Sunday, May 18, 2008

Prince Caspian by Any Other Name

I reread CS Lewis' Prince Caspian last night in anticipation of taking my son to the movie this afternoon. It's such a wonderfully simple and well-told tale, I had no doubt Hollywood would struggle to tell it. Taken from a purely cinematic point of view, the movie is well done. Better, in fact, than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It still suffers from shallow characters that are not well-developed. The story feels rushed a bit, for some reason. And despite this, it is nearly an hour longer than it needs to be. But all in all, it isn't a bad way to spend nearly two and a half hours.

Of course, with such a literary classic, it's difficult to take it merely on its cinematic merits. As an adaptation of a classic work, it fails miserably. One of the tag lines for the movie is "Everything you know is about to change forever." In fact, it did. Everything I knew about the book changed in the movie. As a great fan of classic literature, and one who enjoys (in general) screen adaptations, I am not oblivious to the various problems that virtually require screenwriters to change some stuff up. But in the case of this movie, virtually everything changed. In fact, there is an entire 30 minute battle sequence that never even occurred in the book. Characters were portrayed precisely contrary to the book. For example, in the book, High King Peter is very sensitive to the fact that while he is High King, the current King is in fact Caspian. Caspian, likewise, recognizes the pre-eminence of Peter and submits gladly to his authority. In the movie, each is jealous of the other's authority. Each blames the other for failures. And in the end they draw swords and are ready to engage in mortal combat. Aslan is more absent in the movie than he is in the book. Details are scattered willy-nilly throughout the movie with no apparent pattern. In fact, almost nothing is left in place. With very few exceptions, all details shared in common between book and film are dislocated in the movie. The result is a deeply disappointing adaptation. Readers will grant license, but in the end, they want to see the characters they read about. The Peter of this film is not CS Lewis' creation. In fact, he is quite contrary to the Peter that the readers of Narnia have come to love. Susan, whose unbelief is obvious in the book and is a foreshadowing of her absence in The Last Battle, is far too optimistic in the film. They even added an awkward love interest story line between her and Caspian. It's a shame, too. The book should adapt very well to film. There is much action and plenty of time to develop characters within the framework of the book. Lewis' writing is a goldmine of CGI sequences that should have kept the folks at Weta, et al, busy for years. Instead, very few of these opportunities are taken advantage of (such as the dancing tree sequence in Lucy's dream).

So as a film (apart from its literary origins) I'd give it a 3.5/5. This is about the same or perhaps a small improvement over the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, as a Lewis fan and avid reader of the Chronicles I have to give it a 2/5. I'd call that strike two.


M. Jay Bennett said...

I'm looking forward to this movie. Thanks for the review Matt!

Sarah said...

It was recently pointed out to me that the love story comes from The Silver Chair?