Page to Screen: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
based on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

First off, yes, I’ve seen Prince Caspian—but it was cut for television and I didn’t want to review an incomplete cut for the blog. I may get back around to it someday, but I liked it—if it has Anna Popplewell, I’m a happy girl, and Ben Barnes’ Caspian (as well as the whole design for the Telmarines) was interesting, even if Caspian doesn’t have the sense Aslan’s dad gave a rock. But The Voyage of the Dawn Treader ended up being my favorite Chronicle during Narnia Week last November, so I was intrigued to see it brought to the big screen, especially since I thought the franchise was dead. But apparently they’re in talks for The Magician’s Nephew, rather than The Silver Chair, which this film sets up. In any case, I got my hands on a copy and settled in for some good, clean fun. And riffing. Always with the riffing, folks.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader follows the youngest Pevensie siblings, Edmund and Lucy, as they have to stay with their aunt and uncle Scrubb while the rest of their family is in the United States. Their obnoxious cousin, Eustace, is the bane of their lives, on top of the pain of growing up for the second time. But when a painting overflows in Lucy’s room, all three find themselves in Narnia and aboard The Dawn Treader, captained by King Caspian himself. Caspian is searching for seven lost Telmarine lords who were investigating a strange, consuming mist on the sea, and the three must help him find the source of the mist and destroy it.

Adapting The Voyage of the Dawn Treader couldn’t have been an easy task; it’s an episodic travel narrative, with no real big threat hanging over everything—there’s a goal and that’s that. But I think that the screenwriters did the best they could, although they got carried away by trying to cram everything in. (The star Caspian eventually marries is named for this film—Lilliandil—but her part is essentially a cameo to please the fans, as is a nonsensical mention of Jill at the end of the film.) The Dark Island from the book is now… um… emitting an evil mist? That will force you to look inside yourself and examine your deepest fears and darkest desires? It’s not very well explained, but it does allow us to get some interesting character development out of it, so I give it a pass. There’s also some magic that requires the lords’ swords to be placed together at Aslan’s Table, which essentially turns the story into a fetch quest with a boss battle. Ultimately, it’s given more shape and perspective to up the epic quotient, but it does it decently; but the plot can sometimes run on without the characters, forcing them to make stupid decisions just to get from Plot Point A to Plot Point B. I was also looking forward to have Lewis’ patronizing attitudes excised from the story in a film adaptation, but take a wild guess what culture the slavers are based on? That’s right, they’re vaguely Arabian. Ugh.

The cast does well enough with the script, including some of the stilted dialogue; Georgie Henley’s Lucy remains bright and steadfast, Skandar Keynes’ Edmund is more grown up and dealing with his own version of Peter’s struggle in Prince Caspian (a King of Narnia getting no respect in our world), and Ben Barnes’ Caspian is clear, charming, and still a little dumb. Though I do miss his Spanish accent, which was a nice addition (and made even his dumbest lines sound charming). But more interesting are Will Poulter’s Eustace, who is as obnoxious and sour as you could ever want, and Simon Pegg’s Reepicheep. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is where I began to really like Reepicheep as a character; adding Pegg on top is just nice. And the relationships between the characters are nicely organic; Eustace takes a while to realize that Reepicheep’s goading is how he expresses affection, and Caspian and Ed realize how much they mean to each other, even as they struggle to negotiate the power dynamics in their relationship. There’s a very short but remarkably sweet moment where Caspian helps Ed suit up for battle, after an entire film of proving that he is the rightful King of Narnia. Oh, boys. I have to say, I really enjoyed the character development in this film; I cried a little at the end, to be totally honest.

It’s also a very pretty film; the sea is shot lovingly, the ship is a lovely set, and the special effects are, well, magical. I’m not sure how well they’ll age (this is why I’m terrified to return to the early Harry Potter films), but the border between Narnia and Aslan’s Country is lovely, as is a living map of the Lone Islands. But the film can sometimes feel like a special effects extravaganza, especially when we’re dealing with Eustace the dragon fighting another CGI creation with the aid of another CGI creation. But it’s certainly easy on the eyes and occasionally quite inventive; Lucy’s dark desire is coveting Susan’s desirability via her beauty—she dreams about becoming Susan at a party in America (via opening her mirror, a nice callback) and the period feel is turned up very high in order to be all the more jarring against Narnia. And, most importantly, it has the scene where Aslan reveals that he is, in fact, Jesus to tie everything up.

Bottom line: Despite the plot occasionally forcing the characters to do stupid things (which is at least in character for Caspian) and the screenwriters trying to fit in winks at the canon that don’t work, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is ultimately a fun, if pragmatic, adaptation of the novel, with a focus on organic character development and some beautiful cinematography and effects. Worth a shot.

I rented this DVD from Netflix.

10 thoughts on “Page to Screen: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

  1. Dawn Treader was my favorite book as a kid (or at least tied for that spot with A Little Princess), so I was *terrified* of seeing the movie, for fear they’d butchered it. But I’m with you… I thought they did an overall really good job with it, although some of my favorite parts got a little shortchanged, and I rolled my eyes just a smidge every time the Evil Green Mist of Evilness showed up. But, y’know, boats and sailing and adventures and whatnot, and I’m a happy girl.

    Also, as a side note, I skipped the chapter on the slaver’s island almost every single time I re-read the book as a kid. I’ve read the rest of the book probably 15-20 times and that chapter maybe twice. 🙂

  2. I think this adaptation really suffered from that malady western children’s films have, where there *must* be some terrible threat which must be defeated and The Fate Of The World Rests In Their Hands. To be frank, I think this is a bit insulting, as it gives the impression children are incapable of understanding a story unless it has clear-cut heroes and villains. Dawn Treader wasn’t an epic like its predecessors, it was a voyage of self-discovery and mystery: I had no problem with ramping up the tension and character conflict, but the green smoke monster was just pointless and annoying, not to mention ruining Eustace’s shining moment.

    I didn’t hate the film as much as I hated, ahem, certain other adaptations, but I don’t think it was pragmatism, so much as playing it safe to an excessive degree. Making the slaver culture vaguely Arabic is an example of that, choosing established stereotypes instead of trying for something more unusual. Perhaps I’m just being a bit harsh since this was my favourite of the Narnia series (along with The Silver Chair). Ah well, it seemed to work out alright for Fox if box office numbers are anything to go by.

    • Certain other adaptations? Are you by any chance referring to the unfortunate BBC productions? 🙂

      You’re right, it’s more of a “safe” film than it could have been. I think that’s what I liked about Prince Caspian and its use of Spain as an influence; it’s truly unusual and works very well. (Although they were very nearly French, which would have either delighted or frustrated me…)

      I’m just wondering when this particular franchise will end; I really can’t see The Last Battle doing well, unless it’s severely changed…

  3. I’m happy to hear that it’s overall an okay adaptation. I love the series, and I’ve been pretty okay with the films so far (they don’t tick me off like the early HP films do at least). I’ll have to check it out.

  4. I’m really shocked to read that this was a reasonably goodish film! I was expecting it to be awful, and I didn’t even bother going to see it. Now I totally regret it! Ben Barnes is, like, the handsomest person in all of handsomeland, and Voyage of the Dawn Treader is nearly the best book in the series. (Horse and His Boy is best, fyi). And Reepicheep! And Eustace! And one of my favorite moments in the whole series is when Edmund goes and talks to Eustace after he gets turned back from a dragon. Such a really lovely moment.

  5. Oops, Clare, ignore the comment from The Profile. I accidentally forgot to sign out.

    My best C.S. Lewis-loving friend and I saw it together, and we both made fun of the evil green mist. She disliked the adaptation overall intensely; I found it unintentionally hilarious.
    Overall, not a bad film, but the mist, seriously. .

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