Prince Caspian: A (tragically) merely great movie

Image from the movie Prince CaspianThe Lord of the Rings. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And now Prince Caspian. Each of these may be a great movie. But each was allegedly adapted from a truly extraordinary novel. And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy. The most obvious failing of the filmmakers is that The Lord of the Rings truncated the story, removing what is in my opinion the most important sequence of the whole three volumes, the Scouring of the Shire, while adding minutes upon minutes of unnecessary battle action sequences. And all of them made changes to the temporal sequence that would work . . . if there were not the highly superior originals to compare them to.

I saw Prince Caspian this afternoon. I have two primary objections to the movie’s treatment of the story, and a host of minor (nearly cosmetic) objections. The first major objection is one that I wrote about in an earlier Note after watching the trailers: The scale of the movie is all wrong. As I wrote in a reply to another review (but paraphrasing it a bit), you can’t have it both ways. If the three children and the Beavers can make it from what became Lantern Waste to Beaversdam in a matter of hours, and from Beaversdam to Aslan’s camp (which was at the Stone Table in the book) in no more than a couple of days, then the Telmarine army — and the Narnian army, for that matter — is actually a couple of orders of magnitude smaller than it was pictured. Not to mention that it’s not possible to get that kind of an army assembled in a matter of days or even weeks anyway, unless it was a standing army, which would make its possible size smaller yet. And then there’s the fact that much of Narnia — Ettinsmoor was specifically mentioned in the film as supplying troops — is left “uninhabited.” The whole coast. The North (Caspian defeated the Northern Giants the year after he won his throne). The forests anywhere.

The second major problem is the pacing. Caspian blows the Horn early, which throws the whole sequence off and ruins major scenes. But that’s not all. It permits this crazy scheme of raiding Miraz’s castle (not that the Narnians had enough troops to even think about it), which then, combined with the decision to postpone Aslan’s intervention until after the single combat had begun, causes the nearly bloodless (because of the intervention of Aslan and the Trees) Battle of Beruna to transmute into the bloodbath outside the How. While moving Caspian’s story from flashback to simple action before the sounding of the Horn was arguably a good idea, a reordering of only a few major events should only be considered in the rarest of circumstances, let alone the near-complete transposition in this alleged adaptation. And the filmmakers took advantage of it to make major changes to several characters, including Aslan.

Minor issues: All the children (and I include Caspian) are too old. (This was the case in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe too, but I didn’t know about the timeline then.) Caspian is thirteen in the events of the book that bears his name, and Peter was the same age, and Susan twelve, in the previous novel. While on the whole the casting for the Pevensies was simply inspired, they should have shot these films two years earlier. (I hope they keep the same Royal Four if and when they do Horse and His Boy in a few years.) That would also have had the effect of neatly nipping the “romance” between Susan and Caspian, which the scriptwriters fabricated out of whole cloth—this is a series of children’s books, in which the oldest person allowed alive into Narnia after the very beginning is fourteen (in Earth years, but the Caspian movie showed entirely too little of the growing-up-again-in-mere-days that was a major thing in the book)—in the twig. Second, the first page of the novel (which was as far as I got today, after the show) identifies the train station from which they are pulled by Susan’s Horn as a deserted junction out in the country, rather like the one in the beginning of the first movie. (And I think that simply omitting the darker-side-of-humanity-here bits at the beginning of each of them would have been a better choice.) Third, the voice actor for Aslan sounds constantly patronizing—the sort of actor a movie studio would cast as a Christian in an atheist propaganda movie.

Here’s hoping for a “Purist Edit” of the Narnia series like there is for the Lord of the Rings

This was originally posted on Facebook as a Note on June 1, 2008.

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