Sunday, 28 April 2013

Film: Prince Caspian (2008)

Prince Caspian remembered

I realise that although over the years I've written several posts about the Chronicles of Narnia, in book, film and TV format, I have only covered some of the stories. Prince Caspian was the second book to be published and the second film adaptation. While I was absolutely blown away by the first Narnia film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which to my mind was a near-perfect translation from book to film, I remember being disappointed with Prince Caspian. This is perhaps not entirely the fault of the film - though not my least favourite book in the series, I think it is the weakest, with a comparatively slender plot. When the BBC adapted the book for TV in the precious Sunday Night Family Drama slot in the late '80s or early '90s, they ran it together with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and two half-hour episodes were sufficient to tell the Prince Caspian story. The film-makers, by comparison, had to pad out the book's story by inserting additional scenes and conflict which meant that it was not the film of the book that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was. With beloved classics such as Narnia or the stories of J R R Tolkien, I think you can tell where filmmakers have digressed from the original text, and their digressions, though often good, lack the sparkle that comes from seeing the book come to life before your eyes. It is still a pretty decent film, but Disney's Prince Caspian is not C S Lewis's Prince Caspian.

I worked out that it has been four years since I saw the movie. I saw it at the cinema on a date with my then-boyfriend, who later bought the DVD as his last Christmas present to me. We broke up shortly afterwards, and I haven't seen the film since. Perhaps my memory has been unfair to it. I remember that I enjoyed it pretty well at the time, though with a critical eye and a constant comparison to the book. But when I think of the film now, it is the memory of the disappointment that lingers. It is time to revisit the DVD in order to see if it is better than I think it is...

Prince Caspian Revisited

I guess a large part of the problem was the casting of Caspian himself. In the book, Caspian is a child, maybe thirteen years old, whereas actor Ben Barnes was in his mid-twenties. Though it is acceptable to age characters up a couple of years, and maybe cast actors up to five years older, if they don't look their age, making Caspian an adult changes the whole dynamic. Peter, too, is a few years older than his book counterpart seems to be - probably because who would believe in a thirteen-year-old high king and warrior? But the two kings (because Caspian is the rightful king) spend much of their screen time bickering and being obnoxious to one another, and generally behaving in a way that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Narnian Kings. It makes for a darker and less magical Narnia than the one I tried to find in my wardrobe as a little girl. Maybe the filmmakers felt that the original story lacked internal conflict or character growth, maybe they thought the boys were a little too noble and goody-good.

The movie starts differently to the book, firstly showing Caspian's aunt giving birth (I know that ladies DID give birth, and that it is a significant plot point, but it seems somewhat out of character for a children's story
of that era to actually show it.) The first we see of Caspian is of his escape in the night - I was surprised that in such a slender story that required so much padding and dull, dull battle scenes, they missed the establishing scenes with Dr Cornelius and the astronomy lessons. Those are among the scenes I am fondest of in the book, the most Narnian, so I was sorry they were gone (though the "dance of Tarva and Alambil" is mentioned later on by a centaur.)

Back in England, with the Pevensies, I appreciated the details that remind us that their London is still at war - in the books, this is only shown as the set-up for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and never mentioned again. The script gives no reason for the children to have left Professor Kirk's house in the country, but I know many children were brought home by their parents after the Blitz, so this is not a continuity error so much as a "time has passed." Although Peter's scuffle on the station with the other schoolboys is out of character for the sensible Peter of the books, it shows the toll that everyday life takes on children who have grown up once, been kings and queens of Narnia, and then have to go through adolescence all over again. I always felt that was a cruel fate. Georgie Henley's Lucy really makes us feel the tragedy of centuries passing in Narnia, while the children have been away for just a year in their time. I always felt a certain amount of sorrow that we only get to spend a brief time with Tumnus, the Beavers and the others, and then the next time they are long dead, but all I need is to reread The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe again. For the Pevensies, there is no time machine. Once those thousands of years have passed, there is no taking them back.

I love the banter between the children, but Skandar Keynes stands apart from the rest as Edmund, with his cheeky grin and smart comments. The dialogue can be a little clunky at times, but not half as bad as the BBC version, which has the word "magic" used about three times in two sentences. Add cynical dwarf Trumpkin into the mix, and I had a grin all over my face - and is that Game of Thrones' Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) under the beard? (Answer - yes. Yes it is.)

Warwick Davis, who is no stranger to Narnia, having acted in the BBC version in the roles of both Glimfeather and Reepicheep, this time gets to play a bad guy, Nikabrik, but plays him as a more rounded person than I've previously thought of the character. Like Trumpkin, he is angry and suspicious, but more hostile to our heroes, and ultimately proven an enemy, yet his reasons are understandable. He is portrayed as someone whose downfall was brought about by desperation, rather than an intrinsically evil character.

A short conversation between Lucy and Susan is heartbreaking when you know the books.
"Why do you think I didn't see Aslan?"
"I don't know. Maybe you didn't really... want to? [...] You're happy to be here, aren't you?"
"...While it lasts."
Welcome Reepicheep! I'd forgotten he was in this story, though the lion-hearted mouse has always been my favourite character in the series. He certainly does not disappoint here. He gets a few new wonderful moments, as well.
"You're a- a mouse!""I was hoping for something more original."
I really don't like the plot and character derailment of Peter and the Narnians attempting to attack King Miraz's castle, and I won't deny it, it's purely and simply because that didn't happen in the book. More to the point, it shows a stubborn pig-headedness on Peter's part which, to be fair to the filmmakers, gives him more development when he does start trusting Aslan and accepting Caspian as the King of Narnia, but it's out of character. I accept that they needed to fill out the plot, but I'm not happy with how they did it. This is Osgiliath all over again. It's just not Prince Caspian, and that's all I have to say on the matter! Hmmph!

And likewise, I'm not happy with the flirtation between Caspian and Susan.


As Susan never returns to Narnia, and Caspian later marries another, it is a story that is left dangling and untidy, put in for the sake of it, and I'm not a fan of putting the mushy stuff where no mushy stuff should be-O! The Chronicles of Narnia are children's stories, and when I was a child, I liked my stories to be about children. Romance belonged in the adult world, which was boring, (or at least the teens, which were just as foreign to me.) Lucy and Edmund sum it up perfectly, in the lines that were the only good thing to come out of that subplot:
"Maybe when I'm older I'll understand."
"I'm older, and I don't want to understand."
Is adding romance to a children's story alienating to its audience, are kids growing up faster than they used to, or was I the anomaly in my apathy towards the pink and fluffy? Answers on a postcard please.

In short, Prince Caspian works best when the filmmakers stick to the original material. I can understand their reasons for the added fight scenes and (ick) romance, and they do add more character development than the book, whose Peter, in particular, is pretty static after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But this added conflict and character development means that I am spending time in the company of people who I don't know any more. These are not Caspian and Peter, though Susan stays Susanish throughout. Her added depth is consistent with what is shown in the later books, an interesting but unsettling issue; a character treatment that has left readers and writers unsatisfied for the past decades. The film's additions, though they do not resolve all the unanswered questions, fleshes out this enigmatic Pevensie girl in such a way that it fails with the two kings. Ultimately, I'm not sure whether Prince Caspian could ever work as well as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: the plot is just too thin for two and a quarter hours, and the extended battle scenes and plot digressions leave me cold. When it works, it works well, but it lacks the consistant brilliance of the original Chronicle of Narnia.


2 comments:

  1. Aww, this post has really made me want to watch Prince Caspian again! I agree, the book is definitely better, but I love all things Narnia related so I can't complain too much :)
    I hope that you're having a lovely weekend :) xxx

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  2. Hi Ellie, and thanks for the comment. I'm having a good weekend, thank you. :) My parents read the Narnia books when I was very small, so they have kinda got caught up in my childhood memories and are just as vivid as some of the things that happened to me. I remember sitting in my wardrobe hoping to get into Narnia, and drawing pictures of characters and scenes from the books, sticking them to the back of the wardrobe so I could imagine myself there. So I am very loudly pleased when adapters get it right, and loudly critical when they get it wrong! ;)

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