Wednesday, December 15, 2010

“Voyage of the Dawn Treader” – Warning: Contents may vary.

Raise your hand if you have read the entire Chronicles of Narnia… Wow, no one? Okay, raise your hand if you have read any of them other than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe…Still nothing, huh? Well, if it makes you feel any better, you’re not alone. I asked the same question to three other people who are heavy readers, a former middle school teacher, a coworker, and my wife, and they all had the same response. In fact, my coworker didn’t even know there were seven books in the series; he thought there were only three. And I have a feeling he’s not the only one who thinks this.

It had been so long since I read Voyage of the Dawn Treader that I could only remember a couple of things about it. I knew that Edmund and Lucy visit Narnia without their older siblings, Peter and Susan, and that the Dawn Treader was a ship. The rest of the story had been filed away in a dark corner of my memory in a locked, rusty file cabinet covered in spider webs. You know that spot, it’s the one where you keep memories of algebra and your third family camping trip. After seeing the movie, nearly all of it was still unfamiliar to me, which immediately became a red flag for me. I may be getting older, but I’m still very good at recognizing things I’ve known at some point. So I went home, reread the book, and discovered that the screenwriters took all kinds of liberties with the story. Normally, I would attack the screenwriters for ruining a decent book, but in this case I don’t think it was a bad thing. It wasn’t necessarily a good thing, but the changes played better with today’s generation of ADD children.

The original story in the book is simply an adventure. King Caspian (Ben Barnes) has set sail for unknown waters and lands in search of seven lords that were sent away by his uncle. Along the way, they come across a variety of creatures and magical islands, eventually finding their way to the end of the world and Aslan’s country. That’s it; that’s the whole story. But, like I said, today’s generation of video gaming, non-reading, short-attention-span youth, they’d be bored with this movie in about twelve minutes. So, the writers shuffled up the order in which they find each island, add an evil green mist as the villain, and alter the quest. In addition to finding the seven lords, they have to find the lords’ swords and place them on Aslan’s table to defeat the mist. There’s nothing like swords and evil fog to grab kids’ attention.

They also decided that since they had the kids’ attention, they would try to teach them a lesson. The original author of the series, C.S. Lewis, was a very Christian man and wrote religious undertones into his books. While Lewis was very subtle and creative about this, the screenwriters were not. They bludgeon the audience with a magician who says that they will be tempted by evil several times along their journey and they must resist temptation if they want to defeat evil. I half expected Tilda Swinton to show up in fig leaves holding a basket of apples.

While we’re on that note, Swinton shows up again as the White Witch, in the form of visions created by the green mist, trying to seduce Edmund with the same old line about being her king in Narnia. Not only does she not appear in the book, but it proves that the screenwriters have the same amount of creativity as a lemur. I don’t know who she’s blackmailing to continue to appear in these films, but it has to stop. Regardless of the size of her ego, Narnia does not revolve around her.

Like its predecessors, this film has great special effects and very iffy acting, though it could just be a function of the silly dialogue. They also cut the running time down to less than two hours, which did not help this film. At times, it felt rushed, and the person I saw the film with felt that it was too easy for them to find the swords. As long as they resisted whatever temptation a particular island threw at them, the swords practically jumped into their hands. This removed nearly all of the tension from the film, except when they battle a giant sea serpent. An additional twenty minutes or so could have done wonders.

What concerns me about this film is that it does not make the audience clamor for the next one in the series. The writers tried too hard to keep the familiar characters relevant when the only one who appears in the later books is their cousin, Eustace, who made his first visit to Narnia. What they should have focused on was Narnia and maybe slipping in references to the fourth book and some of its characters. Though, that’s assuming I’m not the only one who’s even aware of the fourth book.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back. It’s an entertaining movie, but the inclusion of Swinton should not be rewarded.

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