With no commentary, nor any justification for why you should care, here are my five favorite films of 2010.
Honorable Mention: How to Train Your Dragon.
With the most recent revelations and allegations about Mel Gibson, I wonder whether Evangelicals will finally repent of their support for this terrible, terrible film and its clearly racist, chauvinist, and violent director.
I wrote almost the same thing four years ago, but it still needs to be said today: the evangelical leaders who stood up in support of Mel Gibson and his pornographic film should stand up today and apologize for enabling him.
Remember, a film that is almost completely absent God’s love and forgiveness, was described by many evangelicals as “one of the greatest evangelistic tools in modern day history.”
Usually around this time people come up with lists of scary movies that you should watch. A lot of these have nothing to do with Halloween, they’re just scary (or just plain sick in the case of the Saw movies). For the first day of Halloween Week, I’m going to list my five favorite Halloween movies that actually take place on Halloween, and most of them aren’t really that scary, so you can watch with your kids.
I love this movie. It reminds me of an 80s movie with modern technology, a CG Goonies. It’s not Pixar movie, but it’s funny, has great characters, and a very odd plot.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
I love Ray Bradbury’s original novel with a perfect love. No matter who you are, or where you grew up in the United States (can’t speak for any other country), this book takes you back to your childhood. The movie is very good as well.
Speaking of childhood, ET may be the seminal film for those who grew up in the 80s. (Are you catching a theme with these movies).
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Okay, this one breaks my rules, but it’s a good movie (especially compared to the first two and the relative lack of soul of the fourth film), and it feels like most of it takes place around Halloween.
How could I write a list like this without mentioning Halloween, one of the best 80s horror movies from a truly great director.
Honorable mentions: Karate Kid and Meet Me in St. Louis.
There’s a good post at The Hog’s Head by Dave the Longwinded about Watchmen (both the movie and the graphic novel). It examines how the story is a perfect postmodern deconstructionist text.
Ultimately, the book’s most famous tagline belies its most famous theme: “Who watches the Watchmen?” In deconstructionist fashion, Moore is taking on the notion of a superhero and its role in a free, democratic society. How can free people put so much faith into one personality and their “unfailing goodness”? How can “independent” people find so appealing the need for one individual to cure all of society’s ills? Aren’t these examples of free people wanting some kind of fascism? Moore explores the idea that the superhero is, in fact, a concept deeply antithetical to free societies — a criticism that we’ve heard on this site and others about Harry. Conversations about the believability of Harry’s character all revolve around this concept, whether or not he’s “too good” to be a legitimate site in which readers should invest their hope and ideals.
5. Slumdog Millionaire
3. Iron Man
2. The Dark Knight
1. The Wrestler (view with Discernment™)
So, if Prince Caspian suceeds as a movie, it surely must follow that it is a good and faithful adaptation of Lewis, right? Well, no actually. In fact, Prince Caspian is a fairly poor adaptation of the novel. There are times, as Douglas Wilson says, when the only common thread between the two are the names of the characters.
To begin, let’s look at some minor points of contention that some might call nitpicking. These, in my opinion, don’t affect the overall message of the novel, but they do go against what Lewis was trying to say in some small way.
First, the romance between Caspian and Susan. Until the end, this amounted to nothing more than flirting and seems like a nice addition to the movie. You need that kind of stuff in a movie, even just at the periphery, to make the world seem more real. I mean, would you believe that Caspian wouldn’t be at least somewhat interested in Susan? He is a young man after all. It does admittedly get a bit silly at the end when Susan kisses him before leaving Narnia for good.
Second, Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin is considerably different from the novel, but not annoyingly so. Trumpkin the film character is great, but he’s not the book character. Trumpkin in the movie is, in the words of Greydanus, “written and played with a phlegmatic rather than a sanguine humor, introverted rather than extroverted.” He just doesn’t seem right, and one wonders whether that will mess up the next movie.
Finally, the addition of scenes in Miraz’ court are actually good. The nitpicker will say they aren’t in the book, so they shouldn’t be in the movie, but I think they serve their purpose and do something to help create the world. The character of Miraz, on the other hand, is underused; we really don’t know why he’s evil except that the other characters tell us he is.
In between serious flaws and minor nitpicks sits the character of Reepicheep. While I thought he was a good movie character, he is not the Reepicheep of the books. My daughter almost leapt in joy upon seeing him, but I was less excited. The filmed Reepicheep was sarcastic, prideful, and anything but honorable. He seems to act the way he does because of some chip on his shoulder, not because he is an virtuous knight of Narnia. I wonder whether this is going to carry over into the next film.
Now, onto the things that I believe seriously mar the adaptation. First, the fact that Aslan acts essentially as a deus ex machina. They try to convince us the characters are acting and reacting because of Aslan’s absence, but he really only comes in at the end to kick some butt. Imagine reading Revelation having heard very little of this Christ character; it wouldn’t make much sense.
Second, following from that, neither Peter nor Caspian seem at all sorry that they nearly gave in to the White Witch’s temptation. They kind of stare at the icon of Aslan, almost giving you the feeling that maybe, in between scenes, they repented, but you don’t see anything of it. With Caspian you can understand this, he’s never met the Lion, but with Peter that makes no sense. Is he really that mad at Aslan for having to live in our world for a year?
This leads to one of the biggest problems in adapting Prince Caspian: the action scenes. Following the Lord of the Rings films, the narrative flow of the novels is displaced by constant action. Character arcs and understanding motives are less interesting visually than, say, a decapitation. This is perfectly seen in the added scene of the raid on the Telmarine castle. It was not in the book and essentially added nothing to the film. That time could have easily be spent forwarding the characters and the non-action plot elements.
Hollywood insists on constant conflict and action. Perhaps audiences won’t accept a fantasy film without a lot of battle scenes, or at least they think we’re that stupid. As much as I love Peter Jackson’s LotR trilogy, in many ways he does not understand the source material. He took what was not the major theme of the books, battle, and turned it into what defines the series. (To see how Tolkien views war, take a look at the Battle of the Five Armies at the end of The Hobbit, then question how Jackson/del Toro are going to handle it.)
It is the same with Prince Caspian; the filmmakers assume there has to be some kind of armed conflict every ten minutes or the audience will grow bored. Characterization and actual story are sacrificed at the altar of war. Again, it’s sad that Hollywood thinks this is part and parcel of fantasy, as there are so many great stories that don’t rely heavily on this at all. (Harry Potter, in my view, is a good example of this.)
While Prince Caspian the movie is pretty good, it doesn’t do the book any justice. I’m sure this is the refrain of any geek whose favorite book gets made into a movie, but when you’re actively changing the themes of the book, then it seems legitimate. Perhaps modern audiences, and the ever so popular family demographic, won’t be interested in reading the book (“What? Susan doesn’t even use her bow?), but that doesn’t mean Prince Caspian is anything but a somewhat faithful adaptation. And by that I mean the skeleton remains the same, but the heart is missing.
There are two ways one could approach a movie like Prince Caspian: as a fantasy movie or as a fantasy movie based on a beloved classic novel. I’m going to try to take both of these views into account as I review this movie, but my default position will be the latter. In this post, I’ll review the film itself and in the next, I’ll look at how it compares to the book.
My general feeling is that if a book is pretty good, with great characters and plot, then you don’t need to change things around too much in order to make a movie. Sure, the filmmakers will have to cut things out in order to make a watchable movie (the Harry Potter series), but if a book is already pretty good, then it’s not too much of a leap to expect the movie to be both similar and good. (Good books being made into bad movies is a post all on its own; see Jumper, The Dark is Rising, The Spiderwick Chronicles, or The Golden Compass.)
As a movie, Prince Caspian does fairly well. No doubt, it will be compared to Return of the King, which is a bad thing; a very, very bad thing. There is no way a movie based on a children’s book and aimed toward a family friendly audience will be able to stand up against the genius that is Peter Jackson’s LotR. The battle scenes will always be tame (even if there is a PG beheading), which is what the modern audience considers the bread and butter of a fantasy film. If you take that comparison off the table and think of Prince Caspian more in terms of other family friendly fantasy films (alliteration!), like Eragon (which I pointedly left off my good book/bad movie list), then it becomes a very good movie.
The story is somewhat tight, although the first act is rushed, seemingly to get to the action. Caspian is rushed out of the castle and into the woods before we have a feel for the world. We’re not given any reason to care for the young prince and his imminent murder. The sequence of the four Pevensies meeting the titular prince is also confusing, making me feel like something was missing, perhaps cut for time purposes.
The biggest complaint I have about the story is the absence of Aslan, who drove the previous film. I understand what the story was trying to say, that people have given up hope in Aslan. There is an important theological point there: whatever Peter does by himself, in his own power if you will, is ultimately doomed to failure. Similarly, Caspian is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, even accepting the help of the White Witch. But the writers take away anything they had stored up by not having Peter and Caspian be even remotely sorry for giving into temptation. It’s as if there are no consequences to fairly serious actions. When Aslan finally shows up he really doesn’t do anything except act as a deus ex machina, which I suppose you could say he literally is.
The characters are better developed than the previous movie, but they still lack something. It’s obvious Peter is struggling since his return to our world, but we don’t really feel this; he seems more like the teenaged Anakin Skywalker, a comparison you never want to make. Caspian is good, which kind of works against the movie. He actually looks and acts like a prince and has a good amount of charisma on the screen, dwarfing Peter by comparison.
That said, the actors are good. Although I’ll contradict myself later, Eddie Izzard is great as Reepicheep and Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin is excellent. The Pevensies have become better actors and Ben Barnes’ Caspian is good. The one misstep in casting is the criminal misuse of Pierfrancesco Favino (Glozelle) and Sergio Castellitto (Miraz), who are underused.
The filmmaking is better than the first installment, adding many layers to what could have been a one-dimensional film. If The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was a flat, clean, soulless movie, then Prince Caspian is a dirty, real, three-dimensional story. Narnia feels real, not just a magical world, but a real land with real people living real lives. You feel the history of the past 1,000 years, knowing that countless people have lived and died waiting for Aslan to return. This is something the first movie largely fails to accomplish.
As a whole, Prince Caspian, being what it is, is a pretty good movie. If I had to rate it, it would be in the B/B+ range. It’s not the best fantasy movie ever, nor is it the worst; it stands well above the films listed above and does well in comparison to the later Harry Potter films. It is well worth spending $8 to see it in the theater, which is perhaps the highest praise I could give a movie. (And remember, this is without taking the book into account.)