I have to start by saying I enjoyed this movie, because there are some things I'm going to cover here that might make it seem otherwise. I loved the Narnia books. I read the series when I was just a wee thing. I've watched several of the movies over the years, but the current films are by far my favorite.
And not just because of the special effects. The creators of these movies are putting forth a much better effort than their predecessors to make the characters real.
When I was first reading the series, Voyage of the Dawn Treader immediately gripped me. I think because much of it takes place on a ship, and at the time, I hadn't read many stories that did so. Shocking, I know, since that's kind of a staple in a lot of the older fantasy books. But those were mostly about pirates and I don't really care for pirate stories, never have. I liked that the Dawn Treader wasn't a pirate ship, so that was the first bonus point.
I also liked that Susan and Peter weren't a big part of this story. Of the four Pevensies, Lucy and Edmund have always been my fave. Between those two? Edmund, no contest. He is the most troubled, the most developed, the most misunderstood Pevensie. And the new movies have been that much more awesome for me, personally, because the actor they chose for Edmund is SPOT-ON how I imagined him, both in appearance and characterization.
In Dawn Treader, we focus on the four characters pictured below, only one of which is new to the series thus far. That would be Eustace, on the far left. The others we already know and love-- Edmund, Lucy, and Caspian.
Eustace is a Scrubb (oh the fun you can have with names, eh?), cousin to the Pevensies. And herein lies my first beef with the movie/ first thing I learned. I don't remember Eustace's character being so utterly annoying when I read the book. This story is actually told through Eustace, emphasized through his diary entries, and he brings circularity to the ending. As one of the MCs I understand that his character must change, but for me, his annoyance factor was a bit overdone in the opening scenes, when it could have focused a little more on his cowardice.
What did he learn through the course of the story? To be brave? Yes, but how was he not brave in the beginning?
To be nicer to his cousins? Yes, but I never saw the reason why he was being mean to them to begin with. And the only reason he wasn't mean to them at the end was because he realized Narnia was, in fact, a real place that his cousins had been to before, whereas he thought they had made it all up.
For me, neither one of those things really cut it. So here is what I learned from that particular aspect of the movie:
1. The reason your main character is the way he/she is must be clear to your audience. Why do they feel the way they do about certain things and certain people. It was very clear to me why Edmund and Lucy didn't like Eustace-- who wouldn't hate such an irritating twat. But the flip side of it wasn't clear at all.
2. The reason your main character changes his/her viewpoint by story's end must be clear to the audience. This was very clear in Dawn Treader, concerning Eustace. His experiences in Narnia were intense and specific to his issues with being a chicken-liver, and his relationship with Reepicheep drove the point home. The problem I have, mainly, is this isn't the issue that was highlighted in the opening. He was mostly just presented as "annoying for no real reason." The fact that he was scared shitless by everything didn't show up until well into the story.
The Christianity parallels were SO heavy in this movie. Much more so than the first two. We have an evil mist that tries to tempt you from doing what you know is right, and "Aslan's country" that is quite obviously supposed to be like Heaven for Narnia. I know that this is part of what makes the books what they are, that this was never something meant to be cryptic, but personally, it turned me off. You can have clever parallels to things without going overboard.
In Dawn Treader, they effectively pulled off this subtlety with the characters following the Blue Star, collecting the seven swords of the Lords, and fighting a serpent at the end (and I'm sure there were more I might have missed), but the ending scene at the beach was entirely too blatant. Plus it seemed to go on and on and on without any added impact on the story. They could have cut that scene in half and gotten the same point across.
But. I'm just one person. One person who doesn't like to be preached to at length. So what I learned from this part of the movie is:
If you want to teach moral lessons in your story, find balance. I see the opposite of this in a lot of fiction. The author thinks they have to spell everything out for the reader to understand exactly what they mean by their parallel, their moral lesson, their whatever. Why? Are they afraid the reader might apply it to something else? That wouldn't be a bad thing, though. Any way a reader can find relevance of a story to their own life is going to resonate with them. In this case, less is more. Trust your reader to pick up on your hints.
Next (and final) lesson learned.
The subplots in Dawn Treader were too weak, in my opinion, and they had the potential to be strong. There were three main subplots that I could see, one for each of the remaining three MCs.
1. Lucy's issues with her appearance, and thinking that her older sister, Susan, is perfect. This was so heavily suggested in the beginning and then again emphasized through two later scenes that solely focused on her wanting to be beautiful, that it was a major letdown when the whole idea was wrapped up so quickly, with just a few choice words from Aslan.
1a. If a character has an issue with something, it must be a real struggle to overcome. Lucy seemed to "get over it" much too easily.
2. Edmund's continuing issues with greed and power were... severely unfocused. It seemed to jump from one thing to another to another, so when we finally reached the resolution of that subplot (which was also too abrupt and too easily overcome) there wasn't a real feeling of satisfaction. By the time we see the White Witch trying to tempt him at the end, he's already beyond it.
2a. When choosing a character subplot (in a story that focuses on multiple main characters), pick one thing and stick with it. Just about anything you choose will have more than one aspect, more than one road you can take it down. But it's a subplot, aka a support of the main plot. Keep it solid. Focused. If it is too scattered it detracts rather than emphasizes.
3. Caspian's issues with not fully stepping up to his role as king. I actually thought this was pretty weak in the second movie, too, and it was supposed to be a main thread in that one-- a strong motivation for his character. In fact, overall, I'm highly disappointed with Caspian's characterization. Although I know it's difficult to make a weak character sympathetic.
But maybe the problem is with me. I don't get him. At all. He's just a pretty boy. A pretty boy who still can't hold a candle to this:
(for realz, ppl.)
But the issues they gave Caspian's character could have been really workable. It seemed like they tried to work them into the conflict but it just kept coming up short. And again, it was because it was too blatant. He pretty much stated his problems outright every time they came up. And then he cried. And then he vowed to be different. And then... *yawn*
3a. Conflict must be truly conflicting, and it must have an active resolution. We don't see the tangible resolution of Caspian's issues in this movie, because his realization of what he needs to do comes at the very end. So we don't get to see him in action, applying what he learned, and this makes it unsatisfying.
Conversely, but along the same lines, I thought the idea of Edmund facing the sea serpent at the end was brilliant. He wasn't the only person scared of that thing-- the entire ship's crew was in hysterics-- but he, alone, was the only one who hung off the dragon's head and teased the thing into nearly eating him alive. And the reason this worked so well for me was because:
1. His fear of the sea serpents had only been hinted at previously. There was nothing overt, but it was enough that the audience could pick up on it and see its relevance at the end. This, in my opinion, gave it more impact. The sudden appearance of the sea serpent had the feeling of an "Aha!" moment.
2. A strong character takes control of a situation. A strong character makes decisions, whether they hurt or heal. A strong character faces his/her fears at the climax. This is why both Edmund's and Eustace's character came across the strongest overall by the end of the movie. They had very clear character arcs.
And I think that's a good place to end today's lesson. Because the climactic scene with the sea serpent was my most favorite of this movie. What I learned from that is-- I am so glad to be living in an era when special effects like this are possible:
Go Team Edmund.
Have a great weekend,