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.