(A Polemical) Review of the Prince Caspian Movie

Tony Sig

Here’s a secret:  I never read the Narnia books as a kid.  Or at least if I did I don’t remember it.  The first Lewis book I read was Mere Christianity which started me down the slippery slope of critical thinking.  What I did do was read ’em through when I was about 19 or 20, and I admit to falling in love.   Since then I take them up once a year and read through the series.  I cannot wait to read them to my daughter Amelie and my child on the way (we don’t know if it’s a he or she).  To me they are magical books.  I cannot describe the kind of mystical sense of emotion which wells up in me when I read the “Creation Story” of Narnia (which we all know is meant to be taken literally).  Anyway, just like everyone else I eagerly anticipated the release of the movies.  I know that Lewis did not want movies to be made of them (anyone recall the BBC movies?), but I figured if they’re being made I might as well hope.

I know some who did not like the first one.  I actually thought that it was remarkably similar to the book, for a movie.  I am well aware that a movie cannot capture all of a book, but it can be loyal.  At least one of the reasons that Lord of the Rings did so well was because of their veirce love of the books and loyalty to Tolkien.

Those who know, know that Prince Caspian is one of the “lesser” of the books, but I still like it.

But the movie?  Watching this movie was like watching watching someone talk about micro-brewed beer who has drunk Miller Lite their whole life.  This is my tearing-apart of this stupid movie, and thank God it is the last one that Andrew Adamson (the director) is doing.  In fact thank God that Walden Media has decided to part ways with Disney, who obviously are hell bent on being stupid and controlling.

One thing that this review is not, is a complaint that the movie isn’t “Jesus’y” enough.  I don’t think that Narnia is heaven, and Aslan is Jesus; though obviously the parallels are there (I’ll admit to thinking about Jesus when I think about Aslan, but we’re all for “authorial intent” on this blog); Lewis has explicitly rejected such a strict metaphorical interpretation and so do I.

First, the one good thing:  The river-god is awesome

There, that’s out of the way.  Now to the polemic.

A) One of the most obvious foibles is the “romance” between Caspian and Susan.  Obviously this is not in the book.  Neither does it add any dimension to the movie.  Their affection is short lived and unconsumated (lame kiss at the end excluded).  According to AndrewA,  he felt that Lewis portrayed women poorly in the books and so he wanted to make Susan independent and strong.  Now, I married a strong and independent woman, and I do not believe in continuing age old sexist boxes; but I think that Lewis created Susan as Susan, not as an archetypal woman.  The reality is that Lucy is the hero in every book that she is in.  Lucy is the first to “see” Aslan in Prince Caspian, she is the first into Narnia, she is the firery fun young lady in Horse and His Boy (who fights in a battle!), she is adventurous in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Given this, it is odd to me that AndrewA feels the need to transform Susan into something she is not when we already have Lucy.

The ironic part is that he simply perpetuates derogatory stereotypes in his attempt to break them!  In a rather inexplicable moment, the first glance at Caspian puts Susan in a headspin.  Throughout the movie she has a juvinile crush on him, which seems to be to bring her to the level of a teenage girl (which is what she is!) swooning for the Football captain.  Toward the end of the film, where in defience of help from Caspian, she and Lucy ride off to get to Aslan, Susan jumps off of her horse to take on the soldiers following her.  Sending Lucy off, she bravely stands her ground and begins to fire arrows at the soldiers.  But in the end, she is knocked down AND SAVED BY CASPIAN! How is being “rescued” by the boy breaking anti-women stereotypes?  You got me on that one.

B) Having Caspian be hostile to Narnians rather than overjoyed that all the stories were real.  This only serves to distance Caspian from those who are to be his subjects.  Though obviously Nikabrick sees no reason to have a “Son of Adam” on the throne, the overwhelming response of Narnians in the book is one of joy that finally someone is going to take a stand for them; they would be glad to call Caspian king.

C)  Why is Peter such a jerk?  In the books, Peter is not only humble and unconcerned with his own place, but he does not see himself as returning to a throne, but as aiding Caspian and Narnia.  This is tied into –

D) The scene where all the Narnians are brutally slaughtered in the castle courtyard.  Not only does it add a dimension so dark that I am not sure I would want my daughter seeing it until she is like 13, but for what?  To establish that Peter is a self-interested and petty jerk?  What inadvertantly happens is that we see the incredible courage and fidelity of the Narnians, but that could have been done elsewhere.

E)  The addition of a dialogue between Jadis and Caspian almost works, but when she enchants Peter, it went too far.  If Peter had had a chance in the books he would have been more than ready to slice her to pieces.  This ends up being yet again the attempt of AndrewA to turn Peter into a completely different character than in the book.

F)  The problems of Theodicy constantly added, to where almost nobody was even excited to see Aslan!  Now, yes, in the book there are those who do not believe in Aslan, or if they do they are saddened that he has not acted as he did the in the stories of old, and even those who feel neglected by him; BUT, for the vast majority, those sorts of questions fade to nothingness when Aslan arrives.  This cannot in my mind be underestimated because it seems to be to be a very important aspect to the books.  The old rhyme went:

“Wrongs will be right, when Aslan shows his might,

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death, and

When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again

When he arrives, Narnians dance joyfully around his feet, fawning in unquestioning love and adoration.  He comes on the scene with Bachus, Silenus, and wildly dancing women with overflowing wine.  This was missing completely from the movie and I think it seals the darkness that the movie communicates.  There is indeed a darkness and a sense of hopelessness as the book comes to a climax, but, unlike the movie there is unrestrained joy upon his coming.

Anyone who knows some of the Greek mythology behind Bachus and Silenus know that they are wild and, even, (gasp) debauterous.  This is tempered but not undone in the book, and it seems the sort of thing which seals the relationship between Aslan and Narnia in the books.  The Creator and Sustainer of Narnia (again, not trying to be metaphorical) has arrived, and he has brought wine!  So rejoice!  This includes the trek of Aslan’s party as they walk through and liberate so many of the Telmarines.  The child being beaten is saved, the tired teacher is restored, the sick are healed!  This is what is supposed to happen when Aslan comes, and this movie completely misses it.

All of this leads me to think that it is Adamsons own struggle with Lewis’s thoughts that got projected onto the screen.  He wanted to correct (what seemed to him to be) Lewis’s sexism, and his hopeful naiveity; but he only was able to project his own darkness onto the story.  Perhaps this could make for a good sermon?

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8 Comments

  1. You forgot to mention the lame Telmarine accents (are they supposed to be spaniards?) and how the softy who played Caspian should probably stick to Gucci print advertising and never again try to convince anyone he would even have the slightest clue what to do with a sword were he given one.

    The fundamental difference between the LoTR and CoN films comes down to the attitudes of the film makers towards the text. Peter Jackson and his ilk loved Tolkien’s stories, and this attitude is expressed in a loyalty to the spirit of the stories, even if some changes to the letter were necessary to preserve coherence.

    The Narnia film makers, however, seem to love the Narnian mythos but regret that the author had to be so preachy at times. (How dare he?)

    Speaking as a chronic “fanboi” from my youth of both series. When you watch interviews with Peter Jackson, you get the feeling that he is “one of us” in a way. Whereas interviews with the makers of Narnia feel that they are really just making another film in their repertoire–a particularly high budget and high profile film they can use to further their careers.

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  2. The real tragedy in this is Douglas Gresham’s refusal to honor his step-father’s wishes, that is, that the Chronicles never be turned into a motion picture.

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  3. You just saved me five bucks. If that’s what they’ve done to our beloved Narnia then I think I’ll pass. Though I do enjoy a little darkness once in awhile, like Mirror Mask or Pan’s Labyrinth. However, those are dark to provide contrast and humanity. Adamson seems like he’s just adding darkness for darkness’s sake.

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  4. I saw it last May when it came out, and yes, it was disappointing — but the best thing was that seeing the movie led me to go back and reread the book, which is a wonderful story. I hope they do better with Dawn Treader.

    Peace to you.

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  5. “Watching this movie was like watching watching someone talk about micro-brewed beer who has drunk Miller Lite their whole life.”

    I had this exact same disconnect at an All-State choir performance last weekend. The choirs were made up of our state’s most talented, but they completely missed it on the eight sacred pieces in the conert. My wife and I endured three magnificats sung by individuals that clearly didn’t get it.

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  6. :0) not, to say the least

    There was this overwhelming sense, to me anyway, that it was a large group of people speaking (singing) of that which they knew not.

    To whatever extent Lewis personified Christ and Spirituality in his writing – it was clear that he knew it personally. Disney, obviously, makes a poor conduit for this intimate element – however, I cried at Aslan’s every roar in the first movie. Perhaps just my own understanding superimposed on the movie?

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