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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Tonight, I saw the new Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. My dad’s cousin first introduced me to the Chronicles when I was a boy, and I fell in love. I was not a Christian at the time, but immediately saw the allegory. Incidentally, Lewis’ friend, J. R. R. Tolkien’s main critique of the work was that it was allegory—he despised the genre as being too transparent, and often it is, but at least with Narnia, the plot and characters are richer than most. This post will assume familiarity with the original book, but will avoid movie spoilers as much as possible.

As I have watched the current big-budget Hollywood incarnations of the books, it has been interesting to see what they keep and what they change. Each movie has departed from the original storyline more. They also have taken relatively small episodes where various of the Pevensie children have a character weakness and expand it to major conflict themes which in the end refine the character. In this story, Eustace’s character flaws are the main theme in the book and one of them in the movie, but also both Edmund and Lucy have their demons, including yet another non-canonical apparition of the White Witch.

This movie, while departing from the novel significantly, does so mostly by weaving various events that are in the novel in a new way that makes the story less episodic and more flowing. For a purist, it is disappointing, but when looking to please a commercial audience, it is probably necessary. If you watch it as a standalone movie without a book behind it, it is rather well done. I heartily recommend watching it at a Digital 3D theatre—it is effect heavy, and largely well done without being distracting usually. I will say the computer graphics are a bit crude in a number of places, especially the opening scene, but they did an incredible job on the ship. They got that very right.

Compared to the book, Eustace’s evolution is a bit schizophrenic, but in retrospection, is probably a more realistic series of 3 steps forward and 2 back. I think the biggest weakness was the culmination of their quest—A did not really seem to lead to B, so suspend your disbelief a bit more and attribute it to just being magic and move on.

Reepicheep, of course, largely steals the show, and Caspian is marvelous. Ben Barnes is developing into a fine actor. For those who might be interested, Reep is voiced by non-other than Scottish comedian Simon Pegg, the new Scotty in 2009’s Star Trek, and of “Shaun of the Dead” fame. Liam Neeson continues as an excellent Aslan. Will Poulter is a perfect Eustace. The Pevensie children are yet again well played and their growing maturity as teenagers is well done.

I was thrilled, and it made the movie for me that they kept what I feel is the single most important line in the whole story. At the end, when Lucy and Edmund find out they have outgrown Narnia, Lucy expresses her grief at not seeing Aslan anymore. Aslan’s response is beautiful. Here is the excerpt from the novel:

“You are too old, children,” said Aslan, “and you must begin to come close to your own world now.”
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
“But you shall meet me, dear one,” said Aslan
“Are—are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.
“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

In Lewis’ novel, this interchange is in a scene that is pulled blatantly from John’s Gospel in a way that is both beautiful, yet a little too banal, maybe, to those familiar with the Biblical passage. Of course, all of that is skipped in the movie, but the above interchange is there, and the whole series so far has built to this point where Lewis tips his hand to the reader pointing to Christ, and in a way reveals Narnia as a type of Middle Earth—a place that could fit in our universe for God to use to draw others to Himself. Even as the actors have downplayed the Christian themes of the story in a recent interview, director Michael Apted thankfully refuses to rip the punchline from the story.

Grade: A- and worthwhile. Note to parents: without kids of my own, it is hard to know how to recommend it. As usual, it depends on your child’s maturity. There is violence and scary scenes, but no blood or obvious human death.

PS—for those who want an excellent dramatised version of the story that is completely consistent with the book, I unhesitatingly recommend the Focus on the Family Radio Drama production. They get it. When I hear that Aslan, I hear Christ—love and justice mixed in equal measure, while still being a Person, not a caricature.


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