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Where Angels Fear to Tread
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lil_shepherd
Ina and I went to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (in 2D, of course) yesterday. The number of people queuing to see The King's Speech bodes well for that movie in this country at least, though most of the crowd were old enough to actual remember George! (I was born in his reign but am not old enough to remember anything else about him.)


I've said from the first that this book is probably the one of The Chronicles of Narnia least suited for dramatic adaption. You might look at it as "Five Go Magical Island Hopping" (with Caspian as Julian, Edmund as Dick, Eustace as George, Lucy as Anne and Reepicheep as Timmy the dog.) It is very much serial in nature, with little trace of an overwhelming arc or theme. The best I can do for that, from the original, is either Caspian's quest to find the Lost Lords or Reepicheep's quest to find Aslan's country. However, the first is achieved without too much effort, and, though a quest to find Heaven is close to Walden Media's heart, it isn't going to make a good children's movie.

Now, you can make movies out of this kind of travelogue. The best example is probably The Odyssey (though it is by no means as popular as an ur-text as The Iliad .) The way any script writer with any sense would tell the Odysseus's story is a good example of why there are problems with VotDT. VotDT has no actual villain and no recurring threat to overcome to reach its goal – whatever that is. The Odyssey has a surfeit of villains, but Poseidon is a continuing threat, and, of course, if you are canny as a scriptwriter you bring Penelope and the suitors in from the beginning, and keep skipping back to them for a short scene to remind the viewer of what Odysseus does not know – that his lands and his wife are in danger. So his final defeat of the suitors at the end will be a real climax, and what the story has been about – his fight to get home and his fight when he arrives.

There is no such natural climax in or natural narrative in VotDT. In this it more resembles, say, Brendan's voyage to the Isle of the Blest than The Odyssey. Indeed, I wonder if Brendan was what Lewis had in mind. Whichever, it makes the task of an adaptor doubly difficult.

So here we have the third film, and, in an effort to give it a narrative, and a suitably climatic ending, the writers find themselves forced into inventing a big bad, in the form of a green mist (why did it have to be green?) which rushes around taking Lone Islanders (and isn't that a pretty stupid name, in canon, for an island group?) as sacrifices and tempting Lucy into wishing she was Susan, and a find-the-tokens quest for a series of magic swords which have to be brought to Aslan's table to defeat the green mist. The swords are supposed to be magic swords given by Aslan, but why would he give them to Telmarines? Sense this does not make, I tell you.

Most of the original island adventures in the text are there, though sometimes conflated and often changed, and not usually for the better. The wonderful sequence where Caspian and Co defeat the slave traders and the ridiculously bureaucratic governor of the Lone Islands by a mixture of trickery and bluff now becomes a fight on the dock. It is no surprise that Edmund and Caspian quarrel over the water that turns things to gold, because they've been bickering on and off since the beginning. (Yes, in the absence of Peter, Edmund is having brother and self-esteem issues with Caspian, who, for some reason, has Peter's sword which Edmund coverts. Meanwhile, Lucy has suddenly developed self-esteem issues herself, something only hinted at in the original.) For some reason, another child is introduced onto The Dawn Treader with no apparent effect on the plot, save to give Lucy a line about being oneself, which, it seems, is the theme of the whole film.

The sea serpent, which is a great sequence in the original, primarily because of Reepicheep's solution to the problem, is promoted to big bad, but Reep's strategy has gone completely in favour of a fight with Eustace's dragon. There is, however, a really nice twist to the sword-collection plot at this point, and I do like the way Jadis keeps haunting Edmund.

However, it's not all bad! For a start, we have Will Poulter's utterly wonderful Eustace. He gets this difficult character exactly right, with the exact supercilious delivery that the part needs. We even get bits of his diary! This young actor is something very special, and is the main reason I am hoping desperately that this movie will make enough money to give The Silver Chair , a much more filmable book, the go-ahead. It's a pity that the dragon he turns into is... er... not very good. (Peter Jackson is going to have to do something really special with Smaug to top the dragon in Beowulf. On the other hand, Simon Pegg voices Reepicheep better than Eddie Izzard did and Reep, who is one of the stars of the book, is beautifully animated and right in character all the way through. The sequence where he duels with Eustace is hilarious, and the changing relationship between them is very well done, considering that there isn't much room for it.

Ben Barnes as Caspian has lost the accent and is better this go-round, and certainly better than Skander Keynes as Edmund – who is almost as irritating as Eustace, which is saying a good deal. Lucy moves towards the Lucy of The Horse and His Boy where she is "with the archers" in the Narnian army. ("The Queen's Grace will do as she pleases.") Gary Sweet does an excellent (if unexpectedly plebeian) Drinian.

There are some excellent sequences (so long as they don't involve the green mist.) Despite all I've said about it (and I could add that I don't think a millipede works as a sea serpent) the sea serpent bit is exciting, though it goes on too long. The island of the monopods is imaginative, though I'm not happy about the changes to the spells Lucy reads, and certainly not to her stealing a page out of the book. Lewis would be horrified!

On the other hand, some of the changes to the original dialogue are plain ridiculous. I suppose Eustace's analogy of "picking a scab" for the removing of his dragon skin is not PC enough, but did they have to go for a thorn in the foot? Of course, that whole sequence had to be toned down, because of its sadistic and masochistic overtones. I'm not sure how Lewis got it through his publisher in a children's book in the first place.4

The FX will serve, though there are some awful flubs. The Dawn Treader herself is overmanned, and how she is going to take all those sacrificed people back to the Lone Islands without sinking is quite beyond my ken. I like the fact that there are more Narnia creature on board beside Reepicheep – the minotaur mate works very well indeed. The faun, on the other hand, has the same ear problem that affected Mr Tumnus.

Finally, there is the end sequence, where the FX are very good, and the farewell to Reepicheep is moving. However, it has always been in this scene in the book that I have baulked at the excessive Christianity. At least the lamb has gone, but did they have to leave in all that dialogue about "I have another name in that world... and you must learn to know me by that name. Pity we can't end on Caspian and Ramadu's daughter meeting again.

Three and a half (the half being for Will Poulter) out of five stars. And it's better than Prince Caspian.

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Agreed; definitely better than Prince Caspian. And Eustace was seriously good. But in terms of cinematic enjoyment, and sheer emotional power, it doesn't beat The King's Speech!

We will see The King's Speech just as soon as the rush dies down.

PS. And we would have preferred to have seen it in 2D. But in our part of London there was only one 2D showing (in the morning) to five or six of the 3D. The 3D added absolutely nothing, in my view.

While we were waiting to get our tickets the cinema announced that, as it was overbooked for The King's Speech, they were adding another showing - we suspect that they bumped the 3D VotDT to make the space (which says a lot about the value of story over gimic).

I did enjoy this one and Eustace was spot on. Entirely agree with the inferior sea serpent battle - I still think the level of tension in the book with the whole crew straining to push the loops along the ship, and hacking off the tail of the ship (or whatever the appropriate nautical jargon is) had a nail biting quality that yet another overlong CGI battle couldn't match.

I didn't mind the religious themes at the end. After all, whether I like it or not, these are a major part of Lewis's work and I think it was appropriate to leave them in place. Changing the things you disapprove of in a book or that you think the audience will find difficult is one the main reason that Hollywood is producing such lac lustre adaptations of books right now. And Reepicheep heading off through the waves was nice.

Personally I don't really see why a quest for seven magic swords is any more dramatic than Caspian's quest for seven missing Lords. It still ends up as a road movie. And, no, I disliked the Lone Islands changes, too (seen one sword battle, you've seen most of them...)

Like you, I shall be seeing *The King's Speech* in a couple of weeks.

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