Sunday, December 12, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader Review

Okay, so I know this isn't a normal post which has to do with theology thoughts and scriptural meditations, but I wanted to share this here anyway because I'm so upset at the watering down of the book. 
Last night the wife and I went to see the New Chronicles of Narnia movie.  I had just finish reading this article, which I find brilliant:
which made the movie so much worse.   
Spoilers Below
After the first scene (which had no business being in the movie) of Edmund trying to slink into the military, VOTDT had a great 10 minutes of following the book closely, and the result was well done.  Meeting Eustice, the crew, the ship, sailing to the Lone Islands nearly put you in the action.  Unfortunately that's the end of following the book (I do recognize that it's very hard to gather momentum with this novel, it doesn't lend it self well to cinema, sure, but that's what we are paying them the big bucks to figure out isn't it?) and that's when the plot gives way like a malibu house in a mudslide.  Caspian decides to go alone into a hostile zone?  What?  The pirates turned out to be slavers in the sway of a terrible green CG mist? Oh yes, you know, the killer mist of dead people from Lord of the Rings III the return of the King.  What was it gaining the people to sacrifice the people on the island, as opposed to selling them for profit? What would make the writers think that a cowed island would rise up against their oppressors?  This makes no sense, it just begs the question, why did they not set out to save the world from the mist to begin with and forget going along with the book? Why the pretext of the lost lords?  Forget the lords, what's better than seven dudes?  Their seven swords by which we may fight and defeat the magic gas! 
The movie holds steady as we are introduced to life aboard the Dawn Treader, (although why they would pick up people on this voyage I have no idea). Eustice is a little monster every bit as unpleasant as the book, but alas, the noble mouse Reepeecheep has devolved into a smack talking fencing coach.  He has lost all of what made him so knightly, and it shows.
They reach the magicians island, which is not manicured and well groomed, but wild and unkempt looking.  Seeing this the crew decides to sleep the night on a hostile, unexplored territory without a guard.  (What kind of idiots are these Narnians anyway?)  The dufflepods then kidnap Lucy while the rest sleep. Why you ask? Because kidnapping is more action oriented, kids love kidnapping. She goes into the invisible house (why isn't the book invisible when the house is?) and rips out a page, reads the spell, makes everyone visible, but Aslan is chopped from this scene entirely.  Who needs him?  As it turns out the magician made all the hostile nuisance dufflepods invisible to protect them from the mist.  (If that was effective and they could rip pages from the book, why didn't they save the invisibility spell for when they encountered the mist?)
Back on board the ship the mist attacks Lucy who then prepares to read the beautifying spell she stole and is in for a rude surprise - she has become her sister.  I wish they would have implemented that back at the Island, because although it's clever, it really makes no sense.  Aslan explains that the chief virtue is being yourself.  (Hey Lucy, don't try to be beautiful, or virtuous, or who God made you, just have more self esteem.)
When they land on the deathwater island next, (yes, out of order from the book, it's annoying but easily forgivable) the movie sinks lower.  Deathwater pond is underground, in a cave, and when the item touches the pool it becomes solid gold, as opposed to what the water touches becoming gold. Why did they need to change this?  What motivation would the lord have to dive into it completely?  It's not hot there, if he wanted to drink the water he would have dipped his cup in and freaked out, not dove in, and certainly not dove in in a kneeling down position. Why the mist again?  The quarrel between Edmund and Caspian was at least well done.
Eustice then discovers the dragon horde and becomes a dragon by merely possessing the band.  (They did well with every dragon scene in my opinion. Good size, good physics etc.) Now they have a dilemma, there is nothing on this island (why a dragon would inhabit a waterless, foodless island is senseless, as they are too big to reach the deathwater cave) so after a night he decides to fly along with the ship, and even tow the ship, to Ramandus island. Yes skip the whole scene of Eustice meeting Aslan, skip his repentance, him changing back.  Who needs it?  And it gets even more offensive for Christians.  Lucy is sleeping on the island with the stow-away little girl who is troubled in her soul. Lucy comforts her by telling her that Aslan will make it right, and she asks in protest "But how can he, since he couldn't save her from getting kidnapped in the first place?"  Lucy is rightly stumped.  "Uh well I dunno, but I guess we should have faith anyway?"  This is such a thinly veiled dig at Christianity it makes me angry to think of even now. "Is God all loving? Is He all powerful?  Well there is suffering in the world and I don't have everything I want so God can't exist." 
On Ramandus island they lay down the 6 swords, talk briefly with Ramadu's daughter, eat from Aslans stone table, and prepare to sail to the Island that is going to destroy the world.  I might not be remembering this right, but I think they mentioned it's the stone table from the first movie that Aslan was sacrificed on.  Which just makes me more angry.
At last the climax of the movie, what every scene involving magic gas was building to- they must travel into Mordor to destroy the ring the dead island where the remaining Lord and sword lies.  Caspian gives a rousing generic speech "Go think of something motivating someone once said to you and go win this thing for Aslan Narnia" And they are off.  Once there they find the Lord Rhoop alone on a rock with no water, no food, no room to sit or lie down, who has been there for at least months, warning them all to turn around.  They are then over come by mist, again, and we see even more White witch.  She ends up logging about 3x more face time then Aslan. I'll admit that the sailors facing their fears was interesting, but the whole point of the book was that their dreams became real. Not subjective, objective. 
Now what does every action movie need?  If you said a videogame esque boss fight to end the movie you guessed right.  The Kracken from Pirates of the Caribbean Leviathan appears because during the trial they think their worst fears, so it takes on the form foreshadowed earlier.  Right then Caspian says "What did you do Ray is it?" and Edward responds "I thought of the most harmless thing possible- the Staypuff marshmallow man sea creature"
Who rescues the sailors but Eustice the fire breathing dragon, who is now full of courage and an awesome force for good?  Yep.  In fact the fight was going well until the 70 year old, starved, and dehydrated Lord Rhoop grabs his magic sword and throws it, 100 yards, on a perfect dart, for no reason, through Eustices magic dragon scales (that even the Leviathan couldn't penetrate) sinking deep into his shoulder.  This causes Eustice to leave (although why is not clear, he could have flown onto the ship and begin breathing fire at the beast until it expires) and meet Aslan.  This scene was forced and had no business being in the movie at this point.  As a reformed Christian who loved Lewis growing up I would have advised them to remove it, it adds no value to the plot.  It was obviously a bone thrown to Christians (See stupids? We left your scene in for you, although it's just as out of place and senseless as real repentance.)  For no real reason Eustice tries to cut himself and Aslan helps him out.  I suppose it was his reward for fighting, Aslan shows up and decides "Well you learned your lesson, I wanted you to come to Narnia to learn courage, so I will reward you here by restoring you, since you earned it through good deeds."
Flying into the air, exploding in fire, Eustice is not only transformed back but teleported to Aslans stone table (that everyone ate off of!!!) and does battle against the mist which seeks to restrain him, eventually placing the 7th sword with the rest and allowing the monster to become mortal.  Meanwhile, holding up the blue glowing magic sword Sam acquired from Frodo to keep the spider at bay err, sword of Griffendor acquired from the sorting hat, the basilisk serpent monster impales his own brain and dies this time for good. Harry Potter the crew is saved.
The kids, Reep and Caspian then sail to the end of the world and find Aslan on a narrow sandbar.  Aslan invites everyone who wants to to go to heaven, but Caspian refuses, telling Aslan off more or less. (As opposed to the book where Caspian has a tantrum and Aslan sharply reproves him when Reep wasn't enough) Although Reep decides to go on, the kids decide against dying, and want to go home as well.  Aslan approves of all choices, as all choices are equally good in his eyes.  He doesn't make decisions anyway, he just affirms ones you make.  He tells them that they must learn to meet him by his human name- Buddah.  Or Muhammid, or whatever, everything is equally valid, it's cool guys.  As if the concept of a supreme sovereign deity who does as he pleases in heaven and on earth, and none can restrain him or ask what has he done is the stupidest thing the writers have ever heard.  Reep goes, he has earned it at any rate, like everyone says.  Heaven is for those who have done well on this earth and choose to go on, which is really just as good as living out your ordinary life.   
Aslan has been completely stripped of his greatness, his glory, and his power.  Like Reep, he is reduced to an encouraging psychologist who wants everyone to do what pleases them. But on the bright side Aslan doesn't really tend to leave his country, so he won't bother you if you don't want him to. The end.
PS: I read an article about how Liam (the voice of Aslan) saw Aslan as a generic religious leader based on the script.  I mocked him for it, but now I'm sorry I did, because based on this movie he was perfectly right to think and say that.


Charlene said...

My husband and I just saw this film also. I don't know much about the other books/movies you mentioned (LOTR and so forth) so i don't know about the similarities, but I have to agree with you about the post modern "theology" presented in the movie. Shameful. They could have left Aslan out of the movie and it would have been the same because he really wasn't needed.

Phil said...

Exactly right. Thanks Charlene.

richard said...

I have a problem with people who know nothing about movie making and screen writings limits and possibilities.. who arrogantly tear a movie apart piece by piece in ignorance. Yes, we who have read the book know all of the ins and outs. No movie can hold to the story line perfectly. Yet in this movie we still see the struggle and triumph of faith and disbelief and the struggle with indwelling sin. And the gospel shows forth, as Lewis wanted it to. Too bad you can't enjoy the KOG pushing into areas of unbelief.

Phil said...

By that logic unless I was a master chef I could not hold a negative opinion about a bad meal.

The gospel is the news that Christ has died and risen again, that He offers forgiveness if you believe in His name. I fail to see how this is evident in VOTDT. Aslan isn't remarkable in this movie, and all the obvious Christian scenes were modified to accommodate any faith.

As it goes, I'm not bothered that I didn't enjoy it so try not to pity me too much. The writers intended that any person of any faith could see themselves in the story line, so if you saw your faith I do not begrudge you your positive experience.

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