A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 541 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) – August 23rd, 2011

I’ve mentioned that I grew up with the BBC versions of these stories and I have to admit that the third story was always my favorite. Same for the books. I loved this story of a voyage at sea, full of all of the perils of such a quest and all of the beauty of it too. I loved venturing past the known lands of Narnia into the unexplored islands and the waters beyond. So I was looking forward to this installment, but I was again nervous. I knew going in that it was going to be a difficult transition from page to screen. I knew that like in Prince Caspian, changes would have to be made. I also knew that they’d run into trouble with the movie during filming. So I think my worries were reasonable. Turns out they were also at least a little justified.

Now, let me make it plain that I really did enjoy this movie. I had fun watching it and it had a lot of what I wanted from it. But it is not the story I loved from the book and it is not the story that the BBC put on the small screen. In some ways that was inevitable. Much as I love the original story, it is almost tailor made for a mini-series. It’s an episodic journey from Narnia to the edge of the world, stopping at one island to deal with a problem, solving it, then moving on to the next. There’s the dragon episode and the sea serpent episode and the Dufflepud episode and so on and so forth. Yes, there is a plot that ties them together, but it seems to have little in the way of urgency.

In the original story Caspian, who is now King, has embarked on a voyage to the Lone Islands and beyond to try and find the seven lords who were loyal to his father and banished by his uncle. And in the original? That’s the plot. Caspian has gone in search of the lords. That’s it. Reepicheep, the valiant talking mouse, wants to sail to the end of the world, but Caspian’s just looking for some lords. And maybe it’s been too long since I read the book and there’s some pressing reason for it to be Caspian doing this, but If there is, it’s not really enough of a reason to have made an impression on me. Why Caspian himself? Why would a young king, new to his throne, recently done overthrowing the uncle who’d killed his father to steal the kingdom, leave said kingdom to go sailing? It just seems like perhaps he could have sent envoys to the islands instead. I’m just saying. So I totally understand why this new adaptation felt the need to make the whole thing have more of a pressing need.

Not that said need shows up right away. Caspian’s already on the ocean in the Dawn Treader when Lucy and Edmund and their sulky and obnoxious cousin Eustace get pulled into Narnia to join him. But it’s not long before we get a clue as to the larger overarching plot that’s being introduced. One of the first episodes of the original story involves Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace being captured by slave traders and auctioned off. And that’s kept mostly intact. But added to it is a mysterious green mist that swallows human sacrifices sent out to it in dinghies. And there you have your overarching plot. Now not only is Caspian out to find a bunch of lords for his own personal reasons, but he has a duty to the people of his kingdom. To people long neglected before he came into power. And I like the concept there. It makes the whole voyage seem a little more important and a little less like Caspian wanted a vacation.

The trouble here is that the whole mist thing then has to permeate the entire movie, tying it together. And it succeeds in some places and not in others. There are places where it feels somewhat organic, and other places where it’s clear just how much needed to be changed in order to give the movie an exciting climax instead of the ending it had originally. Working the mist into places like the island with the water that makes everything into gold? That doesn’t feel unreasonable. Having it be a sort of sign of temptation and fear works nicely. And that’s a common theme in the whole story anyhow, with people wanting to do things they know they shouldn’t. Lucy is tempted to say a spell that will let her take her sister’s place as the favored daughter. Eustace gives in to the temptation to take a dragon’s treasure. Edmund and Caspian fight over the gold water. The Dufflepuds are all but ruled by their own whims and wants, regardless of reason. I get it. I do.

Unfortunately, at the end the movie has to take all of that and work it into a big climax. Using an island from the actual story, where all of your nightmares become real, was a good idea. It means there’s no new locations being added and a truly sinister location from the original story gets more of a featured position. But it also takes the sea serpent and puts it there as the climax. And comparatively speaking, that just doesn’t measure up to the giant battles in the other movies. It feels like it’s trying too hard. And while the serpent itself is well done, I’m also disappointed that it’s shown to be a creation of fear, not an actual thing living in the oceans around the Lone Islands. Battling everyone’s fears to help find the last lord and dispell the curse that threatens the islands? Yeah, okay. It works in theory. But it’s so very different from the original story and from the previous movie adaptations.

As a movie, I think it works in many ways. As always I enjoyed the acting of the leads, this time including the absolutely marvelous Will Poulter as Eustace. Georgie Henley has grown up wonderfully and I truly hope she continues to act, be it on stage or screen. Same for Skandar Keynes. Ben Barnes does a lovely job as Caspian, though as I mentioned in my review for Prince Caspian, I do wish Caspian had been allowed to grow up across the two movies. It’s not the acting I take issue with. And I like what’s changed at the end, with Caspian deciding on his own not to continue on. Not to mention, I love the neverending wave at the edge of the world. And it’s not the necessity of changing things to make a feature film that I take issue with either. It’s that while I can see the germ of a good idea here, and I can see how it was meant to play out, it never strikes quite right. I wish Eustace had changed earlier. I wish things hadn’t been quite so melodramatic. I wish the sea serpent had been worked into the rest of the movie and something else had been incorporated into the end. I think that given how this movie went, it was a good idea to change tacks if this series is to continue. I’ve heard that The Magician’s Nephew is up next, and I think that’s a good plan. It’s got a clear villain in Jadis and it takes the audience back to the root of Narnia, reminding us why we’re supposed to care about the magic of it all. I hope it goes well. I’ll enjoy it anyhow, like I enjoyed this, but I’d like it if more people could enjoy it too.

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August 23, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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