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Prince Caspian was a better movie than The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I know I’m in the minority when I say so, but there are several reasons why the second movie was better than the third.

Caspian may have had a lackluster performance at the box office. It may have botched a few things (like Aslan and Lucy’s conversation – “every year you grow, so shall I” and the rebellious streak the writers gave Peter), but the movie stayed true to the storyline and intent of Lewis. The additional scenes creatively enhanced and explored the hints that Lewis himself had placed in the book.

For example, even if the attack on Miraz’s castle was invented, the writers added a moving vision of self-sacrifice, as one of the animals – in cruciform fashion – holds up the gate while everyone else escapes. Lewis would have been pleased, if not with the story departures, then surely with the intention and tone.

Not so with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Believe me, no one wanted to be a bigger cheerleader for this film than me. I wanted to love this film as much as I love the book. It pains me to speak critically of a movie that has so many things going for it. So first, let’s look at the positives.

What I Liked

Will Poulter plays the role of Eustace Scrubb precisely the way I have imagined this character to be.

Reepicheep is more valiant and honorable than ever, stealing the show in more ways than one.

The special effects are outstanding. (We watched the film in 3-D. Nothing is added by seeing the film in 3-D, but it is still a fine presentation.)

What Narnia-lover isn’t excited to see the Dufflepuds on the big screen, the Magician’s book, or the Dawn Treader itself? I couldn’t help but enjoy the movie – primarily because it’s based on a book I love. But I was disheartened by the changes in storyline, changes which ultimately mangle the theological vision of the book.

Eustace the Hero?

I was deeply disappointed in how the filmmakers handled Eustace’s time as dragon. In the book, Eustace becomes a dragon for a short period of time. Aslan does his work, and Eustace is transformed back into a boy.

In the movie, the writers decided that lengthening the time Eustace is a dragon would serve the plotline. Eustace becomes the movie’s hero. In fact, he goes from zero to hero within a half hour. Lewis would never have allowed such a move. Why? Because the point of Eustace’s time as dragon was to show his need for Aslan’s transformation – apart from anything he could do himself. The book shows Eustace as a loser who is shown mercy. The film shows Eustace as a hero getting his reward.

Another aspect related to this change irks me. In the book, redemption for Eustace looks remarkably ordinary. He becomes a crew member and takes his place on the ship with the others. He joins the team. There’s something distinctly Christian about Lewis’ vision of redemption that leads to an ordinary, common life among a community of redeemed individuals. Unfortunately, the filmmakers aren’t satisfied with the subtle redemption that leads to a mission-focused community. Eustace has to become the hero whose efforts bring salvation to the rest.

The Temptation Scenes

I don’t know where to start with the temptation scenes and the green mist. (Note to the creators of Lost: if you sued Fox for stealing your smoke monster idea, you’d win.)

I understand the need to give an episodic book like Dawn Treader a little more continuity. The added plot device of the seven swords was helpful to the film and not harmful to the book. But the temptation scenes are a disaster – not in how they are acted, but the message they send.

How in the world does Lucy’s temptation for beauty become a message that tells viewers, “Just be yourself.”? Yes, the film gets it right that “evil is inside you.” Glad to see that. But the film teaches that the resolution to the evil in you comes from being true to your deeper, better self. Willpower saves.

More than that, the way to overcome temptation is simply to know temptation is coming. When the time of testing comes, everyone thinks, “Gee, we’re being tested.” And once tested, you receive your reward… which leads to the worst misstep of all.

The Noble Shall Inherit the Kingdom of God

The final scene on the shore looks wonderful. Aslan is majestic. The special effects are extraordinary. And thankfully, the writers keep the words of Aslan to Lucy and Edmund – you shall know me by another name in your world. Chill bumps, anyone?

But my satisfaction was dashed when the rest of the scene turned upside down the entire theological vision of Lewis. “My country is made for those with noble hearts,” says Aslan. Really? In the context of the film, the message is: be true to yourself, become a hero, and then you can head into Aslan’s country. That this vision of salvation has C.S. Lewis’ name on it is a travesty.

Conclusion

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is well worth seeing. Despite its flaws, it’s a good movie. The filmmaking is outstanding. The casting is superb.

But – as I said in the title of this post – I believe The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be the last of the Narnia movies. It does not maintain enough of the original vision to captivate Narnia fans. Neither do the changes benefit the movie in a way that would attract new fans to the series. Ever since Prince Caspian, the franchise has been sinking. Dawn Treader, unfortunately, isn’t good enough to keep it afloat.


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22 thoughts on “Why "Dawn Treader" Will Sink the Narnia Franchise”

  1. Tim Rogers says:

    Brother Trevin,

    Good review. I saw the movie and did receive the “chill bumps” that were quickly erased with the line about the “noble heart”. While I agree with you about the “bet true to yourself” motif, I honestly did not see it as blatant as you present it. Yes, the beauty temptation was a little too much, but the story line I followed was more in line with being honest with what one sees in your inner self. Also, I saw Lucy’s temptation as being overcome and she helped Caspian and Edmond overcome their temptation.

    But, like you, I find the theological flaws a bit too much for my comfort level. My daughter and I read the books and then watch the movies. We are having a great time discussing them. Thanks for the article I will certainly direct her this way.

    Blessings,
    Tim

  2. Trevin Wax says:

    Thanks, Tim.

    I still enjoyed the movie and thought much of it was well-presented. The theological departures grated on me though and kept me from feeling fully satisfied with the final product. I do hope people will see it, as there is always the chance that the filmmakers will do better with The Silver Chair.

  3. Thanks for the insight, as I havn’t been able to see anything lately! I will get caught up on my movies! Right now I’m watching Christmas classics that my neighbor loaned me due to my lack of a DVD player! This too, shall pass! January is right around the corner! It always gives me hope to think about what the future holds! Praise GOD for new beginnings!!!

  4. brian says:

    If you are right, I am pretty disappointed already and I haven’t seen it yet. I really was looking forward to seeing The Silver Chair and Puddleglum – he’s my favorite character and it’s my favorite book of the series. Ah Well, too bad really. Such a shame.

  5. Adam says:

    I guess that it goes to show you that we really can’t trust movie makers to share the gospel clearly. The people of God through local churches do that.

  6. joel brandhorst says:

    Trevin,

    Thanks for your review.

    I could not disagree more on the opinion that Prince Caspian was a better movie. But you already know that you have a minority opinion, and that as opinions, neither of ours carries the weight of truth. nuf said.

    As to the aspects of the movie that you did not like, I would like to comment as to how I understood the movie.

    Eustace as Hero: I did not like the fact that Eustace became an almost instant hero. However, nothing that he did was the result of a simple decision to become a “hero”. I saw a young man in the midst of a crisis. In the crisis, he sees no other option but to seek the help of others, even try to help others, eventually ending up at the feet of Aslan. Afterward, he made the statement that he could not do it himself. Hence, we can try to do it ourselves, but in the end, only “Aslan” can do it for us. This brought back the memories of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” where Aslan tells the others that “what is done, is done. There is no need to speak of it any more.” Themes of redemption and true forgiveness.

    The Temptation scenes: One of our family´s discussion points after the movie, for sure. Yet it seemed clear to us that Aslan was the one who intervened in the dream sequence. As far as redemption (willpower saves), I could only imagine that the main characters are not on a quest for salvation, but rather already walking with Aslan, following his lead and command. Are we not commanded to be holy? This would indicate that we must also decide to do right when the times are difficult. This seems completely in the story line…

    I hope that we are both wrong as far as the sinking of the series. As much as I did not like the changes in Prince Caspian, I will still watch it with my family. As a series, I would love to see “The Silver Chair,” as it was left open at the end of Dawn Treader. (The announcement of Eustace´s visitor downstairs.)

    So, as a counter-voice in the series. I am pleased with the corrections made in the 3rd film. Hoping that the plugged holes created by the 2nd film can be augmented by a good turn out at the box office. Perhaps a platform for a 4th can be built….

  7. PD says:

    I share your minority opinion. I felt the movie was a good “made-for-tv-movie.” perhaps that is harsh, but I was disappointed with how they handled Eustace/dragon sequence, which for me, what enough to be disappointed with the movie.

    Though, I appreciate them keeping the exchange between Aslan and Lucy.

    1. Aslanfan says:

      Glad me and my parents were not the only ones disappointed at the dragon scene.

      Not only did they edit out the shedding of the skin but eventually Eustace learned to communicate with Caspian’s crew members after they realized who he was.

      I can’t exactly remember in the books how the crew realized it because they were going to fight him at first and eventually there is a book-scene showing Eustace crying dragon tears.

  8. Trevin Wax says:

    Hi Joel,

    Thanks for posting your thoughts. I do hope you are right about The Silver Chair. And i hope that Dawn Treader does well at the box office over the holidays so that we can see more Narnia in the future!

  9. Esther says:

    Frankly, I hope they find the proceeds from VODT so unrewarding that they do not make the Silver Chair or any other films from the books. The twisting of the theology/worldviews is dangerous enough that I believe it would be a disservice to the unsaved if they did. So I’m done, and I hope they are, too.
    Just think of it: Silver Chair has even more subtle theological principles than VODT–what would they do with them, seeing as how they are going to completely miss the fact they are there and will not understand or know what to do with the events that portray them?
    I shudder to think.

  10. Kathy says:

    Thank you for your review Trevor.
    I was dismayed to see the movie deviated from the original story and Biblical themes.
    Alas I fear this could very well be the last of the Narnia movies.

  11. Wes says:

    Does a movie have to be Christian for us to glean truths from it?

  12. Naum Pașca says:

    As a child, I love the NARNIA stories. I saw the “DAWN TREADER” and LOVED the part when they fought the sea serpent. I was confused at the time frame when Eustace became a dragon, compared to the book.
    Overall, I loved the movie and I hope this isn’t the last film, because “THE SILVER CHAIR” was the book I enjoyed most. Naum, 11

  13. Mr. Wax,
    I totally agree with you. The Dawn Treader movie was a gigantic disappointment. As I sat in the theater, I told my friend, “They ruined my favorite book!”
    The battle with the sea serpent was a big change from the book, and the MacGuffin of the seven swords sucked all the humanity out of the piece. No longer were we concerned with finding the seven lords of Narnia, just their swords.
    And what was with the green mist? What evil was coming again? It was just all so confusing, and I never want to see it again.
    The Eustace/dragon subplot was also dreadfully handled, losing all the redemptive metaphors of the original book.
    Just a big loss all around.

  14. Madison says:

    As far as the Lucy temptation scenes went, I really thought they were a good addition to the books. I didn’t see it as sending the message of “be yourself; the innermost part of your deeper self,” but rather as Aslan telling Lucy “Be who you were Created to be; don’t envy what others are, be who you were meant to be; cherish your own individual gifts and values..” you know?
    Just my two cents of interpretation. :)

  15. ken says:

    That was a thoughtful and interesting article. I share your disappointment with the interpretation of the movie makers. One other scene in particular missed the point, one you mention, when Aslan transforms Eustace back into a boy. This scene, as told by Lewis, I thought was the most compelling in the entire series.

    In the book Eustace is instructed to remove the skin of the dragon to become a boy again. He tries this, digging his claw into his scaly skin – and if you’ve ever tried to intentionally cut your own skin, you know how difficult this can be – and painfully peeling it off – only to find he is still a dragon. Then Aslan steps forward and with his claw cuts far deeper than Eustace ever could and in intense pain peels off the dragon’s skin. The scene is a powerful illustration that the transformation needed cannot be done to oneself, by oneself, it requires the participation of a higher power.

    This crux of the whole Dawn Treader story is lost in the movie when Aslan simply changes Eustace back into a boy without the demonstration that he couldn’t do it himself. This point is so important, so huge, yet it’s not being in the picture I have to believe the writers just didn’t understand the significance of it.

    As with all the other great points you made, it seems a terrible loss that such a cinematically beautiful movie lost so much of the depth and wisdom of Lewis’s book.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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