‘Dawn Treader’ Film May Hit Story Sandbars, Part 3

Until a few hours ago today, an online interview was available with Mark Johnson, a lookalike of Justin Hammer (from Iron Man 2) and also producer of the Narnia films. Aslan’sCountry.com has since removed the interview text. (But guess who […]
on Nov 11, 2010 · No comments

Until a few hours ago today, an online interview was available with Mark Johnson, a lookalike of Justin Hammer (from Iron Man 2) and also producer of the Narnia films. Aslan’sCountry.com has since removed the interview text. (But guess who still had the original up on his browser?)

I can say there were no softball questions. And Johnson, who isn’t known for revealing a lot in advance about movies, did provide seemingly honest and yet encouraging answers.

I’m not sure why producers wanted the actual quotes removed. That interview, along with the most recent and much better trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has helped me a lot. In this miniseries’ last installment, and even more so in part 1, I was more pessimistic, concerned the film had sacrificed themes of seeking Aslan’s Country for a clichéd Quest for Seven Swords (QFSS). Now, based especially on the trailer, it seems the film’s themes might be in better perspective: searching for Aslan’s Country first, and “quest” at no. 2.

Mind you — I still dislike the whole QFSS element. It doesn’t seem necessary to invent a non-book plotline to lend the Dawn Treader’s crew greater inventive for island-hopping. As my wife recently said: “You’re on a ship, exploring. You look for islands because you need them.” Also there’s that whole bit about searching for seven lost lords. Aren’t they important enough?

Ah well! As it is, I’ve begun to move closer to being more optimistic about Dawn Treader, which opens (in the U.S.) on Friday Dec. 10. With more information available, I wonder how my other predictions from last April may have panned out?

5. Improve movie marketing.

This isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean 4: Only This Time with Narnia. Don’t market big battles (see suggestion 1), don’t glorify stupid mush (see suggestion 6, below) and don’t even promote cute talking animals. Instead, show audiences that this is a Family Friendly High-Seas Adventure.

Overall the marketing has hit on this, with a few caveats. Dawn Treader, story changes aside, has succeeded in looking like an incredibly fun film. And there’s an eye-rolling moment in most of the trailers — which is not magically offset by Lucy’s own eyeroll — but they are mush-free.

It wouldn’t take much, however, to surpass the marketing genius behind the Prince Caspian film, which after the success of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, strangely decided to advertise the sequel like this: 1) instead of magic, we’ll have Darkness and Grittiness, 2) instead of the four children from film 1, we’ll have an unknown character on all the posters, 3) brilliant slogans, such as “All that you know is about to change.” … Okay, I know I’m ranting, again.

Concentrate on the characters and their personal voyages, not just the title’s capital-letter Voyage. A Voyage of Discovery, a magical world, and their very selves. And so on. The marketing doesn’t need to be too deep. But by Aslan’s mane, let’s not have any more of this eye-rollingly vague PC-style “All that you know is about to change” stuff.

Well, that shows how much I know. Little of the marketing has emphasized the characters’ personal journeys. Perhaps I may have actually been a bit naïve. Even I don’t really want to see only angst and temptations in a trailer. Mind you, if it’s in the book — as Edmund’s, Caspian’s, Eustace’s and Lucy’s temptations were — I do want it in the film (and fortunately it seems these elements are in the film). But in the film trailers, I’d rather see dragons, a sea serpent, the Dark Island, Aslan’s Country, and of course Aslan himself. Watch that trailer above, if you haven’t already, and you’ll see that after one mild trailer, one medium, they finally have a hot one.

6. Cut non-canon mush.

No need exists for Lucy — our only female lead this time — to start Learning About Boys or any of this nonsense. […] Caspian is attracted to Ramandu’s daughter on the last island the ship reaches, and that’s all. In Lewis’s Voyage, this is given a clear acknowledgment, and few will complain if that is made more clear in the film. So if we absolutely must have a Climactic Smooch, an epilogue scene could show them kissing.

7. Forget “Star Girl.”

A very early Dawn Treader script included the way wacky idea of having Ramandu’s daughter, a blue star-like humanoid, present earlier in the film than in the real story, guiding the Dawn Treader ship on its voyage until they wind up at the island.

These paragraphs were mostly based on that particularly dreadful Leaked Script from several years ago, source of much laugh-and-cringe merriment and reenactments among NarniaWeb members such as myself who’ve held onto its pieces. Ramandu’s daughter, comically named “STAR GIRL” in the script, constantly floats down into King Caspian’s dreams, being all mystical and sultry, and at one point, even climbing the ship’s rigging (presumably in a skirt).

Apparently such horrors will not be in the new film — such as Caspian and Ramandu’s daughter meeting before they should, or “STAR GIRL” stealing Aslan’s thunder by guiding the ship.

What about Lucy crushing on Caspian? She crushed on Caspian in the Leaked Script. We’ve heard nothing about similar things being showed in the new film. However, a certain Susan-and-Caspian Smooch-a-Rama, foreign to the book and utterly unbelonging even in the film, was tacked onto the end of Prince Caspian, prompting Gollum-esque screams from yours truly. So I suppose it does stand to reason that part of Lucy’s in-book temptations toward vanity could include seeking Caspian’s attention. Voyage film: please, don’t do that. No, really, don’t.

8. Toward Aslan’s Country …

Make it incredible. Make it wonderful. Spend only $2 million on the rest of the film’s effects and save $38 million for Aslan’s Country — a vision of Heaven, a spellbinding sight of luscious green mountains, valleys and waterfalls, all behind a translucent layer of sky and solid wave of water constantly rising beyond the end of the world.

This is Aslan’s Country. They were courageous enough to give away the ending in the trailer. But frankly, speaking as a fan of the Dawn Treader book — whose longings for the New Heavens and New Earth find glorious echoes at the story’s end — we needed to see that.

Now I can’t wait to see more. Focusing the film on this, not a giant battle or quest-for-sevens-swords, would almost make the other changes worth it. And what would likely make them all the way worth it would be if they indeed kept Aslan’s words to Edmund and Lucy, which give perhaps the Chronicles of Narnia’s most explicit connection between the Lion and Jesus Christ.

The great Lion tells Edmund and Lucy they will not be returning to Narnia, yet he tells the children he is present in their real world as well. “[T]here I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason you why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

A continual rumor I’ve heard: Aslan will not change from the form of a Lamb to the Lion, as He did in the book. That is disappointing. Yet the paragraph from a March 2 Christianity Today article, which I mentioned in part 2, has still not been contradicted: Aslan’s revelation is there in “its unadulterated entirety,” according to Kathy Keller, who saw an early version of the film.

And that is an encouraging thought.

Next week: I may or may not switch from Dawn Treader hype to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hype, which will certainly also re-raise the always-interesting debate over magic and wizardry in fiction. Or perhaps I’ll instead posit discussion over a particularly interesting moment in the comedy film Galaxy Quest, centered around the nature of stories, pretending and lying.

Yet for now: will you be seeing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? If so, will you choose the 3D showing? Plan to see the film opening weekend, or wait? And what are your thoughts so far?

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Matthew Reynolds says:

    Sorry, Stephen, but please immediately remove the quotes from our interview, as per Fox’s request.

  2. I have loved the Narnia movies so far. But I hate that they travel so far from the books. I don’t believe the books would make good movies without some rewriting. They are too full of internal monologue, I think. They need scenes to show things that the books tell us. That’s my theory, anyway. Unfortunately, I don’t like the modernization of the themes. I don’t like that the kids in the movies are brattier than the kids in the books were. I don’t like the White Witch in every movie.

    Still, if the movies were called something else, instead of The Chronicles of Narnia, I’d really love them. So when I go, I try to pretend that they are different stories completely and have nothing to do with the books I’ve read over and over and have loved so long.

  3. heh heh I was going to ask how you were getting around the copyright laws there. I forgot to do that.

  4. Kaci says:

    You’re right – that is a much, much better trailer.

    You know, I’m looking forward to the movie, but I had to think: You know, by letting Peter and Caspian go at it before, that whole Edmund/Caspian thing (and they are the two true rivals, not Peter) might have taken a soft blow. I hope not, because I think it’s a hilarious scene in the book.

    And who knows…Seven lords require their seven swords, so maybe you’re being toyed with. 😉

    I really wouldn’t worry too much. Caspian honestly can’t kiss Lucy after kissing Susan, no matter what happened in Pride & Prejudice. And I dare say that poor Edmund is ready for Jadis to pick on someone else. 0=)

    Anyway. I’m not worried about disliking the movie. I’ll conjure thoughts once I’ve seen it.

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by E. Stephen Burnett, Speculative Faith. Speculative Faith said: Despite a "quest for seven swords," the #DawnTreader film is looking even better. Part 3 on #SpecFaith: http://bit.ly/bFkpwQ […]

  6. Christian says:

    Yes, I’ll be going to see VDT and on it’s Australian opening day. I’m not a fan of 3D (I wasn’t even impressed with Avatar), so no doubt, I’ll be seeing VDT in 2D. The trailer is a bit of mess in terms of editing but overall it’s much better because it has more of a Narnian feel and we get to see some long-awaited scenes. It’s good to hear that the quest is probably King Caspian’s second priority for the voyage and not the first. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always been interested in and found more nourishment in Eustace’s transformation with Aslan than in Aslan’s Country. Don’t get me wrong. I love Aslan’s Country but for me the Eustace’s redemption story is the key to VDT. I’m curious why the interview was taken down. It’s not as if Mark Johnson gave away huge spoilers or anything. Curiouser and curiouser.

  7. I have a question all. Once someone says something publicly, doesn’t it become, well, public domain. As long as the statements are correctly attributed, they can’t be coercively dictated about their use. Aren’t their free speech issues with Fox’s (my words) authoritarian actions?

    I am happy you all are optimistic. I am STILL quite negative, I must say.

    • This is more of a courtesy removal, as the Aslan’sCountry.com overseers might also say, knowing that Fox has been generous with its own information and shared it with Aslan’sCountry.com (and other sites). However, what Fox gets in return is marketing, a perfectly legitimate freedom of capitalism. If they released their “product” too early, their marketing plans could be jeopardized. Then they would guard the information — again, for their product, the film — even more closely.

      I just wish I had remembered that myself, when the initial version of this column included the quotes!

  8. Elisabeth says:

    I do want to see VDT! The new trailer looks exciting and seems more Narnian (if you know what I mean), and it looks less fake and souped up than Prince Caspian was. I guess December 10 will reveal the truth!

  9. Kendall H says:

    Hey Narnia fans, don’t forget that Dawn Treader is releasing on Blu Ray DVD on April 8th. Help spread the word. Tweet this reminder to all your friends with #narniavoyage to support!

What do you think?