Narnian Cabins and Filthy Lucre

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Movie Tie-in Edition (rack) (Narnia)Wonder of wonder, I actually got to see two different movies in the theater this week. The first was Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which I went to with Denisa on Thursday. First, a bit about my experiences with the Narnia books. My family has a cabin up in the mountains near Park City, Utah. It’s Narnian themed, meaning each of the rooms has a different label (Eagles, Giants, Unicorns, etc.) There’s a playhouse out back called the Wardrobe. The cabin itself is Cair Paravel. My cousins and I would go up to this cabin for one week a year each summer, where we spent time with my grandparents and each other. We’d go there for many holidays to spend time together as extended family. If I were still in Utah, I’m sure I’d still be making the pilgrimage as often as I could.

So, yeah. The fam likes Narnia quite a bit.

I’ve read the books many times. When Denisa and I were just married, I read them out loud to her, and she became rather attached to them, herself. We saw the first Narnia movie in the theater, and I loved it. We saw the second one at home, and it was okay. This time we had the time and the babysitter, so we went to see the third. What did I think?

I think the people making this movie were making it not from a love of the source material, but from a desire to make money. They saw that Lord of the Rings made a boatload, and so they decided to see if another fantasy classic could cash in, too. There’s a huge difference in the two approaches. When Peter Jackson made LOTR, he did it because he loved it. He wanted to make the best adaptation he could for himself. There was a lot of personal interest in it. When you make something to make money, you lose that connection. Jackson could easily know if he was succeeding, because he had a clear vision in his head of what he wanted. What did Apted (the director of Dawn Treader) have to go from other than a vague idea of what he thought would pack the seats.

So we have the requisite fantasy action scenes, the marvelous creatures, the intricate armor, the amazing special effects. All of that’s executed wonderfully. But what’s missing is the heart of the movie, and that’s what really packs people into the seats. The rest is just trimmings. If I were to start writing a book I thought other people would want to read, and I based all my decisions on what I thought other people would like most . . . I don’t think I’d like to read the end product. This isn’t to say that I don’t want to make money off my books, just as I’m sure Peter Jackson wanted to make buckets of money on LOTR, too. What I mean is that it can’t be the main motivation. I have to write what I love first, then mold it to what can be commercial second.

Some people might disagree with this distinction, but it’s pretty clear in my mind. I think it particularly applies to adaptations, but it also extends to any art-making endeavor. Just look at all the trends in books. If a few vampire books take off, then you know you’re going to start seeing a glut come along soon enough. Yes, some of those are also good, but odds are those are projects done by people who were writing vampire books long before the trend got hot. The ones written by people who wrote them because there was a trend? I’ll pass, thanks very much.

In any case, this post has gone on longer than I’d intended. That’s what I get when I have the day off and get going on a topic. There are particular gripes I had with Dawn Treader–the fact that many of the characters don’t seem to behave like real people, but instead dutifully do whatever the script demands. The details that don’t connect, which add up to a fantasy world that doesn’t feel like it’s living. The irritation that this is the third Narnia film in a row where Edmund has a character arc centered around Not Being a Jerk Anymore. The fact that they felt it necessary to give Lucy self-esteem problems so she could have a character arc, too. (Folks, sometimes characters don’t need arcs. James Bond doesn’t deal with overcoming anorexia. Indiana Jones doesn’t finally face his fear of snakes and develop a life long love of them.)

Yes, I could get more specific, but I won’t. It’s a decent movie–2 stars, I suppose. But for a Narnia fan and adaptation fanatic, it only left me thinking of what could have been. Will a fourth be made? Seeing as how this one has made 260 million worldwide, on a budget of 150 million . . . I’d say it’s likely. Will I see it? Also likely. I just hope they get a new director.

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