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Capt. Sage's Review of
The Chronicles of Narnia:
Prince Caspian

The second adaptation of "The Chronicles of Narnia" novels includes many departures from the novel on which it is based. It is generally enjoyable, and often true to at least the spirit of the novel. Unfortunately, most of the significant departures from the novel fall flat and seriously harm the movie. Nevertheless, it's hard not to take pleasure in a film with good actors, gorgeous scenery, and good dialogue.

Let's go ahead and say what everyone's wondering about: yes, Prince Caspian was cast correctly. Ben Barnes' age and vaguely Spanish accent actually enhance his role as the vigorous heir of an invader dynasty. He competently handles both fight scenes and his dialogue, portraying both a self-confident leader and a man who realizes he has a lot to learn.

Similarly Peter Dinklage, as Trumpkin, excellently delivers well-written dialogue. The writers rewrote or modified many of his lines, but retained his dry sense of humor and unusual exclamations, and the actor kept both kinds of lines feeling natural.

Reepicheep was particularly well served by this movie. His heroism was more than a cliche, his daring was comical but also actually brave, his chivalry was touching and ennobling, and his loyalty was loving instead of slavish. Eddie Izzard did an excellent job as his voice, and his computer generated body was done very well.

The returning actors, the four Pevensie siblings, did their roles very well. It was fun to see them much more physically courageous than in the previous movie. In the previous movie they seemed more like postmodern people, anxious about getting hurt. In this movie they're raring to help people despite danger and have honed combat skills.

Another thing everyone wants to know about: how did the fight scenes and special effects turn out? The special effects, as usual, were brilliant and well-imagined. The fight scenes were exciting and on the whole more comprehensible than in the first movie. (See the spoiler section below.1)

Now it's time to talk about the other things everyone wants to know about: the changes from the book to the movie. Before I say anything else, I'd like to say that I agree with the filmmaker's position on this movie. The narrative as written in the book works for a book, but would be nearly unintelligible as a movie. So I generally accept that the storyline had to be shifted around somehow. I also don't want to carp about too many little changes. Some lines were modified from the book, and some given to different characters, but on the whole this worked. The advantage of having a whole movie devoted to this book is that many things were incldued that ordinarily can't be included, and much of the dialogue and characters, in spirit or word-for-word, was preserved, which makes me very happy. (See the spoiler section below.2)

Now let's go on to the changes that didn't make me so happy. I was very glad that the first movie remembered that this is "The Chronicles of Narnia," not "The Lord of the Rings." This movie tended to forget that from time to time. I didn't mind so much seeing Susan as a warrior queen. What I did mind was the attempt to turn an archer into a melee fighter á la Legolas in Peter Jackson's adaption of "The Lord of the Rings." It barely worked in Jackson's films, and usually because Legolas didn't fight in melee too often- instead he concentrated on graceful stunts to remind us that Legolas is a Tolkienic elf, with all the strength, agility, and grace that implies. When Legolas did fight in melee, he usually used knives or got out of the situation, and maybe once stabbed an enemy with an arrow in an unarmored place. That made sense (as much as movie action sequences ever do). What didn't make sense is Queen Susan being able, in this film, to bash enemies with a bow, and stab a guy through his armor with an arrow. (At another point, this movie copied rather than overdid a moment from "The Lord of the Rings" movie adaptations - see the spoiler section below.3)

The movie attempted to use to its advantage the necessity of moving around scenes to introduce a theme that, in my opinion, should've been in the novel: themes of the destructive consequences of pride. The movie also, despite the changes, maintains a theme the book did have: the power of humility. The changes the movie made included good foreshadowing. The film also made an attempt to expand the characters, with generally good results. Unfortunately, it all ended up feeling not quite good enough, mostly because the pride theme, which had been going strong, fizzled in the movie's last quarter. I wonder if some crucial scene from this quarter was deleted, or lost in the sorts of mischance unfortunately common in any business, because I almost think that just one more scene, perhaps even one potent line, was all that was needed. It's almost heartbreaking, because you can tell a lot of work was poured into that theme, and many of the deviations from the book were to support it, so it was a big gamble, but it failed by just a little bit. Perhaps when this movie goes to DVD, we'll learn just what happened, and maybe even see it fixed. (See the spoiler section below.4)

Overall, "Prince Caspian" is enjoyable, and often more faithful to the book's overall feeling for its deviations, but the failure of most of the crucial additions left this movie feeling unsatisfactory, especially as compared to the previous film. Still, the solid writing and casting for this film gives the next film adaptation, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," an excellent foundation, and it gives me confidence that the crucial casting decisions necessary in that next film will be made well.

SPOILERS

The ending battle with the trees marching to war was very impressive- they did a good job visualizing something very difficult to see. In opposition to other parts of the movie, this part didn't conjure up thoughts of "The Lord of the Rings." The trees were clearly not Ents, but instead were cool in their own way.

In this spoiler section, I'm going to mercilessly criticize many of the major changes the book made to the film. So I should like to begin by mentioning one major change that I was glad they made. Unusually for me, I'm glad the filmmakers ommitted something: the Romp. In the book, there's an entire arc in which Aslan, Lucy, Susan, Bacchus and Silenus have a wild party, free Telmarine civilians from the dreary oppresiveness of their everyday lives, and eventually feast the trees and Caspian's victorious army. I'm very glad this was left out. I can hardly see how any filmmaker could've attempted filmng that and achieved anything other than a muddle or some sort of hallucinogenic sequence from a 60s film. I applaud the filmmakers for making a brave, sensible, and wise decision to cut that arc.

I've really enjoyed the use of griffins in this movie and the first movie. But I didn't enjoy Edmund's backwards-falling onto a griffin because it felt too much like the Lord of the Rings. After seeing it before, we've already figured out what's happening about five seconds before it does, and that's no fun! One of the best parts of the griffins in this movie and the previous is that no one's done things with them like these movies have done, so I was rather disappointed that in that particular moment, they simply adhered to cliche.

I should've anticipated, and fully accept, that a lot of this movie had to be a Peter and Susan flick. After all, it's their last hurrah. In addition, ever since I read Peter's line to Caspian in the novel version of Prince Caspian about not seeking to supplant him, but to aid him, I've thought that there ought to have been more tension and conflict in their relationship.

It's another thing altogether, however, to go for Peter: the Magnificent Street Fighter! When I saw that bit at the beginning of the movie, I thought to myself, "Oh, no. This is a bad start." Dignified Peter as a common brawler? I understand the temptation to rip up the stiff (even stuffed) shirt that Peter sometimes appears to be in the novels, but even in the books he's more complex than that. Surely there were better ways for the film to indicate that he was giving in to pride and frustration? It only got more disgusting seeing Peter give in to the brutal cliche of literally crossing swords with one of his friends and allies, Caspian. Seeing Peter as a bully in the film made it hard to sympathize with him. I would've thought that after Peter resolved his differences with Edmund in the first film, Peter would've already learned at least some measure of control and respect when working with a partner, no matter how junior he may think him.

As I mentioned in the main review, the movie stakes a lot on the theme of pride's destructive consequences, as illustrated in Peter's character. I applaud the goal, but was disappointed by the result. The movie had Peter storm Miraz's castle (in the book it remained only a rash suggestion of Reepicheep) and nearly give in to the seduction of having the power of the White Witch on his side. The movie then went further and had Peter realize just what a pitiful state his pride had reduced him to. And then, what happened? I'm not sure. It's not clear where Peter went from there. He probably changed, but it seems like after all that storytelling the movie could've come up with some scene or line to let us know that Peter had finally learned his lesson. I could understand not taking the time to explicitly explain the completion of the changes in Peter's character if this were a minor side issue or only an implied inner struggle, but the movie made it a major focus and I think we should expect the film to properly conclude that plotline. Since that plotline instead sizzled right when the movie went to the climax, the entire movie imploded. Fortunately the other elements were strong enough to prop up the ending, but the movie lacked a true conclusion.

One odd result of all this is that at the end of the movie, Aslan's pronouncement, that Peter and Susan have learned what they need from Narnia, feels very wrong. The film's evidence indicates that Peter may or may not have learned his lesson, but in any case Edmund learned his lesson far better than Peter!

Still, I don't want to knock the part where Aslan sends people back to their worlds. I'll give it its due later: for now I'll say it was a difficult scene handled well, especially with foreshadowing provided by Susan.

Speaking of Susan, let's discuss how well the movie's changes to her worked. As I said before, I don't mind her being a warrior queen. I minded far more her becoming a liar, giving a nerdly English suitor a fake name. It was funny, yes, but it didn't feel quite right. (In a similar vein, I did mind the "call me" pun. Since it seems unlikely that Caspian would grasp all the dimensions of the pun, it felt more like Susan, Lucy, and we the audience, were laughing at him instead of with him.)

I'm not sure I can be objective about Susan. For years I've been convinced that what C. S. Lewis eventually did with her in the final book, "The Last Battle," was semiplausible, but not nearly plausible enough, and a huge mistake in any case. So I'm biased towards changing her character, in almost any way. I'd prefer saving her from that fate, but I'm open to almost any change in her.

Not only that, but when the movie first started hinting that it was going to add a possible attraction between Caspian and Susan, in stark contrast to the book, I didn't mind so much. After all, if you're going to make up a romantic relationship between any two characters in Narnia, it makes sense to pick boy-crazy Susan and on-the-prowl Caspian. (Just to clarify, that was hyperbole, not my real opinion of their characters as portayed in the novels or movies or British Broadcasting Corporation specials, or indeed anywhere else.)

I've come to the conclusion, however, that overall it was a mistake to include that plot thread in the movie. For one thing, even while I was seeing it unfold, I knew it couldn't go anywhere. I also knew it'd be a huge mistake (and I'd be mad) if the filmmakers, in contradiciton to the novels, made her able to come back to Narnia so that the relationship could continue. So the relationship could never go anywhere. The second reason that it was a mistake is that it added nothing to any character. Neither Susan nor Caspian grew as a result of the relationship, and none of the siblings did either. We didn't even really get to see any previously unseen aspects of the characters. Thirdly, as someone pointed out to me, it'll make Caspian's romance with Ramandu's daughter in the next episode of the story very awkward. In real life, we accept that you really can love someone, lose that person, and then really love another person. It's very difficult, however, to portray this in a movie, or even a series of movies. As a result, we'll spend our time in the next movie theorizing that Caspian still really loves Susan and not Ramandu's daughter, comparing Ramandu's daughter to Susan, and wondering if Caspian is really a loveless, beauty-chasing heartbreaker like Don Giovanni. For these three reasons, Susan and Caspian's attraction could've been left out without harming the movie or reducing its quality, which is presumably why it never occurred in the books.

To conclude our examination of major changes made to characters, let's deal with the other major change to Prince Caspian - the addition of a powerful desire to avenge his father. This is a reasonable motive, and one that he actually did briefly voice in the novel. Also, consider that in the novel "The Silver Chair" King Caspian is ready to kill his friend in a fit of passion when he learns that his friend didn't do enough to warn his son against an enchantress. So upon reflection, the filmmakers weren't too off-base in souping up that part of Caspian's character. Nevertheless, when Caspian threatens Miraz in his bedchamber, a moment which was supposed to be dramatic, who among us didn't at least fleetingly think of the quote from "The Princess Bride"? "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." I think the filmmakers should've anticipated the resemblance and done an entirely different sort of scene.

True, giving Caspian a stronger motive of revenge did add drama to the scene where Nikabrik tries to convince him to summon the White Witch. Still, despite the added drama, and an excellent werewolf voice and performance by Shane Ragni, the scene just didn't work out so well. I'm not quite sure what went wrong. I almost liked, but also hated, having the White Witch almost summoned, as opposed to the book where Caspian immediately vetos the idea. Perhaps, like someone pointed out to me, a lot of the failure was due to the excess of light in the scene. The book made it dark, which added to both the fear, confusion, and suspense, and mercifully made ambiguous who killed Nikabrik. Making the scene dark in the film may have salvaged or at least improved it. It would at least have made Caspian's inability in the movie to detect the werewolf and hag at first more belieavable.

I missed Dr. Cornelius, and one big reason for this is that he helped Caspian oppose Nikabrik's plan to summon the White Witch in the book! The character was also smarter in the book, leaving before he was grabbed by Miraz's goons. Still, I'm glad he appeared in the film as much as he did.

Now that I've finished my major complaints, I'll give in to my dark side and unleash my more petty complaints. I didn't like the highly modified Dancing Lawn scene, where the old Narnians are deciding whether or not they'll follow Caspian, or even allow him to live. First the Narnians hate Caspian with a deep ancestral rage. A few minutes and a few lines later they all realize they owe him an ancestral allegiance, which they will honor to the death. Huh? The book may've been simplistic when it simply had the Old Narnians generally accept Caspian, but at least it kept the story moving and remained consistent. Even in the book, the alliance wasn't a cohesive whole of unreserved devotion to Caspian. Therefore, I think there were better ways to have done the Dancing Lawn scene in the movie.

If the film had merely switched around Sopespian and Glozelle's roles from what they were in the book, I would've been only perplexed and faintly annoyed. I was only faintly annoyed that the movie made Glozelle a general instead of a lord. I was, however, very annoyed that they made him sympathetic. I much preferred the calloused Lord Glozelle from the book. In the book, Lord Glozelle helped make Miraz king, but thought Miraz was ungrateful, so he and Lord Sopespian manipulated Miraz into accepting King Peter's challenge. The book then had Lord Glozelle be the one who stabbed Miraz, for an insult Miraz had given him. I didn't like the movie's General Glozelle, whose only claim to sympathy was being conflicted about perpetrating horrendous evil. At first I wasn't sure where the movie was taking its version of Lord Sopespian (a feeling I both liked and disliked), and I was surprised when it had him stab Miraz in the back, but overall I didn't mind the changes to his character since they were minor and well-portrayed. Also, the film's invention of his fate at the hands of the river-god was well-done, and I enjoyed it.

I realize that a movie doesn't have the luxury of a book- the movie needed a named character to be the first Telmarine to go back to the other world at the end of the movie. The book had an unnamed man do that. If the movie had tried that, we would've spent the last few minutes of the denoument wondering, "Who was that guy? Did we see him before and I forget?" Still, I just didn't like making Glozelle that guy. On the other hand, I did approve of the fact the film's Glozelle, by courageously speaking first and clearly risking his life to mend his ways, explicitly repented. In fact, he did so far more clearly than the film's Peter.

Another good modification to the part where Aslan sends people to the other worlds was resolving whatever happens to Prunaprismia and her baby. I must admit that her fate was a question I never considered until the opening moments of the movie, but it was a minor loose end in the book. The movie found a way to conclude her story in a way that made sense.

Now for nitpicking. I was alarmed in Miraz' coronation scene when they started announcing places troops were being marshalled from. I thought they were going to mess it up. But then I realized they were actually giving names of places in Narnia, straight out of the books! They almost had it right until they mentioned Tashbaan! Tashbaan is the capital of the great empire of Calormen! It's not in Narnia! I thought to myself, "Okay, maybe they can justify this by saying that the Telmarines conquered Calormen. Ooh, or maybe they'll show evil Calormene mercenaries in the evil army!" But we had no such luck. Apparently it was just a continuity goof. It's difficult to argue that the Telmarines could've conquered Calormen- it's several times bigger than Narnia, and Tashbaan is very far from Narnia. Also, the next book, "The Dawn Treader," introduces the country of Calormen for the first time, and takes it for granted that Calormen is an independent nation which engages in the slave trade with the Lone Islands. I'd expect the movies to be able to dance around that, except that this intersects rather personally with Caspian when he and his friends are nearly sold as slaves by pirates from the Lone Islands! So I doubt the movies can reasonably posit that the Telmarines conquered Calormen- and I don't want the movies to posit that.

Now I shall point out a minor detail from the book that I'm glad the movie kept. The Pevensies, in the book and movie, take off their shoes and splash around and have fun in the ocean for a bit. I'm glad they kept that. I was afraid that the movie would make them too tragic or too cool for that.

Of course, it was pointed out to me that the movie changed things a few scenes later by having them continue to explore in bare feet. That must've been painful. In the book, sensible Susan makes everyone put their shoes on again.