Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Not Knowing When to Say When

Sometimes, we like to aphorize.

Don’t mess with a good thing, because you’ll probably fuck it up.

For god’s sake, don’t make simple successful things more complicated.

If it isn’t broke, then leave well the fuck alone.

The case that proves these points: The upcoming (already arrived?) Voyage of the Dawn Treader, has had some most heinous acts of content-vandalism committed on its plot. Now, a disclosure: I have not seen the movie. I have read a (one!) review on it, but that’s enough – it told me all I need to know. I don’t really intend to see the film until it pops up on television. Even then, I probably won’t go out of my way to see it – more likely, I’ll be flipping channels and see it on, and then go to see what else is on, but since there is nothing more interesting on I’ll check it out – and then, I fear, I’ll inevitably abandon it swiftly. 


Because they (they being whoever was responsible for this crime) decided to ‘alter’ the plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. John Swansburg, on Slate, explains what they decided to do(my furious boldings added):

The movie should have been content to spin these tales of moral progress and send the audience back into the street eagerly debating which stalwart of the British screen would bring appropriate gravitas to the role of Puddleglum the marsh-wiggle in part 4, The Silver Chair. Instead, in an effort to give our heroes some higher duty, the screenwriters introduce a confusing wrinkle: Caspian and company must locate and unite seven swords, lest a strange, green, gaseous evil be loosed throughout Narnia. This unwanted dash of Tolkien-esque questing does little to move the story along. It also lends the movie a sense of foreboding that doesn't befit Lewis' cheery tale. If only the makers of Dawn Treader had learned the lesson Lucy does when she casts that forbidden spell: Don't try to be something you're not.
 How could they? What were they thinking? You have a movie that, with some effort, can be well adapted to the big screen. By adding this ‘quest’ to the plot, they reveal that they think the average American moviegoer needs a strong quest in order to stay interested to the plot. That’s a concern if you take a cursory look at the book – it is, in a way, a series of unconnected adventures on various islands. But there already is one ‘goal’ that the characters have set out on, namely sailing to the end of the world and finding all seven lords. That’s enough! What the hell compelled them to add a ridiculous story about seven magical swords or some bullshit - a plot line that I fear they decided to hastily swipe from Harry Potter (he has to find seven objects in the last movies) . And, from the previews, it looks like they brought back the ‘White Witch’ character from the first movie (she is briefly in the second). Why? Why add this in? There aren't a plethora of interesting characters in the book to work with? (There most certainly are). Clearly, whoever decided that she needed to be in the movie thinks that for a fantasy movie to be interesting there has to be a character of absolute evil, or in the terms that they probably used at the meeting in Hollywood where they introduced the new character, a ‘bad guy.’

 My guess is that the movie now proceeds along a normal plot arc: It starts out slowly, and the action builds towards a dénouement at the end, which is inevitably a battle between good and evil. Good wins, but only after almost losing. This would be instead of the episodic plot arc that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is written in, that does have a scene of dénouement at the end that ties everything together, but there are no climactic battles, no epic struggles of good and evil. Most of the struggles in the book are internal – men vs. their own bad habits or bad desires: Eustace has to overcome his selfish, prudish, all-to-English, and snobbish ways, Lucy must overcome jealousy and temptation in the Wizard’s house, Caspian has to address his own insecurities and his pride, nearly all the characters have deal with fear at one point. And let’s not forget the scene of the water that turns everything to gold and the ‘Island where dreams come true,’ both episodes that give moral lessons (Edmund is about the only character that doesn’t have to undergo any true internal struggles in this book, having been a petulant (and then repentant) traitor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe).

But the filmmakers are wise, we must presume, and their reasoning must have been good to mess with the already successful, timeless work of C.S. Lewis. I’m sure they had good reasons. Right?

Update: And, just to ensure that I never see this movie, the internet (actually, the magnificent Atlantic Wire) provides us with this. I'll share the title, you can go read the full article: Fox Hopes Grassroots Christian Campaign Can Relaunch 'Narnia'. Yeah. 

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