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The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

starring Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley and Peter Dinklage
written by Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely & directed by Andrew Adamson
Rated PG for epic battle action and violence.
85%

It has been one year since the four Pevensie siblings (Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) first visited Narnia and helped overthrow the White Witch. But when they are suddenly recalled to the magical land via Susan’s old horn, they find a very different Narnia. Hundreds of years have passed in Narnian time, and the Narnians they remember (dwarves, centaurs, talking animals, etc.) have been driven into hiding and near extinction by the invading Telmarines. Now, a disinherited Telmarine prince named Caspian stands ready to lead the Narnians in a bid to take back what is theirs, but Caspian, the Pevensies, and the Narnians they lead will seemingly have to go into battle without the counsel or support of a mysteriously-absent Aslan.

I first read C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian when I was about five-years old. Almost before I could count, I had already lost track of how many times I read this story and the other Narnian Chronicles. As a result, Lewis’s version of Prince Caspian is buried deep in my psyche in an inextricable way, and it became clear to me almost immediately that I couldn’t watch Adamson’s Prince Caspian with any sort of detachment from that source. It cannot be “just a movie,” at least not the first few times. To my mind, there are three key questions to be answered about Prince Caspian. First, is it a faithful adaptation of Lewis’s source, either in letter or in spirit? Second, does it manage to translate Lewis’s thematic purpose from page to screen? Third, is the movie any good? Briefly, the answers to those questions are no, not very well, and yes. Potential spoilers follow.

In addressing Prince Caspian as an adaptation it would be very easy for this review to devolve into a laundry list of nitpicking. The bad news is, they’ve changed a lot. Some of these changes seemed rather pointless. Some were incredibly confusing, not only with respect to the source, but within the movie itself (think Edmund in the first movie, defacing the stone lion even though Mr. Beaver hadn’t mentioned that Aslan was a lion). Most of all, though, it was just difficult for me, as someone familiar with the story of the book, to get a good sense of the movie itself. Imagine someone tells you that they are going to show you a picture of a cat, only its actually of an octopus. The octopus still has a head, and eyes, and legs (though in the wrong quantity), but they are configured all wrong and there are parts missing. It’s just different, and you can’t really appreciate the octopus because you’re wondering how they can call this a cat.

I could go on for pages and pages about what they changed and why I wish they hadn’t, but by way of example, here are three of the major deviations from the book. First, the film opens with the birth of Miraz’s son and Dr. Cornelius hurrying Caspian out of the castle in the middle of the night. As he leaves, Cornelius presses Susan’s horn into his hands. About five minutes later, with pursuing Telmarines closing in, he blows it. If there is a reason for this, I completely missed it. Just after Caspian blows the horn, Trumpkin is captured by Miraz’s men, hauled back to the castle and kicked around a bit by Miraz. Then, a few scenes later (during what feels like the same day), he is rescued by the Pevensie kids as he is being dumped from a rowboat, as per the book. He realizes who they are almost immediately, and seems to have expected them, although it is not at all clear that he was even aware that the horn was blown, let alone what the result might be.

Second, the movie adds a major battle scene in the midst of the story: a daring nighttime raid on Miraz’s castle by the Narnians. Credit where credit is due, the scene is excellent. It is exciting and well-staged, and I enjoyed it immensely. At one point here (and not for the last time), the movie forgets that the prince in question is named “Caspian” not “Hamlet,” but one could draw from worse sources (and who is to say Lewis didn’t to begin with?). The scene does not only serve to add more action (although it does that admirably), but is worked neatly into a few character arcs and serves the overall plot well. I have two quibbles with it. As a result of Peter’s rash arrogance, a lot of Narnians end up dead, but this is never really dealt with. He doesn’t seem to care much, beyond playing the blame game with Caspian and looking mopey for a few minutes. Also, it contributes to a general fudging of the numbers that the movie suffers from in terms of the actual size of the Narnian force. It is never clear how many there are, but their army doesn’t ever seem to shrink, even when it seems that most of them must be dead.

Third, there is no joyous reclamation of Narnia whatsoever. Nothing. I cannot stress enough how disappointing this was, so I won’t even try. We were robbed. Enough said.

As for the themes from Lewis’s Prince Caspian, they are much diminished, as is Aslan. The movie is just under two-and-a-half hours long, and (aside from poking in for a couple of seconds in a dream), Aslan doesn’t appear until a few minutes after the two-hour mark. He is reduced to little more than a cameo, literally a deus ex machina (which is kind of what he is, but he’s also so much more) brought in to resolve the impossible fix that the main characters have gotten themselves into. For an excellent and thorough examination of the thematic deficiencies of Prince Caspian, see this review from Steven Greydanus at DecentFilms.

Well, but what did they get right? The supporting cast is very, very strong. All of the major Telmarine characters were fantastic, particularly Miraz. He is an evil tyrant, but not cartoonish in any way; a totally believable villain. Trumpkin doesn’t feel quite right, somehow (although I couldn’t lay my finger on why until I read what Greydanus wrote), and Reepicheep was just a little bit too tongue-in-cheek, but nothing like what I had feared. Trufflehunter, Nikabrik and Glenstorm are all there, and all great. Even Bulgy Bear and Pattertwig the Squirrel are present (though I don’t believe they are named). Ben Barnes is an excellent Caspian, and I look forward to seeing him in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Prince Caspian continues the trend of its cinematic predecessor of developing the four Pevensie kids beyond what Lewis wrote, though with weaker results, in my opinion. Peter gets most of the attention this time around, but his character is extremely unsympathetic. They make it work well for the story, but it is still disappointing. Whether unintentional or not, there are small hints foreshadowing Susan’s off-screen role in The Last Battle.

Speaking of battles, I think it is fair to say that the series has come into its own, visually. Snide remarks will still be made about Narnia as Lord of the Rings “lite,” but they are unfounded. The final battle is a grand spectacle, and a unique one. The only exception to this is that Susan continues to fight with her bow and arrow at melee range (throughout the movie). I blame this foolish trend entirely on Legolas, and yet even he occasionally pulled a knife. Still, the point is somewhat moot, as Susan will not be returning to Narnia.

In the end, Prince Caspian didn’t fail to reach me, despite the constant slighting of the source material. I enjoyed myself, and I look forward to seeing it again without having to cobble the story back together in my mind as it plays out before me. When it is good, it is very, very good, and I imagine that audiences largely ignorant of the book will find a great deal to like here, probably even more than in the first film. But for fans of the book, the outlook is grim indeed.

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~ by Jared on May 16, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”

  1. My brother can attest to me doing a literal facepalm when Lucy pulled some weird “stab and slash” with an arrow in one of the two battles (can’t remember which, the ridiculous arrow-work was all over).
    I’d say it was solid; it’s been a bit since I’ve read the book, so I have a harder gauge on the close areas, beyond a couple obvious bits. I’m still trying to figure out what their intended purpose with the raid was, though…
    Also, the Susan/Caspian dynamic felt…weird. And I don’t recall Peter being as much of an ass in the book.

  2. the makers of Prince Caspian kept to the original story better than i would have expected… i had heard they were going to make it into a silly pure-action flick, but thankfully this was not the case

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