19 May 2008

Prince Caspian and a disappointed me (warning TONS o' spoilers)

I have returned home from seeing Prince Caspian.

And I have to say -- I'm disappointed.

Before I get to my review, I will make my disclaimers in the beginning here. I have spent the last week listening to the AMAZING radio theater productions of the Chronicles of Narnia that Focus on the Family (yes, really, liberal friends) has released. These audio productions are just astonishing -- the books are largely unchanged and are beautifully and movingly dramatized. I am teary through most of it, riveted to my radio and seriously have to stop myself from cheering out loud and running around, panting, it is so good.

(Yes, I'm a dork.)

ANYWAY, that is my recent background and that is my big mistake, I think. For the record, I made the same mistake with Harry Potter 3, reacquainting myself with the book right before the movie. I have learned my lesson now because I sat through the whole movie thinking, "Oh. I wish they hadn't done THAT..." Next time a movie comes out, I won't go anywhere NEAR the book, or an audio version of it, until far after I've seen the movie. I think.

Ok. On to the review.

First the good -- the visuals, of course, are stunning. I loved the beauty of Cair Paravel, the darkness of the Telamarine castle and the disproportionate numbers of Telamarines bearing down upon the Narnians. I thought Aslan (when he FINALLY appeared) was wonderful. The music was great. The actors were very good, I thought, and I really enjoyed the Pevensies in both this film and the last. I did like the roles that Lucy and Susan took in the battle, especially the brave and daring side of Susan. And I liked Edmund through and through.

Now -- onto that which I did not like, and I must add another disclaimer here. For me, The Chronicles of Narnia are full, nay -- bursting with Christian symbolism. I know there are others out there who prefer to read them without that lens. For me, it is impossible. So -- fair warning -- these are all subjective interpretations. I am not going to go through the rest of the review writing, "in my opinion" and "for me." Please understand that my interpretation is implied. You are free to disagree.

I thought the first movie did an excellent job of portraying Lewis' depiction of a world, full of both life-giving and life-taking magical power, as found in the book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. At the beginning of the book, it is clear that the life-giving power is latent, but it is not forgotten. Aslan is working in the memories of those beasts who are supposed to have denied him on order of the Witch. The arrival of the Pevensies re-awakens that deep knowledge of the life-giving magic, renews the commitment of the faithful, and the struggle to establish Life as the dominant power in Narnia is set forth.

The book Prince Caspian has an almost identical premise, only this time it is a bit more hopeless. This time, the Magic has been conquered. It has been denied. It has been supressed to the extent that it is now forgotten. Even the trees, which, though they had chosen poorly in Wardrobe by allying themselves with the White Witch, do not remember that ancient magic that is the underlying force of their being. Many of the dwarves and beasts do not remember the magical Life Force and those that do find themselves in a constant battle to affirm the reality of Aslan's magic to those who do not believe.

It is into this world that the Pevensies arrive, a year after leaving Narnia the first time. And when they return to Narnia in the book version of Prince Caspian, they find themselves leaving their old, English selves behind. They return to Narnia and their true selves awaken. Here they are the High King and his Royal Siblings. Here, they are servants of the Son of the Emperor Beyond the Seas. Here, their purpose is noble, valorous, and very much a "high calling." And though they fumble a bit, they are determined from the start to rise to their calling. And so they do.

And this is one of my main gripes with the movie. The characters of the Pevensies are drastically altered. Peter is fighting at the beginning of the movie. Susan is brooding. They have adapted to their English world NOT by taking with them their identities as Kings and Queens of Narnia, but by wallowing in their frustration about NOT being in Narnia. Since I believe Lewis wrote these partly as instruction for young'uns about how to behave as Christians, you can imagine that I don't agree with that interpretation. I understand WHY it was intperpreted that way -- more about that in a moment -- but I don't agree with it.

Upon their return to Narnia, the Pevensies do not awaken to their noble task and high calling. Instead, Peter blunders about, trying to prove himself and denying Aslan i.e. "I think we've waited for Aslan long enough" before he makes a disastrous decision about a battle. He is not High King Peter until the final fight and battle scene. Similarly, Susan is sullen and stubborn, allying herself against her brother the High King by siding with Caspian (the argument between Caspian and Peter being another ridiculous thing in my mind). At the end of the movie, we're not surprised that Susan and Peter are not coming back. They've made huge mistakes; it makes sense that they're not allowed back (which is something that would expressly NOT be implied by Lewis!)

When it comes down to it, I just MISSED the High King! In the book, Peter is valiant and courageous, wise beyond his years, humble, commanding, and faithful to Aslan. Peter was my favorite character in the book. And I think the actor who played Peter could have shown an astounding depth as that character in the film, were he allowed to do so. Alas.

The other thing that I kept longing to see in the movie adaptation was a recognition that The Magic is there, under the surface, perhaps deep under the surface, but there, nonetheless. There is very little wonder and delight in this movie, which contrasts deeply with the book. I desperately wanted to see the trees awake. I wanted to see Lucy sensing that the Magic was about to break forth. The lack of The Magic is most seen in the marked absence of Aslan from the script. I was especially, especially sad to see that they did not make a bigger deal of the four of them coming to see Aslan. In fact, it seemed as though Aslan was an afterthought at best and his appearance is only at the end when all else is lost, all human interventions and contraventions have failed and then he swoops in to do some punishing of the bad guys. Which is probably, sadly, far too close to what many of us really believe about God when it comes right down to it.

And this is where I am, perhaps, most disappointed in the movie. It seems to me as though the movie very carefully removes God from it. The focus is instead on human blunders -- pride, arrogance, and revenge. The lack of direction from Aslan then leaves no room for supernatural Redemption. The humans redeem themselves -- Peter fights Miraz, Caspian lets Miraz go, Caspian establishes a good kingdom, Peter and Caspian reconcile. None of this is credited to Aslan.

This would probably not bother me that much, except that Disney has created a brilliant marketing plan, hand in hand with Focus on the Family, Christian bookstores everywhere, and many churches. If anyone is even remotely awake in the world, they will know that Aslan is written to be the God character in the books. It follows that Aslan is the God character in the movie. What then does this movie say about who God is? What does is say about how God works? What does it say about how we who have been chosen, redeemed, and sent forth by God are to act?

Now. All of that being said -- I understand some, I think, of why this movie was adapted the way it was. It is much more relatable in our current 21st century world to have angst-ridden teenagers be main characters. It makes for a good story to have a very evil king, a conflict among even the good-guys for who gets to make the decisions, and a love story (which just really, really bugged me) between the like-aged girl and boy. Perhaps valor, honor, courage, calling are old-fashioned concepts.

I understand why things were changed, but I emphatically don't agree.

And I think, I would even go so far as to say that these decisions undermine the very essence of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis intended us to read and know that the Magic of the Creator of Life is so great that when one senses it, knows it, is claimed by it, serves it and returns to it, one becomes more than they can EVER, possibly imagine being on their own without it.

And the only way one can find that in this movie is to put it there oneself.

Just a little opinion.... :) You?


Jim and Amy Rennie said...
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Jim and Amy Rennie said...
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Jim and Amy Rennie said...
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-M said...

Yes, yes, yes. Well said, well thought. Thanks & love you!

Jim and Amy Rennie said...
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April said...

Amy... I read your deleted comments because they were delivered to my inbox. I thought you made several good points.

I do want to make one point of clarification in my review. I want to be sure folks know -- from what I know and have read of C.S. Lewis, I believe his Christianity was inseparable from himself. I don't buy into some of the recent use of C.S. Lewis as a Christian "propagandist". That implies an intentional usage of his faith in a way that, I think, would have been foreign to him. And I don't want anyone to think that is what I am suggesting he was doing in writing the books. I think he did not write in allegory because allegory was not real enough for him. And I don't want my longings for real meaning in the movie version of Prince Caspian that I expressed in my review to be interpreted as a wish to redact these lovely, complex, and illuminative tales to little morality plays.

Not that I thought you were saying that, Amy, but just wanted to state it clearly here.

Jim and Amy Rennie said...

I know you don't feel that way--when I said that, I am referring to some people who use them as propoganda . . .and I agree with you that his Christianity was inseperable from himself. I am not dismissing that at all. I find it frustrating when people on all sides misinterpret what he was saying/doing with the books--whether it be Christians who dislike them because it's not "Christian" enough, atheists who hate it because of the religious themes, and Christians who use them as "morality plays," as you said. I think each person who reads them will see/feel/discover something uniquely theirs, while yes, there are undeniable marks of Lewis's faith there as well.

I deleted all the posts because I kept changing my mind about what I wanted to say, then thinking, well, maybe she's right actually about this or that. In the end, I looked through the book again and realized that you were right about a lot of the character changes, but as it's been awhile since I read it, this didn't bother me. I think that's part of it, too--I think that I saw the movie as its own entity. If I'd read the book right before, I'd probably feel similar to the way you felt. But in a way, I'm glad, because I was able to enjoy the movie without comparing it to the book. Whether that's right or wrong, I don't know, but I'm okay with it. :)

ANYWAY . . .I'm glad you read them and understood at least something of what I was trying to say. In the end, I convinced myself that none of it even made sense or mattered, because really we weren't disagreeing, just had a different feeling about the movie in general. And maybe we don't see the book through such "different eyes." Perhaps that was just the movie? I don't know . . .it's not important. I kind of figured you'd get to read the posts, but I decided I didn't want everyone else to. :)

April said...

Yeah, like I said -- I will not go NEAR the books or audio for the next movie!

Dennis has not read or heard the books, and really, really enjoyed Caspian. I think if I come back to it in a while, I'd like it more.

But the marketing campaign combined with the changes in character and story really bother me right now for the reasons I detailed. My opinion may change, though...

Jim and Amy Rennie said...

I can see what you mean--ESPECIALLY regarding the marketing campaign. I try to ignore that stuff too, because it always ends up making me upset. :)

I hope Daniel gets better--keep us updated!

Pastor Becky said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, and your post made me wonder if I want to. I re-read the book maybe a year or two ago. It's one of my favorite of the series, that and Dawn Treader. But I have a feeling the changes you described would annoy me too.

I thought part of the problem with the first one was that in adapting it into film, the battle scenes took so much attention and energy, which made the whole experience more violent than the books. That bothered me.

Also, I just want to say here that I find "Christian" marketing campaigns absolutely offensive and irritating to boot. Jesus was a lot of things, but I don't think slick was one of them!

Anyway, given everything else you said, would you still tell me to see it?

April said...

Becky... I think it may be my favorite, too, though I like them all in their own ways.

About seeing the movie -- I, personally have a hard time reading reviews and then watching a movie because I think of what reviewers said. On the other hand, though, I like to watch movies regardless of whether they are great and regardless of what I'm thinking about. I will probably see it again and may like it more a little further from the book. Let me know what you think.

caspian said...

I really admire you to express your opioion like that (if I felt opioion right). I personally love the movie so so very much, I saw it with my best friend, just to add Ben Barnes (prince Caspian) is so hot, but that's not the only reason I like the film, I yet to read the Narnia chronicles (books) as i have yet to read even a single one of them, but I still think the movie is excellant, anyway just thought I'd add this little comment.

P.S You probably don't know me, it's ok i don't know you either, but I like i said i just wanted to comment on your review.

Caspian said...

I meant spelt opioion right not felt