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.