So last night I finally got to watch Voyage of the Dawn Treader, several years after I bought the DVD and several more after it was released in cinemas. I'm a bit of a C. S. Lewis nut really so it's surprising that I've taken this long to watch it, but perhaps not so surprising that I found the film all wrong.
Now I can understand that the director and writers like to take a bit of liberty with the plot of the books to make them filmable. In Prince Caspian actually I think this all worked superbly - it was a war movie, with many of the key battles being fought by animals: there's nothing more thrilling than seeing an army consisting of leopards and hawks besieging the castle of an enemy by night. Another thing entirely happened in Voyage though; things seem to be going okay when Eustace and Edmund and Lucy are plonked unceremoniously into a Narnian ocean. Eustace is agreeably disagreeable, when they are rescued Edmund suggests "maybe you could throw him back in", and there's a minotaur on board. What? That's not in the book. But anyway, minotaur schminotaur; his inclusion on the boat is not particularly significant to the plot either way, apart from making Eustace faint right at the beginning.
And then they get to the Lone Islands and things start going screwy. Not only do they have to deal with slave holders, but apparently a killer fog right out of John Carpenter. By the time Caspian and Scrubb and the Pevensies win the island back two completely useless characters, for very little reason other than eliciting our sympathies, are forced with a little effort on the scriptwriter's part into the plot and onto the Dawn Treader. Like the minotaur they play a part of very little significance after in the plot, so you wonder why the scriptwriters went to the time and effort in the first place.
Then it's on to the Island of the Dufflepuds (Eustace's transformation into a dragon is reserved for later) and another extraneous plot element is introduced; some jiggery pokery nonsense about the killer fog coming from a Black Island and the seven swords of the seven lost lords being lain on a table being the only way to stop the Black Island from doing whatever it is doing. There's very little explanation and very little reason for this, again, apart from giving the plot more of a generic Hollywood kid's adventure feel.
It's all very strange to me; why lay down a new plot on top of a book that already has a perfectly good plot? Instead of going in search of seven lost lords, Caspian and his mates all of a sudden find themselves picking up the swords, one by one, so they can go on to stop the power of this Black Island. What I really love about the original book is the unfolding sense of discovery, enchantment, and desire - the battles with the slavers and the threat of the Dufflepuds is quickly dispensed with in the first third of Lewis' book, to be replaced by a journey into the unknown; the search for the lost Lords gives it purpose but doesn't detract from (rather, it adds to) the mystery and enchantment. And why, above all, have this stuff about the magical swords - putting a kind of Deus Ex Machina into the plot of a film which already has Deus Ex Machina all over it?
There is, thankfully, a lot of stuff the film does do well: Eustace is a great character and we get a lot of opportunities to see how horrible he is. His transformation into dragon and finally back into boy is good. (It is however much better in the book: when Eustace becomes boy again, Aslan repeatedly leaps upon him and tears the dragon skin off him in an incredibly vivid and visceral scene that demonstrates Lewis's allegory about sin and redemption excellently). Lucy's temptation by the beauty spell (and guilt, and retribution by Aslan) is also good. Several other plot points from the book are dragged together, though they are done so quite skilfully. It all makes you wonder, though: why did they bother with all that magic sword mumbo jumbo? Why fiddle with a perfectly good plot to make it into a slightly less good plot?
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