Thursday, May 29, 2008
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
So now we're in new territory for me with the Narnia series. I'd read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a kid and knew something of what to expect from the movie, but Prince Caspian was a whole, new thing. Unfortunately, I had basically the same reaction to it as to the first movie.
MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW.
You can't get away from the Lord of the Rings comparisons in your head, especially when walking trees join a battle or the bad guys start to cross a river and the water begins to magically rise. And I don't think it's unfair to make those comparisons anyway. Disney certainly meant for the Narnia series to help cash in on the Lord of the Rings craze, so it's perfectly appropriate to hold these movies up to that standard.
Of course I understand that Lewis was trying to do something very different from Tolkien. The two even argued about whose approach was better. But I side with Tolkien in that discussion and even if I didn't, there's just no matching what Peter Jackson did with those movies. Nothing will ever be that good again.
Though Prince Caspian was marketed a little darker than Wardrobe, it's got the same kids-movie feel. There's plenty of hacking and slashing, but no blood. I didn't want gore, but it didn't have to be as sterile as they made it. And at times, it gets downright ridiculous. Look, I love Susan and would love to see her kicking more butt in hand-to-hand combat instead of just shooting arrows all the time, but having her knock out soldiers by hitting them with her bow is silly. They went so far in trying to make it kid-friendly that it pulled me out of the action. So much stabbing was going on off-camera that I couldn't tell when main characters were being wounded.
But that's not the worst of it. Something else that kept yanking me out of the story is Lewis' need to make theological points with the plot. That's the thing I alluded to earlier that Tolkien also didn't care for. I don't know what Tolkien's specific issues were with Lewis' style, but in Caspian at least there's a general problem with manipulating the story to fit the theology. Aslan can't reveal himself to anyone unless they seek him, because that's how God works. I appreciate the commentary on the nature of faith - truly I do - but it doesn't make any sense in the story. All we're given by way of explanation is some vague rule about how "things never happen the same way twice." Whatever, Aslan.
And the ending...
I can take a downer ending if the story calls for it. I usually prefer a happy ending, but if Hamlet's got to die to make the point and the whole story has been moving in that direction, so be it. But there's no reason to send the kids packing back to England at the end here. In the last movie, they got to stay and grow up and have many other adventures together. Why do they get kicked out this time? Oh yeah, "things never happen the same way twice." How frustratingly arbitrary.
Especially for Peter and Susan who are told they never even get to come back because they've "learned everything Narnia has to teach them." What is that supposed to mean? And it especially especially sucks for Susan who's fallen for Caspian and why can't she stay with him instead of going back to England where the nerdy stalker awaits? 'Cause Aslan says so, that's why. Maybe there's some kind of lesson there about questioning God, but leave it out of my fairy tales. Or at least bother to make it make sense in the context of the story you're telling.
'Cause except for those two, major problems, Prince Caspian is a very fine fantasy story. I love the Narnia that Lewis has created with all its talking animals and minotaurs and werewolves and dwarves and ice queens and Santa Claus. I love the explanation about where Caspian's people came from. I love the battle scenes and Peter's nicely choreographed duel with Caspian's uncle. I love the extremely powerful and effective White Queen cameo. I love Eddie Izzard as the voice of the chivalrous, swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep. I love swashbuckling mice. I love Liam Neeson and Peter Dinklage and Anna Popplewell. I love the kids' (especially Peter's) not being able to adjust to life as young children in England with the memories of having grown old in Narnia. I love that Edmund has learned that it's better to trust Lucy. I love that castle and the storming of it. I love that water giant.
So much to love. I just wish they'd let me focus on those things all the time instead of bloodless battles and stupid rules about magic.
Three out of five swashbuckling mice.