Sunday, January 23, 2011

Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I don't normally do movie reviews, but since The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was one of my favorites of the Chronicles of Narnia and I saw it over Christmas break, I thought I might as well.

Without saying too much and spoiling it for those who haven't seen it, I wish it had been longer. I know it was already almost two hours long, but it still felt way too short for me. It just didn't give me the feeling of an epic voyage of exploration and discovery boldly going where no Narnian had gone before that I got from the book. It seemed like they had hardly finished with one island before they were at the next, and while I realize that most of the action does, indeed, take place on the islands, it's the stretches of sea-going in between that give it a feeling of momentousness. This is because perception of time is very different between a book and movie.

While reading a book, perception of time passing is in some ways related to the reading speed of the reader. Most people (myself included) cannot read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in under two hours. For me personally, it would probably take around 6-8 hours. This gives the story a feeling of lengthiness; you feel that the voyage takes a long time, in part because it takes you a long time to read it. The point I'm trying to make is that for a book, time is not a part of the story; it is something each reader adds for themselves.

In movies, on the other hand, time is integrally tied up with the story and is provided not by the reader, but by the director. Directors, thus, in some ways have a bigger obligation to viewers than authors do to readers, because they must add the perception of time in themselves. The story of the Dawn Treader is given momentousness because, in the book, it takes place over many months of time. But the real perception of time passing comes from the reader, and specifically from pauses in reading. You pause in mid-sentence to turn a page, you stop to stretch and look out the window, you take a break to eat a meal, etc. All these pauses give the mind a chance to stop and evaluate what has been read, and imbue it with a sense of time passing.

Some movies, however (Dawn Treader included), don't work that way. They just don't have those breaks in the action and activity that give you a chance to pause and subconsciously feel like time has passed in the movie. Instead, you end up feeling like everything happened one thing right after another, with no realistic time flow in between. This is why I'm a little bit frustrated at how fast the movie felt, because it could have been easily fixed, I believe, by adding in some short (20-30 second) shots of the Dawn Treader sailing on the open sea between islands. When I first brought up this idea to my mother, she objected that it would be boring. After thinking about it, I now believe that that is exactly why it would be effective. After all, which seems longer, doing a hour of your favorite activity, or an hour of something that bores you to tears? The boredom of the shot would force the audience to take a little mental break, and discretely alter their perception of the amount of time that had passed in the movie world. I'm not saying it should take boredom to a 2001: A Space Odyssey level, but just enough to keep it from feeling like watching a two-hour long evening news reel, where everything happens with no temporal interval in between to establish context.

Anyway, what started as a movie review has now turned into an essay on the differences in time perception between print and film media, and the measures that directors should take with the latter to preserve the sense of time (and associated momentousness) found in the former. And it's pretty long, to boot. For that reason I think I shall skip mentioning the other problems I had with the movie, at least for now. In its defense, the movie overall was fairly good. The visuals were well-done, the acting was solid, Reepicheep was awesome, Eustace was a lovable brat, and on the whole it stuck to the book pretty well. If you haven't seen it, you probably should, at least once. And if ever there be some ‘director's cut extended edition’ (a la Lord of the Rings), you can bet I will be wanting to see it.


  1. I'm glad you posted this! I thought they cut out a few of the islands too, although I realized it has been far too long since I've read the book. They could have done a Harry Potter type two-movie epic, which would have also been annoying.
    Eustace was by far my favorite part of the movie, I think. I just hope they're going to make The Silver Chair!

  2. I re-read the book while I was home, and the only island they actually cut out was an uninhabited one that didn't warrant more than a few sentences in the book. They did merge Dragon Island and Deathwater Island (with the Midas water) together, but I thought that was actually a pretty good idea, and it worked quite well in my opinion.


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