We are saved in hope – a key message of Pope Benedict to the Catholic Church – is the theme of Prince Caspian. Hope, even when everything else looks bleak, provides the foundation for salvation. And, as C.S. Lewis knows so well, often the greatest hope is found in the heart of a child.
Years ago I was pleased to learn that Douglas Gresham, the step-son of C.S. Lewis, was recruited to co-produce movies based upon the Chronicles of Narnia. It provided a sense of authenticity to the project: although he is not Jack, he knew Jack well, and could appreciate the kinds of changes Jack could accept if he knew that movies were being made of his books. Then The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobewas released, and my reaction to the movie was mixed. Elements of it I thought were great – the characterization of the beavers, for example, was dead on. The children were ok – they were not great, they were not horrible, but they did fall nearer the “child actor” than “child star” scale of things. But that’s fine and to be expected. However, where things fell were off was in the presentation of the story: I just couldn’t see these children in these circumstances being so affected by Aslan. The story just didn’t give them enough time to develop empathic bonds with Aslan, and so the audience couldn’t empathize with what was happening on the screen. Overall, I thought the story and script of the televised version of the story was much better, but there were key aspects of the movie version which made it acceptable.
It was with this mixed feeling I went in to see Prince Caspian. Not only did I feel the first story had been lacking in ways it should have shined, I knew Prince Caspianwas one of the weaker novels of the series. It wouldn’t be difficult to get the story down, but it would be difficult to adapt it in such a way that it didn’t seem overly simplistic. This left room for the script to develop the story, and this allowed the movie to be much better than the last. It is not without its defects. Indeed, the the first half of the film felt slow and forced; and, to my disappointment, the children continued to have problems portraying the emotions of the Penvensies. Moreover, the script over-emphasized changes in Peter and Susan; Peter is unable to be a child. He once was an adult, and he lost it; now he is in a bad mood, always wanting to show off, always wanting to prove himself. Susan is beginning to notice boys, and doesn’t know how to deal with it, and so she closes herself off from everyone. Edmund in many ways is more mature than Peter, having gone through so much more in his previous excursion into Narnia. Indeed, much of what Peter had to learn, he already learned. Lucy is still the bright, chipper, child: she is what I would expect St Therese of Liseux to be like if she were to enter Narnia. Edmund, who was given the least to do in this film, I think was the best of the children.
The story is developed quite well, with some new nuances not in the book. Most of them, I suspect, would have pleased Lewis; the slight romantic interest between Susan and Prince Caspian wouldn’t (Jack always hated it when romance was found in movies based upon novels when there were no such romantic interests in the originals). Thematically the story expresses Lewis’ concerns quite well. Narnia of the past is gone, and there is no going back; things have fallen apart, and only look like they will get worse. Everything has its time and place, and nothing will last forever. Narnia itself appears to be in its death throes; the world is dying: even the talking animals are reverting to beasts. Hope seems all but lost; even faith in Aslan is waning. Only the guileless heart of a child, Lucy, has the hope needed to save Narnia.
The movie is a dark, playing off the despair of the main characters well. There is a lot of action, more than one expects with a PG film, and one scene which might terrify the youngest of children.
Finally, my rating: this one is hard. I will give it 3 ¼ stars out of 5.