Like every good geek, I have a long relationship with the Chronicles of Narnia. I started reading them when I was maybe five or six: too young to really understand more than the basic plots of the books. As a teenager, I would occasionally pick one up as a sort of comfort food book, reading them as something I had enjoyed when I was younger. But as an adult, re-reading the books, I fell in love with them all over again. Reading as an adult revealed so much more humor, so much more emotional complexity, and so many more of the allegorical connections with the Bible, that it gave the books new dimensions and new appeal for me. And so, I still re-read them periodically, for sheer enjoyment, to be immersed in that world with its quirky, beautiful characters.
However, because I am now thirty-two, and have so much else going on around me, I forgot to see the new installment of the movie series until about last week. I looked up last Thursday or so, and realized I’d better get to it while it was still in theaters. Most movies I do see, I see with my friends, and that’s my reminder. Otherwise, I forget to go, and have to wait until whatever it is, is available for download to my TiVo. And I’m usually fine with that. But when it’s a Big, SF/X, CGI-heavy fantasy movie, I want to see it on a big screen, at high volume, with the effects as they were meant to be seen. So I asked my husband (who has NOT read the books) to take me last night.
Paul readily agreed to go, possibly because he’d rather I ask for a Narnia movie than a chick-flick, as other wives might do. So we secured babysitting from the grandparents, and headed out to Glendale, just in time for an 8:30 showing. Show times were limited, since this is the end of the movie’s run, so we took what we could get. Unfortunately, what we could get was just far enough away that we were going to be late for it. And after we lost ten minutes parking at the wrong theater, and then having to re-park at the right one, and waiting in line for Annoying Questions Guy in front of us to finish asking details about his movie, we had not only missed the trailers, but the first ten minutes of the movie. And when I found out that the Mann 6 wasn’t going to be showing it in 3D, I said, “screw it.” It was a small theater, I’d missed ten minutes, it was only in boring old 2D…I was going to ask my husband to take me to the Hollywood theater.
So we drove across town, through Los Feliz, to Hollywood. We parked at the Hollywood and Highland complex (most disorienting parking lot ever, but hey, it’s only $2!), and walked to CVS to procure water before going to the movie. That walk took us through the worst of the Hollywood tourist industry: the Graumann’s Chinese Theater, the Walk of Fame, and the impersonators whom Graumann’s would like to stress are NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE THEATER. (Really, there are signs.) I would hope Graumann’s would pay for better impersonators, if so: an Asian-American Elvis is one thing, but an Asian-American Elvis with barely styled hair and round glasses (glasses!) is another thing. We also passed the World’s Worst Street Musician, who was a barely-awake man, leaning against the wall behind him, half-moving his lips to the recorded music as he tried not to fall over drunk. And then we had to wait in line for ten minutes at CVS, waiting for the various Hollywood residents to purchase their Saturday night booze rations and head out for their night on the town. The people in front of us seemed to be planning to make some sort of horrible White Russian drink with Bailey’s and Silk Soymilk Lite Vanilla Flavor, and apparently chase it with tequila slammers made from Sauzo Gold and Monster Energy Drink. We spent so long on our side trip though, we almost missed the movie start again. Well worth it to trade the previews for the people watching.
We returned to the theater, bought tickets, and ran upstairs through the H&H mall maze just in time for the last preview to end, and the first studio credits to start. We were the only people in the theater, except for a small family a few rows behind us. I assume it was a family, anyways, as we occasionally heard a bleating sound I took for a baby we didn’t see. Maybe the couple had a small sheep. But whatever it was, it was no match for the THX SURROUND SOUND that goes with a movie theater experience. And so, after an hour of driving to various theaters, and almost missing the movie TWICE, we had made it to an actual showing of a movie I realized, I’ve been waiting a very long time to see.
The problem is with movies based on beloved books is that there is now a Lord of the Rings standard. Peter Jackson did SUCH a great job with those books that even the minor plotline alterations he added fit into the vision every nerd had for the movies. They were beautiful movies that matched my imagined version of the books, and I can’t wait for the Hobbit to come out. But now, I have a high standard to hold up my favorite books-gone-movie to. And I wasn’t that disappointed by Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe, nor was I displeased with Prince Caspian…but Voyage of the Dawn Treader had been cut to pieces and re-stitched back together into a Frankenmovie I was actually displeased with. Whereas Jackson added plotline to LoTR that fit with the books, whoever mutilated Dawn Treader added a horrible plotline that came out of a video game…complete with a plot twist at the end out of Ghostbusters. It was a horrible revised plot that made the movie choppy, confusing and painful at times to watch. It added too much to an already crowded book. It was a gamble taken to make the movie more appealing to American audiences, and I think it failed.
I read a review that said, while the first two Narnia movies were Lord of the Rings for children, this was Pirates of the Caribbean-lite. And, in many ways, it was. As Prince Caspian, Ben Bridges bore a striking resemblance to Orlando Bloom in those movies. Plus, as in Pirates there was a Spectacular CGI Supernatural Enemy: evil embodied as a Green Mist that demanded a snackrifice from the Lone Islands’ slave traders on a regular basis. Lacking a real antagonist, the screenwriters invented one. Apparently, the classic “man vs nature” conflict wasn’t taught as a valid plot in these writers’ high schools, so they invented a Generic Evil. In the books, there is actually an Island of Dreams that is a dark island, where the sun goes out and the crew are tormented by their worst nightmares and darkest, most despairing dreams. But spinning that out into a faceless antagonist and plotline made little to no sense, and I think detracted from the movie. It also required many of the chapters to be taken out of order, which detracted from the characters and their development, as well as from the dreamy tone that takes over the book towards the end. Instead of the crew sailing further into the East, and into a more and more transcendental, spiritual state, they were totally consumed with the quest to gather the Seven Swords and lay them on the table to break the spell of the Green Smoke Effect Evil.
I think I was most disappointed by the way this affected the ending. Because it took most of the movie to understand and complete the quest that wasn’t even part of the book, there was no time left to really convey the spiritual level the characters achieve at the end of the book. All there was, was the end of the evil spell, and then suddenly the five main characters sailing East on their own. In the book, the three children and Reepicheep go on their own, and reach a flat land, where a lamb is preparing fish for them, and they realize they are ready to break their fast (Yes, it’s a Jesus allegory). In the movie, suddenly, oh, hey, it’s Liam Neeson as Aslan, and IT’S TIME TO GO HOME EVERYONE.
There were some high points of the movie though: the scenery and locations were spot on. The boat itself, and the islands visited, did all bear resemblance to how I had always seen them in my imagination. The kid cast as Eustace was great, as was Simon Pegg as Reepicheep the Mouse (I laughed at his performance multiple times, which, even when word for word, was still funnier than it was in the book). The CGI effects were also incredible. The effect of Eustace as a dragon was so good that I forgot it was an entirely imaginary, special-effects based creature, and was able to enjoy the dragon’s “performance”, and its part in the plot. And the Sea Serpent was genuinely frightening and disturbing, more so than I could have imagined it. Visually, this was a great movie. It was just a difficult book to translate to begin with, made worse by the need for a concise, direct quest in the narrative.
I think I”ll go re-read the book to remember how great it is. And I’ll also re-read the Silver Chair. So far, Voyage of the Dawn Treader has made $94MM, but cost about $155MM to make. And given the reviews, this may be the last installment in the franchise. While there was a hint of the next episode at the end, when Jill Pole drops by to visit Edmund (we don’t see her; his mother calls up to him that she’s there), I doubt it will be made. I doubt we will have the chance to see The Book of Revelations, turned into an allegory and brought to life in very expensive special effects in The Last Battle. And while I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to enjoy another visually stunning movie, and that I may not be able to see a Narnia of my imagination on the big screen, I’m a little relieved that, if the franchise ends here, the mutilated plotlines will not get worse.