movie currently at the local multiplex in which a teen-age boy is
magically transported to an ancient and mystic realm where he learns
important lessons, takes part in several battles, and returns a
talisman to its rightful owner. Then the Emperor's breath blows him
through an empty door-frame back into our world, where his new-found
skills defeat the bullies that started the whole thing.
This movie is, of course, “Forbidden Kingdom,” and
it's a better Narnia movie than the Narnia movie that's showing down
As for “Prince Caspian,” the second movie in the
series based on the C. S. Lewis Narnia books, it has problems with tone
and scale and proportion that were hinted at in the first movie, and
are now thundering back like a herd of turtles.
For those who don't know the books at all, I'll just
say that the story is about four kids from our world who are flung into
a land of dwarfs and centaurs and talking animals and treacherous
humans, where they help a young prince gain his rightful throne. Along
the way there are some tremendous battles, a lot of eye-popping special
effects, and some truly glorious landscapes (filmed in New Zealand,
For those of you who are fans of the literary
Narnia, what you need to ask yourself before you see “Prince
Caspian” is, how much can you stand to see the book messed about with?
First, as to scale: can any director, given a budget
of multiple millions, resist throwing in every CGI he can lay his hands
on? The Narnia books are more modest than, say, “The Lord of the
Rings,” but when you saw the battle with the White Witch in “The Lion,
the Witch and the Wardrobe” you realized that director Andrew Adamson
suffers from a bad case of Tolkien Envy. His therapist obviously
told him to go with it, because “Prince Caspian” is full of enough
battles, skirmishes, strategic retreats, duels, ambuscades and other
scrapes to confuse a Toynbee. (If this movie had been released in the
1960s it would have had its title carved into the side of a mountain.)
Of course, audiences tend to like battles with
cavalry charges and clouds of arrows, so you can hardly blame the
moviemakers for inventing bunches of them, except for one thing:
military actions now overpower everything else in the plot, including
the return of joy to Narnia.
Of the seven Narnia books, “Prince Caspian” is the
only one that uses dance as a repeating theme. From the first
chapter, when Doctor Cornelius tells Caspian that the two planets in
conjunction will not collide - “The great lords of the upper sky know
the steps of their dance too well for that” - to Caspian's first
meeting with the Old Narnians at the Dancing Lawn, to the final triumph
when Aslan calls up Bacchus and his maenads to set Old Narnia free,
“Is it a romp, Aslan?” Bacchus cries, and it is:
“[they] began a dance, far wilder than the dance of the trees, not
merely a dance for fun and beauty (thought it was that too) but a magic
dance of plenty...”
Unfortunately Adamson has swept all that aside in
favor of more troops and war machines that Old Narnia must defeat with
brute force, so you wonder why Aslan bothers to show up at all. By the
time we get to the Bridge of Beruna (which looks more like the Bridge
on the River Kwai) it's been reduced to a wooden prop for an immense
CGI river god to destroy, rather than an ancient stone span that
Bacchus pulls apart with his ivy at the river god's request: “Aslan,
loose my chains!”
The whole point of Lewis's story is the return of
joy to a land that has suffered under militaristic oppression and
regimentation, but by the time this Caspian gets through with his
enemies, you fear that Narnia may be in for more of the same.
One reason for this fear is the shift in tone I
mentioned earlier. This is mainly achieved by making Prince Caspian a
whole lot older than he ought to be. When Peter first meets Caspian he
sees “...a boy about his own age,” which should be at most 14, because
Peter (in Pauline Baynes's illustrations, and we assume she conferred
with Lewis) is still wearing the short trousers and knee socks of a
Junior Boy in a British boarding school. Ben Barnes ( a Keanu Reeves
clone) is in his mid-twenties, and something of a thug. He feels
resentful of the High King Peter, rather than liking him very much, as
Lewis says he does, and they get into all sorts of disputes that are
more appropriate for testosterone-crazed juvenile delinquents.
In the next installment, “Voyage of the Dawn
Treader,” Caspian is specifically called “the boy king of Narnia,” and
just as specifically, “a golden-headed boy.” So aside from being too
old, and an actor who could maybe give a sock-puppet a run for its
money, Barnes also has the wrong color hair; and how they make it do
that puffy thing has got to involve a Narnian blow-dryer.
I suppose what I'm wondering is, if a director
doesn't have faith in his material, why is he using it?
There was actually only one thing about the movie
that I absolutely detested, and that was the song used as a voice-over
at the finale.
It seems that every fantasy movie nowadays must be
saddled with an anguished, breathy, female singer whispering maudlin,
out-of-character lyrics (I include Enya's additions to “The Lord of the
Rings” in this category) before the producers will allow the film to be
Fortunately, in most films up till now, these
repugnant songs have been relegated to the end credits, so people like
me, who hate them, can either get up and leave or stop up our ears.
(What can I say? I think real music stopped dead in 1791.)
What Andrew Adamson has done is to inch up the
abhorrent end-credit song into the movie itself, so that it underscores
the last several minutes of the action, including a final attempt to
engineer a romance between Caspian and Lucy, which is just embarrassing.
Lest I appear too much of a Luddite, I will confess
to liking one small CGI: Reepicheep the Talking Mouse is possibly the
most beloved character in all seven books, and he's a delight to watch
here. He's also a delight to listen to, voiced by British stand-up
comic Eddie Izzard; everyone should go out and rent Izzard's DVDs and
prepare to laugh, and laugh.