I recently discovered the NetFlix Instant feature, that allows you to download and instantly view movies. I've come to think of it as "Where Commercially Unsuccessful Films Go To Die", because the vast majority of the films offered do not interest me, and with good reason. It's as if the studios said, "Aw, what the hell, we're not getting any more out of this old thing anyway, let 'em download it and see what happens. I only wish folks would start pirating the damn thing." Sometimes there are really good, really old films that are so mined out that they go to Instant -- e.g. Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven -- but mostly they are trash-films from two or three years ago, or an underappreciated gem that underperformed. Which, from a studio executive's point of view, is the same as trash.
So, I have a mixed reaction when I see a film I actually would want to see show up in the Instant section. When Joss Whedon's Serenity showed up, I thought, "YES! . . . I mean . . . Aw, that's too bad." Serenity is a really, really good movie, and it pains me to see it sitting next to Hellraiser III.
I got another one of these forsaken classics this week: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.Prince Caspian was one of the better Narnia books, so you think it would make a better film than The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. And you would be right. Director Andrew Adamson wins the Peter Jackson"Oh My God, That's Exactly How I Imagined It" Award with the ruins of Cair Paravel and the entire character of Reepicheep.
Adamson also succeeds at staying true to the essential nature and intent of the story, but not letting that get in the way of making a good movie. Critics had complained that the first Narnia movie couldn't sustain much action because its protagonists were so young, so it looks like the producers focused on making this one a little faster and more furious. Peter's swordplay still feels a little sluggish, though his duel with Miraz sustained the dramatic tension fairly well. Meanwhile, Susan seems to be giving Legolas a run for his money in the "Bows are so badass" category, not to mention reminding us that red fletching is the perfect accessory to a killer outfit:
Speaking of which, I imagine that C. S. Lewis, were he writing a Hollywood script instead of a Christian allegory, would be kicking himself for not using the story devices incorporated in this Prince Caspian film: "Of course! Frustrated romantic tension between Susan and Caspian! Why didn't I think of that?" The movie is full of similar innovations, which deviate from the text's literal plot but not from its mood or overall theme. Nikabrik's plot to summon the White Witch, for instance, kept all the best dialogue, but blew it up to a visually dramatic action sequence instead of just a quick brawl in the dark. I don't remember a lot about the actual war campaign from the book, which shows that the movie did a better story-telling job when it came to the failed attack on Miraz' castle and the ego-battles between Caspian and Peter. Narnia fans should rejoice; a basically faithful adaptation also turned out to be a fun movie.
Ok, now that I have the fanboy stuff out of the way, a few more thoughtful reflections.
Maybe its just that movies and games have become so much more graphically violent, that I recognize a conscious retreat back to earlier movie conventions. I have seen so many blood-smeared faces since Braveheart and Gladiator that it strikes me as singularly odd to have a full-scale battle scene where not a single drop of blood is shed. People (and centaurs, and fauns, etc. etc.) get shot with arrows, crushed under rocks, slashed with swords, and the only evidence of damage done is a short surprised grunt before collapsing to the ground. No blood. Ever. No screams, either -- howling in agony does not happen in magical fairylands. So I ask myself -- is this better? True, it's not dulling our capacity for horror by bathing us in gore . . . But do we do any better, making battle look so clean and . . . noble?C.S. Lewis, a veteran of war, believed in the just use of violence and would probably approve of his heroes and heroines being unapologetically forceful in their cause. But I wouldn't want to disconnect it from the consequences, either. My favorite scene in the whole movie, the one that showed the most depth and courage, is when Peter is standing on the bridge of the castle, gazing back at his troops trapped behind a gate, realizing that because he made the wrong decision, his friends and comrades are doomed to die. In that one slow-motion moment, we feel everything about that war -- the horror of battle, the nobility of their sacrifice, the terror of the struggle, and the awful need to keep moving through unspeakable grief. Now that is war.
"C.S. Lewis...would probably approve of his heroes and heroines being unapologetically forceful in their cause." He wouldn't approve of Susan clubbing people to death with her bow, for sure. And I don't think he would approve of the romantic tension either: I don't think it's a coincidence that his books are so romance-free.
But despite a number of quibbles, I really loved the movie. I think Disney is doing a fantastic job, and I really hope they go on to make "Dawn Treader" and all the rest. I liked your essay, too: you noticed a lot of things I hadn't. It makes me want to see the movie again.
I don't know if you've seen my essay that was inspired by the same movie, but it's at http://www.ncsu.edu/felder-public/kenny/essays/fantasy.html if you're curious.
-- Lewis might have frowned at Susan clubbing enemies with her bow, but only because it wasn't lady-like. For what it's worth, he has had some other heroines who did their fair share of head-bashing (Orual in "Till We Have Faces" comes to mind.)
-- I saw a lot of other fans posting their disapproval of "Suspian", because it seemed like just another gratuitious attempt to graft a love story where none was needed. But it's very consistent with the whole arc of Susan's development throughout the whole series. Susan struggles with her emerging feminine identity in various episodes of the books. In "A Horse and His Boy", she rushes into a dalliance with a Calorman prince that turns out to be unwise. By the time "The Final Battle" rolls around, she is so engrossed in establishing her adult feminine identity ("lipstick and such", I think Lucy called it) that she has completely forgotten her Narnian experiences. So, it seemed perfectly natural that you put a beautiful young queen who's dying to be a woman next to a handsome prince, and there would have to be some sparkage. And, by Hollywood standards, it was quite restrained and ultimately frustrated . . . which is what I think Lewis would have wanted. It underscores the fact that Susan is becoming an adult and will therefore no longer return to Narnia.
-- Thanks for pointing out your essay on fantasy. I have lots of thoughts on this . . .
Fair enough. I don't think "ladylike" does justice to his objection that war becomes particularly ugly when women get involved on the front lines. But I agree that the romance was handled very discreetly and well.
Just came across your blog, looking for the text of Prince Caspian on Google. I wrote one, when the movie came out, quite the diametric opposite of your impressions. If you're interested: http://lindahyde.blogspot.com/2009/02/urgent-call-to-paradise.html