Monday, January 05, 2009

Prince Caspian (2008)

Again, in lieu of the identities post and a post on AHA ...

Prince Caspian (2008)



I did not like this movie. It was very disappointing. Prince Caspian is one of the better Narnia books, I think -- or it least, it's one of my favourites. The book has interesting characters, and opens up all kinds of questions about Narnia for people who like to pick at such things. The book has moments of real tension, and moments of wonder. The movie? Not so much.

From the beginning, it's clear that there will be little loyalty to the book. Peter is cast as the kind of boy who gets into fights for no apparent reason. He's still a boy, not someone who has grown up and ruled Narnia as High King. Susan is treated similarly -- the unnecessary scene where Susan blows a geeky student from another school off seems silly in all kinds of ways. Fortunately, Edmund and Lucy remain relatively unscathed, at least; Caspian does not. One of the best things about the Caspian in the book is that he is close to pure of heart. We know from the beginning that Caspian will eventually be king, because he loves Narnia and he acts like a Narnian. But he's too young, and helpless. The film Caspian is not too bright, seems petulant, and cares much more about himself -- and revenge -- than Narnia. Part of this is that the makers of the film have decided to accentuate the details of Miraz's usurpation. Lewis tells us about the regicide (and fratricide, for that matter), but as though to reinforce what a thorough bad guy Miraz is. Caspian is at first driven more for survival, and then later by his need to save Narnia. Being king isn't a goal, but a burden, or perhaps a means to a more important goal.

The meetings between Miraz and his council are additions, but in some ways, they are sensible. The allow the audience to see that there is conflict among the Telmarine nobles and, should the series continue, help to lay the ground for the search for the 12 lords in Voyage of the Dawn Treader. On the other hand, they distract from the overall flow of the story, as well as from the message. One of the things I never really liked about Prince Caspian was the Christian message, which in part is that one should keep believing in a benevolent God even when he seems to have abandoned us, in part is that even the meekest of us should stand against friends and family for our faith, just as the early martyrs did (although Lewis doesn't really obviously consign anyone to a martyr's fate). Since the film was presented by Walden Media, I was surprised by the change. I was also surprised at how disappointed I was. Christian message or not, Lucy's Aslan sightings are an important part of the story, if only because they increase the tension, expose the physical and social changes wrought by time and the Telmarines, and give us a chance to learn more about both Edmund and Trumpkin. It might have been much better had the section been left out altogether, rather than limiting it to one vague sighting and a nonsensical chiding by the lion much later. It also means that much of the film is taken up with events that never happen in the book, 'action' inserted to make up for the fact that the trip back from Cair Paravel takes up 2/3 of the book, more or less.

Meanwhile, back in Aslan's Howe, which was much bigger than I ever imagined it, Caspian has assembled an amazingly large contingent of Narnians, some of whom should not have been there -- critters who sided with the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I'm a bit shaky on the continuity of the film (I can't quite remember when the Pevensies show up), but the fact that the Caspian who was at least nominally in charge of the Narnians when the Pevensies arrive at the Howe was much more grown up, and really didn't seem to need the older kings and queens. It's also unclear why they all decide to launch a night attack on the castle. In the scheme of the film, I suppose it makes sense. Peter is a hothead, and seems to be trying to prove himself against Caspian. Caspian is initially motivated by a desire to rescue Dr. Cornelius (what sensible king or commander would go to such risks?? and besides, in the book, he'd already escaped!) and also, possibly, by wishes to impress Susan; finally, he is motivated by revenge. The sequence ends in a horrible defeat for the Narnians, in ways that should have removed any confidence they have in Peter and Caspian. It only gets worse when they return to the Howe, where Nikabrik, the Hag, and the Werewolf convince (sort of) Caspian to conjure the White Witch.

There are many things wrong with this scene. First and foremost, the witch is actually conjered,and tries to convince Caspian and Peter both to release her fully. She plays to a their hopelessness and to their egos. I suppose it shows that they have no faith that Aslan will come, but eh, it really doesn't work. Part of this is that Edmund saves the day by shattering the ice wall that entraps the witch, looks at Peter, and says, "I know. You had it sorted." Any intimation that Peter and Caspian were being tempted by evil or some such thing is gone in that moment -- again, it's all about Peter the hothead, who will take the easy way.

This makes the last part of the film more jarring. All of a sudden, we have Peter the Magnificent, High King, and warrior able to fight against the bigger, more seasoned, and nastier Miraz. Where did he come from? He's certainly more responsible and adult than Caspian, who leaves the scene of an impending battle to rescue Susan from some of Miraz's soldiers. This is a Susan who, up to this point, seems to need very little in the way of rescuing. For the girl who supposedly had no place in battle, she's pretty scary with a bow -- and yet, she needs Caspian to rescue her from the last man of one of Miraz's patrols. Go figure.

Lucy is by this time pretty much an afterthought. She makes her way to Aslan -- we never know how she figures out where to find him, though. And not much happens on that end until he lets the ents know it's all right to be pissed off, and Birnam Wood walks spirits of the trees and the waters loose. Of course, this doesn't happen till there has been much more fighting, first a single combat between Miraz and Peter, then between the forces of Narnia (which include female centaurs, which seems a bit wrong) and the orc Telmarine armies. The fight between Peter and Miraz is interesting. For all that Peter has been shown as anything but a king -- let alone High King, this scene is believable, as is the scene where Edmund delivers Peter's challenge. Again, it's interesting that not only is Edmund much more like the Edmund of the book, but he is simply just more interesting. Not only does he seem more like the Edmund in the book, who at one point is described by one of Miraz's lords as a dangerous knight, but he seems to be the only character who lived through the events in the previous film (and book). To be fair, Edmund is the character who went through the most, but it surprised me that he seemed so strong and steadfast in this film. Given the portrayals of Peter and Caspian, though, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise.

The film ends predictably, given what we've seen to that point. There is an entirely gratuitous and ridiculous goodbye kiss between Susan and Caspian, and then it's back to wartime England for the Pevensies, and Narnia in the hands of some long-haired Telmarine.

Caspian is also a long-haired Telmarine with an accent. All the Telmarines have accents. Who knew that they were swarthy Mediterranean types? Not me. When I read the books, it never occurred to me that the Telmarines were anything but English. Yes, they were supposedly the descendants of brigands and pirates, but it never occurred to me that they weren't English since, well, there are lots of English pirates, and I think I was pretty much thinking of the whole 'shipwrecked till they found a door in a cave' thing as a reference to the folks on Pitcairn Island. But mostly, I just didn't get why they were swarthy and had accents vaguely Iberian. I am really uncomfortable with the 'dark and oily foreigners with thick accents' portrayal, and it grated on me throughout the film.

7 comments:

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

Ehm, I assume you meant to write, "Susan blows OFF a geeky student," unless there was a really, really interesting scene I somehow missed.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Scott, I put the 'off' in there! where Susan blows a geeky student from another school off


But it's a good point... perhaps I should re-think the placement of the preposition, since I'm not in the habit of writing Narnia fanfic, slash or no!

Aven said...

I haven't seen the film yet (I will, though, even though I'm expecting to be disappointed), but I do have one comment -- I never read the Telmarines as English, for what it's worth. Though they aren't obviously "Arabs" like the Calormines in the later books, I always assumed they were Mediterranean types, mostly because of the negative portrayal and (perhaps?) some of the costuming suggestions, as well as the final island/pirate scene. But that probably just means I bought in too wholeheartedly to the worldview and prejudices of Lewis and his generation; what can I say, I was 7. And I've had a hard time moving past my initial loving reaction to a more critical, grown-up perspective.

Anyway, thanks for the review!

Dr. Richard Scott Nokes said...

Ooops, I guess I missed it. You can only imagine what the separated preposition created in my mind's eye.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

sadly, I can!

tenthmedieval said...

She's probably older than she was acting, but all the same...

I agree with you about a lot of the points here but I did enjoy the film. (And what's going on? Was it released in Europe first? I also agree that the fight scene between Peter and Miraz was the most believable thing in it, and that the whole Aslan's Howe scene was way way over the top, witch included. (Though I loved the 'Malfosse' anyway.) But although I also never figured the Telmarines for 'foreigners' when I read the books (I think I dimly thought of them as Normans, but knew even then that the armour was wrong) I thought that that really brought out why the animals and magical races were against them, and that in some sense they didn't really `belong'. I don't think that, at least, hurt the book's story or the film's.

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