Sunday, January 16, 2011

The VOYAGE of the DAWN TREADER: My Review

I have to admit that this is the first time I can remember having seen a movie made from a book I really like.  My poor wife had to endure about a thousand whispered objections like, "What! ... that's not in the book!" or "This is not how it happened at all!"  But overall, my grade for the movie would be something like a C or ... on a good day, maybe even a bit better.

I fully admit that this score is somewhat lower than it might have been if I'd never read the book, or if I had but didn't really care for it all that much.  As it is though, I love this book and there were a few parts of the film that really annoyed me ... hence, the C.  I tried [in vain] not to be "that guy" who insists on fidelity in every detail.  I refrained from reactions like, "That didn't happen on this island" or "It did but not in that order" or "The bracelet was on Eustace's left arm, not his right [duh!]" ... well, okay, I did mention that one one [or a dozen] times. 

But I realize that liberties have to be taken.  And don't get me wrong, some of the changes/additions were quite fine. 
The added scene of Lucy reading the snow spell in the Magician's mansion was simply delightful.  Others were, well ... was it just me or did the boat look like some sort of cartoonish water ride at Disneyland?

For starters, the CONS:

Firstly, and this is probably my chief quarrel with the entire Narnia film series, Lucy draws a sword and/or bow to fight side by side with her brothers and the other warriors.  Though she was not as prissy as Susan, Lewis's Lucy was no Xena warrior princess, which is exactly how she [and her sister] is portrayed in the Narnia films [despite the fact that Lewis told us through Father Christmas that, "battles are ugly when women fight".].

Secondly, was the scene in which Lucy pockets the page from The Book of Incantations, despite having heard Aslan's terrible roar of reproach.  That is exactly the opposite of what took place in the book and is entirely contrary to the point of its entire plot, namely that the fear of Aslan is the beginning of wisdom.  Though Lewis would have objected to such a blanket summary, I see the entire book as an illustration of sanctification.  The fear of the Lord is departing from evil.  That fear, pastel-colored Christian Living books notwithstanding, is - in large part - being terror-laden [see Ps 55.5 for an illustrative usage of the Hebrew word in question].  Bottom line: in Aslan's presence, Lucy would never have dared to do such a thing, and the last thing Christians today need is their understanding of the fear of the Lord softened even further.

Thirdly, I was somewhat disappointed by the portrayal of Eustaces transformation/conversion/baptism back to humanity from dragonhood.  This is a crucial part of the story.  In the book, the "mortification of the flesh" is vividly portrayed as Aslan savagely tearing the dragon flesh from Eustace's back and then excruciatingly baptizing him.  The film version was something closer to an 'exfoliation treatment of the flesh' than what I think Lewis [and certainly Scripture] had in mind.  Again, today's church needs a full dose of the concentrated formula - Aslan was not One to be trifled with; not a tame Lion; not safe at all. . . though good.

My final gripe simply involves some key ommissions.  The beauty and poignancy of Aslan first appearing as a Lamb at the world's end was not included [maybe in an extended edition of the DVD?], in fact, most of the beauty of the sea of delicious sweet water and floating lillies and brightness and bliss and rejuvination were rushed through and it's really a shame.  Equally disappointing was the lack of a reunion and marriage of Caspian and Ramandu's daughter.  If Peter Jackson could find a way to add the courtship and marriage of Samwise and Rosie Cotton to his already massive epic Return of the King, Michael Apted could've given us ten seconds of closure here [again, maybe in the DVD?]. 

At the root, I think my overall frustration stems from the way the focus of the plot was lost or diverted by ommisions and additions.  Throughout the movie, I found myself reflecting on the gospel and the feeling I have so often in Evangelyland after hearing different articulations of the 'gospel'.  "Yes ... but no, not like that ... or not just that... more ... and kinda' different."

Now for the Pros:

IMHO they completely nailed both Rheepicheep and Eustace.  Really.  They nailed them.  Enough said.
Secondly, the sea serpent was nothing short of terrifying. [Though technically, compared w/ the ink invested in the book, it was more than a little overblown.]
Third, the dialogue of the last scene was not omitted or watered down.  Aslan clearly said that in our world, he goes by another [singular] name.  Lesser renditions would have goign by several equally-valid names with each child being invited to discover one of his countless manifestations in his or her own unique faith journey.  But they stuck to the original, exclusivism and all.
Fourthly, they were right to key in on the theme of temptation.  Despite the silliness of the 'mist' and the addition of the quest for seven swords, and the recovery of the missing wife/mother, the real message of the story is about temptation.  They did a good job of conveying this and of setting up Lucy's temptation in particular, even from the first minute or two of the film.
Lastly, actor Ben Barnes returned as Prince/King Caspian but without the ridiculous Spanish accent.  Good call!

I was able to spot and identify Douglas Gresham [Lewis's son, who allegedly makes a short cameo in each of the films, though I didn't catch him in the first two] after a split-second appearance as one of the Lost Island slave traders.  He was also one of the executive producers, so the story can't have been too far off track.  And I guess that's where I'll leave the grade: not too far off track. 

The bottom line is that if I'd never read the book, I'd almost certainly have given this movie a solid B, if not an A- ... then, and this is the most important part, I would have gone out and found the book for a prompt reading, as I hope many of our generation will do.  And that's really the lasting value of this film.  If it can make readers of viewers, it will have been a good thing afterall.

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