Friday 17 December 2010

Film: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Contains spoilers

I was both wary and childishly excited to see the film version of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, because it has been one of my favourite books since my dad sat me down, opened a book and read: "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." Of course the film adaptation was never going to be the movie that has been in my head since that day, but it wasn't bad for someone else's vision.

The opening scenes, in England, set the scene for us. It seems that a few years have passed since the events of Prince Caspian. In the books it is only one year, but here it seems to be about three, to account for the aging of the child actors into teenagers. It is still wartime, a detail which is only mentioned briefly in the books, and only in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but which provides continuity, as well as a reason for Edmund and Lucy to be staying with Eustace's family. Lucy is no longer the little girl who causes a universal "awww," but a young woman. Edmund is trying to pass for eighteen to join the armed forces. After all, he has plenty of battle experience, if the sword-and-shield variety.

The dialogue starts off a little clunky in places as the film establishes how things have changed for the characters since Prince Caspian, but we are introduced to the wonderful character of Eustace Scrubb. Played by Will Poulter, Eustace is every bit as obnoxious as he is in the book, but amusingly so, full of inflated ideas of his own brilliance. In my review of the book, I wrote that Eustace is rather a caricature until his experience on Dragon Island, but that being said, he is certainly more fun as such. The events of the book are jiggled around a bit and put into a different order, but this doesn't matter as it is an episodic book, with each island holding its own adventures, in stand-alone mini-stories that make up a bigger picture.

In my review of the book, I wrote that what I liked about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was that it was an adventure for the sake of it, exploration and searching for missing family friends, but not a life-and-death, world-saving quest. Alas, that was lost in the film by the introduction of an Evil, manifested in a green mist, which is infecting Narnia and the rest of the world. For some reason, this can be banished by the swords of Caspian IX's missing friends, Lords Bern, Restimar, Rhoop and the rest. This means that the narrative is chopped up and shuffled around like a jigsaw, and some new plotlines added to make it a more linear narrative - evidently the film-makers didn't like the episodic nature of the book, or felt it wasn't quite film material. Most of the ingredients for the plotline were taken from the book, small moments taken and expanded into subplots. In the book, Lucy is tempted to recite a spell to make her beautiful, because she is jealous of Susan being "the pretty one." Here, this is taken a step further, and Aslan shows her of the consequences of her being Susan in an It's A Wonderful Life sort of scenario.

The valiant mouse warrior Reepicheep, voiced now by Simon Pegg, is a wonderful character, who has come straight from the pages of the book, fearless, pure-hearted and chivalrous, and the scenes between him and Eustace are some of the best, whether they be amusing ("Nobody. Touches. The Tail.") or heartwarming, and frequently both.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a looser adaptation of the C. S. Lewis book than Prince Caspian and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and a less perfect film than Lion, at least. Still, as the credits rolled (over the original Pauline Baynes illustrations from the books, a fact that made me squeal like a preteen!) I begged, "can we see it again?" I will certainly be going to see the film again before it leaves the cinemas.

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