time that can’t be related to something else, mostly Bible stories as Lewis was a devout Anglican / Episcopalian. Unfortunately, most of the meaning and allegorical references from the book are lost in this Hollywoodized version of the tale. By trying to connect all of the sporadic occurrences from the book into one story, the writers have made a film that seems to have no purpose or motivation. Now there are some rare, truly winsome and magical moments, most as I said before, involving the wonderful Georgie Henley. But the film rushes through so many minor, beloved plot points that sometimes the scenes seem to go by without ever really starting. This fact of the movie’s construction is like the stake of holly through your heart after you’ve just been boiled in pudding. Some of the most oft mentioned little moments of the original book that made it so enchanting are moved over so fast that we can’t enjoy it, or at least I couldn’t. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was perhaps C.S. Lewis’s most detailed of the Narnia stories except for perhaps The Last Battle. If any of the Narnia movies should have been over two hours long, it should have been this one.
I’m in no way a purest, and have no problem with writers changing novels for the screen. In fact I actually liked most of the changed they made to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and to Prince Caspian, although in the latter the changes were really the movies saving grace. But if you’re going to change a book, do it intelligently and in the spirit of the author. This dull, uninteresting film accomplishes neither of these points. The whole concept of a green mist is absolutely laughable. Oh, and another thing that annoys me: somewhere along here Edmund has another encounter with the spirit of his old enemy, Jadis (Tilda Swinton). Why can’t he just get over her? We’ve harped on that villain enough. Now let us be done with her! For the record, about the only thing I enjoyed about The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was Georgie Henley, who has always been the high point of these films. Hopefully Miss Henley will continue acting in better roles, because she’s above this.