A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 540 – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) – August 22nd, 2011

I grew up with the BBC adaptations of the Narnia books, which meant that I was used to this story getting folded in with the third one. And it’s understandable why that might be done, since the story itself is somewhat simple. Without the introduction of the world to fill the time, the story is mostly a walk through the woods and a climactic battle. The version I was used to uses this story as an introduction to the character of Caspian and whipped right through it all. This version, on the other hand, takes a much different route, expanding the story a good bit and building it up into something more substantial.

Honestly, I like it both ways, but in order to make this story a full movie on its own there had to be some serious adjustment to the story. I went back and reread the book to confirm what I remembered about the canon and indeed, I was remembering correctly. From what I’ve read, C.S. Lewis meant the story to be about the reaffirmation of faith after the corruption of a religion. What that means for the allegory he wrote is that there’s a hell of a lot of talking about whether the old stories are true or just made up. Whether Aslan is real. Whether it’s worth believing in him. Pretty much every character except Lucy and a talking badger named Trufflehunter need to be reminded of their faith in Aslan or discover it brand new. So in the book everyone walks around a lot and talks a lot and sits and debates a lot. The climactic battle is over in a page or two at most and we barely get to see Caspian once he’s fled the castle. That doesn’t really make for a great movie.

So, let’s talk changes. I realize a lot of people were unhappy with them, but I thought they worked fine for a movie adaptation. For one, Caspian’s not a boy here. He’s a young man. There’s a running theme of conflict between Caspian and Peter over who’s really in charge. The whole issue of no one believing in Aslan isn’t quite as heavily laid down and the battles take up a good deal more time. There’s more tension too, which I’ll come to.

The story involves the four Pevensie children being called back into Narnia unexpectedly, right off the train station platform, only to find that hundreds and hundreds of years have passed in Narnia since they were last there. The first story already established that time in Narnia passes much faster than time in our world, so it makes sense that a year for the Pevensies would be centuries for Narnia. In their absence, Narnia has been taken over by people called Telmarines, who are human but come from a long ways away and don’t have any respect for native Narnians or Narnian beliefs. They banished the Dwarves, the Giants, the Fauns and so on and so forth. The talking animals went deep underground, though many animals forgot how to talk and became wild again. The trees stopped talking, as did the rivers and streams. All the magic went into hiding.

Still, some people in Narnia like the old stories and the history, including Prince Caspian and his tutor, Professor Cornelius. But Prince Caspian’s uncle, Miraz, is on the throne, and he hates the old stories. And when his wife gives birth to a baby boy he plans on killing Caspian and taking over the royal line. Caspian flees, meets some old Narnians (two Dwarves and the aforementioned badget) and ends up pledging to lead a revolution against his uncle. Hurrah! He calls for help and that’s why the Pevensies end up there, answering the call of Susan’s horn.

The thing is, in this version what was all done separately by one group and another gets done more as a cohesive whole. In the book there’s a lot of “Now let me tell you the story of how this came to be, which the Pevensies only heard much later on” type narration. And it’s only mildly annoying as a device and works fine for the pacing. In a movie, on the other hand, it just wouldn’t work right. And if it isn’t going to work right as written, best to find a way around it. Having the Pevensies and Caspian meet earlier on is fine by me and most of the major events are kept intact regardless. They do still go to Aslan’s Howe and they do still have to deal with the hag and the werewolf who want to summon the White Witch back. They still have a duel with Miraz and his lords are still duplicitous bastards who stab him in the back and blame Caspian. And Lucy and Susan still go off with Aslan to help wake up the trees. It all just happens in a slightly different order and combination as it does in the book. And I don’t mind that. I think it works well for a cinematic version and keeps the story interesting.

By far the biggest noticeable change is Caspian’s age. I say noticeable because I honestly don’t think the pacing changes and lack of walking are noticeable in anything but a positive way, unless the only thing you like about the book is the discussions of faith. Caspian’s age, however, is a mixed bag. I can’t complain about Ben Barnes as Caspian. He’s got a good dashing quality about him and he’s got a noticeably different look to him than the Pevensie children, specifically Mosely and Keynes as Peter and Edmund. I understand why he was aged up. It created more conflict for the plot so there was more to deal with once Caspian and the Pevensies are united, and since the pacing was changed, that was going to happen sooner rather than later. At the same time, it very much changes the dynamic between Caspian and everyone else. There’s a romantic subplot for him and Susan that’s rather shoehorned in and then was apparently mostly taken out, leaving the remaining bits shallow and confusing. Despite all that, however, my biggest complaint is a nerdy nitpick: Caspian being a young man already in this one makes his relative lack of aging between this and Voyage of the Dawn Treader annoying from a continuity and Narnia canon standpoint.

Overall it’s a gorgeous movie, with good acting and visual effects, which is much in keeping with the first movie. I expected it to be beautiful. I expected lush backgrounds and I expected gorgeous costumes. I expected to enjoy seeing the Pevensies again and I expected to be impressed by the scale of the battle and the whole world. So I have no complaints there. And I felt like they did a good job adjusting the story to make a full theatrical feature. I think where it suffers is in its attempt to take a story that is far far less involved and impressive than the first and put it at the same level, which I honestly don’t think is a resolvable issue. It’s big and impressive, but it lacks the impact of the first movie, which isn’t this movie’s fault. It’s the story’s fault. Can’t really fix that.


August 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chonicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

August 22, 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

Prince Caspian, as a story, does a few things with Narnia that lend it a wistful air. With the first story I talked a lot about how quickly I fell in love with the entire world of Narnia. How I wanted from the first time my dad read to me from the books to find a way to get there myself. I talked about how wonderfully the first big budget Hollywood Narnia movie made the entire land real from the lamp-post to the shores of the ocean and Caer Paravelle. With the second book C. S. Lewis allows us to return to that glorious country, but changes the game.

When the four children from the first story do get back to the land where they were once kings and queens they find that things are uncomfortably different. For one thing, time being what it is in Narnia, it has been hundreds of years since they were last there. Their old castle is in ruins. The landscape itself has changed. They themselves are the stuff of ancient legends now in Narnia. This is one of the most heartbreaking things to realize – that everyone they knew or cared fo in Narnia is long dead by the time they have returned.

The other big change is that Narnia is not quite the magical place it once was. Humans have come to Narnia – a race of people calling themselves the Telmarines, who have their own royalty and their own intrigues. In the centuries since High King Peter ruled Narnia the proper Narnians, the talking animals, Fauns, Centaurs and other magical creatures have been ostracized and marginalized. Indeed most humans now consider them myths and fairy tales.

Young Prince Caspian (who is not quite so young in this movie as I pictured him in the book) has fled from the castle of his father because his uncle the regnant has set out to assassinate him and set his own infant son on the throne. Caspian goes into the deep woods to seek help from the magical creatures from the tales he was raised on. He teams up with a dwarf and a badger and uses Susan’s horn, an artifact from Narnian legend, to summon the kings and queens of old. (Everybody is somewhat nonplussed to find that the kings and queens of old are all young children.) Together the Pevanzies must find a way to return the rule of Narnia to a king who will respect its original citizens rather than vilifying them and trying to wipe them out.

A word here about casting. I mentioned yesterday how amazing the casting in these movies is, and this film really is an excellent example of that. Of course there’s Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, which is absolutely inspired casting – she is so creepy and intense. I love that the film makers find a way to fit her back into each film. I love the choice to age Caspian up a bit and make him more believable as a powerful leader and potential ruler of Narnia. What really strikes me, however, and perhaps this is odd, is the all-star collection of little person actors this series attracted. As with the BBC series before it this set of Narnia movies chose to cast little people as the dwarfs in Narnia, and all of the ones who get a lot of screen time are familiar big-name actors. The first film features Deep Roy (a favorite of ours) as the White Queen’s sled driver. This movie gives prominent roles to Peter Dinkledge (who impresses me more every time I see him and is one of the greatest actors working today of any stature) and Warwick Davis (who appeared in two of the BBC movies as well.) What star power!

Much has been done to make this story more cinematic. Amanda re-read the book before writing her review, and you should read her review to see just how much work needed to be done to take the book, which involves a lot of talking about faith and belief and walking around, and make it a big spectacle. This movie involves huge epic battles, a lengthy attack on the Telmarine castle, and of course astonishing special effects. It’s a fantastic treat for the eyes and on that level alone it is a worthy successor to the first Narnia movie.

I also have to admit that I actually quite like the twists that Lewis threw into the formula, making Narnia a deeper and a more wistful place. It makes it all the more special to be allowed to visit that land again.

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment