There are a few things you should know about me before I begin to review this film.
First, that I am a lifelong fan of all of C.S. Lewis’ writing. I was raised by this man. I can’t remember when I first read the Narnia series for myself, but I do remember that when we started reading them at the beginning of 4th grade, my first thought was “oh, this again? I read these ages ago.” I read the whole series through about once a year. So if anyone’s going to be attached to the original work and fiercely resistant to changes a movie makes to the original books, I would likely be near the top of that list.
That said, I’m also a defender of a movie’s right to be its own creation. It’s necessary for a film to break from its source material in order to become a worthwhile creation, and the best examples of book-to-film translations – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pride & Prejudice, etc. – have shown a willingness to mix new ideas into the film, while maintaining a healthy respect for the source material.
The problem is when a film’s producers begin to view the original book as a loose map for creating a film, and make substantial changes to a story. While sometimes these decisions are tremendous improvements – Forrest Gump, the film, is a vast improvement over a decidedly mediocre book – I wonder if at any point the filmmakers say “hey, are our ideas any better than the ones that made this book so beloved by so many for so long?”
They certainly didn’t ask that this time.
The Voyage of the The Dawn Treader is not a terrible film. It’s not a good one, certainly. But it could be worse.
The problem with it is that it’s a wasted film. It takes a very good book, filled with adventure and epic discovery, and tacks on a number of cumbersome narrative devices. New characters are introduced, yet none of them are developed. New storylines are created, but often brushed aside in a headline dash for the big finale.
Now, I understand the need to try to create a Big Conflict in order to make this movie work. Much of the book is just people sailing around, looking for some old people they lost a long time ago. It’s tough to make that gripping. But if you’re going to add a villain, why not add a real villain? Instead, the filmmakers added a Green Mist, a magical substance that is the essence of evil, jealousy, and pride.
Go ahead, read that sentence again. I’ll wait.
How does someone even pitch that? How does someone say, “we need a villain character. Can we just add an evil green mist that tempts the characters to think only about themselves?” I’m baffled how that idea even makes it out of someone’s own head, never mind into an actual shooting script.
What’s more disorienting is that the Green Mist takes the form of the White Witch, a memorable evil character from the first two movies. She isn’t really there, but her form appears to tempt one of the characters to do… something (it isn’t totally clear what). Now, if this movie had decided that the White Witch would be a character in this movie in order to give the heroes a clear antagonist, I would have been aggravated, but I would’ve understood the need for it. But why bring back the character as a ethereal temptation? It’s like a movie that resurrects the spirit of Hitler – not to lead the enemy forces, but to tempt the American soldiers to switch sides. It’s thoroughly illogical in every aspect.
And that’s without touching any of the other glaring holes the movie possesses. The heroes are required to gather up the swords of all of the fallen Lords and lay them on a table in the middle of an island. If they do that, the Green Mist will disappear and evil will be conquered. Why? How? No one seems to care. At one point, one of the characters is magically transported back to this island without the faintest explanation as to how this happened, other than that it expedited the plot.
Adding to all the madness is the clear cut in production values from the first two movies to this one. The budget’s been slashed, and often the actors are seen acting in front of a blank wall, pretending that there’s a massive city around them that is quite patently not there. In a dramatic scene, a bunch of the sailors disguise themselves as everyday citizens and hide in the crowd in the slave market, before casting off their disguises and taking over the marketplace. The problem? The “crowded marketplace” only had about four or five extras in it. What was the budget for this movie again?
After a rocky road to get to the screen, the Narnia franchise was counting on a big box office in order to get to make another one of these films. Since essentially no one besides myself went to see this one, I think we can probably safely assume that’s not going to happen.
I’ve got to say, I’m relieved. I really don’t think I could deal with them mucking around with these books any more.