Nancy and I went to see Prince Caspian last night. We did this because, despite some annoyances, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had not vandalized the book, and we had similar hopes here. Reviewing this movie is going to be be difficult, but if forced to give an overall evaluation, I would say it was almost terrible. I will also say there are probably some spoilers in what follows here, but nothing compared to going to the movie itself.
Think of it like a CPA exam, or any professional exam where you can pass portions of it, and flunk other portions of it. This latest Narnia offering passed a number of the sections quite handily, being in this respect like the first movie. But there were three or four sections that they flunked so badly that you don’t want this CPA guy doing your taxes any time soon.
As a stand-alone movie, had I never heard of C.S. Lewis, the movie would have been just fine. As it is, as I said, it was almost terrible. Which is too bad because I had wanted to like it.
First, so that I don’t come off as a complete crank, what did they do well? The castings were good — Caspian, good, Trumpkin, great, the four Pevensies continue to be credible. The landscapes and settings were magnificent. The upgrades of things like battle scenes for simple visual effect were great, and I thought the interpretation of life at Miraz’ court was done very well. There were long stretches of this movie that I enjoyed, and didn’t mind at all.
The biggest blot (taking what? forty-five minutes?) was the insertion of a completely unnecessary attack on the castle of Miraz, one that was only contemplated in the book. This meant that a lot of time was wasted that could have been used to develop scenes and characters that were in the book. Things that were true to the book were cramped and crowded, and all for the sake of this short story (using the names of characters found in Lewis’s book, with the resemblances ending there) being plonked down in the middle of the story. Here, work around that.
Queen Susan the Gentle becomes a warrior princess, using her bow in battle in a fashion clean contrary to what Father Christmas told her to do with it. In the book, that is. In the film version of LWW, Father Christmas was more egalitarian and much more in keeping with our contemporary dogmato-bumble on this subject. But what Lewis said about it through Father Christmas remains the truth, even though our movie-maker Adamson doesn’t agree with such old-fashioned sentiments. “It’s something that I don’t agree with so I wasn’t going to make a movie like that.” Fine. Suit yourself. And why don’t you make us a happy-ending Hamlet while you’re at it? Permission to speak freely, sir? People who don’t agree with such old-fashioned sentiments as expressed so freely and often by Lewis need to keep the greasy mitts off the Narnia stories.
Aslan was introduced into the movie far later than he had been in the book, and this set up the botched attack on the castle of Miraz, as a consequence of which Peter and Caspian come into conflict. I will say more about these conflicts in a moment. But instead of Aslan driving the plot, as he does in the book, he shows up ta da! at the end.
The temptation scene, in which the aid of the hags, werewolves, and whatnot was offered to the Narnians, was bungled also. I think it could have worked, as a mild departure, but it is clear that these movie-makers do not understand the gospel. This is a horrendous blind spot because it is the gospel that ties all the Narnia stories together. When the evil aid is offered, Caspian falls to the temptation, as does Peter, until the whole thing is thwarted by Edmund. But afterwards, there is no closure, no repentance, no seeking of forgiveness. The problem is not the presence of such a temptation (Lewis would be fine with that). The problem is when you solve that problem by simply moving on to the next scene, in which attitudes are magically different for no apparent reason.
When Susan has to leave Narnia forever, and she tops off her good-byes by kissing Caspian, and not like a brother, the whole effect there was more than a little creepy.
So the blots came in two categories. The first, already noted, has to do with the removal of scenes, exchanges, or action that Lewis thought important, for no good reason. The second was the introduction, on the basis of contemporary movie-making dogmas (which dogmas are dumb and stupid) of extraneous and unnecessary material. This was done because of a kind of blinkered hubris that doesn’t understand the existence of different kinds of plots, and the ability of audiences to follow them. One of the producers, Mark Johnson, was quoted in World as saying of the book that he was not sure “there was a complete movie there.” Yeah, right. He said this because, as contemporary action movie-making dogma insists, it is necessary to put a stop watch on these things and have tension between two of the major characters crop up every ten minutes, or, if you already have your tension, to insert a wisecrack crack to relieve it. If there is no reason to have the tension develop, then do it arbitrarily. Thou shalt not fail to introduce tension! Every ten minutes! Just do it! They follow these dogmas as faithfully as if they were writing sonnets, counting assiduously up to fourteen. They did this to The Lord of the Rings, and they did it here. Gleccch.