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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Dawn Treader’ could have been so much more

WACO, Texas (BP)–There are sometimes movies that differ significantly from the book, and you are not sure which you like better. “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is not one of them.

For no apparent reason, it deviated from the book more than any of the previous two movies, and suffered for it. Despite having some excellent consultants on hand during production (most notably Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C.S. Lewis), the director insisted on entirely rewriting most of the scenes. The result is a confused, watered-down version of the original. Perhaps I underestimate the difficulty in bringing a book to the screen, but to sum it up in one word, the plot was mangled.

First let me make note of what they got right. Eustace was plenty obnoxious, perhaps even more so than in the original. The special effects were good (I saw the 3D version), especially the scene in which the bedroom fills with water, and again when it empties. The interplay between Eustace and Reepicheep was reasonably accurate. There were a few clever additions, but most of them detracted from the overall effect.

The first major disappointment was the landing at Narrowhaven. All of the cleverly engineered reassertion-of-authority over the long-neglected set of islands Lewis envisioned was turned into a simplistic battle with pirates one might see in any B movie. Another problem was that the film gave almost no sense at all of the time at sea; one seemed to arrive at each island nearly without delay. The number of different islands was seriously reduced, though the film was by no means overly long (115 minutes) and in my opinion could have accommodated more scenes. Two major island visits in the book were combined into one here, and the sea serpent scene was combined with the dark island. A major element in the film was a mysterious green mist, nowhere in the book, and whose meaning or significance was never clear.

What ultimately makes Narnia special is not the magic and the creatures, but Aslan himself. Yet the movie tends to focus elsewhere. Lucy’s vanity was emphasized in several places, though the director used a clever way of bringing to light a consequence of this. There were hints of the director’s apparent obsession with potential abuse of authority, much more evident in the second movie (Prince Caspian).

Aslan’s voice (Liam Neeson) in all three movies was not a terrible choice, but not a great one either; his voice conveys almost no gravitas. Far better was the voice of Stephen Thorne in the 1979 animated version of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.” The critical scene where Aslan tells Lucy that in our world he has another name was done reasonably well, but Aslan’s (Neeson’s) voice does not convey the import of this, and the wording was weakened somewhat.

Overall, this is a reasonably good adventure movie, but it should have been so much more. It fails to convey many of the best aspects of the book and the spiritual lessons have been reduced to only a small fraction. To introduce your children to Narnia, besides the books, I recommend the wonderful audio drama version by Tyndale Entertainment (2005), very faithful to the original and very affordable.
Charles M. Garner is professor of chemistry at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a fan of the Chronicles of Narnia book series. To read Baptist Press’ earlier review of “Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=34247.

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  • Charles M. Garner