It's been seven years now since our family first heard whisperings of a potential Narnia movie. While we waited, we filmed our own version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--twelve cousins working 18 months to produce a faithful, creative, hilarious family treasure that will ever tie us together ... and ever bore viewers whose surname isn't De Vries.
Seven years later, and Walden has completed their final Narnia film. It certainly isn't a poorly-made adaption, but our post-theater spirits were rather low. The film fluctuates between didactic, in an ambiguously moral sort of way, and Typical Fantasy Movie. It is okay; but when a film is just okay, there's no need for Hollywood to dip their fingers into any more of the series.
The Dawn Treader is faithful to the structure of its source, but lacks that singular, elusive charm that Lewis' stories emanate. Notice I said Lewis' stories. It's not just about book vs. movie. It's story vs. story. His tales give a certain thrill that this film lacks in all but a few small scenes. Eustace is very good, his scenes as a human are the glue that holds the film together. However, I read this recently:
"If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summon up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him." (Tim Keller)
There is an essential difference between moralistic and Christ-centered storytelling. Every Hollywood film, no matter its source, preaches some degree of morality. Sometimes it's obvious. Sometimes the filmmakers are more subtle, and create a desire within the viewers to emulate the hero. But either way, it's about us summoning up the faith and courage to fight the giants in our lives.
In the film's story, Eustace is pulled into Narnia so that he can overcome certain character defects, to help complete a mission and save hapless lives. In the original story, he is drawn into Narnia for one great adventure: Aslan saving him.
The men and women behind The Voyage of the Dawn Treader focus on good deeds and summoning strength from within and completing a seven-point task because it's the way that storytelling works within their worldview.
But for a story to live and breathe, to be more than okay, you must replace the moralistic center. Heroic deeds flow naturally and painlessly from a cast that is anchored by the character of Aslan. Such a story is only possible when the artist's work is Christ-centered. That doesn't mean Christ dominates the story. On the contrary, such a center frees the story from being overwhelmed by its Quest, balancing the twin engines of plot and character. In this novel, Aslan only appears a few times. But his presence under-girds and motivates everything.
Thank God for the nonpareil awesomeness of the Radio Theatre’s Narnia. If you haven't listened to one of their broadcasts lately, dust off The Dawn Treader today. Right now. And enjoy.