A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 545 – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (BBC) – August 27th, 2011

More Narnia tonight, and this one a real departure from the newer adaptations in that it’s been packaged as a single story even though it’s really not. I know originally it was meant to be two separate stories, but by the time it was aired in the US, it had been combined into one. The best reason I can think of is that the first part, Prince Caspian only takes two ½ hour episodes from beginning to end, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader takes four and both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Silver Chair took six each. So it makes perfect sense for Wonderworks to have stuck the two and the four together to maintain a regular schedule. Then again, if they’d had a daily half hour time slot they could have just shown the entire four story set as a run of eighteen episodes. That’s practically a full season of television. Regardless, we watched them together tonight as a single movie.

Really, they do go well together. After all, they’re linked by the character of Caspian. And it’s clear that they were intended to be watched rather close together. From what I recall of the books, Prince Caspian ends with the children all heading off on different trains to different boarding schools, whereas The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has Susan off in America, Peter visiting with Professor Kirke and Lucy and Edmund stuck spending the summer with their aunt, uncle and cousin. This adaptation, which is as faithful to the books as the first one was, has changed this one thing to bump the stories up against each other. The trip into Narnia to help Prince Caspian claim his throne here takes place as one last adventure for the whole family before Peter’s off to school, Susan’s off to America and Lucy and Edmund go to their cousin’s. And to be honest? I like what it does with the story. It wouldn’t work for a feature film, but for a serial it’s rather nice. And then too, the timeline works out nicely. Narnian time going faster than our time, it works for me to have a short time in our world mean only a few years in Narnia, as opposed to a year or so meaning the same thing when it apparently meant hundreds of years before.

So it’s clear that the two stories were meant to run into each other, regardless of whether they were packaged as a single six episode set or one two episode set and one four. And I like that. In my review of the new adaptation of Prince Caspian I complained a good deal about all the walking and talking that happens in the book. It’s tedious, to be honest. And in an slavish adaptation, it would bog down the entire story. So it’s a little truncated here. Far more present than in the new version, but it’s not allowed to overwhelm the actual story of Caspian fleeing for his life and encountering true Narnians and leading them in battle to reclaim his throne and bring faith in Aslan back to the country.

The thing is, without all the talking and walking and meandering thoughts on the nature of faith, it’s really a rather short story. Caspian flees the castle and meets the Dwarves and Trufflehunter the talking badger, who introduce him to many of the other old Narnians before they all have a wild feast on the Dancing Lawn. He uses Susan’s horn to call for help, which arrives in the form of the Pevensies, who show up at Aslan’s Howe (where Caspian and his people are already dug in) just in time to stop an attempt to resurrect the White Witch. And then Susan and Lucy head off with Aslan to wake the trees while Edmund and Peter challenge Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, to buy time before the battle. Which ends up being not so big a deal since Aslan shows up and scares everyone away before the battle really has a chance to get going. It’s accurate to the book, yes, but it’s amusing to see what the book comes to when all the talking is reduced but the rest of the plot isn’t padded out.

All of that means that Prince Caspian makes for a good introduction to the next story. It shows the differences that have come to pass in Narnia without delving too deeply, since they’re not going to be all that different for long. It introduces a character who, by the next story, will have grown into his role as King. And it primes Lucy and Edmund for going right back into Narnia, which of course they do, given the set-up I mentioned before. So almost as soon as they’re back in England, they see a painting with a Narnian ship and they’re being pulled into it with their cousin, Eustace and there’s Caspian, now a young man, sailing off on a quest.

This version is, like the others, quite faithful to the book, so there’s no additional plot here, just Caspian’s search for the seven lost lords and a trip that goes from island to island, event to event. This being a serial, the episodic nature of the story works far better than it would in a single movie. It feels right to have things happen bit by bit. They go to one island and find slavers and then they deal with that! Then they go to another island and find a different problem, deal with it, move on. Etcetera. There’s no attempt to tie everything together with a villain or additional overarching problem to solve. The only problems at hand are the missing lords and the specific issues at each location. It doesn’t quite translate out to an island per half hour episode, but near enough. And I’m fine with that. I like each island having its own story and its own problem. I like the time allowed for Eustace’s transformation and I like that he changes for internal reasons in this version, as opposed to external reasons in the other.

In many ways, this story is about individual voyages for each of the main characters. Edmund is the only one I can think of who doesn’t get a solo situation to face. But Lucy has to face down her jealousy of her sister. Eustace becomes a dragon and has to cope with his greed and attitude. And Caspian has to face the responsibility he has as a King. Edmund’s only real problem to face down is when he and Caspian argue over the island where the water turns things into gold. But then, Edmund already had his personal journey all the way back in the first story, so I forgive that and I enjoy seeing the group grow. And the movie does it all nicely. It’s lovely seeing all of the ocean scenery and I love the boat used as the Dawn Treader. The end has always disappointed me somewhat, but I credit that to the technology to do what needed doing not quite existing at the time it was made. Overall, though, I just enjoy this movie. It’s the sort of thing I can put in and watch a portion of, then go back to later and it’s perfect comfort viewing.

August 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 536 – The Big Six

The Big Six – August 18th, 2011

You know, if we were going to watch a short movie last night, we really should have watched this back to back with its companion piece. But the plans we’d had last night, and the reason for watching Laserblast fell through and we watched it anyhow and saved this for tonight. I guess that’s actually a good thing, because this right here washed all the horrible aftertaste from Laserblast clean away. It’s another story from Arthur Ransome, again with Dick and Dot and their friends on the Broads, including Mrs. Barrable and her dog and Tom and the twins and the Death and Glories. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as much fun for me as the first one and I’m not sure if I can put my finger on why, but we’ll see.

It certainly isn’t because of the scenery or the acting or the overall tone of the piece. Those are all pretty much exactly the same as Coot Club. However, where the first movie was more an adventure story with mischief taking place, this story is definitely a mystery right from the outset. Maybe that’s it. Or maybe it’s not the mystery so much as that in film format, there’s not as much room for explanation for why these characters act the way they do. The tension of the story requires that the vast majority of the village and the surrounding villages believe that the Death and Glories are entirely likely to do what they’re accused of, but if the events in the first movie are anything to go by, they’re well liked by just about everyone around. In a book – and especially in a book as densely written as Ransome tends towards – there’s ample space to explain events that have might have happened in between, or in the past. Likewise for George Owden, who’s clearly a bad sort in the first movie and clearly a bad sort in the second, yet believed far more easily by the adults than one would expect.

The mystery involves someone on the river casting boats adrift and framing the Death and Glories for it. Of course the Death and Glories have nothing to do with it, but wherever they go, boats lose their moorings overnight and people start to get pretty damn pissed. They go up the river to another village entirely, thinking they can hide out somewhere out of the way to prove their innocence when other boats go adrift. Except the villain of the story is specifically targeting them, so they only spread their problem. The rest of the children try to help them in various ways, hiding them, giving them assistance and so on and so forth. It only makes things worse when they help a fisherman land an enormous pike and an innkeeper pays them a hefty sum for it, but only if they keep it a secret so he can make a big unveiling of it once it’s mounted. So they’ve got money and no alibi and some stolen good are planted on their boat and it all seems like they’ll never be able to clear their names when Dick comes up with an idea using the amazing new technology of a flash pan for night photography!

Really, it’s a simple story. And you know from the outset that it can’t have been the Death and Glories, and it’s pretty obvious that they’re being framed. There’s no question there. And there’s no real tension either. It’s just a matter of waiting until Dick has his brilliant idea to solve everything. But between when they realize they’re being framed and then it just feels like there’s a lot of sailing up and down the river. They go up one way, then turn back. The twins go up by a sort of river-based hitchhiking to meet the Ds, Tom and Mrs. Barrable, then they get called back by their father. The Death and Glories go to one village, then have to run for it when more boats are unmoored and go to another village. Not that I really mind seeing a whole lot of sailing scenes on the river. That’s where a lot of the charm of the whole thing lies. It’s just that it starts to feel as though the story is an excuse to show a lot of sailing as opposed to the sailing being an integral part of it all.

Now, this is an issue with the story, not the movie specifically (since I can’t recall if it’s addressed in the book), but part of my issue with mysteries like this one is that there’s often something in the way of the truth and had it been revealed earlier a lot of fuss would have been avoided. In this case it’s the pike. The innkeeper tells them to keep it a secret, which is all well and good when it comes to the general public on the river, including the boys’ friends, but why not tell the police Constable who’s convinced they’re at fault? It would give them a solid reason for having the mysterious money everyone assumes they got from selling stolen goods and it would establish their whereabouts for at least part of the time. But they say nothing. This is something that comes up, frequently in children’s mysteries, and always bothers me. It’s a convenient and in my opinion cheap way to keep a mystery a mystery.

Anyhow, Dick saves the day with his camera and flash pan and with a photo of George Owden and his friend shoving a boat off its mooring the Death and Glories are off the hook. Their pike is revealed and hooray for the boys! Just like we all knew it would go. Truly though, it’s not the story that’s the point of watching this. The point is the boating and the setting and scenes like the kids all trying some smoked eel and finding it revolting and Port and Starboard hitching their way up the river by traveling with random boaters who take them on for a bit. It’s the atmosphere that I love here. And I’ve got to say, I do love the three Death and Glory boys. They’re good fun to watch and clearly having a good time with it. So despite my issues with the story, I still greatly enjoyed this. I think I’d put in its companion first, but I’f probably pop this in right after just to keep the mood going.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 534 – Coot Club

Coot Club – August 16th, 2011

When I was a child my father bought me several books that I didn’t read right away but eventually picked up and fell in love with. The Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome was something my father loved when he was young, and he’d wanted to share them with me and I can see why. The stories are rollicking adventures for children, featuring kids on holiday, sailing and exploring and camping while pretending to be pirates and explorers and castaways. There’s a mild bit of danger but mostly a whole lot of imagination. The first several books are about the Swallows (the Walker family: John, Susan, Titty and Roger) and the Amazons (the Blackett family: Nancy and Peggy), so named because of the names of their respective sailboats. Eventually the Ds, Dot and Dick Callum, are introduced, and then they go off to have other adventures of their own.

Now, personally? My favorite books in the series are ones with Nancy and Peggy. They are, without a doubt, some of my favorite children’s book characters ever written. The series as a whole is really rather impressive when it comes to having girls off having rough and tumble adventures alongside the boys, especially given that they were written in the 1930s. I often recommend them to families with multiple children, boys and girls, who are a wide range of ages. They make good family reads, so long as a parent is prepared to use the dated bits and sometimes archaic terminology as teaching opportunities. In any case, I think it’s safe to say that these books are well loved in my family and I was more than thrilled to find that two of them (three actually, but we don’t have the third) were made into movies by the BBC in the 1980s. They’re out on DVD now, but I got our copies from work when we decided we simply didn’t have the space to keep a VHS collection and a DVD collection, especially since the DVDs were out-circulating the VHS tapes by a wide margin. I tossed a little more than the asking price towards the Friends of the Library and took them home with me. Having now seen them, I’m going to have to go ahead and buy the DVDs, because these are marvellous.

As I mentioned, there are stories with Nancy and Peggy Blackett and the Walkers and then the Ds and then the Ds go off on their own. This movie and its companion, The Big Six are both stories with the Ds and none of the others. I’ve never been quite as fond of Dot and Dick as I am of the others because they seem so much more pigeonholed than the rest. Dot’s the writer and Dick’s the inventor and Dot talks endlessly about how she’ll write up their adventures and Dick’s always got some gadget or other to save the day. My point is that they’re predictable in a way that the other characters aren’t. I suppose it’s to give them some sort of strength to make up for them not being sailors like the rest are. In this story, Dot and Dick are visiting a family friend, Mrs. Barrable, on the Norfolk Broads, spending a holiday living in her houseboat, the Teasel. While there they get involved in some mischief involving a number of the local children who call themselves the Coot Club because they’re all birdwatchers.

Early on in their trip, Dot and Dick meet local boy Tom Dudgeon. Tom gets himself in a bit of trouble when he asks a noisy motor cruiser to moor elsewhere so they aren’t blocking a bird nest with eggs ready to hatch. The people on the cruiser ignore him, of course, because they are horrible Hullabaloos, only interested in drinking and dancing to loud music and driving their boat too fast down the rivers and byways. Some of Tom’s friends had already asked them and been given the same nasty treatment, so Tom goes and unmoors the cruiser, setting it adrift. The rest of the movie involves various people hiding Tom, various other people searching for him and Tom and his friends worrying that he’ll be caught. Along the way we meet all of Tom’s friends, the rest of the Coot Club: There’s Port and Starboard, a pair of twins who live with their father and love to sail. No uses their real names, but one girl’s lefthanded and one’s righthanded, thus Port and Starboard. And there are the Death and Glories, a trio of boys who run a little steamboat called (what else) the Death and Glory. They’re very much ‘locals’ and their accents suggest they’re of a somewhat different class than Tom and the twins, but at least in the movie, that doesn’t really ever play into things. I can’t recall if it does in the book, but I find it interesting that there’s such a distinctive class marker included in the characters and then it’s ignored because the important bit is that they’re Tom’s friends.

Anyhow, there’s plenty of sailing and motoring and birdwatching and sneaking around. I’m not certain where precisely the movie was filmed and I’ve never been to the area in England where it’s meant to take place, but it feels authentic to me. Of course, I grew up on the coast in Massachusetts, with a beach down the street and an estuary nearby. Mazes of waterways through reeds and marshes are familiar to me, so maybe there’s something there. But the movie itself simply feels as though it’s filming a bunch of kids getting into trouble while they’re on vacation from school. Maybe it helps that none of them are terribly good actors. In another movie that might be cringe-inducing, but there’s nothing in this story that makes me wince. Nothing at all. Sure, they’re not great actors at the time, but they’re not terrible and there’s something about the kids in the movie that makes me feel as though they’re real. Not playing parts, but delivering lines. I hope they had a good time making the movie. I know I would have.

If you’re thinking this all sounds so very quaint, you’re right. That’s exactly what this is. It isn’t complicated and it sure as hell isn’t fancy. It’s sweet and simple and exactly what I expected from a BBC adaptation of this series. The story gets wrapped up neatly at the end, with no ill coming to Tom and with the Death and Glories coming out on top for having saved the Hullabaloos and Dot and Dick get to do some sailing and be clever and write a story so hooray for that! I can’t believe I never got around to watching these before now and I’m going to have to make them a tradition. And buy copies for my father. I’m absolutely certain he’ll love them.

August 16, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment