Prince Caspian

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:

  1. 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.
  2. On p. 32 of my paperback edition, they rescue a dwarf, who tells them a long story.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Peter challenges Miraz to single combat. He wins, but the Telmarines claim treachery and attack.
  8. 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.
  9. Aslan causes lots of nice things to happen to ordinary (non-soldier) local Telmarines.
  10. 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.

3 Responses to “Prince Caspian”

  1. kir

    SPOILERS IN THIS COMMENT (surprise, surprise):

    I liked Prince Caspian while I was watching it, some of it very much, but not once I had time to think about it (and re-read the book). Turns out, the real issue for me was the movie Prince himself: what a sappy dingbat. His character seemed implausible as person, as Miraz’ nephew, and as the student of the half-dwarf. The book Caspian could be trusted, had the beginnings of wisdom, way more hope, a good helping of honor, and half a clue. The movie Caspian’s bad choices drove significant chunks of the movie plot, and none of those choices were the ones he’d made in the book. (I’m especially disgusted by when he blew the horn [!! … !!!!] and when he skipped out on his responsibility to Peter and to his own army (!!) during the night attack — the Caspian in the book had studied war and strategy and would have figured out how to delegate that or would’ve waited or both). I hated the Spanish-esque accents (even during the movie). (Is there an accent I would’ve liked? Perhaps something that was in contrast to the Mexican-ish look of the Telmarines, to jostle up viewer assumptions..) I always thought the book Caspian was younger than the movie Caspian appeared.

    I thought that the flashback nature of the book made sufficient sense and actually highlighted the re-adjustment period the Pevensie’s needed. I couldn’t see the need to rearrange that, and this may have done a disservice to the overall flow of the movie. Did they ever actually introduce themselves to Trumpkin (and vice versa) in the movie? The movie waffled on the length of time since the Golden Age. The book leaves us thinking “thousandish” which might barely manage the stream/landscape rearrangements…

    I loved the griffins. I still think Edmund is just so interesting. I liked very much how the movie presented the temptation of power. Susan appeals to me — both in text and movies — far more than she did when I read the books (repeatedly, beginning at age 10). (I seem to recall having read a fascinating story called — perhaps — “The Problem of Susan” — or perhaps something else. I’ll try to find it.)

  2. Jed

    Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed comments!

    Interesting–I mostly didn’t have the issues you did with the Prince himself. I think I quickly bought into the idea that he and the Pevensies were (in the movie) essentially teenagers in positions of great responsibility, and I was willing to let them be treated as such.

    But very good point about his bad choices driving much of the plot. I hadn’t thought about that, and will have to think about it more. Note that a couple of Peter’s bad choices (one of which was in the book, another of which wasn’t) also drive a fair bit of the plot, in somewhat different ways.

    I definitely agree about when he blew the horn; that seemed weak to me in the movie, and much weaker once I glanced over the book again and was reminded of how dire his circumstances were when he blew the horn in the book. (On the other hand, the timing in the book makes no sense–if I read it right, he blew the horn a couple of days after the Pevensies arrived back in Narnia.)

    I think Caspian’s bad decision during the night attack was more or less understandable, but was undercut by the fact that I had assumed he already knew (as he did in the book) what had happened to his father. But I think the character can be more or less forgiven for dropping everything in favor of revenge at the moment when he discovers that his father was murdered.

    Interesting about the accents; I disliked them in the previews, but I thought they worked fairly well in the movie. Although I’m embarrassed to admit that I had always mixed up the Telmarines and the Calormenes in my head, so I was baffled as to why they weren’t more Arabic. But I was just wrong about that. The Telmarines were descended from castaways on a (presumably) South Seas island; I’m not sure whether there’s any evidence from Narnia scholarship about what their ancestry should’ve been. (The sources I’ve seen online aren’t necessarily reliable.)

    Re ages: Everyone seems to be a little older in the movies than they theoretically ought to be. According to Lewis’s official timeline, Peter was 13 in the first book, and 14 in the second; Caspian is 13 in the second book. I always pictured Peter and Caspian as older, more like the movie; in the movie, I guessed them to be about 17ish. The actor who plays Caspian is actually currently 26, and the actor who plays Peter is 21, but people in their 20s have been playing teens in films for a long time.

    Re the flashback: I think it would’ve seriously disrupted the flow of the movie. If they’d done it that way, it would’ve meant maybe 20 or 30 minutes of consecutive screen time in which the Pevensies didn’t appear at all. I thought intercutting the two stories worked much better.

    Agreed about the lack of Trumpkin being introduced in the movie–it would’ve been easy to not catch his name at all. (Also, he’s not nearly as surly and disbelieving in the movie as in the book, though I did rather like him in the movie, and I quite like the actor who played him.) The Pevensies didn’t need to introduce themselves in the movie, ’cause Trumpkin knew immediately who they were; that was actually another thing I didn’t like about the movie, that everyone seemed to immediately recognize and acknowledge them. (Though it did keep a couple of instances of people being dismissive of them for being their kid-selves.)

    According to the official timeline, it’s about 1300 years between the Pevensies’ first visit and their second. I think the movie said “hundreds” of years at one point, but yeah, it seemed pretty vague.

    I had mixed feelings about the griffins–at the beginning of the night attack scene, I didn’t like the way that one looked at all, but I quite liked them later. Someone said that there are no griffins at all in the books; I don’t remember one way or the other.

    The story you’re referring to is Neil Gaiman’s “The Problem of Susan,” which I loved but which has sparked some debate in comments on this journal in the past (see the comments on my review of the first movie). It’s available in his 2006 collection Fragile Things; first appeared in a 2004(?) anthology called Flights. (There are a couple of almost certainly illicit copies online, too.) See also an extensive rebuttal by R. J. Anderson to the usual arguments about Susan.

    There’s a fascinating article in which the screenwriter discusses why the romance bit in the movie. And there’s an MTV blog entry that’s had a few dozen comments on the topic.

  3. kir

    Hi, I’m back… (comes of having a work breaks and reading you next-next post…)

    I think I quickly bought into the idea that he and the Pevensies were essentially teenagers in positions of great responsibility, and I was willing to let them be treated as such.

    I did think bookCaspian was a youngish teenager (13-15); Ben Barnes looks too much older to me (20-25+; older than Peter). Teens in positions of unexpected (to them) and real responsibilty, yes, I agree.

    Bad choices: I don’t mind bad choices driving plot so much as out-of-character/implausible bad choices. I make bad choices (often) but they’re not the same bad choices as SomeOne Else would make. bookCaspian and movieCaspian are different people in a way that bookPeter and moviePeter are not (to my eyes).

    But I think the character can be more or less forgiven for dropping everything in favor of revenge at the moment when he discovers that his father was murdered.

    I suppose I’m less forgiving on this kind of thing. I can’t see a centaur band keeping allegiance to a leader willing to abandon the plan and his leadership role and put the rest of his people in additional danger in so doing . It’s also wholly (in my view) out of character for bookCaspian, especially if he’s being advised otherwise.

    Timing of the horn: We know that Narnia time and Pevenise-Earth time don’t match; the blowing of the horn seemed to me to bring Pevensie’s to Narnia “in time” to help, even if they arrived before the horn was blown. I have no trouble allowing Aslan the ability to tweak with time kinda in advance (by setting up the worlds on different, perhaps uneven and eddying, timelines).

    The “Problem of Susan” story! Ahah! I knew I’d read it recently (I have Fragile Things, a birthday present.

    The romance thing: I actually didn’t like this while watching, and then it occurred to me it makes much more sense than Lewis’s version. In War Time England, girls would quite plausibly seek and seize moments they might otherwise have felt more awkward or shy or modest to do. This and the usual awkwardness of adolescence plus here’s a pretty, capable girl coming to stand by my side and help me win my throne — well. Not surprised, really. How many other girls does Caspian know, after all?

    Off to look at your links.

    Oh, and I might just like griffins, and flying, and night-time…


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