Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Caspian: Visual Feast, Story Suffers

Note: This blog entry contains some mild spoilers for those who have not read Prince Caspian or seen the new film.

I had the joy of attending a pre-screening of the new Narnia movie today: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, which opens May 16. Even though it's almost two and a half hours long, there's much missing from the film that is in the book, as well as much added.

Visually, the film has some stunning special effects, though Aslan still strikes me as somewhat stiff and lacking in the numinous awe he tends to project in the books. Lucy's lessons in faith also come across better in the book, as do the contrasts Lewis makes via various characters regarding belief and skepticism.

Reepicheep is very well done, visually, and has some amusing dialogue. The combat between Peter and Miraz is excellent. A love interest sub-theme between Susan and Caspian didn't work for me. And Caspian is too old in the film (in the book he's supposed to be around 13), while his accent is distracting. I also think that Peter was depicted out of character in at least two instances. First, he gets in a fight with other children before going to Narnia. Second, there is some enmity between Peter and Caspian that is not at all like the characters are represented in the book.

The battle between the Narnians and Telmarines, however, while a visual feast, takes up far too much screen time. It is as though the creators of the film wanted it to be epic, but Lewis wasn't writing epic (that would be his good friend Tolkien).

As a result, much time is spent on the battle, with much less attention spent on the story. There are entire sections of the book that are simply omitted from the film, such as Aslan's triumphal celebration and visits to towns.

The book is a lot slower in setting up scenes and developing character, while the film jumps into action right away. I expect this is something that the filmmakers believed they had to do in our age of fast-paced films. But books are different. Authors can take their time, build a story over 200 pages or so, communicate awe-inspiring moments based on thought rather than actions, and so forth.

At any rate, the film is well worth seeing. Just consider it a contemporary adaptation of Prince Caspian rather than a faithful translation to film. If it gets viewers interested in reading C.S. Lewis first-hand, then I think that would be enough to make it a success.

One of Narnia's greatest themes is in the realm of ethics, something I explore in some detail in my book The Heart of Narnia.

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