Ooh. It’s Narnia for grown-ups! The kids are older, if as whiny as ever (Edmund is a pleasant exception, for once), and Caspian’s been taking growth hormones. Director Andrew Adamson has sliced out much of the book’s problems – my least favourite, after The Last Battle, Prince Caspian the book begins the character assassination of Susan, signposts Lewis’ desire for the Pevensies to turn into ever-childish Peter Pans (although J.M. Barrie never slaughtered off the Lost Boys, as far as I can recall) and glides over life in a Narnia invaded by foreign oppressors. By cutting out a lot of the waffle, taking a hint from Helm’s Deep by injecting a mid-story assault on the Telmarine castle, and focussing on general slaughter and despair, Adamson has made his film significantly less kid-friendly than his previous effort in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
There’s already a lot of net argument on the changes made, with Lewis purists up in arms against the rest of us – so I’m not going to focus on that, or on the many, many points in the film where you’ll sit up straight and say, “Hey! Did he steal that scene from Peter Jackson?” Instead, I’ll talk about what I went into the film expecting to focus on – albeit somewhat dubiously – Aslan and Susan.
I was actually quite amazed at just how much of a jerk Aslan comes across as in this film. It’s been 1300 years of slaughter and oppression for the resident Narnians, and he’s off twiddling his paws doing goodness knows what. Even when the Kings and Queens are brought back into Narnia via Susan’s lost horn, Aslan continues to wander about the deep forest until a little girl risks her life to ask him really nicely if he’ll come save them all from what is effectively genocide. I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the Narnians, I’d be feeling like there’s maybe a bit of favouritism going on there. One feels quite sympathetic for Nikabrik, the dwarf who tries to resurrect the White Witch on the grounds that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. He does have a point – it only took Aslan 100 years to come along and get rid of her. That’s what… 3 or 4 generations? There’s 1300 years worth of Narnians who would say waiting out the White Witch is a pretty good deal in comparison.
I’ve seen this film a couple of times now, and for all its good points, Lucy gets more and more annoying the more I see of her. All credit to little Georgie Henley for giving a great performance (anyone who remembers the BBC series from their childhood will know how bad it could have been), but she can’t help the prim and self-aggrandising rubbish that is constantly coming out of Lucy’s mouth. The runner-up prize for annoying goes to her repeated insinuations that she’s the only one who actually wants to see Aslan, despite the desperation of her siblings for some sort of guidance and appearance from him. It’s their fault, you see, that they can’t see him. If they’d only want to see him harder, he’d show up. Undoubtedly most annoying utterance, however, is the “I wish you’d all stop acting like grown-ups!” that is lifted straight from the book after, you guessed it, Lucy sees Aslan and no-one else does. In Lucy’s mind (as in Aslan’s and Lewis’, apparently) growing up and behaving like reasonable and rational adults is a bad thing. Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ve read The Last Battle and the one thing you never have to do is grow up. It’s all taken care of!
Strangely, the book back-up to Lucy’s argument is removed entirely from the movie version. Getting rid of the age excuse (Peter and Susan have grown too old to return to Narnia) at the end of the film in favour of “Your brother and sister have learned all they can from Narnia” is inconsistent, and also raises the problem of what exactly they’re supposed to have learned. Having talked to several people, none of them can actually come up with these great life lessons Peter and Susan have supposedly imbibed from slaughtering Telmarines and Narnians both. I suppose that you can say that Susan learns to carpe Caspian (and really, who wouldn’t – Ben Barnes has got the standing heroic and looking pretty thing down pat), but anyone who has read The Last Battle knows that Susan’s predilection for the boys is going to get her barred from Narnia in the long run. So the one thing she could be said to have learned is not so hot from the lion’s point of view. Nice one, Aslan.
In a shot which I’m uncertain if Adamson intended (he’s a sneaky bastard if he did), the dwarf Trumpkin kills a wild bear then comments that treating people as dumb animals long enough turns them into, surprisingly, dumb animals. Interestingly, the camera is on Susan as he says this. Film Susan is rather strong on science and rationality (a big change from the books, and she is infinitely more tolerable and sympathetic in the film version) and it’s pretty arguable that her upcoming doubt and rejection of Aslan comes from his treatment of those around him. Expect people to endure in unearned faith against all good sense, and you might find that good sense is the one thing that they actually lose. That, or faith.
In short, if you can stop yourself from comparing Prince Caspian to Lord of the Rings this is actually a much better, darker story than the book or the previous film. And even the religious will find it hard to deny that Aslan comes off as a right pillock. The moral of the story seems, on the surface, to be “Have faith, and everything will be alright”. But practically, the moral that any thinking person will take away is “Have as much faith as you like, but don’t sit on your arse waiting for that faith to mean anything.”
It makes me wonder how the film-makers will interpret The Last Battle, should they ever make it. It’s undoubtedly the most difficult of the seven Narnian books – and absolutely the most off-putting to modern audiences. The film version of Prince Caspian seems to indicate that changes will abound.