A Voyage of Disappointment
Walden Media and 20th Century Fox’s attempt at the third installment of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia stories.
My siblings and I have loved the Chronicles of Narnia ever since our mother read them out loud to us young kids. Now, in my late teens, I was excited to hear that they were being made into movies. The first book to grace the silver screen was “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”, and, being that it stayed so close to the book, it was met with widespread approval. The sequel and second book in the Narnia saga, “Prince Caspian” was a sorry excuse for an adaptation: focusing in on subplots that never existed to somehow make the story more interesting. Now, in 2010, the Narnia films had a chance to make up for the blunders with Caspian, with the third chapter of the series “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. As an aspiring filmmaker, my dad urged me to watch this third story critically: from a theological as well as technical point of view.
The “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” was a seafaring, fantastical journey to the end of the world. Lewis was a master at weaving truths and ideas into his stories, and the Dawn Treader was no exception. I do not want to idolize Lewis, however, and we must remember that while “Chronicles” is part of the Biblical Canon, “Chronicles of Narnia” is not. We should not even make the mistake of accepting all the ideas in Lewis’ books as true because he was Christian; Lewis was a human being, like us all, and his stories had problems of their own. Nevertheless, we can all agree that Narnia is still a great accomplishment in Christian literature, and the ideas in his books were prominently Christian, regardless of some syncretism with pagan cultures.
The film version of this story, became incredibly confused by an added plot, in which the heroes must defeat an evil, green mist, or smoke, that is plaguing Narnia. It’s not so much that it is physically harmful to the land of Narnia, but the filmmakers wanted a “villain” and the mist gives the movie an intangible sense of evil; something to tempt the heroes in an abstract sort of way. The Narnians and children from our world end up conquering this evil by gathering up swords from the seven lost lords, to lay on Aslan’s table at Romandu’s Island, (Romandu, ironically never even makes an appearance in the film!) which is near the end of the world. This plot may sound ok, and certainly fulfilled its purpose to drive the story onward; but in the end, it really only succeeded in making all the events in the book, other than Dark Island and the sea serpent, completely irrelevant.
The story had its problems, but now I would like to turn to another issue I had with this film, and really with many “Christian” films: the matter of the “faith-based” film.
Doug Gresham, adopted son of C.S. Lewis and head of Lewis’ estate, has worked with the filmmakers on all three films. The biggest complaint about the last Narnia film was its ignorance of the Christian themes in the story. So, this time around, Gresham said they returned to the good theology of the books. (Despite theological issues with the books themselves, of course.) He talked of his debates with the story crew on matters such Eustace’s transformation (Gresham insisted that it be an unconditional gift of grace, not a merited reward) or the temptations that the various characters in the film. However, the finished film was more into shots of dragons sweeping through the sky then in portraying the significance of Eustace’s conversion back to a human (though a hearty “hurray!” should be given to Will Poulter’s stellar performance,) and was more into giving Anna Popplewell (Susan Pevensey) more screen time than in showing Lucy overcoming the enticement to be beautiful. The only times that faith is ever brought up in the film are when Reepicheep the mouse says that “we have nothing, if not belief”, upon Lucy asking him if he really believes in Aslan’s country and then at the end of the film Aslan tells the children that he is called by another name in the real world (our world) and that the children must learn to know him by that name. Though that last scene is almost word-for-word from the book, it is still rather ambiguous. The filmmakers in Hollywood worked hard at making the Christianity very subtle, so subtle in fact, that what we are left with in the end is merely a vague moral lesson on facing temptation and an even vaguer sense of faith, (but in what? Who knows!)
Now I do not want to end on such a negative note, for the film had some merit. I truly appreciate the director Michael Apted for stepping in to steer a sinking ship (the film franchise,) though I thought his previous film, Amazing Grace, on the life of William Wilberforce was bolder and better executed. “Voyage” had some good themes and story elements, the one that comes most notably to my mind being that of King Caspian (a much-improved Ben Barnes, now that he’s lost his cheesy Spanish accent) and his desire to honor his father by searching for the exiled Lords who were loyal to him, and he desire to be a King his father could be proud of. In a world where fatherhood is desperately needed it is nice to see it revered in a movie.
As the end credits roll, and you add up the good and the bad the pluses and the minuses, most will find the third Narnia a voyage of disappointment. However, I would much rather go support Walden Media and this movie than many of the competing blockbusters in theaters right now. God could use a film series like Narnia to spark Christianity in audiences around the world, but as to changing the Marxist-control film cartel known as Hollywood – though God very well could change them, He can do whatever He wants! – I extremely doubt that “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” will penetrate cinema’s iron curtain!
Reviewed by: Isaac R. Arthur, filmmaker and student at Blue Banner Media
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