Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dawn Treader a Little Off Course

Perhaps you know from previous posts how excited I had been to see next Narnia movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I adored the last two movies. Both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian, in my opinion, had been brought to the screen in amazing glory – even with the rewrites, additions and changes. For these tweaks only served to strengthen and smooth out the story C.S. Lewis had put down on the page. Very little had been sacrificed to allow the revisions… and what had been brought to the tale fit in as if it had always been there. In short, I thought the film managed to improve the original books while keeping them primarily intact.

I had to wait longer than I thought possible to see the new film (after filling with such joy when I saw the trailer back in June). For the reason of trying to coordinate a few friends who wanted to see it with me: Cassidy, Buttercup and Bart’s sister Lage. Sadly, Lage couldn’t make the time that worked out for the rest of us, but she knew that might happen and offered from the get-go to opt out if need be. So as it turned out, we saw it a week and day after its release.

I liked it. No, I didn’t love it. I liked it very much. It’s quite good. But no, I didn’t go over the moon as I had with the first two. Why? Oddly, the very thing which made me adore those is what killed the joy in Dawn Treader. Rewrites. This one proved quite heavy on the alterations. Sure, the others shifted scenes and incidents and added much – but all the while it never felt as if anything had been lost from the book. Here, it did in fact feel like parts of the story were noticeably missing. Why? Because they were. What I imagine must have been time/length constraints, many chunks of many scenes did not occur. And some parts vanished completely. And then we had the problem of scenario overlap. Lewis’s narrative takes us across the sea and the ship and characters stop at many islands along the way, looking for the lost Lords of Narnia (the friends/supporters of King Capsian’s father who had been exiled by the villainous Miraz when he stole the throne.) Well, in the movie about three or so of these islands had been combined into one (and again, other parts didn’t make it in at all.)

One of these removed sections can be found on The Lone Islands, the place of the slave traders. As I expected from the trailer, they punched up this scene with some action/fighting. But unlike the others, when the extra peppering of action had been sprinkled into the tale, it didn’t enhance but rather negate the original intention of the book. Yes, it’s true they had a bit of fighting to free themselves, but in the film it’s an all-out battle. I wouldn’t mind that – except the entire conversation between Bern, the ruler of the island, and Caspian is gone. In it, the young king shows his forceful nature. In a grand and tempered manner he berates the misuse of power and speaks of the importance of freedom for all peoples. [It’s really not as heavy handed as it sounds!] I’d been looking forward to hearing/seeing the harangue played out. Nope. The issue is resolved with that bigger battle only. I just didn’t think that right… it went against the character of Caspian and the message of the book.

Besides taking out entire chunks of the Magician Coriakin's island, they even rewrote the reason the Dufflepuds are invisible… so as to help bolster the major change implemented into this tale. In the movie, they must gather the seven swords of the seven lords and place them on Aslan’s Table near the edge of the world to prevent the “evil” green mist from the Dark Island from stealing all the light in Narnia. In the book, breaking the enchantment is only about the three sleeping Narnia Lords asleep at the table and although there is an island in/of darkness, the green mist and sword gathering does not exist. Apparently the quest to discover what happened to the lords didn’t seem enough for the filmmakers. So they restructured the story around this “evil mist” concept…throwing in a “save the villagers who where lost to it” along the way. I could have done without that addition, especially the stowaway little girl who wanted to see her mother again.

I won’t delineate all else that had been axed or rescripted, but suffice to say it had been way too much.

And yet… I liked the rewrite on its own. Truth be told, it really did work well (except for the rescue of the people and the little girl.) Keeping the dragon around, for instance, so as to fight the Sea Serpent… a wonderful thought. And nicely executed. Plus, the circumstances surrounding that revision caused a much more compelling and powerful redeeming of Eustace. Admittedly in Lewis’s book it could use a little more oomph to his character development. And since he goes on to be in Narnia and is one of its best heroes, this new story twist made that even more plausible. Here, the “overlap of scenes” made entire sense, then, and didn’t seem merely a time constraint.  Even Coriakin sending them on the sword-gathering quest had been a nice touch, giving him a little more reason to be there than just one of the adventures they had along the way.

Another tweak I especially enjoyed is the doorway home. I think it’s much better than what Lewis wrote.  It ties it to the entrance much more logically and had been very fun to watch. And yet – it’s not entirely different from Lewis.

I looked up who the writers were for each film. For The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe it had been: Ann Peacock, Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus, Andrew Adamson. Peacock dropped out for whatever reason and the other three penned Prince Caspian. But for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader it had been just McFeely and Markus from that group with newcomer Michael Petroni. I should note that Andrew Adamson had also directed the first two films, whereas Dawn Treader had been helmed by Michael Apted. Hmm. Had Adamson had been the one keeping the stories in check?

So, all in all, it’s okay. It’s a very good movie. I just wish it followed suit with the other two and kept closer to the book (while allowing rational additions and changes.) Assuming that they continue on with The Silver Chair, here’s hoping Adamson will return at least as a writer.

1 comment:

C.S. Lewis Fan said...

I really enjoyed the movie a lot, but I have to agree about all the changes. I especially could have done without the green mist. I hope they learn their lesson with The Silver Chair and stick to the book. On a brighter note, though, I really loved Eustace (as dragon and boy) and Reepicheep in the film.