Monday, December 13, 2010

Lion Jesus Gives It Two Paws Up

Voyage of the Dawntreader is the latest movie adaptation of the famous C.S. Lewis Biblical fanfiction series The Chronicles of Narnia. I've always put the Narnia books in the "Didn't suck but nothing great" category and feel that they pale in comparison to other great fantasy series like Lord of the Rings or the Oz books. Out of all the books in that series, my least favorite is Voyage of the Dawntreader. You can imagine that I wasn't particularly excited to see what I consider to be the worst chapter in a book series that I don't particularly like. And yet...

I'd say that this is the best of the three Narnia films. If Rotten Tomatoes is anything to go by, I seem to be in the minority on this, but I found it to be very entertaining and definitely better than the very dull Prince Caspian. I actually approve of the ways in which the movie changed the book which was basically an island hopping travelogue.

As the book did, the movie opens with the two youngest Pevensie children, Edmund and Lucy, now staying with their aunt and uncle. Also there is their cousin, Eustace. "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it," is C.S. Lewis great opening line to the book and the spot-on casting of young actor Will Poulter as the whining and trouble making Eustace is one of the things that made me like this movie, a fictional character I've always wished existed just so I could kick him in the balls. I've spent many, many years hating Eustace Scrubb and yet here I am identifying him as one of the things that made the movie for me. I know, I'm surprised too.

Edmund and Lucy are finding their real world a tad dull compared to their Narnia adventures as I suppose anyone would. Luckily for them, the mighty, wise and merciful Aslan once again faces a threat so great that he, a being with godlike powers, can't handle on his own so he figures the best solution to this mortal threat to his world is to risk the physical and mental health of children and he once again summons Edmund and Lucy and, possibly by accident but probably by design, manages to get Eustace too.

This time around, they don't land in Narnia proper but rather in the ocean east of it where they get picked up by the Dawntreader, the personal sailing vessel of the King formerly known as Prince Caspian. Caspian is looking for the Seven Lost Lords, as he did in the book, but in the cinematic version they're also looking for seven enchanted swords, gifts from Aslan to the Lords. A living star-turned-wizard named Coriakin tells them that they must gather all seven swords and lay them upon Aslan's table in order to defeat some sort of mysteriously evil red mist. They are told that, in addition to fighting the mist, they must also defeat, "the evil within themselves." Anyone at all familiar with fantasy literature knows that when you are asked to fight the evil in yourself, you're pretty much screwed. All this eventually leads to them being warned not to think of their deepest fears so, naturally, that little dip Edmund has a Stay-Puff Marshmallow Man moment and nearly dooms them all. Do things works out? This is the third in a seven book series so try to figure that out for yourself.

Director Michael Apted, new to the Narnia series, made the movie look good (I didn't see this in 3D so I can't comment on that) and also made some intelligent decisions that successfully transformed the written word into a watchable movie. It's not great but it is pretty good. One issue that's not dealt with, a question no Narnia story ever answers, is why Mr. Lion God just doesn't wave his paw and make the evil go away. Sure, the kids wouldn't have learned a valuable lesson but all the people who died or were terrorized would have been alive and unterrorized. Still, as I said, the kids learned a lesson. Not sure what it is but, hopefully, they do.

I hope now that the other books are made into films. The fate of future Narnia movies is in doubt (they make money but not enough to justify the risk). It would be a shame if non-reading audiences may never get a chance to see The Last Battle. SPOILER ALERT: mouse over the following white space if you want to see it. I just want to see how you film it when the Lion Savior causes the brutal deaths of all but one of the Pevensies but don't worry, they're much better off that way. Good times.

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