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17 May 2008

Review of Prince Caspian


How dare they?

That’s about all I can say to begin with. I am flabbergasted. I really don’t know how it could have been much worse. I wept for quite a while afterwards, in the theatre, in the car on the way home….

OK, Michael Ward, so you certainly got your Martial movie: brawls, fistfights, arguments, battles, battles, and more battles. And plenty of trees. The trees were good. And the sense of antiquity associated with Mars. Yes.

But that’s about it. I mean, seriously, how could a movie adaptation go that wrong? The plot was not even remotely the same. Some plot changes, I expected. Some theologically skewed implications, I anticipated. Some lines misspoken, even to the extent of obscuring Lewis’s meaning, I was prepared to handle. Even the stupid and malapropos romance between Susan and Caspian need not have ruined all [wonder how Lucy will feel in VDT when she watches him fall in love with Ramandu’s daughter? Awkward!] But this was over the top. This Prince Caspian does not deserve the title, for it is not the same story.

And I believe it is blasphemous.

I have authority for that claim. Lewis himself wrote in a letter to a woman who wanted to make Narnia into a radio and television series: “I am sure you understand that Aslan is a divine figure, and anything remotely approaching the comic (above all anything in the Disney line) would be to me simple blasphemy” (Letters vol. 3, p. 491, 19 June 1954; emphasis mine). Basically, don’t mess with Aslan, because He is a representation of Christ. Well, Aslan was totally messed with in this appalling film. He wasn’t made comic, thankfully, but He was rendered irrelevant. And the children’s carefully deployed responses to Him were altered beyond recognition. Peter, deciding not to wait for Aslan anymore, to go it alone, to reject his Saviour? That’s not the Peter I know, nor the one Lewis wrote.

Nor was this Lewis’s Aslan, nor a parallel to the God of the Bible. This Aslan was an absent, passive, weak figure who did not belong to the story. It seems that the Disney/Walden people, without the clear death-and-resurrection myth around which to center the plot, simply didn’t know what to do with Him. So they decided to write a new story, one about doubt and distance and only dreaming your faith is true. That story, they must have reasoned, is more relevant to today’s society. And they couldn’t have Aslan telling Lucy she’s a lioness; maybe that would be like saying someone is justified by faith in Christ alone! They could only have Him say that if she were any braver, then she’d be a lioness. That is more like a “works doctrine,” in harmony with all of Disney’s other “believe in yourself” messages. And it fits nicely with that other heresy: Lucy’s idea that “Maybe we need to prove ourselves before He comes to help us.”

What was Douglas Gresham thinking? Didn’t he read the books?

And what’s with the total Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Pirates of the Caribbean rip-offs? Edmund putting a Gandalf expression on his face and falling backwards off the tower into the claws of a griffin [eagle?]; orderly troops [clones?] marching in formation across a field; a drop of human blood to bring the dead back to life?!?!?!?! Hello! I think I stepped into the wrong movie theatre. Is this some kind of parody of the great fantasy films of the century?

This rant isn’t to imply there weren’t beautiful moments. The film is something of a visual feast, with lovely soaring griffins, flights of arrows, luscious costumes, some impressive architecture, and beautiful landscapes (New Zealand; again, stolen from LOTR). I liked the additions about how it feels to go back after 1300 years. The paintings on the walls of Aslan’s How were a nice touch, and I must admit I liked the wall of ice and the ghostly Witch. I hope they remembered that Queen Jadis in The Magician’s Nephew is the same witch and had Tilda Swinton sign a three-movie contract. The single combat was pretty good. It was nicely filmed, and had some good details in it, such as Peter “using his enemy’s arm as a ladder” and so on. It wasn’t played in a roped-off area of the field, but it was fairly well regulated. Trumpkin was well cast, but we didn’t get to know him much. The River God—now, that was great. The moment when we saw through his eyes was fantastic, as was the fact that he was pouring or flowing all the time, like a solid, animated waterfall. His head wasn’t “weedy” as if should have been, but he was still very good. The Centaurs were impressive looking, but their movements were unnatural. Can’t we do better than that with CGI? I mean, come on, you just take a picture of a horse and a picture of a guy and you glue them together, right? Sigh. But some of the cinematography was good, the music was nice, and the four Pevensie actors are still spectacular. Not to mention gorgeous. Those boys sure turned out hot. Caspian wasn’t bad either, but Peter gets my vote. I’ll miss him in the next movie. If I go to see the next movie. Maybe I’ll stay home and read the book. Maybe that way I’ll avoid ulcers. And I’ll escape getting tomatoes thrown at me by the other movie-goers who want to watch their flick in peace without my sobbing and shouting.

See, the main thing is—well, the main thing. The kappa element. The “atmosphere” or “feeling” of the story. They got the military aspect, that’s for sure. But they missed the entire theological character of this volume, I believe. This is subjective, but perhaps verifiable. There’s a feeling of loss throughout the book. There’s a feeling that without Aslan everything is kind of scattered. All the bits and pieces of history and society need to be pulled together by Him. Other elements are important: suppressed history, faith without sight, and the gradual revelation of Aslan’s plan. But in the film, everything was more chaotic, more fast-paced, and more physically dangerous than spiritually dangerous. There was a lot of doubt, to be sure; too much! But Aslan’s delayed entrance, and [most of all] Lucy’s only dreaming that she saw Him in the woods, made this a different story. And a nasty one. That horrible massacre in Miraz’s castle belongs to the kappa element of The Last Battle, not Prince Caspian.

Finally, where were Bacchus, Silenus, the Maenads, and the Dryads? Prince Caspian has always been my least favorite of the Narniad, and the Bacchanalian bits saved the story for me. And they are so well suited to a visual media! Why, oh why would they leave out the wild young god of wine and his fierce dancing girls, the drunken old man on a donkey calling out for “Refreshments! Refreshments!” and the beautiful tree-people? Those are quintessential Lewisian moments.

But since Adamson or Gresham or whoever changed the entire plot, altered the characters, distorted the theological message, and imitated other more popular fantasies, I guess it’s only consistent to leave out the most imaginative and representative aspect of the book.

It breaks my heart.


~ Sørina

12 comments:

Eurydice said...

Well, I can’t even give the movie as much credit as you did. The trees were just pathetic. They’re supposed to be gods and goddesses, not clumsy war machines with squid-like mobility! And Trumpkin was just a scrawny, ugly little man who couldn't act, not a courageous warrior-dawrf.

And where was the Joy? Where were the Great Dancing Lawn, Bacchus, the feasts, the liberation of Narnia? This film was completely Joyless (and joyless). The book has moments of hopelessness, contrasted with triumph and celebration. The movie’s prevailing mood of hopelessness was broken only by cheap humor, provided by very 21st-century interpolations—not just from the children. Did you notice that even the Old Narnians used American slang?

Despite the Martial character of the book, Narnia’s Mars (like Narnia’s Bacchus) had been “baptized” by Lewis’ imagination. The battles lasted just long enough for all the elements and characters of the story come together. Aslan would not let one drop of blood too many be spilled. When He came with the trees, the Telmarines surrendered, and the bloodshed was over.

In this thoughtless film, Aslan only showed up after the carnage had reached an unforgivable height. Why didn’t Douglas Gresham just let the children and Narnians make a heroic last stand at Aslan’s (Aztec) How; then he could have worked some elements from the Last Battle in there, collected his millions of dollars, and gone home for good.

Steve Hayes said...

I haven't seen the movie of LWW yet, and now you suggest I should give Prince Caspian a miss too, and if it doesn't have Bacchus and his madcap girls in it, I think I will.

gem said...

ugh.
I hardly know if I even want to see it....Why must people ruin the books I love?

Renny said...

Admittedly, I'm not the biggest bookworm and I never read the Narnia series. I am however an avid student of the Bible, and recognize that Lewis' work was one of pure genius in creating such a vivid similitude of Biblical stories.

Not being sure, then, how much Disney butchered Lewis' work, I cannot comment much on this. I am, however, confident that much of Lewis' deep metaphors were preserved, maybe even unintentionally from Disney's perspective.

That Aslan appeared only in the end demonstrated a very important principle. The main characters did not seek Aslan and his power as they were plotting and warring with the enemy. Even Lucy, who had a glimpse of Aslan early on and had him continually on her heart, was nonetheless rebuked by Aslan for allowing herself to be led away by the others from pursuing him. It was only when Aslan entered the scene that the enemy was defeated, with the summoning of forces (the trees, the river etc.) that Aslan alone had the authority to bring about.

If anything, it demonstrates how even we as Christians tend to lose our first love, and try to win the battles in our own strength. As was the case with the main characters stumbled in defeat in charging ahead without seeking Aslan, God in his mercy disciplines us and humbles us to the point where we are reminded that it is in the power of Christ alone where the victory is to be found.

Eurydice said...

Renny,
Then by all means, read the books! :) The Christian symbolism is inifinitely richer and deeper there. They are very easy to read, and even non-bookworms find them extremely enjoyable. If the movie even brushed against your heartstrings, the books will play whole symphonies on them...

Iambic Admonit said...

Eurydice:

Nice to see you back here again! Here are a few thoughts.

I plan to read the book again this week, but weren't the trees different from the dryads? Similar to the difference between the Ents and the trees they herded. (By the way, I've always wondered who stole from whom, since CSL's tree-victory in PC is so very similar to JRRT's tree-victory in TTT. It's hard to tell, since TTT was written 1937-1949 and probably read to the Inklings along the way, but not published until 1955; PC was published in 1951. Sounds like CSL was the thief!) I'll check on that.

The rest of your interpretation is exactly right, and very sensitive. I love your idea of just collapsing The Last Battle into this one; I kept thinking that during the film! "This has a Saturnian kappa element, not a Martial one"!!!

Iambic Admonit said...

Renny:

Thanks for your interesting, valuable response to the film as someone who hasn't yet read the books. I think I'll address some of your points in another post.

Yvonne said...

Thanks for the warning - I think I'll stay away. They messed with LWW a bit too much; it sounds as if they have done even worse with this (and it's my second favourite book; my most favourite is The Horse and His Boy - which I notice they haven't done, presumably because they'd have to completely change Calormene culture).

One of the many things I enjoy about the Narniad is the carefully crafted combination of Pagan and Christian elements. So if they take out the Pagan bits and trash the Christian bits, what's left?!?

Why can't people make films without messing with the plots of the books?

Watch the BBC TV series instead (even though Aslan is animatronic, he still has dignity); at least they are faithful to the books.

Sunshine74 said...

WOW! I can't believe the movie was THAT bad!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now I am not so sure I want to see Prince Caspian. Well at least we will have a very intesting discussion after the movie
on Thursday!

Rosie Perera said...

Film critic Jeffrey Overstreet has posted a nice summary of various Christian reviews of it here. General consensus: the movie "botches the meaning of the book."

David Taylor (Diary of an Arts Pastor) writes: "The greatest crime of the Narnia movies so far: They don't make me want to live in Narnia, and Narnia is where it's happening; the country of Narnia is what will hold the cinematic series together."

Msgr. Eric R. Barr said...

While I believe everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, these comments seem way off base. They reflect a movie that does not exist. I took 225 people from my parish to this film, and all loved it from young to old. I found it an improvement over the book and deeply moving. Since I love a good discussion, please feel free to read my reviews at http://anamchara.blogs.com and check out the newspaper article I wrote about it as well here:
http://observer.rockforddiocese.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=6EKzh6LBTyQ%3d&tabid=1235
I'd be interested in what you think. In the meantime, please be at least a little thankful that the secular media attempted a film with a Christian theme. Getting millions of people to think on those lines can never be bad! Aslan lives!--even in this film!

patrick said...

the makers of Prince Caspian kept to the original story better than i would have expected honestly... i had heard they were going to make it into a silly pure-action flick, but this wasn't so much the case