Monday, December 13, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The latest Narnia film is the best, but the least faithful to the book.  It is the best, in fact, partly because it is the least faithful to the book.  Allow me to explain by means of a short review and some comments on adapting novels to films.

The latest Narnia film is good.  Its particular strengths are:

  • Peter is gone.  This is the biggest strength, because William Moseley was shocking.
  • The effects look good, on a par with Prince Caspian, which is an improvement on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  • There is only one lame gag (when Eustace faints after seeing a minotaur).
  • Eustace (Will Poulter) is excellent.  Fact.
  • The adaptation is good (see below).

Its weaknesses are:

  • The adaptation is not perfect (see below).
  • William Moseley's face appears on screen at one point.
  • They're still trying to force romance into the films.
  • At the end of the day, the stories aren't outstanding - what makes the books so good is the theological depth.  This depth is seen to an extent in the films but is limited.
The adaptation:
The book is essentially a series of tenuously connected island episodes.  It has very little plot.  The overarching storyline is the search for the seven lost lords, and it's just not very good.  The film needed to adapt this plot.  Therefore they added into a driving force to the plot and changed the order of the islands.
The driving force that was introduced was the idea of an evil dark island (the island of nightmares from the book), which produced a green mist which acted as the embodiment of evil throughout the film.  The quest was to find the seven swords of the seven lords, which would enable to dark island and the mist to be destroyed.  The mist was introduced at the lone islands and explained at the dufflepud island.  Then came deathwater island and dragon island (merged into one island), Ramandu's island and dark island - the order is changed to make the plot work.
Other than that, the incidents at the islands are similar to in the book.  The exceptions are that the Lone Islands section is condensed, so the overthrow of Gumpas and appointment of Lord Bern is excluded, and that Ramandu does not feature, his daughter takes his place.  Both of these are mistakes.  The Lone Islands now seem rushed and the only reason for Ramandu's exclusion is that his daughter is prettier.
The adaptation gave the story drive, momentum and purpose and gave it more of a climax than the book.

If this film had stuck to the book like the first one did, it would be a very poor film.  What works in books doesn't always work in film, obviously.  Prince Caspian did the same thing - it is the weakest of the seven books, because very little happens, so the film-makers fleshed it out with an extra couple of battles.  To the purists out there, this is called adaptation.  It is necessary.  LOTR did exactly the same thing, e.g. the removal of Tom Bombadil.  Adaptation sometimes works well and sometimes doesn't.  With The Dawn Treader, it generally worked well.  Not perfectly, but well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ben,
Enjoyed your review.
When I first left the cinema I was, I think, too harsh on the film. Perhaps I was judging it through the lens of the closing credits song!
Then walking back and thinking back over the film I remembered all the things I really liked about it, all the things I thought they had done well or that had exceeded what I had ever imagined.
So I think while I have some quibbles they have now been reduced to no more than that.