Prince Caspian, a lesser-known entry in the Narnia series, is a book with not much substance. The recent movie actually streamlines the story, eliminating flashbacks and so forth. What fills the running time back up? Why, war of course.
Some of the warlike nature of the movie is directly from the book. The author, C.S. Lewis, never flinched from showing brutality and grim situations, especially when it was a fight between good and evil. What other mode would be appropriate when it’s the ultimate good versus the ultimate evil? No dilly-dalliers need apply.
To take a step back: Prince Caspian is the book Lewis wrote after The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (the filmmakers have been following the publication order for the series rather than the internal chronological order). It’s been a year for the four Pevensie children, heroes of the earlier trip to the magical realm of Narnia, but it’s been over a thousand years in Narnia. Aslan, the Christ-like talking lion, hasn’t been seen for centuries, and the evil human Telmarines have chased the proper Narnians – sentient trees, mythological creatures, and so forth – out of their own country.
Lewis wrote these “children’s” books with an explicitly Christian frame of reference, and in terms of the allegory so far, we got the resurrection of Christ last time around; this time, it’s the Christian church trying to survive (and thrive) millennia after the last time the big guy has been seen. I’m not as anti-allegory as some, but at least in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe Lewis told a cracking good yarn. Prince Caspian presents its allegorical roots, materializes its saviour, and then there’s a battle. Sum and total.
It’s a darker age too, which adds to the aforementioned grimness of the situation. At one point, a character says to the Pevensies, “You’ll find Narnia to be a more savage place now.” It’s true. In that sense, the addition of some battle scenes is perfectly suited to the tone of the story.
It’s unfortunate, then, that all the extra wartime scenes form part of the trend towards making Prince Caspian feel stereotypical and mostly stale. The battle scenes are very Peter Jacksonesque, and the visual elements of battles, particularly the ultrarealistic armour and weaponry for unrealistic creatures, feels lifted directly from the various Lord of the Rings movies. Strange how this has become a cliche so quickly.
The filmmakers add a taste of romance between Caspian, the rugged prince of the title, and Susan, the eldest of the two Pevensie sisters. A smile and a kind word, a rescue and a shared battle – it’s about as good as this stuff gets. The feuding between Peter, the former High King, and Caspian is also an addition, and it’s rather more tedious. The noble young men, squabbling like the kids they used to be just a few years before – neither actor can quite pull it off.
What else can the filmmakers do? The main addition is war. The battle at the end of the book is pumped up to about a third the length of the movie – lots more violence, fighting back and forth, and so on. There’s a scene of single combat that recreates the chapter from Lewis, then goes on much longer. The middle third of the movie is a whole new section with a raid on castle of Caspian’s evil uncle. I didn’t understand the rationale here; the heroes seemed extra foolish in this section.
A handful of the changes are fine: rather than just mentioning the seductive appeal of the
White Witch, the villain of the previous book/movie, we get a fabricated scene where she tempts our boys
directly.The movie starts with a streamlined version of the flashbacks to Caspian’s situation that bog the book down considerably.
I’m glad that I haven’t been in the habit lately of
reading a book right before watching a movie – I used to do it a lot,
but now I’ve tired of it. I’m not sure how productive it is. I mean, I
don’t want to be the passive consumer who sits back and shovels in
whatever pap the mindless machine has cranked out for me. On the other
hand: what do I get out of closely checking the differences between an
original and an adaptation? I realize that I probably have to hand in
my nerd credentials for even asking a question like that.