On Saturday, I joined my kids (and the rest of my daughter’s third grade class) at a viewing of the new version of the C.S. Lewis classic, Prince Caspian.
Joe Carter reviews it at Evangelical Outpost and opines that its great virtue is that it is a war movie (in the best sense) for children. I reply that he is certainly correct about it being a war movie and he is certainly correct that this is one of its great virtues. But I don’t think this is its chief virtue or that the book from which it is drawn is inferior to the movie version, as Carter claims. I think that the movie version is what it has to be in order to tell the narrative ("talky" as Carter calls it) story of Prince Caspian.
Carter further opines that "this is a Dad’s movie" because:
Moms simply won’t be able to appreciate seeing a teen boy getting thrashed in single-combat against a man twice his age. They won’t cheer heartily at seeing a teen girl expertly dehorse a half-dozen soldiers with a bow and arrow. Nor will they gasp with delight upon seeing a six-year old draw a dagger when faced with an opposing army.To which, I say: poppycock. I sat with and was part of a whole row of moms perched on the edges of our seats, cheering and clapping at each of these scenes. Perhaps Carter thinks this because he’s hanging around with the wrong sort of moms? In any case, much of the criticism of the movie comes from those who say that it is too much like an action flick . . . relying too heavily on the battle scenes Carter (and my posse) cheered. But the critics are probably the sort of people who don’t really believe that there is anything worthy of the kind of risk and sacrifice on display in these scenes. Indeed, Carter himself comes dangerously close to forgetting there’s more to this "action" than the action itself. It is a war movie but, like all good war movies, it’s much more than that.
Carter is critical, for example, of the Prince Caspian character and of the portrayal of the animal characters, such as (my favorite) Reepicheep. He thinks they were given too much screen time (I think not enough) at the expense of the development of the Penvensie children’s characters. He’s right that the Prince Caspian character was probably selected for his devastating good looks and he’s right that his accent was pretty stupid (Castilian? I had always pictured Miraz and his kingdom as a kind of Middle-Eastern fiefdom . . .). But Caspian is a central character in the unfolding Chronicles drama. And, eye-candy or no, Ben Barnes did a very good job of establishing Caspian’s place in the story. The back and forth between him and Peter was perfect. Peter and Susan are (and must be) fading characters. Their pride--which I took to be a kind of metaphor for the pride of the Church--must come into and pass from being. The truth remains and passes on to a new set of guardians with each succeeding generation--and once a generation master’s its pride--it is time for it to go home. Besides, I think it would have been almost impossible for the Penvensies to have been any more fully developed.
The actors who play the Penvensie children are either possessed of great genius or they were supremely directed. The Peter and Edmund characters, especially, tell so much of the story with their eyes and expressions that it makes you wonder what sort of profound wisdom informs their understanding of the story. Even the added elements to the movie version (e.g., the proto-romance between Caspian and Susan) serve the higher truth of the film. As Peter is humbled by his need for Aslan, so too Susan (the warrior queen) is humbled by her need for the intercession of a strong male. Human pride (and, in Reepicheep’s case, mouse pride), not simple war for its own sake, is the real subject of Prince Caspian. Pride brings on the war, makes it necessary, and further complicates it as it gets underway. Submission to the natural order of things and trust in Aslan’s will (and mercy) sets things aright.