My wife and I just returned from seeing the newest Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I thought I’d give a brief review of my general perceptions of the movie and how I thought they did at interpreting the book.
But before I do so, I feel compelled to say something: Having now seen the movie, I consider Liam Neeson to be an even more colossal ignoramus than I originally did. In reference to his comments of a couple weeks ago that in his opinion Aslan could represent Mohammad, Buddha, Christ, or any religious leader, it’s not just that he obviously didn’t take the time to understand his source material, it’s that he intentionally blinded himself to the entire point!
Neeson has voiced Aslan for three movies now. He has seen the first movie, where Aslan willingly gives up his life in Edmond’s stead, and then miraculously comes back to life again to conquer evil. He has seen the second movie, in which Aslan makes the claim that when people go their own way, they are doomed to failure, but if they will only follow him, and believe in him, regardless of what their senses tell them, then they will find they are on solid ground. And now, in this the third movie, he says at the end (and this is a direct quote from C.S. Lewis’ book): “In your world I am known by a different name. You must learn to know me by that name there. You were given the chance to know me here that there you may know me better.”
Neeson! Wake up! Aslan is Jesus!
Okay, enough of that. On to the review.
First, the good:
Visually, the movie was just stunning. Beautiful imagery, excellent casting (much of the cast of course returned, and looking better than ever), and wonderful special effects. The dragon was simply wonderful.
I really appreciated that they kept so many classic elements from the books. For the fan of the story, there are so many little things to latch onto that you can’t help but smile the whole way through.
They did, however, make a good many changes to the flow of the story. But I’m putting this solidly under the good, and there’s a reason why. The book is very much a “Jules Verne” style of story, what’s often referred to as a milieu story. This is a story where it isn’t so much about a goal, a quest, or a question to be answered, but more about the “gosh! wow!” kind of wonder at unfamiliar and fantastic places. Yes, there is a bit of a thread through the story connecting the pieces, but nothing that fits the classical “Hook-Exposition-Climax-Resolution” style of story that can easily be translated into a movie.
So there was a great need for adaptation to make it palatable to audiences who have not read the books but have been following the movies since the first one came out. I think the result is quite satisfying. The movie flows very nicely, keeps you interested, and delivers, and at the same time contains all the essential elements of the story from Lewis’ novel.
The main point of the story is the dangers of following temptation and the need to resist it. Each character undergoes his or her own temptation, and each in the end is able to resist only with some kind of help, either directly from Aslan or from one of the others.
This very neatly reflects the life of the Christian. We each have our weaknesses, the areas in which we struggle as we grow in our lives of sanctification. We are tempted daily, and often most severely in those areas where we have weakness. We cannot resist those temptations on our own. We need help. Sometimes the help is a direct supercharge of strength from the Holy Spirit as we are reminded of something in his Word or suddenly awash with the feeling of peace and the passing of the temptation. Other times we receive the care and concern of a Christian friend who encourages us to stand firm. In all cases the ability to resist is a good gift from Christ, and one that betters us as individuals, and helps us to better reflect his nature.
The acting in the film was top notch. I got misty eyed more than once, especially at the look on Lucy’s face as Aslan faced her with the realization that she would no longer be coming to Narnia. Skandar Keynes, who plays Edmond, has grown so much as an actor since the first movie that I imagine he has a very full career ahead of him. Even Ben Barnes, the pretty boy that he is, played a very convincing young king – although I note he lost his odd pseudo-Spanish accent he used in the previous film.
Overall, in terms of the good, the movie held true to the book in many ways, was very enjoyable to watch as a movie, and got across a message very compatible with the Christian faith, which was Lewis’ original intent.
And the bad:
It’s hard to say that these things were things I would call bad, but they were downsides that I wish they would have changed.
First of all, they offered a watered down concept of faith. In the book, it’s made clear that Aslan is the source of strength for defeating temptation, and Reepicheep constantly promotes the idea that faith in Aslan is critical. In the movie, Reepicheep at one point says, “We have nothing if not belief.” And Lucy at another point says, “You just need to have faith.” But no object is every given for said belief and faith. One can infer that Aslan is the object, but it’s never so explicitly stated, and I think it could easily have been. It almost makes the message palatable to those who say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe.” Faith is only as good as the object. In order for faith to be worthwhile, it must be placed in something worthy of trusting in.
Second, for the Narnia purist the movie will depart quite a good deal from the original story in its overall flow. Once again, the main points are there, and many of the original events. But you’ll find they added some elements to give it a tie together that made it much more watchable as a movie, and if you’re the kind of person who can’t stand it when they make major changes from book to movie, well, this will bother you quite a bit.
Finally – and this may seem a minor point, but it matters to me – in the books the Narnian chant before battle was, “For Narnia and the North, and for Aslan!” At one point in the movie Caspian gives his men a rousing speech, and then leads them in chant. They all chant again and again, “For Narnia!” They never chant, “For Aslan!” To Lewis, it was all about Jesus, and so in Narnia it was all about Aslan, the incarnation of Christ in Narnia. Somehow the writers missed this when they wrote that particular scene.
All in all, I would say the movie was very good. It is definitely one I will want on my movie shelf, and I’m very glad I went to see it in the theatres. I would recommend it wholeheartedly.