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Setting Sail With “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”

January 10, 2011

CAUTION: SPOILER ALERT!!!

 At long last, Narnia fans are hitting the theaters to see C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”. Fans have been looking forward to this since the arrival of “Prince  Caspian” in theaters! In fact, many of the fans that I have spoken to have told me that “Voyage” is their favorite out of the series, and therefore, there are a few things that need to be said about this particular installment in the film series.

“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” novel takes place a year following the events of “Prince Caspian” (exactly three years later in Narnian time). It follow the now-King Caspian’s voyage of exploration across the Eastern Sea aboard the Dawn Treader, accompanied by Edmund and Lucy Pevensie and their less-than-pleasant cousin, Eustace Clarence Scrubb. That’s all I’ll say about the book.

For those of you who haven’t heard, Disney has DROPPED the Narnia “franchise” and FOX Studios took over the “Voyage” project.  With the new studio’s takeover came a change in director (from Andrew Adamson to Michael Apted) AND score composer (Harry Gregson-Williams to David Arnold). Thankfully, costume designer Isis Mussenden remained with the project. For those of you hoping to hear more of Harry Gregson-Williams’ brilliant music, prepare for a change; the score’s style is VERY different from the scores for the first two films. Much of the score lost its “Narnian” feel; the dark, suspenseful undertones found in the scores of the first two films are somewhat lessened. This new score seems to have a far more “typical Disney” feel than the first two; the mood is more lighthearted, though at times the plot is darker, even, than the plot of “Prince Caspian”.

Viewers will be surprised to learn that parts of the film were shot in Mexico, around the time that a good deal of the drug war violence was taking place. (Disney was still in charge of the project at the time.) Taking this into account, it’s surprising that the film even made it out to sea, so to speak. The cinematography was fantastic, especially th aerial shots of the ship, although it was a bit patchy in places. It certainly didn’t have the same cinematography style as the previous films, but that’s not exactly a negative thing.

Perhaps the biggest issue I had personally was with the change in Caspian’s accent. Andrew Adamson (director of the first two films and, now, producer for this, the third film), and the cast and crew of “Prince Caspian” spent a great deal of time developing the Spanish feel of the Telmarine culture, right down to the Spanish accents of the Telmarine characters. With the change of studio and director, it appears that the Telmarine accents got lost in the move. Suddenly, Caspian (Ben Barnes) has an English accent! For a group of people to take such time to put such detail into a character and, even more so, a culture, it’s incredibly disappointing to see that development thrown out the window. On a more positive note, Will Poulter made an absolutely BRILLIANT Eustace! The casting department could not have made a better decision. Poulter portrays Eustace’s personal trials and changes very well. Also, for those who grew accustomed to British comedian Eddie Izzard’s rendition of Reepicheep, be aware that Simon Pegg has replaced him for this film, but Reepicheep’s personality was not lost in transition from one actor to another, so hats off to Mr. Pegg! Laura Brent played an excellent Liliandil (Ramandu’s daughter). Let it not be said that the casting department was off their game!

As compared to the book, I give the film a C-, but then again, most page-to-screen adaptations are the same. There was a fairly decent plot carryover, but the feeling of their trying to cram everything into a two hour time frame seems a bit more pronounced in this film. The trouble is, the old creed of “when in doubt, cut it out” seems to have failed here; significant plot pieces were cut out in favor of an original-to-the-screenplay version of events. Though this is also the case for the first two films, the effect was different in “Voyage”. the problem with this rewrite is that, suddenly, on doesn’t know what to focus on. What is the Dawn Treader’s crew’s purpose?  Add this to the fact that the several characters were rewritten, which, in the case of the first of the Telmarine lords (I believe it’s Lord Bern?), almost knocks him down a peg on the scale of plot significance. Now, these minor rewrites are not too great of a problem, but the addition of the green Mist threw me, and a few other Narnia fans, a major curveball.  In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” novel, the character’s goals are 1) to restore the seven Telmarine lords to their rightful places, 2) to see what lies beyond the edge of the map, and 3) (more toward the end of the book) to find Aslan’s country. The plot of the film, however, boils down to the goal of destroying the Mist, with all other goals being secondary.If it was not an element in the original story, then why cut out bits of the original plot to replace it with a more simplistic one? The subtle complexities and inner struggles of the characters that viewers enjoyed in the first two films seem to have all but vanished with this sequel.

On its own, this film gets a B+.From an older audience, or from one of Narnia “purists”, it may receive a lower grade on the scale. As compared to the rest of the film franchise, it gets a C+. This installment in the series seems slightly more “youngster-oriented” than the first two films. Some of the “Narnian” feeling that was established in the first two films was lost, but that’s only to be expected with the transition from  one studio and production company to another. Go, see it, and decide for yourself!

(Below is a segment of the interview with Apted and Barnes. You can see the rest on YouTube!)

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