Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader-Review

In the third installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, we are taken up with the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This is an archetypal questing story. At the beginning of the story, the two youngest Pevensie siblings are left with obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb, who generally makes life for them miserable. All three children are swept away into Narnia though the portal of a painting of the venturing ship. Finding themselves adrift in an ocean, they are conveniently rescued by the crew of the Dawn Treader which is passing by.

Lucy and Edmund discover that the ship is inhabited by Narnians from a few years after their last adventure, and among them is King Caspian, who is on a journey to retrieve seven lords of Narnia who were exiled during the reign of his evil uncle Miraz. One of the weaker features of the film is that we are never quite sure about the gravity of the quest, or its clear purpose. It would have been accurate to play up some of the allegory at this point, whether is be of a King leaving his kingdom to search for lost subjects, or the idea and imagery behind the seven swords given by Aslan to protect Narnia.

For the most part, the Hollywood version of the text works pretty well as far as it goes. This story had to be difficult to translate to the film medium. It could have been done better, especially if the omission of a couple of key story lines that were in fact, changed from the original, had been faithfully interpreted. Importantly, both of these story elements centered on the grand Lewisan (and bibllical) theme of redemption. The rest of this review will be concerned with those changes, which I have not yet been able to fathom a valid rationale for.

At the first of the movie, we find Lord Bern occupying the same prison Caspian and Edmund are cast into. In the text it is Bern who redeems Caspian from the slave market. Then the governor of the Lone Island is sought out, deposed, and Bern is made new ruler of the region. This establishment of authority over the lands Caspian encounters is curiously missing in the film. the rest of the cast is involved in the rescue of the captives from the slavers at this point. When they board the Dawn Treader, Eustace wants complains incessantly, much like Israel wandering in the Wilderness.

Again a major change in Lewis' story is imposed at the end. In the book, when the captives from the Lone Island are set free, it is by virtue of one who gives his life for them- Reepicheep. In the movie, he rows to Aslan’s Country, but the redemptive strain of the action is totally missing. He is admitted because he has a valorous heart, according to Aslan. This is another unnecessary and not so subtle change in the text, and in the theological construct behind it.

It is understood that the story might have come across as a bit boring without some of the embellishment of the more sensational features and creatures in the book. I would posit, however, that the missing allegorical features would have made the story stronger if they had been left intact. Not sure how the Narnia policeman, Doug Gresham, missed all these.

At the Burnt Island the ironic imagery of one (Lord Restimar) who immerses himself in water to obtain worldly gain and is turned into literal gold is mostly lost in the film. The evil magician is recast into a kindly benefactor, not one sending the questers to danger and potential doom as he had sent the seven Lords before them.

More missing features of the story left unrequieted holes in the movie plot that where wholly unnecessary. It makes one wonder if the director read the book deeply. Aslan’s appearance to Caspian is missing, and I was unable to discern the message from the fallen star Ramandu to the crew. I must have blinked. In the book, Lord Octesian is supposed to have been the dragon whose treasure Eustace chances upon and pilfers. The image of Eustace as a dragon desperately clawing to remove his dragons’ scales and having them grow back was played down, and rather than have Aslan rip the covering from him, we see a slight pawing at sand and then a roar from the great lion transforms Eustace back into a human being. At least the element of Eustace’s total inability to free himself from his state of being was held mostly intact. Finally, I cannot fathom why, at the end, when Aslan appears it is not as a lamb who transforms into a lion, but as the same Aslan we see elsewhere.

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