Monday, July 07, 2008

Prince Caspian: now with added plot

Prince Caspian was the book that taught me about sequels. The same characters in the same setting, but different! A whole new story! I was very pleased with myself for cottoning on to the concept. Even more pleased that I worked out why hundreds of years should have passed since the last book before our four heroes do.

But I was rather hoping they wouldn't make a movie out of it. Plotwise, it's the least of the Narnia books. The kids turn up, Peter fights a duel with Miraz, Caspian is confirmed as the rightful king and the kids bugger off again. Okay, there's a bit more, perhaps, going on in the background ... but not enough to make a two-hour film. When the BBC did their version back in the eighties they ran it together with Voyage of the Dawn Treader into one long six-part serial, of which Prince Caspian occupied only the first two parts (and Caspian was a boy with girly curly hair, so you just wanted to slap him).

But of course they had to make Prince Caspian next to reuse the kids from the first film. Then they'll have to make Voyage of the Dawn Treader to reuse Edmund and Lucy for the last time, and then The Silver Chair to reuse Eustace ... By this reckoning it will be about 2020 before they make my favourite, the one I wish they would do – The Magician's Nephew. It's set partly in the real world (one reason why it's my favourite), it's got Jadis (another), it's got guinea pigs (still another), the role of Uncle Andrew would give a camping field day to any British thesp (though with a sense of tedious inevitability it would probably go to Sir Ian McKellen) and the feeling I got when I realised "OMG that's Aslan and he's creating Narnia!!" still makes me tingle. In fact Walden Media has a duty, nay, an obligation to bring that jaw-dropping moment of realisation to a new generation of children.

And the kids are one-use-only, disposable.

I wonder if they'll get that far, though. Prince Caspian is the last chance to do epic, full-scale battle, at least until The Last (um) Battle, which I'll be very surprised if they make, and epic, full-scale battle does seem to be what the modern movie audience is after. But we'll let tomorrow happen tomorrow, and for the time being I'll go on record as saying I enjoyed Prince Caspian, and indeed (unlike the book) it's a sequel that surpasses the original.

The first film was padded out a little with some unnecessary plot tension (escaping the wolves at Mr Tumnus's) and sexing up the final battle which in the book happened almost entirely off-stage. The latter was justified, the former I really didn't think was. And it was spoiled every time someone totally failed to react to being covered in snow, making it clear the stuff was just polystyrene flakes and puncturing the illusion.

This film is padded out by an entire second act, starting about one hour into the proceedings, that didn't happen in the book at all. But it so easily could have. Prince Caspian is much lighter on the theology than the first book; if there's a lesson, it's about trust and obedience, and the Big Plot Addition is fully in the spirit of that lesson. It brings the story round in one big loop to where the plot would have been anyway without it – the duel with Miraz (even more exciting than in the book) and the final showdown – but in the meantime the characters have grown, harsh lessons have been learnt and Peter in particular has learnt a little humility, which he badly needs. Meanwhile the Big Plot Addition makes total sense, plotwise and military. As in the first film, Peter knows how to use air power – but of course he is a boy growing up during WW2.

The actors playing Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are much more assured than before, growing into their roles and their acting ability. Susan and Lucy are both hotties in training – Susan especially would be channelling the spirit of young Jenny Agutter, if Jenny Agutter weren't still alive. But Edmund is my favourite. He is the younger brother who is just as good as Peter, but knows he is second fiddle and is happy to accept the position. He quietly gets on with his job, backs his brother up (note that in several scenes he's walking almost alongside Peter, but a step or two behind) and meanwhile saves the day on a couple of occasions. Of course, in the previous film he had his own severely character forming humility lessons. Though there is a nice moment here where he is incorrectly addressed as Prince Edmund, and corrects the speaker.

(As a sidenote: I'm sorry, good as the actors are, unless Mrs Pevensie had a fling about 15 years ago with some passing Mediterranean type then there is no way those boys are brothers. Peter is burly, round faced, strong of arm and stout of heart – English yeomanry down to his very DNA. Edmund is slim, dark and frankly looks more like a Calormene.)

Miraz is nicely villainous without being bog-eyed and cackling. Cruel, but also brave. Caspian is an interesting casting decision as the actor, Ben Barnes, is 27, which is older than Samuel West was playing the grown-up Caspian in the BBC Dawn Treader. The Caspian of the book was a kid which made it less incongruous that he meekly takes orders from other kids. Maybe they wanted him pre-grown for the next movie; but the fact that he grows in maturity during the film means that at the start he comes across as even more immature than a younger actor would. Oh well. At least this time we know Narnia is in good hands when the High King and his three sibs go back to their own world, leaving King Caspian X with the challenge of integrating Narnians and Telmarines and possibly setting up his own Truth & Reconciliation Commission to bring the two together.

Whichever genius decided in the first film that beavers are cockney has here decreed that badgers are Scottish. He wasn't wrong on either count. The stunning use of central European landscapes shows that the sole reason the Iron Curtain came down was to give us good fantasy film locations, Aslan again proves that God has a mild Irish accent, and I couldn't stop giggling at Reepicheep's first words, perhaps because I knew who was saying them.

The Dawn Treader is already on the building blocks, so to speak. It will be interesting to see how they handle that one. It's more picaresque than either of the first two books – a series of mostly unconnected adventures. In the unlikely event of them giving me the script to write, I would focus it on the redemption of Eustace plus Reep's personal mission and add some linking sense of menace that needs to be overcome – possibly with the sea monster, possibly pirates/slavers or something like that. But that's just me.

When I blog on that experience in a few years time, I'll probably try and fail to make a joke that combines 'Caspian' and 'Sea'.

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