I saw Prince Caspian last week. For those of you who know me from ye Olde Skool, hold your breath: This purist liked the very altered movie. A lot.
**SPOILERS** for Prince Caspian below. (Oh and by the way, I came across Lost spoilers in the public news-feed area of Facebook today–i.e. somebody in my friends list just plastered spoilers in her status, and when I complained, said that she considered anything fair game after the time of the episode airing. WTF? Unless you have some special powers or access, you can’t possibly possess any spoilers BEFORE it airs, so your breathtaking courtesy in witholding what you don’t have is, shall we say, a little lost. And you really should catch up to the era of TiVo and realize that not even TV Guide puts spoilers into headlines any more, for those of us with a schedule that doesn’t care to adhere to the network’s air time. Thus endeth passive-aggressive rant.)
Prince Caspian, the movie, takes on a psychological tension unknown in the book, changes the order of action somewhat to save us from the book’s flaw of three-quarters of it being taken up with the Pevensie children journeying to find Caspian and his little army, and gives the whole thing far less an air of fait accompli. The screenwriters have imagined what it would be like for kids struggling with having grown up and then being flung back into childhood, and they don’t dismiss the possible conflict between a beleagured prince and a former monarch that Lewis disposes of with two sentences in the book (”I haven’t come to take your place, you know, but to put you into it”). There were a few places that needed a little more clarity–Lucy’s solo journey, undertaken to find Aslan after her siblings have despaired of triumphing on their own, is actually a much better way of bringing her to Aslan and makes much more sense of his rebuke to her that she should have come alone when she first saw him, regardless what her siblings required of her. In the book, she is spared the courage necessary for such a journey when she simply dreams of him and gets up in the small hours (with her siblings encamped beside her) to find him waiting for her. But in the movie it’s unclear until she finds him that she is going to seek help from the Lion–just a secrecy that is supposed to heighten the tension but is just annoying. Far better would have been the idea that she is going to seek Aslan as the only one of the four who has any hope of finding him, and that slim.
For the rest, I turn to Kyle Smith:
But Narnia 2 is as splendid a military movie as “Patton.” The C.S. Lewis book on which it is based is said to have been inspired by Mars, the god of war.
If that’s true, all I can say is that director Andrew Adamson has a far better grasp on tactics and strategy, if less knowledge of Mars, than did my hero Mr. Lewis. Grand cinematic battles are here brought forth from mere paragraphs or even sentences of Lewis (”Caspian and other captains of course made many sorties into the open country. Thus there was fighting on most days and sometimes by night as well; but Caspian’s party had on the whole the worst of it”). Adamson realizes that Caspian’s ragtag army could under no circumstances survive days of sorties; he has Peter staking almost all on a surprise attack on the castle, which fails and forces them to buy time with the Lewis gambit of using Miraz’s self-conceit to tempt him into foolish single combat. Not only does the initial battle strategy fail, but in the moment of failure, we witness valiant Narnians facing deliberate sacrifice of life for the escape of the High King and the untried Telmarine boy they hope will be their deliverance from his brethren. As much as I love Lewis, when he wrote Narnia, I can’t envision him embracing the emotional pain of this example. Whether that was because the books were essentially for children and he supposed they couldn’t handle it or because he wouldn’t have wanted to handle it himself, I don’t know.
The ending battle is a masterpiece, especially the way in which Adamson makes use of Lewis’s description of Aslan’s How as a many-galleried, multiple-cave complex to create a pit trap to receive the enemy cavalry’s headlong charge and enable Caspian’s small band to envelop them. And the arrival of Aslan, and the waking trees he sends as his soldiers, is placed for much better dramatic effect than Lewis achieved.
We know from the space trilogy that Lewis was capable of far more psychological complexity than ever appears in the Narnia stories. Prince Caspian would have been improved by a dash of it. Kudos to director and screenwriter Adamson and his fellow writers, Markus and McFeely, for providing it.
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