Monday, December 27, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

So, I really don't do movie reviews on this blog, mostly because I don't get out and see very many of them, especially when they're newly released, so it would be a very short blog, if that was what I did here. However, since Voyage of the Dawn Treader was actually a book adaptation in the first place, I thought I'd make a bit of an exception.

I was stunned, absolutely stunned, when I walked out of the theater yesterday. I don't believe I've ever seen anything else they botched quite as badly, and for no apparent reason, adding and subtracting things helter skelter from the story that C.S. Lewis told so well. Let me say up front that the animation and action in this movie were totally awesome - but we've come to expect that sort of thing from movies today. The one other thing that was really well done was the casting/portrayal of Eustace. He really nailed the whiny, priggish twit.

Possible spoilers follow (though how anything in a movie adaptation of a well-known and beloved children's book can come as a spoiler baffles me...exactly the problem).

The first major plot deviation comes when Caspian's ship arrives at the Lonely Isles. The islands have been taken over by the slavers - reasonably close to the book version - and Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace are captured, then subequently rescued by Drinian and the men. One minor flaw - they anchor the ship in the harbor in the first place, so how in the world are the slavers surprised to see them arrive in force for the rescue later?

Then, they introduce the major plot deviation that screws up the entire movie from that point forward. Some of the townsfolk, rather than being sold into slavery, are being sacrificed to a mysterious green mist that appears in the harbor, whisking them away. The mist used to take ships and crews, so it's better to just sacrifice a boatload of innocents. So, it's not simply enough for Caspian and our heroes to rid the isles of the institution of slavery, they've got to be motivated to do so by a bigger evil to fight? And then, one of the husbands of a woman who was a recent sacrifice volunteers to join Caspian's crew to seek out the home of the evil green mist. Ok so far, but shortly after that we find his daughter stowed away on the Dawn Treader. Why, oh why? Is it that Lucy is not a sympathetic enough character and that we have to add a little girl for her to comfort and recite pointless homilies to?

Dang, it's all getting mixed up and out of sequence for me now, kinda like the whole stupid movie.

Anyway, they arrive at Coriakin's island, Lucy is kidnapped by the Dufflepuds and sent into the mansion to recite the spell which makes the invisible visible. They change the nature of the incidental spell that she recites, when she gives in to the temptation to eavesdrop on her friends (in the book) and make it a spell that shows her the beauty she desires (which may be mentioned in the book, too), which of course turns out to have some deep seated roots in her jealousy of Susan. Lots of little cute stuff from their interactions in the book with the Dufflepuds was cut, but Lucy ends up taking a page out of the spell book which contains the beauty spell, and it figures largely in the story, for her, after that point.

Coriakin tells them they must seek the isle of Ramandu, and place the magic swords that belonged to the Seven Lords on Aslan's table there in order to destroy the evil green mist. He also tells them they will all be tempted by the things they desire along the way. Magic Swords??? Really?

Ok, so I can understand the mechanics of making Deathwater Island (where they find the pool that turns everything to gold) and Dragon Island (where Eustace is changed into a dragon) into the same place. In the interests of time, they sacrificed the rather important issue of Eustace falling asleep atop a dragon's hoard, thinking dragon-ish thoughts, causing him to become the dragon. They did include scenes of Reepicheep comforting Eustace, but it was a little rushed, and in the book developed over the course of the rest of the journey.

When they arrive at Ramandu's island, they find the remainder of the Lords sleeping at the stone table, no problem, and we do see the White Witch's knife laying there, but when Ramandu's daughter explains things, there's no mention of them taking up the knife when they fought, which would have been a simple enough thing to throw into the dialog, rather than some of the meaningless blather that follows. They place six of the seven swords on the table, but the last sword is still up for grabs. For some reason, Ramandu, the retired star, never makes an appearance, and they make his daughter the star, instead. We can see that Caspian is a bit captivated by her, which would tie into his motivations for staying behind at the end of the movie, but they left that bit out, as well.

So, the Island where Dreams Come True gets converted into the place where the evil green mists have their lair. Caspian and his trusty crew sail there, rescue Lord Rhoop, battle a shape-shifting sea serpent, and end up triumphing over evil. So, the sea serpent in the book was just a sea serpent, a little daft, and the crew basically outwitted it and sailed away. But the filmmakers must have decided that the potential visuals in having Eustace as a dragon to battle with the sea serpent were far too tempting, even though Eustace basically gets his ass kicked, and then gets stabbed by Rhoop with the last of the magic swords.

Eustace flees to a nearby sandspit, encounters Aslan there and is de-dragonified (like that word?), then magically transported back to Ramandu's Island, where he battles the green mist tendrils briefly before placing the sword on the table, breaking the spells, and saving the day. Where in the world did this all come from?

The rest of the movie more or less finishes things off, with Reepicheep and the heroes sailing to see the end of the world, Caspian turning back, and the English trio getting returned home. There was a totally gratuitous mention of Jill Pole at the end of the movie, which made little sense other than to telegraph the fact that they intend to make The Silver Chair into a movie, as well.

What a horrible travesty of a film.

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