Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Movie Log: Prince Caspian

So anyone reading this probably knows that Prince Caspian is the second of the Narnia movies, from the second (and don't get me started on that argument again) of C.S. Lewis's novels.

The movie is a fairly blatant attempt to create a Christianized Lord of the Rings -- the book had a more complicated genesis, but Christian evangelism was definitely in the mix there. But since the god-figure in Narnia is a giant talking lion named Aslan with Liam Neeson's voice -- who never claims to be a god, nor is called that by anyone else -- it causes a certain tension and occasional lack of coherence, as when some of the characters whine to others that they should all just sit down and wait quietly for Aslan to come along and save them all.

(The theology of Prince Caspian is more than slightly muddy -- the first attempt at salvation through good works doesn't go well at all, but simply waiting for Aslan would have been useless, too. As usual with religion and other abusive relationships, the point is to internalize what the powerful being wants, so that no one has to think or talk about it, just to do it before he even asks. But since that powerful being remarks repeatedly in this movie that nothing ever happens the same way twice, it's impossible to use the past as a guide to future behavior -- the Aslan-supplicant must remain preternaturally wary, looking for the slightest sign, and be willing to do anything if it looks like that's what the big CGI lion wants.)

I haven't re-read the Narnia books since I was a teenager, and I doubt I'll go back now -- I poked about a bit in the book Prince Caspian during delays of the movie, and found it twee, archaic, and full of that horrible now-I'm-going-to-tell-you-something-jolly tone that's thankfully been mostly eradicated from books for young people now. The movie substitutes borrowed portentousness and a desire to be the PG-rated (and bargain-priced) Lord of the Rings instead. There's an awful lot of wandering around the scenery, as if the filmmakers thought that was what people liked about LotR. And the last-minute saves and hairsbreadth escapes have the feel of E. Nesbit about them; they're all pretty safe.

Prince Caspian is not at all a bad movie, but it's a difficult one to take seriously. Its cozy world bears little resemblance to the modern day, or such competing fantasy-film franchises as Harry Potter (or the supposed WW II of its real-world scenes, or Lord of the Rings, or any number of other reasonable comparisons). That's probably why it was such a disappointment to its producers and releasing company; the audience can tell when it's being talked down to and having its head patted. I imagine it was more impressive in the theater, but it finds its level on a TV screen -- well-meaning and virtuous, but tasting of an odd mix of treacle and twice-boiled spinach.

1 comment:

Niteowl said...

Certainly the metaphor of the week : "odd mix of treacle and twice-boiled spinach."

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