Monday, June 02, 2008
Prince Caspian

I'm a little late with this review, but a few weeks ago Julie and I got to go see Prince Caspian. I've always loved the Narnia books, and as a kid Caspian was one of my favorites (I think I've always just had a thing for stories about out-numbered, underground resistance movements). Going into the movie I had heard that it didn't stick too closely to the book (which I could already tell from the trailers), and that turned out to be true. However, I've never been a purist when it comes to movie adaptations, even of books that I love - whether Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or now Narnia. I think it's far more important to capture the spirit of the book and to reshape it into a story that will still be compelling when translated onto the very different medium of film. Peter Jackson accomplished that exceptionally with LOTR; Chris Columbus did less well with the first two Potter films, though the more recent ones have been better; and I was even slightly disappointed with the first Narnia movie. However, this one, in my opinion, was excellently done. The writers, producers and directors took a very linear, straightforward plot from the book and gave it enough twists, turns, and suspense to make it enjoyable for a screen audience. It's a different story in some ways, but as it's own story, it's pretty good.

Some of the changes they made which I particularly liked included:
  • Portraying the Pevensies as bitter and slightly angry about being back in their world after their time in Narnia. Let's face it, if you had lived your half a life in a place where you were kings and queens and had friends and a home, and then suddenly, without warning, it was all taken away and you had to do adolescence all over again, wouldn't you be just a tad upset?
  • Spending more time on the behind-the-scenes politics and intrigues of Miraz's court.
  • Intensifying the clash of authority between Peter and Caspian (too many kings in the kitchen) and adding a sequence about a failed raid on Miraz's castle planned by Peter. I thought it was a believable twist, added to the drama of the story, and heightened the sense of desperation among Caspian's followers.
  • Showing, rather than merely telling about summoning the White Witch. You really get a sense of the seductive power of evil.
  • Adding a bit of romance between Caspian & Susan. Even though Lewis would have never gone there, in the context of the movie it's totally believable (especially since Caspian is played by tall, dark and handsome actor with a Spanish accent).
  • Leaving out Aslan's romp through Narnia with Bacchus. It's fun in the book, but would have made no sense at all in the movie.

That said, one thing I didn't like in the movie, and this is actually a flaw in the book too, is the literal deus ex machina ending (same problem in the first book too). In both Aslan literally roars in to save the day, despite him telling Lucy that he wasn't going to do that ("Nothing happens the same way twice, little one.") I know Lewis probably had some theological point to make with this, but in a story, it's a bit cheap. If the god-like figure was going to step in and fix everything instantly anyway, then when didn't he do so sooner and save everyone a lot of trouble. (Actually, that's not a bad theological question either, and how you answer it will make a big difference for your eschatology.)

Anyhow, overall it was a fun movie and a good adaptation. I'm glad we were able to find time before the baby comes to go see it on the big screen.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 3:10 PM | Permalink |


At 6/02/2008 07:11:00 PM, Blogger Andrew

I like how Lucy at the end, steps out onto the bridge with her little dagger and all of Miraz's army bearing down. She is completely serene. She knows whom she is with; she sees the big picture. :)


At 6/03/2008 10:59:00 AM, Anonymous patrick

the makers of Prince Caspian kept to the original story surprisingly well, all thinks considered... i heard they were going to make it into a silly pure-action flick, but thankfully this was not the case


At 6/04/2008 11:28:00 AM, Blogger Helen

I'm glad you liked it. I did too. I posted my comments here.

Andrew - yes she knows who she is with but he doesn't actually do anything except awaken the land and the water, which tips the balance so the Narnians win.

Mike did you notice that he swoops in but only to awaken those forces so they can win the battle? Not to win it with some sort of direct power of his own?


At 6/04/2008 02:06:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

That's a good point Helen.


At 6/12/2008 10:52:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

I enjoyed the movie, and liked most of the changes that you liked Mike.

But I didn't like the written-in conflict between Peter and Caspian. In the book Peter explicitly tells Caspian something to the effect of "I hope you realize that we haven't come to take your throne, but to put you on it." I understand why they made the change to create more tension in the movie, etc. but disagree that it was necessary, or an improvement. The need to play up (or create) every hero's dark side, self-doubt and selfish behavior can become cliche in itself, and doesn't always improve a story.

Did you read the CT review?

I agree with the reviewer that the moviemakers downplay one of the story's essential themes - the triumph of a mythological, magical, "baptism of the imagination" view of the world over a modern, rationalistic view. I can see where the Bacchus side-trip and the setting free of the schoolchildern would be superfluous or difficult to work in, like Bombadil to LOTR. It would almost have required a different, more philosophical, less action-oriented, movie. But I see those changes as a necessary evil at best, rather than an improvement.

Two other unnecessary changes bug me the most, because they serve no purpose other than to replace Lewis's view of God as seen through Aslan, with that of the moviemakers':

Lucy: “You’re bigger, Aslan.”
Aslan: “That’s because you are older, little one.”
Lucy: “Not because you are?”
Aslan: “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

when Lucy comments on Aslan’s size, he merely replies, “Every year you grow, so shall I.”

"No one is ever told" what would have happened.

“WE can never know” what would have happened.

Small changes semantically. Big changes theologically, and they serve no moviemaking purpose. They are merely statements of a philosophy or theology - replacing the author's views with those of the moviemaker.

Similar things were done in LWW, and Jackson did similar things in LOTR. Mabye it's fair game for a moviemaker to replace the author's worldview with his own, but it doesn't mean I have to like it.

Also, as you note, Aslan was again reduced from his role in the books. Like one of my friends wrote: "Aslan really didn't seem like anything more than a fairly powerful magic lion in this movie, and not the all powerful character controlling and driving the entire rest of the story from behind the scenes."

Overall it was a good movie, captured much of the "feel" of the book, took the viewer on a fun ride and told an engaging tale. I'll enjoy watcing it again, but as with LOTR (and we own the extended, boxed dvd set), I'll enjoy reading the books a lot more.


At 6/12/2008 11:17:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I'm not sure I see the difference in the first quote. As for the second quote, I doubt the screenwriters (or whoever it was that changed it) had any deliberate philosophy in mind. I don't give Hollywood types that much credit (Peter Jackson and co. exempted). My guess is they just thought it sounded better.


At 6/12/2008 01:02:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

I don't want to overblow it - I liked the movie. But I don't think it can be denied, eitehr. Even if it just "sounded better" to the movie makers, I'd suggest that the reason it sounded better was because of different philosophical/theological presuppositions. Unlike much of Tolkien, Lewis's language in those spots isn't archaic sounding, so the change wasn't necessary to modrnize the language itself.

The difference between the 2 versions of the Lucy/Aslan exchange? Here's one way that someone stated it:

"This revision subverts the idea behind the exchange in Lewis, that the infinite mystery of God does not itself change, but is always revealed to be greater than we previously supposed as we grow and our capacity to appreciate it increases."

In other words, God doesn't change, but we (and our capacity and experience of God) do. So, while God himself is never "bigger" (i.e. he never looks at himself and says "wow, I'm bigger b/c Mike grew") we "find him bigger" as we grow. I'm not suggesting that you should be outraged about it - maybe you even agree more with the movie version than the book version. But there's a difference. Lewis wouldn't have written the 2nd version of that exchange.

Same with the "We can never know" line. When set beside other changes to Aslan, both in dialogue and in how his relationships with the kids and the land of Narnia and the Emperor-beyond-the-sea are (or aren't) portrayed, I think my friend's observation that in the movie he's reduced to being just "a fairly powerful magic lion" of whom the children are especially fond, is on target.

A similar line of dialogue from LWW had Aslan explaining how there is a "Deep Magic, more powerful than any of us, that . . . governs all our destinies — yours and mine.” Lewis wouldn't have written that.

The closest thing to that comment in the book is the following exchange:

"Oh, Aslan!" whispered Susan in the Lion's ear, "can't we – I mean, you won't, will you? Can't we do something about the Deep Magic? Isn't there something you can work against it?" "Work against the Emperor's Magic?" said Aslan, turning to her with something like a frown on his face. And nobody ever made that suggestion to him again."

The result is a playing up of Aslan's "creaturliness" but without any corresponding overt affirmation of his status as creator and ruler of that world, father-son relationship with the Emperor beyond the sea and author of the deep magic. So he becomes a fairly powerful and wise magic lion, which is a cool thing to have in a kids' story/fantasy movie.


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