“Don’t you hate being treated like children?”
“We are children.”
“We didn’t used to be.”
That’s Peter’s argument at the opening of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and it’s great one, more so even, because it’s not in the book. In fact, a lot of what’s in the movie wasn’t in the book. In some ways that’s a problem, because even more than the first film, it’s a different genre than the book. But in other ways, it deepens and enriches the experience and comes out stronger.
The movie starts out with a bang: Caspian is forced to flee. No back story, no growing up; he’s already a teen and he better run or die. Then we’re thrown back into England (and more good reminders of the war) and the pull that Lewis describes is shown in a magnificent scene as the children are transported back to Narnia, where they may still be young, but they remember what they were like when they were older.
‘They’re not as good as the Narnia books,’ I told my then future wife in September of 99 about the first three Harry Potter books. When she asked why I told her it was because none of the characters were as good as Edmund; none of them needed to kind of redemption he needed in the first book. Rowling answered me many times over, and with the fourth book she took her series to a new level and by the end it seems that Hermione was the only major character who didn’t need redemption. Whereas, my memory of the Narnia books had been clouded over the years. Yes, Edmund is a great character, but aside from him and Eustace (in the third book), the characters are all fairly simply drawn. There are much clearer lines of good and evil in Narnia. That’s because the books are of a fairly straightforward genre: children’s book as Christian allegory.
The films on the other hand, are young adult action / fantasy films. They have grand battle scenes, fantastic visual effects (what do you expect from Weta as they find themselves something to do before starting The Hobbit) and a plot that continually moves forward without meandering. Perhaps that’s a bit problematic. Part of the reason for the battle scenes is because the book, like the first one, is a bit thin; it’s both quite short (all the books are) and they don’t quite hold up as well to adult readings as The Hobbit or Harry Potter. After all, these books are meant for kids.
The films are intended to draw in a wider audience. That would account for the addition of the battles (with a lot more violence than I would probably find acceptable for a six or seven year old reading the book) and a bit of romance (I certainly don’t remember any romantic interest between Susan and Caspian in the book). But those aren’t the most important addition. That comes in the middle of the film.
I remember this part of the book clearly (plus I just looked it up). Nikabrick and the hag and the werewolf want to bring the White Witch back to help, because Aslan and the Kings and Queens have not come. There is a fight, where the four Pevensies first meet Caspian and Nikabrick and his companions are killed. In the film however, they bring back the Witch, a glorious scene of evil offering itself up to save them all from certain death (and a chance to bring back newly Oscar winning Tilda Swinton, who is always magnificent). It brings a fuller experience to the allegory aspect by offering them a choice that they must either take or refuse. Knowing these characters, you know they will not take it, but the way in which it is refused is also magnificent. This, along with those opening few minutes are the best parts of the film.
One problem that knawed at me throughout the film was that it’s hard to care about the final fate of the Pevensie children. It’s not that we know the final fate (SPOILER WARNING for anyone who hasn’t read all seven books; but if you haven’t read all the books, why would you care what I think of film?). I mean, after all, the Pevensies die young. It’s that, to conclude the allegory, this life is simply a shadow of the life that comes beyond. If that’s death for them, why worry about them dying?
Prince Caspian has always been my favorite of the books. I wonder though, if The Voyage of the Dawn Treader might end up being my favorite of the films. After all, while this is a good film (and it is a good film, probably better than the first one), the next one will have just as much adventure, will probably have more of Reepicheep (great in the book, great on film) and will bring Edmund and Lucy back to the forefront. After all, it is not only Edmund and Lucy who are the far better characters (my poor wife who played Susan on stage in grade school will always have a soft spot for her), but they are played by better actors. Skandar Keynes, who was so good as Edmund in the first, continues to show he not only looks like a young Malcolm McDowell, but has the same glowering intensity as well and Georgie Henley, who was such a light hearted presence in the first film has only grown in stature and talent. So we won’t have Peter and Susan around in the next film. But let’s hope they find some way to work in Tilda Swinton.
15 May, 2008
“Don’t you hate being treated like children?”