Today was one of those extremely hot days here in our part of California, the kind that make the darkness and chill of a movie theater an inviting prospect even if there isn't anything good playing. But Sand and I had been anticipating going to the movies anyway to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. So off we went, plunked down our monies, got our popcorn, and settled in.
Before the movie even started, I accidentally dumped three quarters of my popcorn on the floor. I was tempted to see in the scattered kernels a message, perhaps a presaged review of the film. This was, after all, the second of the great Narnia series of books which I have heard so many times was a "Christian allegory." There was no discernible message in the popcorn however, at least not one I could see in the dark, so I settled in to watch the movie.
Sure enough, the Pevensie kids are back in Narnia, but it is not as they left it at the end of the first movie. It is a troubled land caught up in political intrigue, an usurper king, and preparations for war. The Narnians, a mix of talking animals and mythical creatures who consider the Pevensies to be kings and queens of the realm, live in constant fear of the Telmarines. Worst still, Aslan, the allegedly allegorical Christ figure, is nowhere to be found. The kids join forces with Prince Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne, whom the usurper king has been trying to kill. The Prince promises to right all the wrongs against the Narnians if they help him regain his throne.
And the Christian allegory? Well, it could be simply good versus evil. Or it could be that sometimes we are called to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good. Or it could be that love conquers all. But if this movie is any indication, then the Christian message is this: hunt down your enemy, beat the hell out of him, and if you can't kill enough of them, call upon your god to deliver a little supernatural shock and awe to finish them off. If you do this, everybody will love you. A contextural understanding of this view of Christianity can be obtained by going to your biblical concordance and looking up all the references for phrases that begin with "Dubya."
I have no idea what C. S. Lewis said in his books, because I have to confess here that I've never read them. I have read that Lewis maintained that the stories were never intended to be allegory, and that Aslan was never intended to be a Christ figure. And I hope this is true.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is a savvy enough special effects movie, a combination of Shrek and Lord of the Rings. The actors are competent, although by no means inspired. The story was a challenge for the writers as there was a lot of back story that needed to be gotten through in order to understand what was going on. Unfortunately, all story-telling in this movie was kept only to the barest minimum needed to get from one battle scene to the next.
Can you tell I was disappointed? My recommendation is don't waste your money on this one, and when the DVD comes out, rent something else. I think maybe the popcorn was trying to tell me something.
Long ago, in a land far, far away, I was a librarian in a children's library. I would take home a stack of children's books to read on a regular basis, so that I would know what to recommend to the kids. I'm sure that I read all of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. In fact, we bought the set as a gift for the daughter of the house when she was still in grade school; I know that I would not have given her books of unknown content. But the fact is, when I watched Prince Caspian today, I remembered not one bit of the story from the book.
Let's put it down to the twenty-odd years that have passed. Still, even though I did not remember Prince Caspian, I did remember the last Narnia movie, and a land with talking animals and the mystical lion Aslan was beguiling enough for me to want to revisit that alternate world.
The story: young Caspian the Tenth is about to be murdered by his murderous uncle, who wants to take over the kingdom of the Telmarines, who have for centuries persecuted the magical Narnians. The Narnians have withdrawn into the depths of the forest, which has lost much of its magic out of fear and disuse. Caspian, in dire straits, uses Susan's magical horn, and summons the four kids back to Narnia. It's up to the four Pevensie siblings and Caspian to save the Narnians from slaughter, restore the throne of Caspian, and bring the magic back to the land.
The same actors played Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, and it was a pleasure to see them again from their performance in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. (That would be William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and Georgie Henley, respectively.) They looked happy to be playing their roles again, a little older, and their characters full of confidence and verve.
It was good to see Aslan again, too, a beautiful CGI creation in rich golden hues, with the mellifluous voice of Liam Neeson.
However, though we may have bought the books for our daughter as a grade-school aged child, there is no way we would have taken her to see this movie. From the beginning, with the attempted murder of Prince Caspian, to the epic destruction of the final battle, the film is an avalanche of death and warfare. There aren't a lot of pools of blood to be seen, or guts hanging out, but heaps of magical Narnians lying at the castle gate, bristling with the arrows that killed them in a horrible massacre -- yes, there was that, and hundreds of Telmarines dead and trampled and crushed on the battlefield, too. Ugh.
Don't get me wrong. I'm as much of a blow-em-up action movie junkie as the next blow-em-up action movie junkie ... but this was different. This was about kids, kids in a fantasy world. And then it was suddenly about kids killing people, and watching hundreds of people and creatures die, indeed planning the deaths of cavalrymen and infantry ... and then, at the end, they were still the sweet darlings they had been before.
I understand that C. S. Lewis was a friend of J. R. R. Tolkien; the scene in the movie in which Aslan calls the trees to join the battle was very reminiscent of Ents' involvement in The Two Towers; the rise of the river-being an eyebrow-raising reprise of Tolkien's chapter in The Fellowship of the Ring "Flight to the Ford" in which Gandalf causes the waves to destroy the Ringwraiths. Shared ideas can be good ... I guess. Maybe they challenged each other to write those elements into their stories.
And then there was Reepicheep, a cute mouse who was also a swordsman. The characterization was an underdone ripoff of Puss In Boots from Shrek II; I was fairly repulsed by the arguably cutest CGI character in the movie repeatedly dispatching his adversaries by stabbing them in the throat.
Finally, the four Pevensies bid their Narnians good-bye once again, to return to war-beleaguered London. What? You just walk away from the world you drenched in blood, saying, "Well, our job here is done?'
What about the reconciliations that will take years? What about the rebuilding? What about the no smog and being able to talk to centaurs? Hmm.
All in all, if I had precognitive visions of the movie ... I'd have gone to giggle at Tony Stark in Iron Man again, instead.