Oh boy. All those months and years of waiting over at last. I woke up yesterday morning. . . after a minute or two of semi-consciousness I suddenly remembered with a thrill - "We're going to see the Dawn Treader today!!!"
This was the first time I'd been to the movies in a couple of years - we haven't had a working cinema in town for a looong time - and it was also the first time I'd seen a movie in 3D, all of which added of course to my excitement.
I'm assuming 90% of my readers are familiar with the plot (and if you're not, go and read the book), so I won't bother with a synopsis.
I put on my 3D glasses (for the very first time). I found them very uncomfortable - they kept rubbing against one of my ears. I sat in between my 9-year-old sister (the youngest of my siblings to be allowed to come) and my dad. The lights went out. . . a trailer for Megamind. . . then the film BEGAN. The five-year wait was over at last! (VODT is one my favourite books in the Narnia Chronicles, so I'd been looking forward to this since LWW came out back in 2005.)
I so enjoyed the first few minutes. One thing that struck me right away was an undercurrent of poignancy and sadness that seemed to pervade the film. I suppose it was nostalgia, combined with the knowledge hovering in the back of my mind that this may well be the last Narnia film to make it to the screen. I've grown to know and love these characters through the earlier movies and the books, and if this is indeed to be the last film in the last film in the franchise, then this is farewell to all of these beloved characters and this magical world - on the big screen, at least. Hence the tinge of bittersweet-ness for me.
The second thing that struck me as I watched the first few minutes - Will Poulter as Eustace Clarence Scrubb = PERFECT. What a terrific little actor he is! Hm, I say "little"; in reality he is only about a year younger than me! Anyway, I knew he would be very very good. In all honesty, he outshone Georgie and Skandar in all his scenes with them. What more can I say - the role of Eustace is most certainly in safe hands if Fox does decide to go ahead and make The Silver Chair and The Last Battle.
Ben Barnes as Prince - I mean, King - Caspian! Wow! I was a bit disappointed with him, both in terms of acting ability and attractiveness in Prince Caspian. Dropping the fake tan, fake hair extensions and fake Spanish accent and growing some facial hair seems to to have done wonders - both in terms of acting ability and attractiveness. :P Ben wasn't given a whole lot to work with - I mean, the main focus of the film seemed to be on Eustace and perhaps Lucy, and only to a lesser extent on Caspian. But there were a couple of wonderful, really moving scenes involving Ben Barnes as Prince - I mean, King - Caspian. (Goodness, I'm beginning to sound like Flora Finching - "Dear Arthur - Doyce and Clennam much more proper".)
I think we were all wondering what impact the changing of the reins from Andrew Adamson to Michael Apted (and from Disney to Fox) would have. Well - VODT certainly has a very different feel to it than the other two movies. Much as I enjoyed them both, LWW and PC felt a little like Lord of the Rings-wannabes. They were big, showy, mega-budget fantasy films (PC was one of the most expensive movies ever made). They both - particularly PC, perhaps - seemed to scream "Look at me, I'm a Big-Budget Fantasy Epic!" VODT - with a much lower budget, and a new team behind it - is more modest in this regard. It's less concerned about being a Big Fantasy Film, and more concerned about just getting on with telling the story. It's definitely more character-driven.
Some of us were worried about whether the special effects in VODT would suffer from the drastically reduced budget. We shouldn't have worried. Yes, there's less of a show of effects than there was in PC, but there weren't any jarringly bad effects, either, and the sea serpent and the Dark Island were truly scary and impressive.
Then there was the big question hanging heavily on the minds of all Narnia fans - how faithful will it be to the book? I deliberately stayed away from many of the articles, interviews, and video clips (except the trailer) in the lead up to VODT. With the first two Narnia movies, I devoured every news snippet and juicy tidbit I could find related to each movie. . . but of course this partly spoiled the actual movie-going experience for me when it came time to actually see the film. So, this time I restrained myself, and as a result I was rather hazy on what changes or additions from the book had been made before I saw the movie. I knew there had been some changes made, and I'd read something about a "green mist" in a couple of the reviews I'd read, but other than that, I had no clear idea of what I headed for.
Well - I won't spoil things too much for anyone who hasn't seen the film - but there were some MAJOR CHANGES! I had thought all along that they would have to change and condense the plot a little, otherwise the movie would seem too episodic - they visit one island, do such and such, then it's off to another island, then another. . . but I wasn't prepared for the somewhat radical changes made here! Then again, perhaps they're no more drastic than the changes made for PC. I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm so strongly attached to the VODT book - more so than I am with either LWW or PC. It captured my imagination more than almost any other book in the series, and I've probably re-read more than any of the others.
More than the plot changes, I think what threw me off was the film's visualisation of the book. Like I said, I have read and re-read VODT more times than I can remember, and I had a very clear picture in my head of what each place, each island, each landscape - err, perhaps seascape would be a more apt term - would look like. Well, the way they've imagined each place for the film is, in most cases, completely different to how I had imagined it! Of course I realise that everyone is going to have their own vision of the book, but. . . in many cases they apparently didn't even take much inspiration from Pauline Baynes' beautiful illustrations for the books. Where are the masks in the hall of Coriakin's House? Ramandu's island looks reminiscent of how Aslan's country is described in the book. . . I won't go on nitpicking. It's all still beautiful and impressive to look at, just - generally different to how it's described or illustrated in the book.
I touched upon plot changes above. They've invented a major plot device - bigger and more far-reaching than I had thought it would be. Once again, I can understand why they did this. It adds more suspense and cohesion, and turns VODT from a rollicking, colourful adventure to a classic battle of good vs. evil, building to a big climax at the end. They haven't given up the sense of wonder and adventure altogether, but it is now only one element of the story.
The whole green mist/dark island thing could have seemed a bit silly and contrived, but the fact that the most important battles are internal rather than physical make things much more intriguing. It is still a journey of temptation and personal growth and discovery for each of the characters, just as it is in the book.
Well, I might try to wrap this post up now. I don't want to give away too many plot details, but after you've seen it (or if you've seen it already), please come here and discuss! Plus I want to get this post published tonight, so this will have to do for now.
Verdict: yes, this is in some ways different from the book. But it's still Narnia. It's still the Dawn Treader. The magic is still there. And this an EXCELLENT family film for ages 8-10+ or so. It really has grown on me over the 30 hours or so since I watched it. I came out of the cinema feeling feeling a twinge of disappointment over the changes from the book (or should I say the deviations from how I thought they should have made the movie ;-) mixed with pure enjoyment and that hint of sadness that I mentioned - I didn't cry during the movie, but I was not too far from it.
One more thing - like I said at the top, I saw this in 3D. I almost wish I hadn't. The 3D effects were cool, but not exceptional - you could tell that the film wasn't shot with the intention of being shown in 3D, and wasn't converted to 3D until later in the production process. I don't think the compromise in colour was worth the 3D experience.