Friday, May 16, 2008

Prince Caspian: Why the Movie is Not Worth Seeing

My husband (Dale) and I spoke for a Christian school in San Antonio, Texas this week. The grand finale was a Prince Caspian movie adventure at 8 am this morning.

The movie was terrible. Besides being a poor adaptation from the book, it didn't impress me on its own merits either. I'm afraid I have little but criticism for it. I've listed a few while the thoughts are still fresh, but please be forewarned plot spoilers to follow.
  1. NutraSweet Narnia- It's a fake adaptation of something I've seen before. The plot is embarrassingly drawing on New Line Cinema's adaptation of Lord of the Rings (yes I know Lewis and Tolkien were friends, but their worlds are vastly different and I'm annoyed when producers find a code for one movie and than slap it on another film to make them big bucks--I wasn't taken in, even though I enjoyed New Line Cinema's adaptation of Tokien). Too many self-consciously similar moments, rock-launching catapults, forging weapons in underground lairs, trees destroying armies, the musical score. Honestly it felt like a poor adaptation of a shoddy Tolkien story.
  2. Plot confusion- There are 2 main climaxes (one entirely written in by the movie's script writers) that make the film drag. The children are called into Narnia entirely too early, they leave out Caspian's childhood, training and the influence of his female nurse and her stories. An entirely unnecessary and confusing battle sequence of Caspian storming King Miraz's castle reminds me of the inconsistent scene in The Two Towers when some bright-eyed writer puts Frodo in Osgiliath showing his ring to the Nazgul. It ruins all elements of surprise. The same happens here in Prince Caspian. You feel yourself rising into the castle battle scene, but when the attack fails (the leaders, Peter and Caspian, turn on one another and a disappointing King Peter vs. King Caspian's conflict rises that is even more spiteful than Caspian vs. the real bad-guy Miraz) another battle is necessary. Turning the movie into a battle-driven plot is another Lord of the Rings move. I didn't like it there, but here it creates two competing climaxes. No wonder Susan and Lucy must fight (while they don't in the book) Here, they'd have precious little scene-presence if they didn't.
  3. Aslan- is reduced further. I didn't think the director, Andrew Adamson, could minimize him any worse than he did in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (read my husband's review to understand that more). But Adamson has. The director/writer team decided to subtly alter Aslan's dialog with Lucy in the wood, turning the substance of the experience into a dream sequence (this is too close to the way so many unbelievers see believers--those peo ple with ecstatic experiences that are entirely unsubstantiated in the real world). The changes in dialog are so subtle it's easy to miss, but Dale and I both groaned when we heard the line in response to Lucy's, "Aslan, your bigger!" changed from the books marvelous: "That is because you are older . . . I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger." The movie has altered it to, "Every year you grow, I will grow, too." Do you see the difference? A bit later in the scene Lewis has Aslan saying, "Nobody is every told what would have happened, but anyone can find out what will happen." This is changed, so slightly to, "We will never know what would have happened." Do you see the difference here? We go from seeing Aslan as the keeper of all knowledge to being one of us (much like Open Theists believe) in his knowledge of all possible situations in the future. Instead of Aslan informing Lucy's knowledge, he becomes a sort of finite creature, a truly grand animal, but only an animal, one that keeps growing up and one that cannot know what the future holds until it happens. This happens again and again. As Dale and I just read the book, our disappointment with Aslan was much deeper. We don't get to see Aslan rousing the woods or the armies to aid the failing Caspian, rather it's Peter who with a bitter, self-righteous, bossy attitude attempts to defeat the enemy with or without Caspian's friendship or our respect.
  4. The White Witch makes a weird appearance, Edmund forcefully destroys her again. Goodness knows how many times do will need to watch her killed? I guess Aslan's work needed extra help? Both Caspian and Peter seem entranced by her.
  5. The director completely removed the Bacchus scene because it (in his mind) inappropriately shows children drinking wine. I can't help but sigh with his silliness. As if it's inherently evil for children to drink wine. It isn't in most of Europe, nor in Scripture. In doing so he removed Aslan's powerful jaunt to release the dryads, awaken the river, release the enslaved school children, free Caspian's nurse, and on and on. Instead of free celebration, song and wine we have an elaborated evil scene where the werewolf and hag perform the work of a medium, shrieking an incantation and calling upon the spirit of the White Witch. I can't respect these sorts of edits and additions.
  6. Ask anyone who's watched Prince Caspian who the hero is and they'll say either Peter, Caspian or Lucy. Lucy is closest, but in the book this is only because of Aslan's power, his breath on her, his instructions to her. In the words of one disappointed eight grader today, the movie was a let-down, "I never got to see Aslan. He wasn't really in it." That's because he was no longer the hero.
  7. Prince Caspian while a dashing actor (age 26) trying to play a 19 year old is besotted with Susan throughout the film. It distracts from the movement and requires a sort of bittersweet romance between the two, finished off with a mournful, Hollywood-esque goodbye kiss at the end. Even the teens commented on how out of place if felt. We reminded them that if Caspian had really been a mere youth and Susan a young girl, we wouldn't have felt quite so interested in their love lives and not expected dove's eyes at each other. In the book Caspian is amazing partially because as a boy he does battle for Narnia. I'm not quite as interested in how an adult wages battle (that happens all the time).
  8. Reepicheep is too small and a comedy sort of Fievel goes West character. Leave it to Disney! I'd imagine Reep would be insulted if he could watch this rendition of his dignity.
Two things I liked
- cool costumes and make-up (but so cool they're kind of distracting)
- Prince Caspian was humble and likeable, despite Peter's disrespect and endless hubris. Shame he's so dreadfully old for the part.

I'd recommend not seeing it on the big screen. I feel we might be able to vote loudly enough with our pocketbooks so the makers, producers, writers, Disney, Walden and especially Douglas Greshem (C.S. Lewis' stepson whom I'm afraid doesn't really get his stepfather's imaginative world) see that Christians won't be pandered to with poor movies (no matter how great their original sources were no matter how much of a Christian worldview they used to espouse).

Instead, take the time and money and go buy the book Prince Caspian, snuggle into a velveteen chair some cozy place and dive into the original story. It probably won't take you much longer than the films 2 1/2 hours. It'll be time and money better spent.

16 comments:

Julia said...

My husband and I saw this movie at a critic screening and, like you, we were underwhelmed. I have not read the book, but felt that the movie was not only slow and boring, but that I had seen all of the scenes somewhere before. I don't always mind if a movie strays from its literary counterpart if it provides a great cinematic experience. Unfortunately, this movie wasn't like the book and didn't dazzle this movie goer. Check out my husbands review at www.mauitime.com if you're curious about what he thought. Thanks for the in depth analysis.

Gretchen said...

How can a movie ever live up to a book? The only instance that comes to mind is "Anne of Green Gables" which was so artfully and thoughtfully done it really had the same feel as the books.

My heart sank when I read your post because I have been anticipating the movie so much. I have to admit that the trailers have left me a bit cold. I recently read the book in preparation for the film and it looks like it will be a hard act to follow.
There is so much back story and texture to the book and I'm sure it would be hard to capture that magic and flavor in an epic Hollywood film.
I'll see it in the theater but will be aware of the subtle and not so subtle changes.

JR said...

Jonalyn, your just flat out wrong on this one!

I'm sorry but your commentary is maybe 5% to 10% accurate. And even then the places you get it right your perspective is so skewed you don't even allow yourself to see where the film makers did their job extraordinarily well and how true to the grand story Prince Caspian really was.

If I have time, I will write a point by point refutation of your flawed analysis, but in the meantime, everyone should go and see this film, it is fantastic! Granted it can have its cheesy moments, but it is an excellent presentation on the silver screen of Lewis' "Martian" novel in the Narnia Cronicles.

-see M.Ward's Planet Narnia for more info on the books mythological planetary themes.

Dale Fincher said...

Gretchen.... I know few people who expect a book to live up to the movie... I'm the same way!

Yet you'd find it quite odd if Ludlum fans discovered producers changed the hero of their books from Jason Bourne to Bourne's girlfriend. The Narnia films are something similar to that.

Jackson's Lord of the Rings made its deviations from the books, but still captured the spirit of Middle-Earth. So the big screen doesn't require such a large failure as Adamson has made, in my opinion, with the Narnia franchise (and it seems clear now that Gresham knows not how to maintain quality control).

___________

jr, I wonder if you watched the same movie. I'm a little familiar with Ward and not surprised at Medieval cosmology or anything pertaining to Lewis' expertise peeking through in Lewis' writing.

With separate graduate degrees in acting and philosophy, and having baptized my imagination in Lewis and his influences, I find myself remotely qualified to say that this movie flopped hard at delivering the meanings of Lewis' book (Aslan is no more than an impotently large creature) and the acting performances of Peter and Susan were flat, dull, and frighteningly resemble the poor-twin of the real Peter and Lucy of the books.

And a brief google search will reveal that many found critics Adamson's creativity too involved in "add fantasy formula and stir" approach, with imitation, not imagination. We all saw flashes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Return of the Jedi and the like.

The real Narnia is a place we'd all like to be, but I'm afraid this film version, hijacked by the pirates, needs liberating. I hope one day a producer with imagination who gets Lewis (and doesn't just grasp at dollar signs) will rise up and make these movies again and make them well. As it is the puppet film versions of these Narnia stories get the meanings of Lewis even if not delivered in the technology. Adamson's creations are just the opposite (with strangely deviated plot twists to fulfill his own fantasy of making a quasi-epic film).

But our culture has a hard time with the Christian imagination, some say it doesn't exist while others are unsure of what it is. Many, including the evangelicals who throw money at films like this, often have too much in common with the dwarves of Narnia than they do with the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve.

If people do go see the movie, I'd heartily encourage a good reading of the book first to see exactly what happens with this adaptation. Most I've been talking to, haven't re-read the book since childhood and so miss the important refreshment of the spirit that these films could have but utterly miss.

JR said...

Dale,
I haven't read your review yet, so far after reading your comments here, I doubt that I'll find much better commentary.

More and more people I have talked to, have loved the film and are recommending it to everyone they talk to. As you two should also be doing!

In response to your response, critics aren't impressive. Sure they can indicate a general view and reflect public opinion if you find enough of them who agree, but come on, what "industry critic" wouldn't give a thumbs down to an inherently Christian story. As you should know from your graduate work in philosophy you can find a sophist to stand up for any point of view. Speaking of critics rottentomatoes.com has Prince Caspian registering at 60%-80% favorable from about 150+ different critics. So don't give me "I was a theater major, I know better" lines.

If you really want to make an argument from how the masses accept the film, box office tallies would be a better indicator so only time will tell on that one. So far 55M on opening weekend ain't bad, it's no box office record but don't count your chickens till they hatch.

Here is a great commentary from a well respected Christian professor at some fundamental bible school in the LA area, Oh yeah, didn't you all go there? and get your fancy degrees from that school?

Read here Wonderful Film, Better Than the Book to see what other thoughtful Christian folks are saying about the film.

p.s. It's funny that the "impotently large figure" as you say, is clearly the Hero of the film who turns the tide. If that's what you call impotence, than get me some of that! The three princes/kings are protagonists, yes, brave, sure, but hero's, no. And if you don't think that Aslan is clearly the savior/hero of the film than the next best you could argue is Lucy, and she is only trusting in Aslan. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think that's called begging the question. Oops did I just beat up a straw-man, I'm gonna have to stop doing that.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

JR
I wanted to briefly write and ask you to watch the tone in which you criticize.

The way we speak truth into other's lives is just as important as the truth we share. Please do not insult, mock or belittle others who do not share your point of view. Suffice it to say we disagree on the merits of the Narnia movie.

I welcome your critique, but not your dismissive attitude, your use of logical fallacies to "beat up" on others around you. If you do not take the time to read other's commentary (as in Dale's review of Prince Caspian) please do not criticize further. We are all wayfarers on the road together and it is unflattering to you to belittle other's degrees, training, and perspective. If you continue your tone, I will have no choice but to delete your comments.

We all want to seek truth, goodness and beauty together.

Tasha said...

I have to agree completely with your and Dale's review of Prince Caspian. In short, the movie was painful. It was like watching one of those cheesy teen parody films (the lowest form of film making ever) that makes you want those two hours of your life back. Removed from the fact that Prince Caspian was ever a book, the movie is barely passable, just barely.
JR, please refrain from the type of immature rabble that has driven adults to distrust us teens (As a teen myself, I am assuming you are one by your language). If you are an adult, then I truly take pity on you and hope you grow up soon.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

For another enjoyable, valuable review of Prince Caspian see "Jeffrey Overstreet's blog"
You'll find a hopefulness in how Jeffrey gets what has happened to Narnia

Will De Hart said...

Jonalyn,

I liked Prince Caspian a lot. True, I had a reaction like yours with Lord of the Rings. That is one of my favorites and everywhere the movie left the book, I was sad.

Prince Caspian--I had no idea the movie was coming. I just looked up, saw it, took the family, and had a great time. I liked it much more than the first one, and I think it has a lot to do with Lucy.

Anonymous said...

If you want a faithful rendition of the world of Narnia the BBC put out series of videos years ago. The special effects are not all that flash but it represents the Narnia I love very faithfully. Most of the dialogue in the series comes straight from the books. Of the series of videos Prince Caspain is the least well done. If the producers had the talent of CS Lewis to create a magical world then perhaps playing games with the plot could be accepted. But they don't and the Narnia of my drens and imagination will always be better than a Hollywood creation.

bjork hater said...

I am one of the biggest Narnia fans ever - and of course, I refer to the books. I've read the entire series nearly a dozen times.

I agree 100% with your review. I found Prince Caspian to be a gigantic letdown. If I had an issue with the "ice river" scene in LTWTW, that was NOTHING compared to this film.

It seemed like it was completely inspired by LOTR. I even joked that Weta was just trying to recycle some of their graphics. (Helm's Deep, anyone?) I had a HUGE problem with how they portrayed Peter in this film (which was an extension of his pride and snobbery in the first one, which I also disliked.)

Peter would NEVER decide to "storm the castle" because he was too proud to admit that maybe it wasn't the best idea.

I don't mind if producers decide to add/subtract things, but they have to be true to the original story and characters, and this film most definitely was not.

I went to school for film and film editing. Since I was a child it was my dream to put the Chronicles onto the big screen. Obviously that has happened without me, but let me say that if I ever had the chance, I would be as true to the story as possible.

If LTWTW was 90% true to the book, Prince Caspian is %40 true. How disappointing.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Will- yes Lucy is such a beautiful heroine in this movie and book, though I wish they had done a better job showing how Aslan empowers her

Anonymous- YES, I recall those old BBC versions. I'm glad you reminded me. I want to check them out again to restore my imagination... even with such a low budget they were so much more faithful to the feeling, spirit, power of Narnia (bjork hater- have you seen them?)

nancy martin said...

Ever since Dale's review of the first movie, I've wished he could be an advisor or in some way contribute to the creation of these films.

Hmmmm ... how about you two partnering with some filmmakers and doing it right????

That would be well worth seeing!!!

asharpfamily said...

Nice job on your review. I too wass disturbed by the White Witch re-appearance...........is evil conquered forever or not? Also, Aslan seemed to be minimized factor to the overall message. I agree with your theological lens!

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Nancy,

You do us great honor, I wish we could advise a future movie, but how to make such a contact???

In light of yours and "asharpfamily"'s comments I wanted to ask if you've read the well-written review by Jeffrey Overstreet (above) He gives a fun explanation that takes my (and Dale's critic) a step further up and further in.

Asharpfamily- you're right, from the movie you'd think evil has the same power of resurrection as Aslan without having to offer a sacrificial death.

Thank you for the kind words.

asharpfamily said...

Jonalyn,

Exactly! Kinda defeats I John 4:4

"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."

Mary Jo and I enjoy your's and Dale's work. Thanks for your ministry.

Roger Sharp
Friendswood, TX
asharpfamily