Sunday, January 02, 2011

Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Movie Comments, with Spoilers)

Now it can be told. I am back home in Haiti, so I can reveal to my readers that I spent the last two weeks in the United States. Somehow I was too paranoid to tell you that until I was safely home.

While I was in the States, I went to see the new Narnia movie. Until I got the chance to do that, I was avoiding reviews, such as this one and this one. After seeing it I went and read those two reviews and basically agreed with what they had to say.

The movie, while visually beautiful, was not the same story as the book. I get it that movies are a different medium from books, and that changes have to be made. I don't even mind changes that make sense. (Here's what I had to say about the changes the movie-makers thought necessary in the Prince Caspian movie.) But I don't like changes that make no sense, and that turn the story into something completely different.

After the earthquake, when I couldn't focus long enough to read anything for several weeks, I chose The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as my first book. I remember reading it for the first time at the age of seven and have read it many, many times since. It was an important part of my childhood and the development of my imagination. So I wasn't at all neutral about the way I wanted the story portrayed. There were certain scenes I couldn't wait for: chiefly, Eustace being un-dragoned, the Dufflepuds, and the Dark Island.

First, what I loved. The opening scene, when the children go into the picture, was fabulous. Reepicheep was wonderful. The friendship between Reepicheep and Eustace, while already in the book, was expanded in the movie. Eustace was terrific. The Dawn Treader itself looked exactly right. I loved the house on the Dufflepuds' island. The final scene, where Reepicheep rises on the wave in his coracle, was perfect. And it was great to see the homage to Pauline Baynes during the credits.

Next, what I didn't love. Green miasma? Huh? Where did it come from? What did it mean? Why did it eat people in boats and then later those people reappeared after a sea monster who was really Edmund's fears got killed? (And again, huh? There's so much wrong with that, I don't even know where to start.) Why was Lord Bern cowering in prison? Why create a new character, Gail, and then give her nothing to do except hero-worship Lucy? (I get it that there are too few female characters in this book with any real significance, but how does this help?) Why was the whole Dufflepud scene glossed over so quickly, with most of the humor taken out of it? Why was Eustace just zapped back into being a boy? Why was the entire significance of the Dark Island ruined? Why did seven swords have to be collected and laid on the table?

What I've seen with my students is that once a book is made into a movie, it's ruined for them as a literary experience. I often read a book after I see the movie, fascinated to see the differences between the two. I don't read entirely for plot, so knowing what is going to happen is not a problem for me. But my students either assume they already know what's going to happen in the book if they have seen the movie, and therefore don't think reading it is worth their while at all, or they pretend they read it, and use what they saw in the movie to muddle their way through class discussions. So although I was looking forward to seeing the movie, I was already mourning the loss of a certain kind of reading experience for my students. But then when I saw the way the movie-makers changed the story, I felt even sadder. This is what a whole generation (or more) of kids will think this book is. And it's not.

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