A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 544 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (BBC) – August 26th, 2011

Back to Narnia for the weekend, which feels rather fitting. There’s something about traveling to an imaginary land that seems perfect for a stormy day and we’re expecting a hurricane to arrive this weekend. I’ve probably been influenced by Wizard of Oz. Regardless, staying inside and watching a trio of three hour long fantasy serials seems like a fantastic way to spend a nasty weekend. And these three are straight out of my childhood, much like The Box of Delights and A Little Princess. All BBC adaptations of classic children’s books. All shown in the US on PBS’s Wonderworks series. All long and incredibly faithful to the books.

It’s a shame, really, that the budget for this wasn’t higher. These Narnia serials were made to be shown in six episodes each, covering just under three hours. That gives an enormous amount of screen time to a book adaptation and that’s one reason why they can afford to be so faithful. Much as I love and adore seeing books I enjoy on a big screen, I admit that when it comes down to it, I think a television miniseries is a hell of a lot more effective. Just look at Dune as an example. Think about the David Lynch adaptation, then, if you’ve seen it, think about the Sci Fi Channel miniseries of the same book. They’re very different creatures, and while I enjoyed the Lynch version, I thought the miniseries did a far better job of bringing the world of the book to the screen. I’m saddened to hear that the planned Dark Tower movies are in limbo now, but I honestly hope that someone like HBO picks them up and gives them a good miniseries treatment. Because a miniseries allows for a lot more exploration. And so it is with this series. If only it had been given more money.

Granted, the effects aren’t terrible. I’ve seen far far worse. But anyone who’s seen older Doctor Who episodes will understand when I say that it is distinctly obvious that this adaptation is a BBC production. Which personally, I find charming. I grew up with this stuff. It’s nostalgic for me to see the 2D animation for many of the animals and the not-quite-matched-up torsos and bodies on the centaurs. It’s the spirit of the thing that I find important, and I really do think that this adaptation manages to capture that even with a budget that is a tiny fraction of what the newer big screen adaptation surely had.

The story is, of course, much the same as the book. I mentioned already that it is impressively faithful as adaptations go. The Pevensie children, sent away from London to the safety of the countryside during World War II, discover a passage to Narnia through the back of a mysterious wardrobe in a spare room of the country house they’re staying in. Again, Lucy is the first in. Again, her siblings don’t believe her. Again, Edmund follows her then lies to Susan and Peter after having met the White Witch. And again, he sells them out for a pile of Turkish Delight. Again, the children all end up going into Narnia and again, they discover that they are to lead a revolution against the White Witch. The basic story doesn’t change from version to version. But in this adaptation, it feels as if the writers went through the book page by page to decide not what to include, but how to include it. At times, it works very well. At times it’s obvious just how far beyond the means of the adaptation some things were. And that isn’t necessarily a budget issue every time. This was made in 1988. Even the highest budget couldn’t have made some things technologically possible.

Still, I’m not criticising it for its shortcomings. The acting isn’t winning any awards, though I always did like the children who played the Pevensies. Barbara Kellerman as the White Witch chews far more scenery than I ever would have thought possible had I not seen this as a child. I compare all other scenery chewing to this, really. But that works. She’s over the top and incredibly dramatic and I love it. I think my only criticism is Aslan himself. The huge fake lion is well done and all, but there’s something a little too ponderous about his line delivery. It makes everything he says feel like he’s trying to put people to sleep. Which is frustrating, because I like the vocal quality of the person doing the lines, but the delivery is so slow, like they were directed to speak more deliberately to communicate authority or something. Whatever the reason, it just sounds drowsy, not powerful.

Other than that, however, I really do enjoy this version of the story. It’s not lush or epic or spectacular, but it is thorough and sweet and it feels right. It’s faithful, which I’ve mentioned, but it’s also respectful of the source. I’m not saying the newer version isn’t, just that it’s readily apparent here that this was made by people who knew the story and knew the source and who wanted to take everything on the pages and put it all up in visual splendor. And if that meant some awkward bits that didn’t translate perfectly from one medium to another, then so be it. Those bits would still be there so there’d be no doubt that this is the story in its entirety. And I appreciate that.

August 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (BBC)

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August 26, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 543 – Dinocroc vs Supergator

Dinocroc vs. Supergator – August 25th, 2011

When we were doing Shark Week we had some real gems like Sharktopus, and when we have movies like that we will often watch the trailers before the movie on the DVD. Why? Because every so often we will see something like this. All it took was one line and we knew we had to have this in our collection and I’m sure that’s why that line was included in the trailer. When you hear a character say, straight, that crocodiles and alligators are naturally mortal enemies, then propose making the two monsters of the movie fight each other? That right there is a thing of amazing beauty. Amazingly stupid and ridiculous beauty. That it had David Carradine in it was just the cherry on top of the sundae.

I did worry a little that this would be a Megalodon situation, where it would be fun, but not as much fun as I wanted it to be. I shouldn’t have worried, though, because this movie was everything I wanted it to be, right down to a hunter named Logan from Louisiana who goes by the moniker “The Cajun.” Because that’s unique. And no, he does not have claws or glowing eyes and he only wishes he was as cool as the X-Men. It’s got ridiculous science, laughable attack scenes, shoehorned romance and big monsters chomping on each other. All filmed against a rather lovely backdrop.

I actually feel a little silly just going over the premise. I mean. It’s a movie titled Dinocroc vs Supergator. Does it really matter why these two things exist? Or why they’re fighting? One’s a dinocroc! The other’s a supergator! Chomp chomp! But okay, let’s gloss over the basics. They do not make this movie any less silly. There’s a biological research lab in Hawaii with government grants to develop super huge food sources to combat hunger or something like that, but undercover agent Paul Beaumont thinks there’s something fishy about the place! And of course he’s right, because this place is also developing enhancements for humans to make them into supersoldiers. And what could possibly produce the right chemicals to make supersoldiers? Crocodiles and alligators! And how did they get said animals to produce them? By zapping them with rays, of course! There was an attempt to have this all make sense, but I wasn’t paying attention. It wasn’t important in the grander scheme of things.

The important part here is that instead of having the scientists at the lab devise a way to take the dinocroc and supergator out, the head of the company – David Carradine – orders them all to be executed by mercenaries. You know, like you do. He even goes so far as to have his assistant assassinate one of the scientists in the hospital after she escapes and spills the beans to Beaumont, Logan and the local sherrif’s daughter, Cassidy, who’s also in law enforcement. The amusing thing to me is that Logan almost immediately takes up with Beaumont and Cassidy, agreeing that these monsters must be stopped and not because he cares about the company’s reputation. So they all work together against the monsters.

Meanwhile, as the humans all chat about how the monsters were created and what they should do about it and whether they should sell tickets for the final giant reptile showdown, the reptiles themselves are snacking on the local tourists. These scenes, are, by the way, fantastic. And I don’t mean they’re incredibly well done. I mean they’re hilarious and awesome at the same time. Now, you have to understand that these things are supposed to be huge. Like, fifteen feet tall or long, depending on the creature. One of them is up on large rear legs, like a velociraptor. The other is just, well, a really big alligator. At least three feet tall at the head even when it’s on its belly. These are not stealthy animals! And yet at one point one pops up from underneath a guy who is wading in calf-deep water. Like, straight up from under him! They pop out from the brush and snap up a couple of bikini-clad ladies. They are hilarious.

There’s really not a whole lot more to this movie. It’s not complicated or deep. There’s no meaning here. There’s no message, other than don’t tamper in god’s domain, which is the theme of every man-made monster movie. But what makes it fun to watch is exactly what got us to buy it in the first place: It knows what it is. I think this is key to our enjoyment of movies like this. When they’re made to be cheese, and embracing that, it’s so much more fun. When everyone is on board, from the cast to the crew to the director to the writer, it’s just so much easier to laugh along with the movie. There are monster movies that are sincerely trying to be serious horror action monster movies and when they’re laughable it’s kind of sad and disappointing. But when the movie is not only aware of its nature but playing it up? That’s fun. And including a line about crocodiles and alligators being mortal enemies, with shots of the dinocroc stomping its way down a road while the supergator nabs a snack? That’s some great self-awareness.

August 25, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Dinocroc Vs. Supergator

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August 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 542 – The Goonies

The Goonies – August 24th, 2011

We’re on hiatus from Narnia at the moment, since the BBC productions are about three hours long each and while tonight that would work, tomorrow I do not have three hours to spend watching a movie, regardless of how nostalgic it might be. So we’re taking two days off so we can watch the BBC adaptations back to back to back over the weekend. So! We needed to pick a movie tonight. When Andy got home this evening he was a little cranky. Long days do that, and when I have a long day goodness knows I am the queen of cranky. Therefore, when picking a movie I gravitated to comfort movies and this caught my eye. Andy’s suggested it a few times and I’ve always said nah, some other time. And this is why. It is a comfort movie, more for Andy than for myself, and I didn’t want to waste it on a night when we didn’t need something fun and easy to watch. Tonight? We needed fun and we needed easy. So I’m glad we held onto it.

This is one of those movies that every geek within Andy’s generation and my generation should know. It’s a classic, and not just a classic but an underdog classic. Geeks love a story where outcasts win. I remember watching this as a kid and being just slightly too young for it to make the impact on me that it made on my peers. A couple of years later I saw it again and enjoyed it a lot more, but I think because I’d already seen it, it was just never going to make that impression. I can enjoy it and it makes me smile and I’m all for the Goonies as a group, but I can think of other movies that speak to me more and I feel a little frustrated with myself for that.

On the surface it’s an odd movie. Below the surface too, but even up top it’s got its oddities. It’s one of those stories about a nasty rich guy trying to take advantage of or shove out the poor but goodhearted family or families of the hero or heroes. This is not an uncommon plot for a movie, especially a kids’ movie. The money-grubbing adult makes a good villain, especially when they have a stuck-up jackass of a kid for the juvenile heroes of the movie to square off against directly. And so of course we have here Mr. Perkins, who is foreclosing on the houses belonging to the Goonies’ families to expand his country club, and we have his son Troy, who bullies the Goonies themselves and treats his girlfriend (who joins up with the Goonies later) like crap. There’s just a lot here that feels like it could be standard. And then there’s the adventure into a series of caves under the cliffs near the Goonies’ homes, with booby traps, treasure and a family of criminals after them.

The basic plot involves the foreclosure and the Goonies – Mikey, Mouth, Data, Chunk, Brand (Mikey’s older brother) and later Andy and Stef – going off on an adventure to try and make the most of their last weekend together. Sure, they’re going off to search for lost pirate treasure, but I get a very Swallows and Amazons sort of vibe from this adventure. They head out to follow the map more to have an adventure, not because they truly think they’ll find treasure. Sure, treasure would be amazing, but an adventure together with friends is the initial purpose. It’s only when the kids encounter the Fratellis, one of whom is an escaped convict, that things actually get dangerous. Until then it’s more imagination than reality for them. And I love that idea of a typical kids’ adventure turning into something far more real than expected. And I also love that the Goonies rise to the occasion.

Once the Goonies are in the caves, dodging booby traps set by pirate captain One-Eyed Willie, it’s sort of a chase movie. The Fratellis are behind them and the Goonies know it. But they’re also determined. The traps are silly and fun and the movie establishes a lot of the set-up for them early on with Mikey’s house’s Rube Goldberg-esque front gate. And then there’s Chunk, left behind with the Fratellis’ brother, Sloth. Now, Sloth is my one real point of discomfort with this movie. He’s a joke and a hero and a joke because he’s a hero and he’s handled largely positively, but he’s also a caricature of a physically deformed and mentally disabled man and I can’t help but think of the Toxic Avenger when I see him. I’m just not fond of the movie’s use of the character, that’s all.

Outside of that and the stereotype that is Data (and to nitpick – while his inventions might well work in theory, his materials are so flimsy they would never hold up to that sort of use), however, I do love many the characters. One of the things I really love about the movie is that it’s got some really impressively subversive stuff in it, mostly in the form of Mikey’s brother, Brand. He’s clearly a bit of a jock, what with all the working out, and he’s cute, but he doesn’t have his driver’s license and he seems to be regarded as a dork, likely because of a combination of that and the fact that he’s pretty damn smart. He’s not an easily pigeonholed character, and I love that. I love that he’s genuinely concerned about his brother. I love that he hangs out with the Goonies. I love that he’s unabashedly himself, which makes him a Goonie regardless of his age.

Despite its silliness, it’s clearly meant to be an empowering movie, and not just in a ‘they found pirate treasure and saved their homes from foreclosure’ way. It’s meant to say it’s okay to be proud of being unique. It’s okay to be yourself and embrace the things that make you you. It’s okay to make your own decisions and stand on your own two feet. I love when Andy gives Troy’s sweater back. I love Mikey’s speech at the bottom of the well. On top of the movie being a fun action and adventure story for kids, it’s also a good story about friendship and individuality and letting your freak flag fly with pride. No, it isn’t the banner I hold over myself, but I get it. And I do enjoy it.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Goonies

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August 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Movie 541 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) – August 23rd, 2011

I’ve mentioned that I grew up with the BBC versions of these stories and I have to admit that the third story was always my favorite. Same for the books. I loved this story of a voyage at sea, full of all of the perils of such a quest and all of the beauty of it too. I loved venturing past the known lands of Narnia into the unexplored islands and the waters beyond. So I was looking forward to this installment, but I was again nervous. I knew going in that it was going to be a difficult transition from page to screen. I knew that like in Prince Caspian, changes would have to be made. I also knew that they’d run into trouble with the movie during filming. So I think my worries were reasonable. Turns out they were also at least a little justified.

Now, let me make it plain that I really did enjoy this movie. I had fun watching it and it had a lot of what I wanted from it. But it is not the story I loved from the book and it is not the story that the BBC put on the small screen. In some ways that was inevitable. Much as I love the original story, it is almost tailor made for a mini-series. It’s an episodic journey from Narnia to the edge of the world, stopping at one island to deal with a problem, solving it, then moving on to the next. There’s the dragon episode and the sea serpent episode and the Dufflepud episode and so on and so forth. Yes, there is a plot that ties them together, but it seems to have little in the way of urgency.

In the original story Caspian, who is now King, has embarked on a voyage to the Lone Islands and beyond to try and find the seven lords who were loyal to his father and banished by his uncle. And in the original? That’s the plot. Caspian has gone in search of the lords. That’s it. Reepicheep, the valiant talking mouse, wants to sail to the end of the world, but Caspian’s just looking for some lords. And maybe it’s been too long since I read the book and there’s some pressing reason for it to be Caspian doing this, but If there is, it’s not really enough of a reason to have made an impression on me. Why Caspian himself? Why would a young king, new to his throne, recently done overthrowing the uncle who’d killed his father to steal the kingdom, leave said kingdom to go sailing? It just seems like perhaps he could have sent envoys to the islands instead. I’m just saying. So I totally understand why this new adaptation felt the need to make the whole thing have more of a pressing need.

Not that said need shows up right away. Caspian’s already on the ocean in the Dawn Treader when Lucy and Edmund and their sulky and obnoxious cousin Eustace get pulled into Narnia to join him. But it’s not long before we get a clue as to the larger overarching plot that’s being introduced. One of the first episodes of the original story involves Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Eustace being captured by slave traders and auctioned off. And that’s kept mostly intact. But added to it is a mysterious green mist that swallows human sacrifices sent out to it in dinghies. And there you have your overarching plot. Now not only is Caspian out to find a bunch of lords for his own personal reasons, but he has a duty to the people of his kingdom. To people long neglected before he came into power. And I like the concept there. It makes the whole voyage seem a little more important and a little less like Caspian wanted a vacation.

The trouble here is that the whole mist thing then has to permeate the entire movie, tying it together. And it succeeds in some places and not in others. There are places where it feels somewhat organic, and other places where it’s clear just how much needed to be changed in order to give the movie an exciting climax instead of the ending it had originally. Working the mist into places like the island with the water that makes everything into gold? That doesn’t feel unreasonable. Having it be a sort of sign of temptation and fear works nicely. And that’s a common theme in the whole story anyhow, with people wanting to do things they know they shouldn’t. Lucy is tempted to say a spell that will let her take her sister’s place as the favored daughter. Eustace gives in to the temptation to take a dragon’s treasure. Edmund and Caspian fight over the gold water. The Dufflepuds are all but ruled by their own whims and wants, regardless of reason. I get it. I do.

Unfortunately, at the end the movie has to take all of that and work it into a big climax. Using an island from the actual story, where all of your nightmares become real, was a good idea. It means there’s no new locations being added and a truly sinister location from the original story gets more of a featured position. But it also takes the sea serpent and puts it there as the climax. And comparatively speaking, that just doesn’t measure up to the giant battles in the other movies. It feels like it’s trying too hard. And while the serpent itself is well done, I’m also disappointed that it’s shown to be a creation of fear, not an actual thing living in the oceans around the Lone Islands. Battling everyone’s fears to help find the last lord and dispell the curse that threatens the islands? Yeah, okay. It works in theory. But it’s so very different from the original story and from the previous movie adaptations.

As a movie, I think it works in many ways. As always I enjoyed the acting of the leads, this time including the absolutely marvelous Will Poulter as Eustace. Georgie Henley has grown up wonderfully and I truly hope she continues to act, be it on stage or screen. Same for Skandar Keynes. Ben Barnes does a lovely job as Caspian, though as I mentioned in my review for Prince Caspian, I do wish Caspian had been allowed to grow up across the two movies. It’s not the acting I take issue with. And I like what’s changed at the end, with Caspian deciding on his own not to continue on. Not to mention, I love the neverending wave at the edge of the world. And it’s not the necessity of changing things to make a feature film that I take issue with either. It’s that while I can see the germ of a good idea here, and I can see how it was meant to play out, it never strikes quite right. I wish Eustace had changed earlier. I wish things hadn’t been quite so melodramatic. I wish the sea serpent had been worked into the rest of the movie and something else had been incorporated into the end. I think that given how this movie went, it was a good idea to change tacks if this series is to continue. I’ve heard that The Magician’s Nephew is up next, and I think that’s a good plan. It’s got a clear villain in Jadis and it takes the audience back to the root of Narnia, reminding us why we’re supposed to care about the magic of it all. I hope it goes well. I’ll enjoy it anyhow, like I enjoyed this, but I’d like it if more people could enjoy it too.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

August 23, 2011

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)

It seems to me that when C. S. Lewis wrote this book he was on a bit of an L. Frank Baum kick. This tale is so episodic and full of peculiar comedic monsters that it feels more like an Oz book to me than a Narnia book. It’s not a tale full of grand epic battles or overcoming a grave enchantment – it’s a road movie about people on a seemingly pretty pointless quest. The makers of this movie seem to have realised that about the book, and they’ve slightly changed the plot to make it less episodic and more coherent.

For the third visit to Narnia Lucy and Edmond are joined by their annoying and self-centered cousin Eustice Scrubb. The three of them are thrown into the ocean and rescued by the crew of the Dawn Treader – a boat that King Caspian is taking to the lone islands on the outskirts of his lands in search of seven lords who once advised his father.

What’s interesting about this adaptation of the book is that the film makers have cleverly created an over-arching plot to make the somewhat episodic book feel more coherent. In the book Caspian and the Dawn Treader spend the whole time sailing from island to island – encountering a different obstacle at each stop and finding one of the seven lost lords or their remains before sailing off to the next island. You even get the impression that Lewis himself grew tired of this formula after a while when the crew finally find three of the lost lords together on the last island. In this movie, however, the crew of the Dawn Treader are on a much more specific quest – they must find the swords of the seven lost lords and put them on Aslan’s table in order to defeat a mysterious green mist that has been abducting fishermen and slaves from the lone islands.

As a result of these changes this movie feels less like a series of short stories and more like a single adventure story. There’s even a plucky girl and her father thrown in to give the kidnap victims some humanity. None of this, however, does anything to make the Dufflepods seem any less goofy.

Since this story doesn’t take place in Narnia there are a lot fewer of the traditional Narnian fantasy creatures. There’s a minotaur on the crew and Reepicheep of course and a couple fawns maybe, but it’s mostly humans this time around, which feels a little less magical. Most of the wonder is presented by the strange things they discover on the islands, and some of those feel somewhat forced. Case in point: the invisible one-footed bumbling fools that force Lucy to go into a magician’s house to read a spell to make them un-invisible. As I said before – some parts of this story feel like they’d be more comfortable in Oz than in Narnia.

Still – I do enjoy being able to visit Narnia again, even if it doesn’t feel anything like the previous films. Georgie Henley as Lucy has become quite a great actress, and I felt like most of the movie is carried by her. I’m also extremely impressed by Will Poulter as Eustice. He so perfectly captures that snide desperation that the character calls for. It’s all in his pinched brows and his irritating whine. I really enjoy seeing him slowly come to accept Narnia and eventually learn how to behave like a proper human being (by way of being transformed into a dragon.)

Of course Amanda and I couldn’t help laughing to see that Simon Pegg – our favorite British actor who shares our last name – plays Reepicheep in this movie. You can’t help loving that swashbuckling mouse. I’m looking forward to writing my review of the BBC version where another of my favorite actors plays the same character.

This is not my favorite Narnia tale, and not my favorite Chronicles of Narnia movie, but it is still fun, has some cool action and special effects, and at least lets us spend a little more time in that magic land. I understand that The Magician’s Nephew is in pre-production now for release sometime next year. So there’s more Narnia to come. In my book that is a good thing. i just hope Will Poulter is not too old to play Eustice again in 2015 for The Silver Chair.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

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