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May 19, 2008

Prince Caspian: Good Film that Misses the Mark

I struggled to decide how to write this review. I enjoyed Prince Caspian as a film and recommend that people see it, and yet I think it missed out on the most important thing it should have done.  Even though I'm going to focus here on that one thing (because that's the thing most interesting to me), I don't want to leave the impression that I didn't like the movie. The movie was a good one in itself even if it didn't accomplish what the book accomplished.

A quick overview before I get to my criticism: The filmmakers understandably took some liberties with the story, rearranging the storyline, adding new plot points and removing others. For the most part, except for a silly bit of modernizing at the end, I think they did a good job with this. The opening had me riveted; I liked having the plot filled out with more of King Miraz. And this is no cutesy kiddie movie. It felt bigger and more serious to me than the first, and it's pretty intense--violent and scary. I was quite surprised when I found out it was PG instead of PG-13. I wouldn't recommend taking young children.

Here's my main criticism: The filmmakers still don't get Aslan.  They've made him a character rather than the character. Because of certain changes here and there, he lost the authority he should have radiated and didn't inspire the awe that Aslan should inspire. I think there are a few reasons these things didn't come across (minor spoilers ahead). First, Aslan is not central.  In the book, a few of the main characters do not believe in Aslan (until he shows up, of course), and this fact is often pointed out and discussed. The question of Aslan can't be avoided, and everything leads to Him. When these moments are removed from the story (as most of them were in the film), Aslan isn't just away from Narnia, he's inconsequential to it.

Second, not only does Aslan show up later in the film than he does in the book, but they actually removed the pivotal scene where Lucy says she's going to follow Aslan whether the others (who can't see him) will join her or not, after which they begrudgingly come with her. At first, the others can't see Aslan at all, but as they follow, he becomes more and more plain. When Susan finally sees him, she apologizes for not agreeing to follow after him the day before when Lucy first begged them to follow:

But I've been far worse than you know. I really believed it was him--he, I mean--yesterday.... And I really believed it was him tonight, when you woke us up. I mean, deep down inside. Or I could have, if I'd let myself. But I just wanted to get out of the woods and--and--oh, I don't know. And what ever am I to say to him?

This is an important moment because it unmasks their unwillingness to follow Aslan the day before (an incident that was depicted in the movie) as a product of their own rebellion, not Aslan's absence or their inability to see him. In the film, however, who can blame the children for not going after a character who doesn't show himself to them?  Since we're not told otherwise, the children seem to have been doing the best they could on their own and Aslan looks weak and arbitrary. If the filmmakers' goal had been to keep Aslan powerfully central, they never would have removed this.

Third, changes in two key lines from the book greatly weaken his character. The first one happens when Lucy finally meets Aslan face to face. She remarks to him that he's bigger. In the film, Aslan says that every year she gets bigger, so shall he get bigger. But here's the actual interchange in the book:

"Aslan," said Lucy, "you're bigger."
"That is because you are older, little one," answered he.
"Not because you are?"
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger."

This is actually a very profound idea and one of my favorite moments in the book. When we deepen with age and experience, we're able to see further into the rich depths of God, and our understanding and awe of His greatness grows. It's very clear in the book that the change is happening all on Lucy's side, but the film leaves the impression that Aslan has changed (whether that was what they intended or not). One is left with the postmodernish suggestion that we create God for ourselves in our minds; he gets greater as we are better able to define greatness. To make Aslan contingent on other characters is to kill the attractiveness of his character.

The second change is even worse (being more explicit) and involves another of the ideas most memorable to me--one that recurs throughout the series.  In the book, when Lucy realizes she's failed to do something she should have--and could have--done, she asks Aslan what would have happened had she done what was right: "Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?" Aslan responds powerfully, "No. Nobody is ever told that." Aslan has authority and perfect wisdom--rebelling against his command has consequences, and Lucy's not doing what he had revealed for her to do causes new difficulties for everyone. But make no mistake, Aslan is quite aware of what would have happened had she obeyed. Compare this to the film version where Aslan's response to Lucy's plea is: "We can never know what would have happened." We? Yikes! I'm not a fan of open-theist (open-lionist?) Aslan.

These changes are small--just a few lines here and there, but they have huge implications that weaken Aslan.  And a weak Aslan doesn't draw people--doesn't inspire awe in the viewers. He's remote and almost irrelevant. Narnians created sacred places in the past to celebrate him, but we're not really sure why. Hmmm. I suppose it's not surprising our culture would create this new Aslan.

At the place where I used to work, I lent the Focus on the Family Narnia radio dramas (which stay very close to the original books) to a friend. She knew nothing of the stories and didn't recognize any Christian allegory at all. After she listened to Wardrobe, I handed her Caspian. She took one look at the artwork and said with great anticipation, "Oooh, is Aslan in this one, too? I really like him!"

Sadly, it's hard to imagine anyone saying that after coming out of this movie.

Speaking of other people coming out of this movie, this review is great fun. I'm always fascinated by the way outsiders view Christianity and Christian themes, and this article by someone who apparently (laughably, to use his own term) thought the river-god was supposed to be God will give you an earful.


Pretty interesting review. I'm okay with Open Theist Aslan. Dr Pinnock has really hit on something. He spoke at the seminary I'm attending.

That movie review that you linked to echoes a theme I've seen in some other reviewers who don't get it: actual sympathy for Miraz:

"saving the day several times from the villains, who aren't nearly as evil as the wicked White Witch."

I can only surmise that it's just inconceivable to the modern, secular mind that there could even *be* such a thing as a rightful King, and that such a fact would *matter*, especially if the usurper were empirically more attractive or "effective" for some reason.

Ugh... I sent that reviewer from Box Office Mojo an email asking if he could post a review of the movie without all the seething hatred of all things Christian.

Anyway, this is a great, spot-on review. I think the filmmakers got caught in the usual trap of trying to make a successful Hollywood movie sequel instead of being faithful to the book and the spirit behind it. It's a good, entertaining movie, but that's it. It's not very meaningful and that comes with Aslan's shamefully reduced role. I like your statement that Aslan is *the* character. That's so absolutely true. He's not some dream, vision or figment of the imagination even if you cannot currently see him and he is central to the world of Narnia.

In Hollywood, agenda == priority. The sidelining of the central character just proves the point.

Yeah, I agree with this post. It's a pretty good movie per se, but it just doesn't…get…Aslan. He's kinda boring and sleepy, and not at all threatening. C. S. Lewis would not be pleased.

Louis, I honestly don't think there was an agenda involved. I just think they didn't get it. I'd be willing to bet when they made those changes they didn't realize they were making a significant difference.

The guy who wrote the review is highly confused.

I was very interested two years ago as to how PC would be adapted.
I think of the seven it is the weakest of them, and has the most problems literarily. That said, I do think that it has a few very pithy moments, particularly with Aslan - which sadly, were missed. I am of the impression that the director (Adamson) doesn't get the fullness of Aslan's character - just the comfortable part. I think this is probably the case with Liam Neeson as well. I can't really add to what has been posted regarding Aslan.

PC has a good amount of plot suggested that is not directly addressed, and this was where the movie did it's best work. I thought Miraz was a much fuller and more interesting character in the film (the linked reviewer was smokin' something) than in the novel. And the plot to bring back the Jadis was adapted in an adequate and interesting fashion, though I don't for a minute buy Peter being temped by her offer. Ah, well.

Furthermore, while it took me a while to be convinced that I was on the same page, I do after the fact like how Adamson handled the primary motivations for Peter and Susan. They were very inscrutable for a while, not helped by the fact that in several places the dialogue cut to action before it got really pithy (like in the train station, at the campfire, and between Peter and Lucy at the howe). But taking the idea that the two of them were haveing to contend with having lived several years as adults before having to go back to being children on the cusp of, but not quite being adults. I think that the dialogue suffered just a bit in favor of action on exploring that account.

I think the single most compelling unanswered questions of the series still rests with Susan, actually. Aslan said, "Once a king or queeen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia", which seems to be in contradiction with what the others say at the end of LB. So I was particularly interested in every bit with Susan, and disappointed by what went missing in the film.

Overall, I enjoyed the film probably more than the book, though I did miss the best meat of it.

I agree that the portrayal of Aslan in the new film greatly weakened its power.

Overall, I thought "Prince Caspian" was not as good a movie as "The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe."

Great review. Spot on for the most part. I, too, wish that they had stuck more closely to the book's portrayal of Aslan and the critical dialog that takes place. That being said, I only say that because I know how he's presented in the book. Would those who haven't read it really walk away with a low view of Aslan?

There was something that I thought that the producers did better in this movie (than the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe) in building anticipation before Aslan appears. There was a definite sense of "Where is he?" This was particularly felt when the cry of "For Narnia!" was yelled instead of "For Aslan and Narnia" during the failed battle.

The other aspect that I found particularly good was that once Aslan came, he made everything the way that it was supposed to be.

I echo your sentiment that it is a great movie to watch, but I was also disppointed in what was left. Not bad for hollywood, though.

I think the shortcomings of this film can all be attributed to your lack of participation, Amy. :-b

Ha! See, I leave my old job to come work here to make a difference, and I guess I should have stayed where I was! ;) Actually, they didn't get to work on this one, sadly. I'm pretty sure most--if not all--of the effects were done out of the country.

After just watching the movie, first off I did really enjoy it,but was a bit put off the weakening of Aslan's authority and strength. The bottom line is that Hollywood will weaken the message to make it more palatable to the masses . But over all it was a solid piece of cinema with a few short comings .

Amy -
Did you work in "the industry" before STR?

Yes, for 10 years I worked in visual effects here:


You should watch the feature reel that's on the site. They're great people and very talented. I, of course, have zero artistic ability, so I wasn't on the creative side of the business, but I got to be a part of everything and watch it all happen. It was lots of fun!

I have to respectfully disagree with most of your review. I have to admit, I haven't read Prince Caspian. I wanted to read it before the movie came out, but that just didn't happen.

That being said, I came out of the movie thinking that Aslan was a very strong character - I got goose bumps when he was finally shown; I was excited for his scenes; etc. I think the movie emphasized that they couldn't have done what they did without him.

So, maybe Aslan wasn't as emphasized in the movie as he was in the book, but as a viewer who didn't know what was in the book, it wasn't obvious to me - he still played a pivotal role. I think a great number of the people that are going to see the movie have not read the book. So, I understand your not being happy that the movie takes away from Aslan, but I think as a whole, the message is still there.

Even the part where Lucy sees him, and the other kids don't, you say, "In the film, however, who can blame the children for not going after a character who doesn't show himself to them? Since we're not told otherwise, the children seem to have been doing the best they could on their own and Aslan looks weak and arbitrary." I took away from it that the kids should have listened to Lucy. Edmund even showed that he wanted to believe her, even though he couldn't see Aslan, but the others left, so he just followed along.

If I would've read the book, I'm sure I'd be much more up in arms about everything they took out of it. But I just thought you might want to hear someone's take on it who didn't read it.

Yes, I think a lot of people are going to miss some very critical points if all they see is the movie. Hopefully they will also read the book as a result of seeing the movie. I, too, am amazed and dismayed when people perceive Aslan as only another character. My goodness, what a LIMITED perspective. It's absolutely painful to think that some people *only* see him as a magical lion. OUCH. Overall, I think Disney has done far better with the Narnia movies than I expected. I was prepared for disappointment, but they have done a good job. It's absolutely delightful to see my friends Trumpkin, Reepacheep, the Bumbly Bears, the fearsome Centaurs... All the marvelous fabulous beloved creatures of Narnia. For that alone I'm going to buy the DVD. I want to especially thank the actor who played Trumpkin. He turned out to be my favorite character, perhaps because he truly is a real dwarf and so that particular character became so much more dimensional than I expected. Not computer generated, but very real, very reliable, very wise, and even very beautiful. Trumpkin and the actor who played him were a wonderful asset to this movie.

I was immediately much more taken with this portrayal of Aslan than with that in LWW because of the visual quality. I can't say for sure but it seems they solved some problem with the CGI. At any rate, he seems much less wooden. I was also very much impressed and blessed by Liam Neeson's voice portrayal. Specifically, I think he avoided the traps of over-acting and under-emoting so common in portrayals of Jesus. I didn't realize I was listening to Neeson till the credits, and then I realized why I liked the performance: it encores his very believable and winsome job in The Miracle Maker (I think that's the title), the claymation production of the life of Christ. This is more of the same quality, and it shines in the film.
For me, the dream sequence with Lucy, the repartee with Reepicheep (who was also very good) and the brilliant roars (very 'oh-brotherish' in LWW) were distinctly good. All that aside, they did leave out the quote,'you'll have to learn to know me as I appear in your own world.' I wonder whom Gresham is consulting with? Many of the plot devices and other changes were very judiciously chosen, but that was a head-scratcher. That said, I prefer the winsome Aslan of part II. I have to take another look at LWW to see what exactly went awry with Aslan there.
Let me add one last thing, I think they're learning as they go along, To which point I simply predict they will solve the abominable job they have been doing to date with the centaurs' perambulating (you certainly can't call it galloping or trotting). I really think they'll get that one down. Oh, and by the way, they certainly have produced a box-office success--I guess in play-off terms (thinking basketbally here)this series will go at least six games!
p.s. if Jesus didn't know what would happen, wouldn't that negate Molinism, not Open Theism??

I very much agree with the person who wrote this review. The film was a refreshing movie with clean humor and witty characters. Today the film industry has something in their head that a movie isn't a good movie without sex or a desperate love romance. Prince Caspian is like a gem in the midst of all the garbage they're producing today. When the producers of the film took away most the attention and the focus in the movie from Aslan -they took away a layer of depth from the movie which took away the enticement of the majestic and unfathomable. This movie is a very good movie but it could have easily been an extremely awing movie. They manage to scrape together some critical points and get them across and not ruin the movie entirely at the more latter parts of the film but yet managed to err again- to add that last desperate Hollywood-glitz moment of when Susan kisses Caspian. I thought that a hug would have been sufficient and it still would have carried the emotion of departure to the audience. Personally I think that the producers are focusing way too much at trying to make the movie a success at the box office. The plot in the books was A HIT and people love that story which C.S. Lewis wrote decades ago. If they just stick to the original-they'll have a MAJOR box-office success-the kinda need to stop trying so hard and let the story awe and inspire the people. Its been doing that very thing for many many decades. I really hope that they stick closer to the plot in the following films.

>>I thought that a hug would have been sufficient

If Caspian had only kissed Susan's hand, that would have been dignified, believable, and much more romantic!

I completely agree!

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