Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Case for Treading Lightly

As Harry Potter reaches episode 7.1, the third movie (of the 4th book) of the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes to the big screen, in glorious 3D, though I couldn't be bothered with that and so went to the still fairly well attended "flat" version. And flat really is a good word to describe the film.

I was a huge fan of TheLion, the Witch and Wardrobe when I was younger (many moons ago), but never really got into the rest in the series, and this story kind of exemplifies why. The whole idea of Narnia is that, as the kids get older, they can't go back again, and time works differently in Narnia than in the "normal world. But all this means you have a continually changing set of characters and actors, and as the books outside of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe don't really develop characters as interesting as the Pevensies, as character development gives way to the moral of the stories.

Luckily, in this story, we still have Lucy (Georgie Henley) on board, and, as she was in the other films, she continues to be one of the best things about this series, and gets a few chances to stand out in the pretty dismal plot. Skandar Keynes as Edmund continues to have the coolest real name of any of the actors and still shows huge potential. Any scene he shares with the image of Tilda Swinton's menacingly fragile Ice Queen is suitably and wonderfully intense, but his character is otherwise burdened with an obvious and poorly realised storyline. And Ben Barnes, as King (formerly known as Prince) Caspian, continues to have fantastic hair... and he does that very well.

But the story... It could be the source material, but really the script does not do anyone any favours. I had to laugh out loud (in a bad, mocking way), when a man in a village offers to accompany the explorers to find his missing wife, and when his daughter pleads with him to stay, he turns to her and says, "Go stay with your aunt" - which is a) "great" parenting advice, and, b) I would have thought, from the Pevensies' perspective, something a bit too close to their own experience and thus something that they might have desired to put a stop to. Unfortunately, there were quite a few plain groan-worthy scenes, like any of those involving conflict ("Me jealous! Oh wait. Now me not") or bonding ("Love you mate") between Edmund and Caspian, as these were all dealt with so quickly and so apparently haphazardly that there was never really any chance for any emotion to build. And some of the dialogue itself was just.... Well, in a raging storm, all the protagonists have bad dreams, and rather than blame them on the lack of food or sleep or the tempest raging around them, the most logical explanation is (of course) magic. When everyone knows these things are always caused by aliens.

Of course, I seemed to be one of the only ones looking at the film through disappointed eyes (apologies to my companion for my odd sarcastic remark). A person near me with a huge bucket of popcorn and who I thought sounded like a non native English speaker seemed to find the whole thing riotously amusing and entertaiing, so perhaps I just didn't get it, or I wasn't fully appreciating it in the film's original German. It was made even obvious that I am not the target demographic when [spoiler alert] Edmund's biggest fear came to life, as I found myself hoping beyond hope for the StayPuft Marshmallow Man, (rather than the rather disturbing reality. What had he been reading? He has a rather sick imagination...), which betrayed my ever advancing age.

A big bum note is of course Aslan, once an interesting-ish character in the first movie, and now an omnipotent intervener and miracle problem solver who nonetheless allows formless evil to grow and spread (it is so much more boring than when the White Queen was evil incarnate) and lets people outside those he considers his chosen few die. Allusions to his existence in "our" world don't help his cause, nor help settle my stomach.

Verdict: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader looks spectacular, but suffers from a lack of imagination in the interpretation ofthe source material. There's only so much some fairly decent actors can do with such stilted dialogue and episodic story development, and for me, what they do is not enough to make a good movie. 5 careful footfalls out of 10.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Pretty much everything you've mentioned is due to the source material. It was the third book published, so it's the third movie. The "reading" order imposed by Lewis is post-hoc and it shows. The plot of Dawn Treader is really just a random accumulation of events, with Edmund's perfunctory character development providing what little unity there is. Aslan is everything you complain about, and everything Lewis intended. The Narnia books might be classics, but mainly in the sense that everyone knows of them, and it's considered "bad form" to point out that they're a little weak compared to a lot of other children's classic fantasy, that their coherence as a series is as fabricated as their "reading order" or that Lewis was a creep and that the creep keeps popping out in odd places throughout the books.

Rant done. I do enjoy some of the Narnia books, and I usually reread them all anyway when I reread any one of them...