This review of the film was originally based on having taken my family to watch it in the cinema in 3D. We enjoyed the film and bought the DVD when it came out: it was also great fun to watch at home.
I found the first two "Chronicles of Narnia" films excellent, but had not expected this third film to live up to the same standard. However, it exceeded my expectations: if anything I enjoyed it even more than the first two films, The Chronicles Of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe [DVD] [2005
] and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2 Disc Special Edition) [DVD] [2008
No film pleases everyone, and I see from the other reviews that some people didn't enjoy this as much as my family did, so let me explain what I think was good about the film.
The original book, The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (Puffin Books)
, has one of the most memorable and amusing opening lines in children's fiction:
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
No film or TV version of this book will work without a good actor playing Eustace. He has to be someone we can love to hate in the early part of the film, come to sympathise with as the story continues, and whose expressions and actions positively radiate the shock, horror and incredulity of a boy who had been raised to scoff at fairy tales and legends, but who finds out the hard way that they are real when he is transported into one.
The character is brought to life in this film by Will Poulter, whose elastic face displays brilliantly the shock or confusion most of us would feel if we suddenly found ourselves in a world where magic, dragons, and talking animals really existed.
Eustace is a cousin of the Pevensie children from the first two films. His cousins Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henshaw) and Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes) are staying with Eustace and his parents while their parents and elder siblings are away. Having overheard Edmund and Lucy talking about a land called Narnia, Eustace assumed that they were playing fantasy games. His reaction when the three of them are magically transported aboard the ship "Dawn Treader" is, of course, horrified disbelief. When Eustace asks where they are, and is told - by a minotaur, no less - that he is aboard "the finest ship in the Narnian navy" his reaction is almost worth watching the film for on its own.
The screenwriters had a real challenge to fit this book into two hours, and to be reasonably true to the spirit of the book while keeping the viewer in suspense. As with "Prince Caspian", they changed the order of events more than a little, and added to the storyline, though it usually got back onto roughly the same track in the end. Almost all the major events of the book, and most of my favourite details, eventually happened in the film, but not necessarily in the same order or quite the same way.
Several sections of the book had to be radically cut down to fit the time, though with the exception of the first adventure at the Lone Islands, this was mostly done in a way which did relatively little damage to the essence of the storyline. As in the book, the Dawn Treader encounters slavers at the Lone Islands. One of them is played in a cameo role by Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis, who was an executive producer on the film staff.
But the bold coup d'etat based on an inspired bluff which follows in the book, in which King Caspian (Ben Barnes) who is the nominal overlord of the Lone Islands makes his authority real by overthrowing Gumpas, the corrupt governor of the islands, did not make it into the film. This was one of comparatively few elements of the book which I was really disappointed not to see in the film.
The scriptwriters cut down on the number of occasions when the Dawn Treader drops anchor at yet another new island by combining more than one adventure on the same island which in the book took place at different ones, and by cutting out some of the uneventful stops in the book to take on food and water.
They also cut out a lot of the dialogue and detail of the events on both Coriakin's and Ramandu's islands - including, surprisingly, Ramandu himself. However, Coriakin (Bille Brown in one of the strongest performances of the film) has a slightly enhanced role. Ramandu's daughter, (Laura Brent) is still very much in the story, and she has been given the name Lilliandil, which was coined Douglas Gresham. The Dufflepuds also appear in the film, though their part is rather cut down from the book.
I thought the essence of what happened on these islands in the book is dramatically and amusingly captured, but there will probably be quite a few fans of the books who will be disappointed not to see more of the Dufflepuds. And if you blink you'll miss the start of the love story between Caspian and Lilliandil.
At the same time, certain other things have been extended. The duel to which Eustace is challenged by Reepicheep the talking mouse actually takes place in this film, but is much more subtle than it could easily have been. Instead of just trying to get revenge on Eustace, Reepicheep (Simon Pegg) sets out to teach him how to fight with a sword: the scene is very funny but serves as a fore-runner of the unlikely friendship which was to develop between Reep and Eustace later in both the book and film.
The quest to find the seven missing Narnian lords is extended into a struggle to defeat an evil which is threatening to corrupt the whole world of Narnia, but the individual adventures of the story are slotted neatly into this plot with comparatively little damage to most of them - in fact, several of Lewis's original story segments fitted so well into the enlarged quest that one could almost imagine that they were meant to be part of that story.
The moral aspects and christian allegories of the book have been dialled down slightly, but not enough to offend any but the most fanatical C.S. Lewis purist. It would have wrecked the central themes of the story if these elements had been largely or entirely removed, but too much moralising would have stopped this from working as a family film. I think they got the balance about right.
Ben Barnes does an excellent reprise of his role as Caspian, the main change being that he's dropped the hispanic accent. Skandar Keynes brings real power to the role of Edmund, and Georgie Henshaw is absolutely magnificent as a teenage Lucy. So much so that it's a terrible shame they won't have an opportunity for another central role in any films of the remaining books, but I shall be watching their remaining careers with great interest.
However, if the series gets going again, I've little doubt that Barnes, Keyes and Henshaw will get some cameos, just as William Moseley and Anna Popplewell do in this one playing the elder Pevensie brother and sister, Peter and Susan, in scenes set on our world. Three of the Pevensie siblings - Edmund, Susan and Lucy - have important supporting roles in the book "The Horse and His Boy (Puffin Books)
" so if a film of that book is made I hope and expect that Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keyes and Georgie Henshaw will appear in it. It's set towards the end of the Pevensie siblings' fifteen year reign as Kings and Queens of Narnia, so the fact that they will all have grown up by the time another film can be made will not be an issue.
Assuming the series does continue, it is unlikely that any of the actors who played the children who were the main characters in the first three films will have a major part in the next one. According to various sites on the internet, there are some legal and contract problems which will have to be dealt with before another film can be made.
If these can be resolved the plan is that number four will be the Narnian Creation story, "The Magician's Nephew," which takes place thousands of years earlier in Narnian time and links to the Victorian era on our own world, when the young Diggory Kirke, who grows up to be the Professor from "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," was present at the dawn of Narnia.
It's just possible that the creators may be able to bookend a film version of "The Magician's Nephew" with Jim Broadbent as the adult Professor Kirke telling the Pevensey family, or Eustace, about his own adventure in Narnia as a boy, but otherwise the only common characters will be Aslan, (Liam Neeson) and Empress Jadis a.k.a. the White Witch (Tilda Swinson).
In "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," apart from the lead characters, other excellent performances come from Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan, and Simon Pegg, who takes over from Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep, leader of Narnia's talking mice. This is a difficult role to bring off because he has to be funny in places but also genuinely heroic.
If you've not read the books, imagine Reepicheep as a mouse version of Antonio Banderas's character from Shrek II to IV, except that where the swordfighting "Puss in Boots" is a comic character with a heroic aspect, in "Prince Caspian" and "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" Reepicheep the swordfighting mouse is a heroic character with significant comic aspects.)
Izzard was very funny in this role in "Prince Caspian" - I particularly treasured the way he said "You people have no imagination!" as he skewered a Telmarine soldier who had just blurted out "You're a mouse! Read more ›