The Chronicles of Narnia (PG)
A Fulcrum Film Review by Christopher Took
Prince Caspian is the fourth (in reading order) of The Chronicles of Narnia by C S Lewis, but it is the second film to be made, following on from the success of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
Overall, the film is enjoyable and engaging, although some of the changes that have been made to the plot are irritating and regrettable.
There is far more violence than in the book. This is probably the aspect of the original works that causes the greatest problems for modern day readers, and while Lewis is often (not always) coy about the details, there are battles, people do get killed, and armed conflict is seen as a wholly acceptable means to achieving a just end.
In the film, however, not only is the violence more detailed, but there are extra battles added. At times it feels more like one of the The Lord Of The Rings films than an adaptation of a slim children's
For me, the most disappointing aspect of Prince Caspian is that the heart and soul of the book seem to have been ripped out. For Lewis it was a story of faith and purpose, underpinned with an emphasis on the development of character and maturity, (perhaps echoing Romans 5:3-4 "because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope."). But the film removes most of Aslan's appearances to the children and portrays Lucy's first encounter with him as a dream.
Aslan seems peripheral to the purpose of restoring Caspian to the Narnian throne. This also means the concept of a true Kingdom existing within a temporal one is lost. Lewis seems be saying, as does Tom Wright in his book Surprised by Hope, that the true Kingdom is here today and ruled by its King. While the Old Narnia has been invisible to the Telmarines, it is very much in existence, right under their noses, and awaiting the moment to break through to wider acknowledgement and fuller demonstration of the power of its Ruler.
But the film undermines the concept of 'God with us.' In the book, Aslan appears to the children, guides them, equips them, empowers them and is instrumental in overwhelming the Telmarines. He doesn't just remove the cruel rule of King Miraz, but Lewis describes how Aslan ushers in a new kingdom of peace, prosperity and joy. In the film, Lucy is sent off to find Aslan and seek his help with the battle. There is no concept that 'while we were still far off, he met us.'
In the film the Old Narnians are also implicated in the plot to usurp Miraz, which in the book is entirely a conceit of the Telmarines. This taints the Narnians in a way that is inappropriate to the underlying allegory intended by Lewis; the Kingdom of Peace and Justice is not brought about by double dealing and subterfuge. There are problems with the plot in the book, but many of the changes the film introduces don't necessarily address these, and add confusion and needless complexity. Some extra scenes are imaginative and dramatic (such as
the appearance of the White Witch, or the subsiding battle field), but at best these add nothing to Lewis's intended message, and at worst detract significantly from them.
There is, however, much that is good about the film. As in its predecessor, Aslan is magnificent. The special effects are seamless and help to draw one into the Narnian world. The acting (give or take some dodgy accents) is competent, the scenery spectacular. One of the weaknesses of Lewis's fiction is that it is often dated and uncomfortably upper-middle class. The film ensures the children are refreshingly modern without losing any of their appeal. The best of Lewis's humour is retained, and new lines are added that are both funny and sympathetic to the characters.
For those who are unfamiliar with the original book, or unconcerned about its Christian allegory, most of the points I have made above are unlikely to be relevant for them. It is still a worthwhile viewing experience even for those who regret the lack of fidelity in the plot.
Most children who have read the book for themselves should enjoy the film, although parents might wish to exercise some guidance with regard to the violence. The British Board of Film Classification provides some help in doing this.
More details at the Internet Movie Database.