Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Dawn Treader gets lost at sea.

Warning: This review may contain spoilers if you haven't seen this movie.

Well, the family and I went to see the third Chronicles of Narnia movie last night. I've got to say I wasn't sure what to expect. I had heard of some problems with the production and I knew that Prince Caspian had strayed from the storyline of C.S. Lewis' book. Still, I hoped that perhaps the makers of the film would use it to steer the series back to the books. Sadly, I was wrong.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader starts off right as Lucy and Edmond Pevensie are drawn back to Narnia along with their pest of a cousin, Eustace Scrubb. The Dawn Treader looks as it is described by Lewis and Reepicheep is once again spot on. Caspian is as we remember him as he helps rescue the cousins and get them on board. Then it's off to the Lone Islands.

The first stop of the ship is where the film gets off track. The sequence of events had to be shortened for the silver screen but this time it is completely changed. Lord Burn is not living in quiet seclusion, he is in prison. Slavery is a problem but not the main one. Instead the inhabitants of the islands are being offered as sacrifices to a mysterious green mist that comes up out of the sea. Lord Burn explains that the other lords of Narnia sailed east in an attempt to locate the source of the mist. He also gives Caspian a sword that Aslan had given to Caspian's father who had given it to him. He explains that each of the lords had been given such a sword. Nice storyline but completely different from the book and it only gets worse.

Over the course of the rest of the movie we follow the ship from island to island in its journey. The sequence of the islands has been changed and some are combined. As the voyage unfolds, the adventurers learn that the green mist comes from "Dark Island" and that the only way to defeat it is to lay all seven swords from the lords of Narnia on Aslan's table. At that point some secret magical power will be released and destroy the mist. Until that point evil has the upper hand. Complete divergence from Lewis' tale.

After much adventuring and more mutilation of Lewis' work the final battle is enacted against a monstrous sea serpent and ghostly renditions of evil. Aslan belatedly restores Eustace to his human form and he places the final sword on the table. A blue light surges forth and defeats the evil green mist. The final scene at the end of the world incorporates Caspian but is otherwise faithful to the book, even to Aslan's remark that the Pevensies know him in our world by another name. A nice nod to the book but too little too late.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader isn't really a bad movie I suppose. The acting is well done and the effects are great. The problem is that it just isn't true to C.S. Lewis' work and is held out as a movie adaptation of such. I understand that things sometimes need to be abridged due to budget constraints. I don't understand the complete overhauling of the storyline. Why add in the mystical elements and magic swords nonsense? I can see no clear reason. The additions turn out to be subtractions when the film is viewed against the backdrop of what it could have been.


Pierre Bellville said...

Just got back from the film. I noted your review but chose not to read it because of your spoiler warning (thanks, btw!).

I'll admit that it has been years since I read Voyage, but I have vivid memories of the old BBC and the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre versions.

To be sure, the film tweaked and combined some of the plot(s), deleted some aspects, and added some elements that were absent from the book. The major thing that the movie adds, though, is a coherent storyline to the mix. The book is episodic in format, something that just would not work in a serious film. I remember reading Voyage and realising that each chapter actually stood alone as a story complete within itself. One of the few Lewis books one can put down after one chapter and be satisfied. In a book, that's fine. In a film, that's a sure way to lose your audience.

The green mist and 7 swords seem to absolutely be in line with Lewis' original themes: conquering evil (specifically, if my memory serves me, Lewis had in mind the 7 Deadly Sins/Virtues as roughly parallel to the Islands/Lords). They took some liberties at tying it together to connect the adventures on each of the islands, but I think it's quite faithful to the spirit of the source material, specifically the religious allegories, even broadening some of them from the source material...

There were a couple of changes made that Lewis would not have approved of: The absence of the Baptism of Eustace ruins the Sacramental theme of the book and the addition of the "setting prisoners free" theme, I thought, was a little too in-your-face religious. Both changes are much too Evangelical for Mr. Lewis.

Overall, though, I didn't see the changes as any more drastic than the ones made to the first film, and they CERTAINLY fall well below the drastic changes Peter Jackson made to Lord of the Rings. The film is still "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and it's a worthy follow-up to "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe".

Anyway, that's my quick view, un-thought-through since I just got back. It appears we won't have to worry about Walden Media messing up the next Narnia book, though...

Pierre Bellville said...

I meant: "chose not to read it UNTIL after I saw the movie"...