I don’t think I’ve written any reviews since I started blogging about yarn, let alone since I moved to this URL. But I just came home from finally seeing Dawn Treader, and my thoughts about it are burning a hole in my brain. So to prevent some sort of seizure, apparently I have to tell you about it. Oh, and my reviews always have spoilers, because I have no self control, so consider yourself warned. Or go see the movie first; it is worth it.
Full disclosure: I know this book like the back of my hand. In and after college, I read the whole series every fall for five years. Whenever you know a book that well, even the best movie interpretation is a betrayal. I tried to remind myself of this going in, but nothing could prepare me for the changes they made.
The book is very episodic, and I admit that this does not translate easily to screen. Apparently “Narnia is at peace, so we’re going adventuring!” isn’t really a good plot line in Hollywood. Okay, that’s fine. But to give it an overarching story, the powers that be decided to insert the plot from a video game. Find seven magical items and return them to the star temple after defeating the final boss! I think they might have done a little better than that. So, of course, it was very painful to see powerful characters like Coriakin and Ramandu’s daughter made subservient to such an incredibly stupid quest.
That’s my main gripe. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I can talk about all the things I did like. I thoroughly appreciate that they did include pretty much all the major events from the book, and that’s quite a feat. They only ruined a couple of them (the sea monster was disgusting, and not the stupid, funny creature in the book), and they got the general spirit of most, though they were pretty much all cut off very short. I guess in order to make them fit in with the BIG DRAMATIC PLOT they had to drag them out and make them more INTENSE AND SERIOUS but I guess I can get over that.
A couple of things they added I liked. Eustace was spot on, and his extra lines and interactions were great as well. But my favorite bit was the expansion of Lucy’s story with the beauty spell. It goes way beyond the book, and in a totally different direction than the book takes it, but it addresses a big issue for girls, and it does it very well. The insight that when you wish you were someone else, you wish yourself away, is very powerful, and I’d never thought of it that way before. That makes this movie a win all by itself, as I can’t remember the last time a movie taught me something that deep. (It was probably The Last Samurai, come to think of it.) Lucy, indeed, makes this movie watching. She was perfectly cast and carries off the character perfectly in all three films. I will miss her, should they go on with the rest of them. Though I am curious how this Eustace will do as a main protagonist.
It is sort of odd to me how little of Lewis’s actual writing they used in the book, and it’s interesting what was done well and what was done poorly. Maybe I’m mostly remembering the narration; I’m not sure. But it is worth remarking that it’s the little things they got right – like Eustice’s additional commentary – and the big things they got wrong. I realized halfway through Caspian’s Big Pep Talk that it was supposed to be an important moment, but that everything he said (and actually most things about him) was completely forgettable. (And the cheer afterwards! Good heavens! “For Narnia! And our matching outfits we got at Steampunks-R-Us!”) Aslan, too, was strangely mollified – instead of the rescuer and deep changer of character from the book, he did lots of fluffy affirmations with the occasional roaring scold.
I honestly don’t know if I could watch this movie again. The plot rewrites are just too painful. I laughed in silent misery during the entire climax, then hated myself for being so cynical, then hated the movie for making me so cynical. But the best visuals – and many of them were right out of the illustrations of the late Pauline Baines – will stick with me. (Love that gold-red-dark turquoise color set that keeps showing up; those are all very hot yarn colors right now.)
But here I am, an hour after watching it, compelled to give up the rest of my evening to reviewing it. I guess Narnia can’t help but be compelling, no matter how it’s contorted. So it must be good. But for heavens sake, if you haven’t, go read the books.