We saw Prince Caspian tonight.  Where the first film was passable, this one is seriously annoying.  Let C.S. Lewis himself explain the problem:

I was once taken to see a film version of King Solomon’s Mines. …  At the end of Haggard’s book, as everyone remembers, the heroes are awaiting death entombed in a rock chamber and surrounded by the mummified kings of that land. The maker of the film version, however, apparently thought this tame. He substituted a subterranean volcanic eruption, and then went one better by adding an earthquake. Perhaps we should not blame him. Perhaps the scene in the original was not ‘cinematic’ and the man was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined.

That’s pretty much my reaction to Prince Caspian.  Throughout the middle of the movie I was thinking over and over, “What the hell?”  Why are they introducing a foolish failed raid on Miraz’s castle?  Why did they introduce this theme of complaint and abandonment?  Why did they set Caspian and Peter at each other’s throats?  Why did they put everything out of order?  Why did they make Peter, frankly, an asshole?

My wife thought it was horribly violent.  And it is, much much more so than the book.  The book has battles and a very good swordfight, of course.  But the main battle lasts about two pages.  To echo Lewis, if the original isn’t thrilling enough to be a movie, why are you even trying to make it into one?

I just re-read the book, and the difference in tone is remarkable.  The filmmakers have entirely lost Lewis’s charm, his sensibleness, even his earthiness.  The first section of the book is enchanting, not least because of all the little details– how the children virtually live on apples for a few days, how sick they get of apples, why it’s inconvenient to cut ropes with swords, how you find fresh water when lost in the woods.  And you’d hardly get the idea from the movie that a good section of the book deals with Aslan holding a huge party in the woods, catered by Bacchus the wine god.

 I’d worried that Evangelical writers would make Aslan too gooey, too pious.  In fact the problem is that he’s barely present.  There’s a brief version of the long strange scene where Lucy and no one else sees Aslan; but in the book this is resolved fairly quickly, and Aslan meets all the children (and Trumpkin)– the main battle isn’t engaged in defiance of him.  In the movie he just shows up in the last fifteen minutes or so, as pure deus ex machina.  You’ll have to read the books to get any sense of why this lion might be an appealing figure.

Someone at a story session must have been undergoing a crisis of faith or something… the movie characters are constantly worrying that Aslan has abandoned them.  There are skeptical characters in the book, such as Trumpkin, but they’re not exactly anguished– they go along with the more religious types, because there’s always something to do.  In general this is a deep theological question… but in terms of the story, it’s a problem invented by the writers: in the book there’s no great question why Aslan isn’t acting, because he is.  And there idea that Lucy has to keep going back to the point in the woods where she saw Aslan seems like a half-wit parody of faith.  There was nothing special about that point, except that Aslan was in it.  He wanted the children to follow him, not simply as a test of faith, but because he knew the way better than they did. 

The writers even messed up small points… e.g. the kids’ use of “DLF” for Trumpkin… a little callous, but in the book it’s Trumpkin, not the children, who uses the term first.

It’s not a total loss.  Reepicheep is too great a character to harm.  The centaurs are suitably dignified; Lucy is still a winning character, and I liked Susan too… mmm, female archers.  I did wonder how King Leonidas ended up ruling Narnia…