Prince Caspian: Review

This review contains spoilers.

I confess to preferring the recent film version of Prince Caspian to its companion piece The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I love it because, frankly, watching male testosterone self-implode on-screen is hugely entertaining not to mention charismatic.

The movie makes some large, but still consistent, changes from the book, mostly to get the Pevensies in contact with Prince Caspian sooner (in the book, they don't show up until the very, very end). Another of the changes is that the story centers around Peter rather than Lucy or Caspian. Unlike the level-headed Peter of the book, movie Peter is hot-headed and tired of being treated like a kid: he's just bursting with testosterone!

And when he shows up in Narnia, his reluctance to listen to Lucy is much less the careful deliberations of a grown man and much more the knee jerk reactions of an adolescent/adult man who thinks he is losing control of a situation: yup, Peter is THAT guy who won't stop and ask for directions. (By the way, to kill a stereotype, I never do either.)

And when he meets Caspian, he immediately takes over. The first time I saw the movie, I wasn't entirely convinced that Caspian (played by Ben Barnes with a delectable accent) would give way so easily. I mean, the guy is over 18! But I think the movie does a good job showing that Caspian has been sat on so much by his uncle—who has also sent away any of Caspian's real supporters—Caspian doesn't really know how to take charge. And I'm very grateful, by the way, that movie Caspian is over 18; I don't mind child actors, but I found the baby-faced Caspian of the BBC version to be fairly annoying.

The emotional problem of the movie is pride, specifically testosterone-laden male pride. Now, I'm no establishment feminist. I adore testosterone-laden male pride: makes for some darn fine movies. And I like Caspian because the problem of male pride is not solved by "feminizing" the hormone-rampaging males. It is solved, rather, through multiple options (as opposed to tunnel "I do know how to get there" insistence), Edmund's discernment and prompt action, and the combat between Miraz and Peter where Peter's aggression is channeled into a useful and probable resolution. Politics, as Caspian knows, is a far more effective weapon against Miraz than battle: the Narnians simply don't have the manpower.

Which brings us to Miraz's court: I love it! It is so . . . Godfatherish. And I don't especially like the Godfather movies. But I love how sneaky and conspiratorial the Telmarine court is. I love the power plays. I love the badness of Miraz, not, again, because I typically like Mafia-type movies but because his badness, in typical Lewis fashion, is so human; the actions of his subordinates are so clever and so evil in such a mundane, human way. And yes, all the stuff that's in the movie about Miraz is in the book.

My brother comments in one of his posts, "And, to be honest, I do find women to be infinitely more interesting creatures than men" in part because fiction about women focuses on "how real people--specifically women--actually relate to each other in the real world" and "revolve mainly around the evolution and devolution of friendships." I suppose I find testosterone-laden male tribulations fascinating for a similar reason: because of the birds' eye view not of evolution and devolution, necessarily, but of adaptation. If Camille Paglia is right and women are fundamentally more earthy and cyclical while men are fundamentally more idealistic and goal-completion-oriented, watching idealistic, goal-oriented men adjust to our very non-idealistic, repetitive world is, well, rather like watching wild animals in a zoo: bizarrely fascinating. If that metaphor seems offensive, try--like watching matadors buying pizza in Brooklyn.

When the adjustment is more or less successful, at least. When it isn't, it's just kind of sad, but then watching women de-evolve themselves out of relationships bores me silly. No matter the gender, I prefer construction to destruction, but that's another post!

For another take on Caspian, my brother's review can be read on his blog.



Eugene said...

Evolution and devolution do have their limits. I give a character arc 360 degrees. Once the yoyo completes its loop, something new had better happen or I'm out of there. This is why I so loathed the whole Ross/Rachel thing on Friends, and why even the best guy-centered romances like Ah! My Goddess drive me batty.

When it comes to the men-butting-heads business, two illustrative anime series are Gundam Wing and Angelic Layer. The former is about testosterone-poisoned teen guys fighting each other and blowing things up while completing their glorious mission. I know as a teenager I would have loved it. But it bored me to tears.

The latter is "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em" robots with cute marionettes (so nobody actually gets hurt). The real story is about the reconciliation between the protagonist and her mother, which is dragged out to an excruciating and baldly manipulative degree. As a teenager, I would have rolled my eyes at this one, but I enjoyed it a lot more.

As I noted, I did like Prince Caspian more than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and considerably more than LOTR (as far as I'm concerned, LOTR is the medieval version of Gundam Wing). The "discovered past" themes are the best parts (and also the best parts of anime series like Scrapped Princess and Eureka Seven).

I was able to enjoy The Matrix, despite that dumber-than-dirt battery business. As lame an explanation as it was, it was at least an explanation ("We'll fix it in post"). What annoyed me the most about Prince Caspian was that they didn't even try to explain what Aslan was doing there.

Kate Woodbury said...

I agree that the parts with Aslan are kind of "and then . . . Aslan showed up" although it bothered me less the second time around since I think I was more prepared for it. In the book, Aslan and Lucy and Susan have their own separate adventure which dovetails with the end of the combat. Truth to tell, though, I was kind of glad the movie folks skipped it. For one thing, I find Susan as a bow-toting Amazon much more interesting than Susan as hanger-on to Lucy. (I also think that centering The Last Battle on Susan's implied internal conflict would be a great idea--if they ever do that book as a movie, which is unlikely: great visuals though.)

I wonder if the movie folks had the same problem with Aslan in Caspian that Shyamalan had with The Village. There's this whole interesting problem of free-will and the universe-imposed or self-imposed limitations of deity, not to mention of communities, and gosh, it's interesting, but well, folks, we don't just have the time, and besides, we've got this battle to fight, so so much for that theological problem.

Which, for a 2-hour family adventure movie is kind of inevitable. The Matrix has Hugo Weaving doing his great (and well-written) diatribes which give context to everything. But a family adventure movie is either going to produce a lot of platitudes or ignore the problem. I confess, if those are my only choices, to preferring the latter option to the former.

I think the movie folks were also hampered, theology wise, by Lewis' intense interest in the personal: in what people do when God isn't watching, so to speak. I happen to love his science-fiction series, but his science-fiction theology gets downright confusing--in the Russian-novel-with-a-million-characters-who-go-by-a-million-different-names sense. He is so much better at talking about how people live when they are trying to be good--mere Christianity--or when they are slowly going bad than talking about what it's all suppose to mean. After all, he created Eustace (something to look forward to in the next movie)! Lewis is much better, in other words, at the personal God stuff than the generalized God stuff, which is, I suppose, what Eugene meant by gods that can be "argued and wrestled with." Lucy becomes Lewis's touchstone because for her God is so very palpable. The original conversation between Lucy and Aslan when she goes looking for Him in the woods is a great example of personal testimony and Job-like man-deity contact. At that moment, it's all about Lucy and Aslan.

Technically, Lewis didn't believe in a corporal God, but he sure acted like he did!

Ann Moore said...

We watched "Prince Caspian" on New Year's Day, and I then reread the book. I have mixed feelings about the film. One online review called it "Lord of the Rings Lite," and that's an apt comparison. There's a lot more fighting in the movie than in the book, huge battle scenes with scores of warriors. Miraz and the Telmarines get a lot more character development and back plot, too, though I found that interesting. In the book (which admittedly isn't one of Lewis's best--for one, it's very talk-y) Caspian and Peter are around the same age, but the movie Caspian appeared 5 years older, at least, in his late teens/early 20's. In the book, Caspian's been well-taught in "old" Narnian lore by his nurse (nanny) and tutor, but the movie omits the nurse completely and implies that all of a sudden he learns a handful of things, thus making the transition from Telmarine to Narnian less realistic (especially given his older age--one would think he'd be more set in his ways). In the book there's a longer time period when Caspian joins the dwarves and they go about recruiting people for their army; and, the horn isn't blown until midway through the book and is done so after a careful discussion and plan, not just happenstance as in the film. The movie promotes Peter, often to the detriment of the other characters, and gives him a lot of angst and arrogance--partly from difficulty adjusting back to life in England after reigning in Narnia (in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe") for decades. True, Lewis--in his rather simple story--never considers the transitions; but one gets the sense that going back from Narnia to England at the end of TLTWATW, the children quickly shed their older, kingly/queenly Narnian characteristics and become their normal selves again, with their time in Narnia being more like a dream than reality. It's intriguing to consider potential emotional and psychological ramifications, but the trouble is (and I think this is one of the major flaws in the movie) that Peter's are never resolved; he's obnoxious but never called to account, and never humbles himself or "repents." A big loss from the book is the whole Aslan sequence, which is really about faith. Lucy claims to see him once but the movie omits her rousing the others to follow him and their slowly, one by one, seeing him; it also leaves out the romp sequence completely, so Aslan ends up just being a bit player. But the special effects were great and I really liked the dwarves (the movie centaurs were neat, too, but the book describes Glenstorm with a flowing chestnut beard--why alter it?).