Review of Disney/Walden's Prince Caspian
The long-awaited Narnia sequel is here, and as promised, delivers a far more “savage” journey into C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. The two-and-a-half hour film doesn’t stop for long, featuring two heavy battle sequences and one intense duel. (As opposed to the one battle for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.)
And as you might expect for someone who, like many, has lived with part of his heart in Narnia since childhood, there are things to cheer for and things to wince at as Shrek director Andrew Adamson once again seeks to bring his vision of the story – not the story itself – to the screen. There are times where changes add immeasurably to the story, and others where one wonders what Adamson and the writers were thinking (smoking?) anyway. It seems producers enjoyed breaking parts of the story just to hear the snapping sounds. And just as when you break a mirror, the picture becomes fragmented. Though showing you a different side of what you were looking at, you still have a broken mirror. The first fault line was the large section of the film devoted to Peter’s attempts and failures to prove himself TO himself, reaping costly benefits in the process. His faith in Aslan has all but extinguished, and he resolves to lead Narnia on his own. His weaknesses and doubts about how Aslan could have allowed the devastation and sack of Narnia may strike a more poignant chord with modern day thinkers, but at cost to the actual character.
The film doesn’t really get off-kilter from the book until Lucy wakes up to find that meeting Aslan (as she was scheduled to in the book) was a dream. After this appearance, which DOESN’T count, it takes another hour before the stately sovereign arrives in earnest – reducing the central character of all seven Narnia books to a bit part towards the end. The completely new castle raid is another invention of Peter’s pride, but the tearful impact it has on audience members (plus the cool action sequences) is worth it.
Edmund – For being a steadfast hero in the fight. The character grew along with the actor, and now both create a winning return. One looks to his more prominent role in Voyage of the Dawn Treader; he’s earned it.
Trumpkin – For being a “brick” with a dry sense of humor and bleak outlook on life, but a heart of pure gold.
Asterius – The secret of the aged minotaur’s noble sacrifice was public long before the film was, but there’s something about such honorable selfless surrender coupled with vicious determination that brings a lump to my throat. (So also for other movies, such as Boromir’s end in Lord of the Rings, or Doc Ock’s in Spider-Man II.)
Glenstorm – That gi-normous sword and stature coupled with imposing presence transform this character – a supporting role at best – to a highlight of the film, reminding us once again why we love these high and noble centaurs so well.
Editing – As a movie, the film flows much better cinematically. In particular, the beginning kicks off properly shrouded in mystery, and we find ourselves catapulted back into Narnia with nostalgia, intrigue and style.
Aslan’s roar and physical size – Too small in the first film, the stature of our favorite messianic lion more befits the highest of all kings in this second installment – as do his roars, few though they be.
Peter’s stubbornness and pride – Reflective of some realism (would these four children really be satisfied with returning to the life of 1940’s English school children after being kings and queens of Narnia?) but still painful to watch, and a dramatic departure from the character. Does this reflect the learning and personal growth Aslan brought the Pevensies to Narnia for? And as failures mount, how can Aslan pronounce their learning from Narnia to be finished, even successful?
Prince Caspian’s accent – It takes more than watching clips of Inigo Montoya to perfect a Spaniard’s accent (no joking, folks), and alas, Barnes’ on-again-off-again rendition doesn’t pass muster.
Caspian/Peter rivalry – Directly conflicting with the book ( “I haven't come to take your place, you know,” Peter tells Caspian “but to put you into it.”) this lame attempt to manufacture interpersonal conflict between the junior monarchs stands out like a sore cliché. Again, like the broken mirror, it provides an interesting *alternative* perspective, but at cost of unifying the story.
Susan/Caspian romance – Designed mostly to stir up controversy, the looked-for “chemistry” fails utterly, and the unwarranted addition made even the actors uncomfortable .
Harry Gregson-Williams – For recycling music from the first film, whether or not it fit the sequence being scored. Gregon-Williams failed to give Aslan a fitting theme in the first film (particularly letting us down when Aslan resurrect) and makes no restitution in the second film. Ironically, he gets a second chance to introduce the lion in proper fashion, and blows it.
Aslan’s utterly diminished role and glory – To me, this is the central and defining failure of the film. As already mentioned, the defining character Lewis created, the only One to appear in all seven books, is not only limited to the latter twenty minutes or so of the film, but his sovereignty is also significantly and confusingly reduced. The best example is changing Aslan’s “no one is ever told what would have happened” to “we can never know what would have happened.”
I saw the film once on opening day, and the thrill and experience of it all brushed aside my concerns about alterations. Post-viewing ruminations left me more and more dissatisfied. A second viewing reconciled the two sides, leaving me irritated with some of the changes, but an overall positive vibe about the film – and eagerly anticipating Michael Apted’s vision for the third film.