Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oh, Dawn Treader, I had such great expectations for you....

I have just come back from watching The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (if this wasn't a fairly well-known franchise and a famous book series, it would never make it out of the studio with such a long name!) and found myself deeply annoyed, particularly at the character assassination of Edmund.

I suppose, by now I should be quite used to character assassination by movie makers. To name a few, Yong Qi in Tian Shang Ren Jian, Hermione and Ron in...well, all the Harry Potter movies except the first two, and of course, Peter Pevensie in Prince Caspian have all irked me over the years.

But Edmund! After his brief but awesome bouts of amazingness in Prince Caspian, how could they have destroyed "It's King, actually" Edmund in such an absurdly stupid way?!

Perhaps I should back track a bit, and start with the case of stupid Peter, so to speak, in the Prince Caspian movie. In Prince Caspian, the book, Peter and Edmund Pevensie come back to Narnia and learn they could no longer be kings, but have to put, instead, Caspian on the throne of Narnia. In the book, they do this with unfailing grace, and honestly, nothing really happens in Prince Caspian, the book, except the duel. Two third of the book is Trumpkin telling a story and then Peter and Miraz duel, then Aslan shows up and everything's great again.

So I understand why, for the sake having a plot, they have to have Peter being an arse in the movie. It also makes sense - to be going from High King to a boy again, to come back to your kingdom and find you have to put some guy you barely known and whose ancestor have invaded your country, on the throne - this is a tough thing to come to terms with. I get Peter's angst, really, I do, and I can excuse it, even if I didn't enjoy watching stupid Peter. The situation Peter finds himself in in PC also demonstrates, on a more macro level, everything that his siblings are also going through because they are, after all, in the same boat.

Some just deal with it better than others.

Some, being Edmund. At least, such was the case in PC.

I find the contrast between Edmund and Peter's journey of being kings-but-not-really-kings and accepting it in PC as much a tool to demonstrate Peter's growth as much as that of Edmund. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, of course, Edmund dreams of being made king and lording it over Peter. Yet in Prince Caspian, Edmund acts much more mature than Peter about the prospect of putting Caspian on the throne. He accepts that they must be in England now and that their job this time is to put Caspian on the throne, not to rule it themselves.

I like to think that Edmund supports Peter and gets into fights for Peter despite Peter being an arse to him is because during the course of their ruling Narnia in LWW, he had taken on that role of supporting his brother and it becomes natural to him. I like to think that the reason Edmund speaks so little in PC and doesn't speak up against Peter's idiocy or criticise him is that he doesn't want to do it in front of Caspian and diminish Peter's authority as High King in front of Caspian. But of course, when it becomes too much, such as Peter's great moment of failure in front of the White Witch, Edmund does have to come in and save the day, and vents his feelings.

The point, regardless, is that between LWW and PC, Edmund had come to accept his role by Peter's side, and accept that they can rule together, not him over Peter, and that he had earned his place as a king of Narnia, to be assured of it enough that he does not feel threatened by the prospect of putting Caspian on the throne.

So, why is he throwing a hissy fit about it in Dawn Treader?

What annoyed me most in Dawn Treader was the way the movie treated the Goldwater Island issue. The Dawn Treader book was mostly from Lucy and Eustace's points of view, and Edmund doesn't have much involvement until that moment on Goldwater. Caspian sees the island with water that has ability to turn things into gold and gets greedy, but it is Edmund who rebukes him.

This is how I read that scene: When Caspian forbids them to mention the island to anyone, Edmund snaps that he wasn't a subject of Caspian. He did this, not because he was being a prideful arse, but to remind Caspian of who he really is, and of his experience - he ruled Narnia for 15 years, Caspian only had 3 years at it. Caspian was, after all, at that moment, making a fool of himself for greed and probably would get lost in the greed. Edmund understands, from experience, the danger of temptations and he was pulling Caspian out of it. For me, that was a moment of Edmund imparting wisdom to Caspian, not a stupid boyish fight as Lewis would make it out to be.

What happens in the movie? They turn it completely around and the one whose eyes suddenly glint with greed is Edmund! I can't describe how angry that makes me. The character had suddenly gone backwards! All that development, all that growth accumulated over two movies, suddenly just gone, and he's back being a brat again. What makes it even more grating is that he's acting so Peter-esque that it's pointless.

The line of dialogue that just made me want to cry was "I want my own kingdom," not merely for the backward development of character. It is the fact that Aslan allows Edmund to say this and it is never mentioned again as a really stupid and just un-Edmund-ish thing to say. What did Edmund think Aslan gave him then, a paper model of a kingdom?

In that entire struggle of Caspian-is-now-king-not-Edmund in Dawn Treader, the vibe I got was that Caspian was the bigger man here, he knows that Edmund is being a brat but he's generously overlooking it. I thought the whole exchange between Drinian, Edmund and Caspian on the chain of command was forced, and while Edmund looked disgruntled, Caspian looked condescending and didn't even bother to stick up to Edmund as would have been courteous.  Caspian's silence quite obviously declares that he thought Drinian was right to put Edmund in his place.

The whole situation of Caspian being the 'better man' so contradictory with Caspian's supposed struggle in Dawn Treader with his validity as a king. In fact, Goldwater as Lewis wrote it and as I interpreted it in the book would be a lot more demonstrative of a Caspian struggling to believe himself as king and seeking to prove it. As they insist on digging up the White Witch again, that alone should have suffice as Edmund's struggle. The memory alone should be enough; he had learnt his lessons, but the memories still haunt him.

Some plot points that bothered me or  just didn't make sense:
  • White Witch was so obviously set up to be the Lady of the Green Kirtle - the green mist seemed a bit overkilled. We didn't need to be beat over the head with it. Also, it was confusing whether the mist was Jadis the White Witch, or she was just sort of Edmund's Dementor image slash Boggart and therefore a figment of his imagination and would not be there for anyone else. 
  • What on earth was with that moment of Jadis' outrage at the death of the sea serpent slash Nagini Horcrux? Speaking of which, the swords sound a lot like Horcruxes in terms of symbolism. 
  • Jill Pole mention is also a slap in the face obvious sort of foreshadowing.
  • Gale was a completely pointless character. I have no idea what the point of her is and why they can hire a little girl (who would then require tutors and whatnot) and not be able to hire an actor to play Ramandu.
  • Ramandu's Island contains no actual Ramandu and we don't even get to know who freaking Ramandu is!
  • The seven swords are swords that Aslan gave people in the Golden Age to protect Narnia, and yet Edmund and Lucy who ruled Narnia in the Golden Age have no clue what the swords are. The dialogue was stupidity itself. "That's an old Narnian sword," Edmund says - old to him, meaning the sword was around before his reign as king. Then Bern contradicts this with: "These are swords from your Golden Age." Lucy and Edmund look on blankly as Bern continue to info dump the fact that Aslan gave to ...someone to protect Narnia. Bern is the guy who lives 1300 years after the Golden Age, in an era that seeks to destroy all evidence that a Narnian Golden Age existed, and he yet knows all this. Gargh!!
  • How did the swords even come into the hands of Telmarines? Why would the Telmarines even WANT Narnian swords? And why are the swords so bloody easy to find and get?
  • How does Edmund recognise the knife on Aslan's table? He wasn't there when Aslan died! Also, Aslan died for Edmund, and yet Edmund points out the sacred objects of the knife that killed Aslan and the table on which he was killed with such...casualness? Do the scriptwriter recognise the significance of the knife, or did they just throw it in there because it just happened to be lying there in the book?
  • Edmund's torch has some awesome battery life.
  • No one compares to Susan for Caspian, of course, until another beautiful girl aka Liliandil comes along. I can't  believe they have Caspian pining after Susan for three years and Lucy actually flirting with Caspian while he was declaring this. Sigh.
  • I love Carrie Underwood, but after Regina Spektor's The Call as the theme song for PC, Carrie's song for Dawn Treader just felt contrived and didn't fit. It just felt like one of those generic Disney songs that just stick nice sounding words together with a supposed message but it's so lukewarm that you can't feel it.
  • Oh and, Edmund and Lucy, HIGH KING AND QUEEN of Narnia?! Did the scriptwriter even READ the Chronicle? There is ONE High King - Peter and NO freaking High Queen. @%$Q#$! I cringed so badly at this line. 
  • "Lucy, what have you done?" I somehow got the sense that this was setting up Susan's forgetting Narnia and somehow it was supposed to be Lucy's fault!  
  • Certainly parts of the film is strangely promoting a more-than-friendship relationship between Caspian and Edmund. If you get my drift. The most obvious was the one where they lay side by side looking at stars and having a heart-to-heart. That just...freaked me out.  
  •  The appearance of Aslan as the albatross was just...pointless. If I hadn't read the book and wasn't expecting the albatross and knew what it was supposed to be, I would have thought what was that weird bird doing flying around? Also, the albatross was supposed to guide them out of the Dark Island, and it didn't do that in the movie! I'm not even sure what the point of the albatross in the movie was, expect maybe to appease fans with the fact that they included it.

In the acting department, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley both disappointed me a bit in this movie. Their acting no longer feel as natural as it was in LWW and PC. Of the Pevensies, Will Molseley and Anna Popplewell I thought was ok, but I absolutely loved Skandar and Georgie in the last two movies, especially Skandar in PC, even if he had so little chance to shine, he owned every moment that he got. Somehow, in Dawn Treader, however, there were moments when it was really forced, for both of them, Georgie more so. With Skandar, it merely felt like he was acting a character that suddenly was't his character anymore and didn't feel right to him. I suppose after awesome!Edmund in PC, going to this Edmund would be quite disconcerting.

I am amazed, however, how much Georgie looks like Anna. It was a genius bit of casting. Skandar, Anna and Georgie always looked like they could be related, but in this movie, Georgie and Anna at times look almost identical. The moment with the Book of Incantation, you can't really tell when Lucy ceased to be Lucy and turn into Susan.

Will Poulter as Eustace, I absolutely adored. He was perfect as Eustace, the opening sequence introducing Eustace was absolute gold, so perfect and I really missed human Eustace when he was as a dragon. I think Eustace really carried a lot of the film through its moments of just baffling script. I can't even tell that Will was several years older than his character when he plays this part. Eustace is supposed to be very young - 10 ish and Will was mid-teen (I think) when he played him.

The friendship/mentoring relationship between Eustace and Reepicheep was a nice touch and very moving at times.

The movie was so colourful though, and looked absolutely beautiful. I love the wide shots of the Dawn Treader sailing.

Lucy kicked ass in this movie! Finally they ceased with the infantilisation of Lucy! With PC, the scriptwriter seemed to forget or something that it was Susan the Gentle and Lucy the Valiant! (Too many exclamation marks :P)

The moment farewell, I guess it was at least good that they got the right dialogue in there. I think a lot of people would be afraid the movie makers would butcher that to keep the religious meanings well away to draw in a more variety of viewers. But it's kind of pointless to shy away from the religious overtones of Narnia - the entire Chronicle is a metaphor for Christianity at its various stages. Even Dawn Treader is a sort of pilgrimage. But overall, that moment just seemed rushed. It wasn't as moving as it was meant to be. Edmund just looked and sounded confused and couldn't wait to get out of there. Lucy...I don't know. I came out of that scene with a distinct feeling of "Meh, that's it?"

I suppose the overall verdict is that the movie was just...bland. The pacing was problematic. It was just bam, bam, bam, this happens, that happens, info dump, contrived temptations, find seven Horcruxes, problem solved, lukewarm farewell, done.

Still, I really hope they will continue making the rest of the Chronicle. I didn't enjoy Silver Chair that much, or Last Battle, but I would absolutely love to see The Horse and His Boy make it to the screen. They will definitely be able to get Skandar, Georgie and Anna (and probably would find a way to pull Will Molseley in too) for the parts. I certainly would love to see them as actual Kings and Queens.If they make Silver Chair next, I would watch it just for Will Poulter and hope they get someone decent to play Jill Pole.