Narnia Recap: Let's watch an American pile of lolwhut that actually does try to address the source material problems in admittedly hilaribad ways!
Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 00:00 - 23:00
Welp, I did threaten to break this one up into multiple posts and as you can tell from the time stamps above, we get all of twenty-three minutes in this movie before I have to stop and type all the things.
This movie, ya'll, is bad. It's not as bad as the Disney Prince Caspian attempt, but let's be fair that a story about exciting islands on the wide ocean has an automatic leg up over a movie that is about bickering while lost in the woods. But that distinction alone does not automatically make a movie a tour de force and Voyage of the Dawn Treader really shows it.
And what makes me so excited about deconstructing this movie--and why we've broken with tradition to do this one first and the BBC one later--is that I saw this movie before I'd re-read the material in years and I was, no joke, stunned and horrified and hilarishocked at how this American piece of (and I mean this in a very caring way) shit had changed everything and omg can't they ever make a book movie without arbitrarily altering everything to add more special effects, etc. And while usually that is a very valid complaint (ha), after I re-read the actual book, I was immediately struck by how many of the changes in this movie were at least intended to combat the terrible awful that Lewis inserted into the source text.
So, to recap: This is not a great movie (ymmv), but it is an interesting one, as we trace through the many changes that attempted to get us from Lewis' vision (which simply could not have been shown on the screen, but more on that later) to something reasonably close to entertaining and maybe close to what he wanted us to feel. Ish. Maybe.
Anyway. The movie starts with Edmund trying to enlist in the army, which is an awesome addition because it carries the dual tradition of these movies of actually trying to acknowledge that (a) the Pevensies do not exist in a vacuum and the surrounding events would probably affect them profoundly especially given the intersection with their Narnian experiences (i.e., Edmund used to be a warrior and now wants to be a warrior again, presumably because there were no openings for "king" for him to audition for) and (b) that the Pevensies would probably be affected by the whole "was an adult, now isn't" thing that keeps yo-yoing them between the absolute freedom of an adult and the absolute dependency of a child.
Edmund has been upgraded from 12-13 (ish? who knows) in the book to what looks like 15-16 here, and while that is a valid adaptation choice that I applaud, it does mean we're going to have to deal with pantsfeels from him later and we'll get to that when we get to that in another post (seriously, let's try to leave that for the actual post, because spoilers? I promise we'll do ALL THE TALKING about the Edmund pantsfeels). For now, though, we can all relish the idea of Edmund trying to enlist as old enough and under Aunt Alberta's documentation, which he claims was a typo and his name is really "Albert A."; I find that adorable, I really do.
Lucy shows up and blows his cover, and Edmund angsts at her in a scene I genuinely like. He says "I've fought wars, and I've led armies!" and talks about how he feels useless and helpless now. (The thought occurs--as it so often does--that this is a much better use of angst than the Most Privileged Vampires Ever whining about how hard it is to be better than everyone else.) Some of this is semi-spoiled by Lucy modeling flirtatious behavior, which... okay? Is at least foreshadowing for that beauty spell that we're kinda stuck with. And at least it's tied in with Inadequate Younger Sibling feels more explicitly so that we don't get blindsided with "and HAHA Susan doesn't exist anymore and it's GREAT" like in the book. But at the same time, it's kinda... odd to see Lucy modeling flirtatious behavior in a conversation with her brother? I dunno, you people in the audience with siblings, you tell me if this is a thing.
Then we cut to Eustace in his home and omg I adore this child. Like, he hasn't even done anything adorable yet, and his opening narration is actually legitimately creepy--he'd like to pin his relatives to butterfly boards or something, I was too busy lolwhating to take accurate notes on this point--but the larger point is that (a) Eustace is actually established as irritating for reasons other than Liberal With Funny Underwear which is a nice thing for the screenwriters to recognize that we as an audience do actually need, and (b) the actor they got for this boy is just perfect for me, because he's smaller than Edmund and clearly weaker (which is canon) and everything about his mannerisms at first manage to, yes, be unpleasantish, but also telegraph that this boy would be more bullied than a bully. Which was what we were already picking up from the subtext in the book, so THANK YOU movie-makers for realizing I'm right at all the things. *snerk*
Then oh-my-god I have an immediate stab of pity for Eustace because he is furtively hiding his journal, and okay I realize that he may just be doing this preemptively but I still have to wonder who (if anyone) introduced him to the concept that he's not allowed to have private things and private thoughts, because I want to give that person(s) all the stern looks.
And then the movie-writers decide that if someone is going to be an asshat in this movie, it makes more sense for it to be already-frustrated Edmund taking out his frustrations on an easy (and irritable) target than for it to be Eustace because it remains unbelievable that this boy, as written, could effectively bully someone like King Edmund the Houseguest. So there are a couple quick instances--all of which flow very naturally so yay for competent scene-setting--of Edmund towering over Eustace and bodily threatening to hit him, become physically violent, slam doors at him, etc. And I... kinda like this? It's not good for Edmund to be behaving like this, but given his frustration in an earlier scene (which was also directed at Lucy a little), it feels like maybe we're not supposed to like it. So I'm just over here kinda admiring the idea of recognizing that the (redeemed) Pevensies aren't Right About Everything all the time and especially not Right About Eustace.
I mean, we might have the problematic trope here of the irritating character being made more palatable to the audience by having the universe gang up on hir in order to beat hir into sympathetic characterization--and to be clear I hate that trope with the fire of a thousand suns--but it's still worlds better than making Edmund out to be the injured, long-suffering house-guest while Eustace wins all the bully-points by virtue of being mildly annoying to be around.
Anyway! They get sucked into Narnia, and that's competently filmed, so yay for American movies and their pretty special effects. Caspian jumps into the water to save them and just as Peter Facinelli made Carlisle Cullen a better character on-screen, let us all bow our heads and thank the movie gods that Ben Barnes has a face that is entirely incompatible with Looking Like An Asshole. He's all charm and sheepish self-deprecating smiles and golly-shucksiness here, and it is a huge improvement over HAHA-that-Eustace-kid-is-vomiting Caspian from the book.
AND THERE IS A MINOTAUR ON THE BOAT. Which doubles our Talking Animal cast. Which, on the one hand, is obviously great yes thank you movie people. But on the other hand, I'm pretty sure that this is the only added Talking Animal (boo) and he seems to only be here to make Eustace faint since that was funnier than vomiting sea water (bigger boo). So this is a big example of the Americans making the source material better, while still entirely missing the point: yes, it was sucky that Reepicheep was the only Talking Animal on board, but no, you can't fix that by adding one-and-only-one and then treating them like a prop to scare the new kid. Five points to Gryffindor for trying; minus forty points for completely missing the point as usual.
[ETA: Actually, more Talking Animals and a Faun show up in the next segment, so SORRY GRYFFINDOR.]
Oh, and then everyone has a good belly laugh when Eustace faints, so fuck ya'll. I mean, I know it's intended to take the sting out and kids' movie and whatnot but still.
BUT THEN. You guys. I am so excite. Caspian gives them the whole "seven lost lords" spiel and there are actual drawings of these people on the walls, like the Narnian sketch artist went the fuck to town and I am so excite by this. Faces. Distinct faces. I mean, in the book, Caspian could barely remember their names. Here he has their faces on his wall and you just know he knows their names and actually cares. This tiny detail changes everything for me, I can't even explain it, that Caspian has made actual effort to humanize the people MacGuffins. All the points back to Gryffindor (also as usual). Oh and there's also a decent handwave mumble-gumble about why bringing the Lost Lords back would actually benefit Narnia as opposed to this just being Caspian's holiday cruise. And, notably, he genuinely assumes they haven't sailed past the Lone Islands.
This will be important later, okay?
Anyway. Reepicheep continues to be voiced by Eddie Izzard-- wait, no he's not, Google tells me that it's Simon Pegg now, which OH HAI my conflicted feels on that, but Pegg is an extremely competent actor and these writers do comprehend that an entire movie's worth of Reepicheep being a violent stupid asshat would not be fun for anyone, so now he's the caring, compassionate, warrior-poet that he was clearly meant to be all along because no matter how much I hate book!Reepicheep with every fiber of my being, this one feels so right it almost hurts. YES. This is Reepicheep. Not Reepicheep as he existed on the page, but PLATONIC Reepicheep.
And HAHA Lewis just got pwned by a Platonic Ideal of his own character. Philosophy throwdown.
Then there are mermaids made out of water, and no one suggests that sailors are so horny that they'll fling themselves overboard (yay) and it's also nice to see non-humans just hanging out being non-humany (more yay). They don't stop and talk to Lucy, though, so I think we're still un-Bechdel passing so far (boo).
We get to the Lone Islands and HEY you know what we cut there? That's right, we cut the awareness that the Dawn Treader shot a couple of arrows half-heartedly at a slave ship before being all meh whatcanyoudo. And you know what that cut accomplished? It made the crew not entirely morally bankrupt from the start. And also cool about this Lone Islands landing is that it's framed as an away mission / scouting party instead of as a holiday trip for the privileged people. And unlike Captain Kirk going on away missions all the time because testosterone or whatever, it actually sort of makes sense for Caspian to be here because you get the impression that his sailors were picked for actual sailing ability and not for noble birth and sword-stabbing skills. So that's nice.
Also, there are ALL THE SCENES in here of Reepicheep trying to establish rapport with Eustace, and it makes me kinda blub because (a) compassionate Reepicheep, but also (b) there's this sense that Reepicheep groks being the little, puny underdog and he's reaching out to Eustace because of that shared bond. There, have some feels.
Now we come to the best scene. BEST SCENE. Eustace is with the away party and the city is silent and creepy and he's clearly terrified out of his wits, and Caspian and Edmund actually take pity on him (omg, a Lewis character showing pity my brain is all the blown) and they give him a dagger and ask him if he wants to guard the empty courtyard while the others explore. And Eustace is trying so damn hard to be brave and do the right thing here, and it's like my heart just grew three sizes too big. YOU SEE, LEWIS? You didn't need to turn him into a dragon and torture him just to make him care about people, you just had to show him a crumb of kindness.
|Eustace, who is a HELPER|
But then the movie-makers decide to kick my heart a little because when Eustace is captured, he screams and everyone mocks him for screaming "like a girl". Fuck you, movie. And I mean this is in a scene where Lucy looks ready to tear out throats and eat them like the warrior queen she is, so it's probably intended to be ironic, but that doesn't actually make it funny. Ironic sexism is still sexism, ya'll.
Also, Caspian is so adorably stupid here because it is definitely a great idea to tell the slave-traders who have captured you that "I am your king". Ahahaha, Caspian never change.
THEN. You guys, this is almost as good as the Eustace scene. Caspian and Edmund get tossed in the Privileged White Wankers dungeon together (Lucy and Eustace and Reepicheep have to go to the Marginalized Overflow Population dungeon) and they meet Lord Bern and he's a prisoner and also the Lost Lords tried to stop all this. YOU GUYS. It's like someone read VoDT and were all "lolwut, no, Lord Bern cannot be living it up as a probably-slave-owner on a slave-trade-island THAT WILL NOT WORK" and I want to give that person a prize for understanding that rampant unchecked levels of fuck-you-I-have-privilege is not actually sympathetic characterization.
And then--and ya'll were waiting for this point--we find that the slaves aren't being sold to Calormen (which neatly sidesteps a lot of racism issues waiting to happen) but are instead being used as human sacrifices to an EVIL MIST that threatens to DESTROY THE WORLD.
I mean, this is so hilariawful. On the one hand, classic American book-movie adaptation: "Screw the source material, this needs more EXPLOSIONS and SPECIAL EFFECTS." On the other hand, if ever a book needed this approach taken with it, it was VoDT. Because I don't care how charming and pastoral and episodic your novel about visiting self-contained islands in order to eat food, loot the ashes, and ruin diplomatic relations with the locals may be on paper, that will not work in a movie because there isn't an actual plot under all that. There's just not. But in rides the screen-writers to give us an EVIL MIST (ahaha) that threatens to DESTROY THE WORLD and now we have a plot!
It's not a great plot! It's not a coherent plot! But it's a plot! And, again proving that these writers somehow grokked that unchecked privilege isn't cool, they have Bern say "I'm no longer deserving of that title [of Lord]" and "We lords made a pact to find the source of the mist to destroy it," so now they are lost for sympathetic reasons and we might actually care when/if some of them turn up dead omg omg omg imagine having actual feels about the Plot MacGuffins lookit the basic storytelling competence here.
And we'll stop here, but just gotta underline this: it took us less than 30 minutes to get to the point where the writers went "haha fuck you" to Lewis and his plot. And that, more than anything else about this, tickles me to the core.