Went to the late showing of Prince Caspian last night, 'cause I figured it may not be in theatres much longer.
The movie made me laugh, and cry, and it triggered my sense of wonder several times.
But it was also disappointing.
I think that was probably inevitable. I loved the first movie, but I also loved the first book. (And I hadn't read the first book for many years before seeing the movie, whereas I re-read the whole series after seeing the first movie so the Caspian story was still relatively fresh in my head.) The main problem with adapting the book of Caspian into a movie is that the book has very little plot.
Spoilers follow, including a detailed summary of the whole book, plus discussion of various big-picture aspects of the movie. This is more a discussion than a review; if you haven't seen the movie but plan to, you may want to skip the below comments.
The book goes like this:
- The Pevensies get pulled through into a mysterious wooded place. They explore, discover it's an island, then find the ruins of Caer Paravel. They realize it's been hundreds of years in Narnia, even though only a year for them.
- On p. 32 of my paperback edition, they rescue a dwarf, who tells them a long story.
- The story lasts from p. 41 through p. 102. It's the story of Prince Caspian's youth, how he learned about the real history and culture of Narnia (learning along the way that his evil uncle killed his father), and how he escaped his uncle and teamed up with the Narnians. They've been fighting skirmishes with the Telmarines, and now they've gone to ground in Aslan's How, and they're losing, so they decided to blow Susan's horn.
- By the time he finishes his story, Trumpkin has figured out that the Pevensies are the four kids from ancient history, but doesn't think much of them; but they demonstrate that they're good at all sorts of stuff and thus really Kings and Queens.
- The Pevensies and Trumpkin travel toward Aslan's How. They try to take a shortcut, which leads them to a river gorge. Lucy tells them she's seen Aslan, who wants them to head up the gorge; the others (except Edmund) don't believe her, and they all head down the gorge instead. They run into Telmarines, and eventually have to backtrack. Aslan shows up again (initially only to Lucy, but the others gradually see him), and they follow him up the gorge and to a secret path, that leads to a ford, and thence to Aslan's How.
- The girls stay with Aslan. Peter and Edmund and Trumpkin arrive at the How just in time to overhear and defeat an evil plot that had only been mentioned briefly in passing before.
- Peter challenges Miraz to single combat. He wins, but the Telmarines claim treachery and attack.
- Aslan has awakened the trees and the river, and (with the help of Susan and Lucy and Bacchus and the Maenads) dismantled the bridge; the Telmarines flee.
- Aslan causes lots of nice things to happen to ordinary (non-soldier) local Telmarines.
- Aslan offers to let the Telmarines return to our world; the Pevensies go back too.
So, say you're trying to write a movie based on this book. What can you possibly do with it?
The writers did what they could. Which is to say, they cut big chunks of the book (most of the exploration of the island, all of Caspian's growing up); they reordered various pieces for greater dramatic impact (giving us the beginning of Caspian's story at the beginning of the movie); and because they were left with only about two-thirds of a movie, they made up an entire half-hour plot segment, in the middle of the movie, out of almost whole cloth. (Apparently it was inspired by a line of Reepicheep's in the book.)
And in the process, they changed what the story was about. Which, to be fair, they kind of had to do, because there wasn't enough story in the book.
But the movie ends up being about stuff like Caspian's emotional coming-of-age (by which I mean his discovery fairly late in the movie of what Miraz did, and his desire for revenge, and what happens with that), and Susan's becoming an adult (and dealing with her budding sexuality, or at least romance, even though she's kinda been through all that before when she grew up in Narnia the first time off-camera--as we'll see in a later book) (but insert all the usual stuff about Susan's lipstick and nylons from The Last Battle; this is a whole big topic of its own), and Peter having to face the fact that he's not infallible--that, in fact, his fallibility can lead directly to the deaths of his followers. (And then there's the rivalry between Peter and Caspian, which is neat and totally makes sense but also not something that was in the book at all.) I guess to a large extent the movie is about growing up. Which is kind of odd, given the stuff in the books that's sort of about not growing up. (Insert argument about Susan again.)
The stuff about faith that's at the core of the story in the book has to be in the movie, too, but it doesn't seem to me to quite fit with what the writers turned the movie's story into. The difficulties about faith that lurk at the edges of all the books get kind of spotlighted in the movie, and not in a comfortable-to-me way. Aslan ends up feeling arbitrary to me rather than ineffable, and it ends up costing a lot of lives.
So. Interesting, but disappointing.
The other thing I was most disappointed by was Reepicheep. He's one of my favorite characters from the books, and I wanted him to be a thoroughly swashbuckling mouse. I'm amused by the choice of Eddie Izzard to play him (I didn't realize that's who it was 'til the closing credits), but the result is unfortunately kind of flat. I wanted someone like Puss in Boots from the Shrek movies. Argh--I see that Wikipedia says that the director had exactly that model in mind before Izzard came along. Fooey on you, Eddie Izzard! (Not in general, just for this particular thing.)
One more thing, though minor: I found the song that suddenly happens in the soundtrack at the end of the movie pretty intrusive; didn't seem to me to fit the tone of the rest of the movie.
I should say that there was plenty to like in this movie. It was funnier than I expected, and sad in places, and it still looked like Narnia. The overall story was quite true to the book, and several scenes and lines were almost verbatim. The talking animals still look slightly off to me, but mostly pretty good. Liam Neeson's voice is still really good for Aslan. The centaurs are still lovely and totally believable. (I particularly loved the double row of centaurs standing at arms, and the little-boy centaur among them.) Ben Barnes as Caspian was much hotter than he looked in the previews. (Hee--Wikipedia says Barnes modeled his Spanish accent on Mandy Patinkin's, which explains why I kept expecting him to say "Hello. My name is Caspian X. You killed my father. Prepare to die.") All of the various Kings and Queens got chances to look Noble and Heroic, which I'm a total sucker for. Skandar Keynes in particular has really grown into his role as Edmund.
So it was certainly worth seeing. But still a little disappointing.
I'm very much looking forward to Dawn Treader in a couple of years. I gather that, given that Caspian hasn't done as well as hoped at the box office, the rest of the series may be unlikely to get made; I'm sad about that, but I have to confess that I'm not sure the others would work onscreen any better than Caspian did. I think there's enough plot to Dawn Treader (even if rather episodic) to make it interesting, though it'll be a very different kind of movie than the first two; but I'm not convinced the other four would work so well. (And Last Battle would have to walk some very fine lines very carefully.)
Still, if they do end up getting made, I'll certainly go see them.