Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Movie Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

What? Yes, of course Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a vintage novel! Hence the movie review!


The Narnia books were my favourites for the first ten years of my life, until I discovered The Lord of the Rings, and I still love them. They kickstarted a fascination with the medieval, and shaped much of how I view life.
I was excited and pleased about the recent movies, and after a hate affair with the LOTR films, I thought that, because I loved Narnia less, it would be easier to like the movies. Well, I soon discovered what a rabid Narnia fan I was...The first movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, was fine; flawed, but overall faithful. The second, Prince Caspian, was terrible: none of the characters were themselves, too much was taken out and too much was put in. Peter's experience as the High King of Narnia seemed to have made him less noble, not more; Trumpkin and Reepicheep, two of the best characters in the books, were reduced to limp sarcasm; and when there was a chance for the scriptwriters to massively bungle something, they happily did it.
The producers realised that something had gone wrong in Prince Caspian, and bless 'em, they have done their best to fix it in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It doesn't quite make the grade of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—but it is a massive improvement on Prince Caspian. It was worth making, and it's worth seeing, and if this standard can be kept up it's worth making all the other books into movies. Which they won't do unless it makes a ton more money...you know, I can live with that either way, but personally I'd be more disappointed if they didn't get to make more movies.
So now I'm going into details, and you may wish to avert your eyes if you haven't seen it yet and want to.
I'll take the bad first, and the good second. There is no ugly!
The bad is that the plot has been rearranged and some wonderful things left out. The whole movie feels like the Cliff's Notes of the book—everything's been squashed up, Goldwater Island and Dragon Island are now the same, and the voyage seems more like a week rather than 'a year and a day'. Coriakin's Island is now the first that comes after the Lone Islands, and the Dark Island is now the last Island of all, located a hop skip and a jump away from Ramandu's Island, or since there is no Ramandu, his Daughter. I don't mind the rearranging the islands so much, but some great lines and scenes are missing. Governor Gumpas is gone, Ramandu is gone, Edmund's line to Eustace along the lines of “you were just a pill, but I was a traitor” is gone.
The unifying quest of the book, which was very episodic, was to find Aslan's Country. The book is imbued with a longing for Aslan's Country. The movie focuses on a manufactured and frankly nonsensical quest to lay the seven swords of the seven lords on Aslan's Table in order to prevent the Dark Island from growing to swallow the whole world. What with CGI, whispery green mist creeping over everything...well, it's just a bit silly.
Another major change is that Eustace remains a dragon for much longer, travelling with the Dawn Treader until the end. This is illogical for those of us who've read the book, but it isn't too bad.
And of course the thing that plagues the other two films—the dumbing-down of medieval gallantry and solempne in speech—is present and correct here, though nowhere near as badly as in Prince Caspian. Maybe the biggest goof is when Caspian introduces Edmund and Lucy as “High King and Queen of Narnia.” How did that get past, and what misguided egalitarianism helped it along?!?
Good things about this movie! Well, it feels like Narnia. Parts of it—the waterlogged transition into Narnia, the choice of visuals for the closing credits (I guarantee you are going to love the closing credits), the un-dragoning of Eustace, and the final scene on the sand-bar threshold of Aslan's country—are nearly perfect. The Dufflepuds are exactly as wonderful as in the book. Drinian is awesome. Lord Rhoop is just as crazy and unbalanced as you might imagine. And Caspian's denial of his longing to enter Aslan's country is so utterly perfect I can almost imagine CS Lewis applauding happily in heaven.
Reepicheep. Folks, they got Reepicheep right. He was one of the best things about Prince Caspian, but he was not gallant enough, and he was sarcastic rather than witty. Reepicheep in Voyage of the Dawn Treader is gallant. Chivalrous. Fearless. Polite. Kind. Witty. Formidable. Dashing. Not as much as he is in the book, but clearly recognisable as the mouse we know and love from the book. His relationship with Eustace is superbly handled, from the duel to the dragoning, and at the end his journey to Aslan's country is just as in the book. It would have been better if we had heard much more about his quest during the ridiculous gotta-collect-'em-all plotline, but I can take some roughs with my smooth, as the man said.
The tempting of Lucy in the house of the star (and beyond) strikes most of the right notes. Unlike in the book, she is now tempted by her wish to be prettier, like Susan. Although this is a change, I believe it works. It helps introduce Peter and Susan briefly into the plot, and it's one of the most disturbing of the 'temptations' the cast is told they must face. Although it seemed wrong for Lucy to hide the page from the book even as she hears Aslan's roar warning her against it, it helped to set up a very effective dream scene in which Lucy transforms into Susan and finds herself the toast of our world...to the total annihilation of her own self. It was well-played, but one of the best things I liked about it was how, when she transforms into 'Susan' with beautiful 1940s costume, hair and makeup, it feels like a letdown. How can that be better than what Lucy is, Queen Lucy the Valiant?
It is now Edmund, not Caspian, who is tempted by the Goldwater, and he plays it very well. I can see why they decided to make the change, and it doesn't bother me awfully. It does work in the context of the movie.
Which leads us up to another thing I really, really loved about this movie, which is: someone has obviously been reading their Planet Narnia. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the novel of the Sun, of fortune, gold, and light. I suspected this when I saw the ship's wheel, which is sun-shaped; but I was sure of it when I saw all the gold colouring and motifs in the film. Dark threatens Narnia; sunlight dispels it at the end. Goldwater/Dragon Island is yellow-coloured and one of the best visuals of the movie is the ravine where Eustace meets his fate. When I saw that he'd turned into a gold dragon, I knew I wasn't just imagining it.
To conclude this rambling review, I want to say that while it's far from being perfect, this movie feels like Narnia to me. I have a solid sense of place about Narnia; I practically lived there from age four to ten, and then continued loving it. The thing that made me despair about Prince Caspian was that although it looked like Narnia, and although they called it Narnia, I just knew it was not Narnia, and the people I saw on the screen did not behave like Narnians. The spirit of the thing had changed.
This movie may not include everything from the book. There are a number of changes. But I know the place it depicts. It's my own beloved Narnia, and all is well again.

2 comments:

marmie said...

Thanks, Suzannah. Great review.

Galleddrim said...

Thanks for the review, Suzannah! I can't wait to see this film. Keep up the writing!

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