Prince Caspian (2008) Part 6: Not Exactly What I Expected

We cut from Caspian saying the Telmarines will be there soon to a bunch of them cutting down trees and building a bridge across the ford of Beruna. (In the book, there had already been a town at Beruna for quite some time.) Cutting down trees is a pretty generic way to visually symbolize invasion but, to be fair, the book pretty much handed it to the film.[1]Though in the literary Prince Caspian, the trees had already been cut down long before the story’s main events. Cliches sometimes become cliche for good reason and this scene basically works. I think it would work better though if the previous movie had established this location. Then it would feel more like the Telmarines were defiling an important historical Narnian landmark. Interestingly, a moment deleted from the movie would have shown a dryad reduced to a pile of leaves by her tree being felled.[2]The same thing happens in a different Narnia book, The Last Battle. This would have made what the Telmarines are doing more palpably evil, but it also wouldn’t have made sense since all the tree spirits are supposed to have been comatose for centuries at this point.[3]Maybe it would have worked if Trumpkin and the Pevensies had looked shocked to see the dryad before it died but if you check out the deleted scenes, you’ll see that’s not how the actors … Continue reading

Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy and Trumpkin peep over a pile of logs and see the vast number of Telmarine soldiers. They quickly duck down as they see Sopespian and Miraz arrive at the camp on horseback. “Perhaps this wasn’t the best way to come after all,” Susan whispers. Despite Anna Popplewell having great comedic timing, she doesn’t deliver that line in a snarky way, and I believe that was the right decision. In the corresponding scene in the book, the characters run into a Telmarine outpost and have to flee from enemy arrows. Here they sneak away unnoticed, a rare example of the movie removing an action scene from the original story rather than adding one. Fans of the book who dislike this adaptation tend to describe it as putting action above all else. I disagree for reasons I intend to delve into later.

Anyway, for lack of a better idea, our heroes return to the gorge. “So where exactly do you think you saw Aslan?” Peter asks Lucy. “I wish you’d all stop trying to sound like grownups,” she complains. “I didn’t think I saw him; I did see him!” In the book, her equivalent line, which is directed specifically at Susan, is “don’t talk like a grownup.” That strikes me as a lot funnier than “I wish you’d all stop trying to sound like grownups” but the altered line allows the movie its own highly funny moment as Trumpkin says to no one in particular, “I am a grownup.” Lucy walks right up to the edge of the cliff. “It was right over…” Suddenly, the ground gives way beneath her. The others, horrified, rush over to the hole to find that Lucy has landed on a little pathway just below the cliff, one which they can use to climb into the ravine. “Here,” she says happily, finishing her sentence.

Not sure why Susan couldn’t have noticed this hidden path by looking down and a little to her left.

This is similar to what happens in the book a little later. There Lucy found the pathway when she was being led by Aslan who is initially invisible to the others. The movie will give us a functional equivalent of that scene at the climax. For now, Trumpkin and the Pevensies carefully make their way down into the gorge and cross the river. At one point, a stone gives way beneath Lucy’s feet and Trumpkin keeps her from falling into the water, further establishing their friendship. I’m not sure how the characters climb up the other cliff but apparently, they do somehow. We cut to night when they’re all lying on the ground, seemingly asleep except for Lucy who stares up at the stars. According to the book, Lucy felt “a thrill of memory” at seeing “after all those years, the bright Narnian stars. She had once known them better than the stars of our own world, because as a Queen in Narnia she had gone to bed much later than as a child in England.” I love that the movie contains a visual reference to this though I’m not astronomically minded enough to say if the stars the movie shows are actually different from the stars in this world.

Did you notice how I said the others were seemingly asleep? Well, Susan rolls over and asks Lucy why she thinks she (Susan) didn’t see Aslan. “You believe me?” Lucy asks in surprise. “Well, we got across the gorge,” says Susan. This sort of corresponds to a scene in the book, after everyone, more or less, can see Aslan, when Susan tearfully confesses that she really believed Lucy when she said she saw Aslan but pretended, perhaps even to herself, that she didn’t because she was desperate to get out of the woods and following Trumpkin and Peter’s plan seemed easier than crawling down into the gorge. In the book, Susan is the Pevensie who ends up being an unpleasant jerk for most of the middle section whereas in the movie, it’s Peter. Not that I blame the literary Susan much. If I were hiking through thick woods for hours with nothing to eat but apples and bear meat and no chance of a good place to sleep, I’d be as cranky as she was or crankier. After thinking about her sister’s question, Lucy says she doesn’t know but suggests Susan maybe didn’t really want to see Aslan. That line reminds me of Till We Have Faces even more than the line I described as doing so in the last post! We see that Trumpkin is also awake and listening to this conversation, no doubt wondering if Lucy’s words apply to him.

Susan: You always knew we’d be coming back here, didn’t you?
Lucy: I hoped so.
Susan: I finally just got used to the idea of being in England!
Lucy: But you’re happy to be here, aren’t you?
Susan: While it lasts.

Like Susan’s dialogue at the train station, this little scene arguably foreshadows her rejecting her experiences in Narnia as “funny games” she played as a child in the final Narnia story. I like the idea of foreshadowing that in Prince Caspian[4]I’d argue the book version already does so with Lucy’s line about Susan “talking like a grownup” and her deluding herself into not believing that Lucy saw Aslan because … Continue reading but I’m not crazy about this way of doing it. We get the impression of Susan as a victim. If a hypothetical movie of The Last Battle set in this universe had been made, we’d likely get the impression she told herself Narnia was a fantasy because it hurt too much not being able to live there anymore. The book’s implication is more that Susan didn’t want to believe in Narnia because that wouldn’t have fit in with her desire to be one of the cool kids.[5]Critics tend to condemn this part of The Last Battle for vilifying adulthood. Jill, a younger girl who also had adventures in Narnia, says that Susan’s problem is that “she always was a … Continue reading I understand that many readers feel C. S. Lewis threw Susan’s character under a bus[6]Actually, he saved her from being hit by a train. Read the book to get that joke. and there’s something to be said for still keeping her sympathetic. But I think you could still imply that her motivation for denying Narnia is still pride or vanity while still having more empathy for her than C. S. Lewis showed.[7]I would not recommend an adaptation change the ending of Susan’s story and have her reembrace Narnia. Completely ignoring or reimagining controversial endings annoys me. I am open to nuancing … Continue reading Still, credit where credit is due, Anna Popplewell acts the scene beautifully, conveying that Susan is bitter while maintaining the character’s emotionally cool, prim personality and not making it over-the-top.

We transition to the same location in the morning. Now Lucy really is the only one awake. It seems that what is keeping her up is a golden light emanating from within the forest. After hesitating, she leaves the others and goes deeper into the trees. This scene’s equivalent in the book took place at night and I’m rather bummed they changed that as I believe moonlight was part of its mysterious and magical atmosphere. What Lucy discovers in the text is a group of trees that seem to be dancing in a circle.

The first tree she looked at seemed at first glance to be not a tree at all but a huge man with a shaggy beard and great bushes of hair. She was not frightened: she had seen such things before. But when she looked again, he was only a tree, though he was still moving. You couldn’t see whether he had feet or roots, of course, because when trees move, they don’t walk on the surface of the earth; they wade in it as we do in water. The same thing happened with every tree she looked at. At one moment they seemed to be the friendly, lovely giant and giantess forms which the tree-people put on when some good magic has called them into full life: next moment they all looked like trees again. But when they looked like trees, it was like strangely human trees, and when they looked like people, it was like strangely branchy and leafy people…

The movie doesn’t manage anything as memorable or magical as that. But it does convey the basic idea that the trees are “almost awake, not quite” to use Lucy’s words from the book. Cherry blossom petals blowing in the wind briefly turn into a laughing dryad. Silver birch trees pull apart, creating a clear path for Lucy.

This path eventually leads her to Aslan! Joyfully, she runs over and embraces him. The scene makes excellent use of music from the last one. Unfortunately, we’ve now come to a rather laughable blunder on the part of the script. Here’s a quote from this part of the book.

“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

Here’s how that dialogue goes in the movie.

Lucy: I’ve missed you so much! You’ve grown!
Aslan: Every year you grow, so shall I.

Clearly, the screenwriters wanted to include those memorable lines but, in their haste, they completely missed the point and made them say the opposite of what they meant. Oy vey!

Lucy asks Aslan where he’s been and why he hasn’t come before to help. “Things never happen the same way twice, dear one,” Aslan says. Just then a twig is heard cracking and Lucy wakes up back at the camp. I’ve read some fans sharply criticize the movie for making that scene between her and Aslan a dream, but I’ve never gotten the impression it’s supposed to be only a dream. Another Narnia book, The Silver Chair, has Aslan send someone a dream and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader arguably has it too.[8]In that case, it’s ambiguous how much of the dreamlike scene is real but it has real effects. I just always interpreted this part of the Prince Caspian movie along those lines. I will say though the dream scene would work much better if it ended with Aslan telling Lucy to meet him somewhere or do something. I’m not just saying that because it’d be closer to the book. The story the movie itself wishes to tell would make more sense that way.

While I might wish the movie had kept the moonlit atmosphere of the scene with Aslan from the book, I have to admit the contrast between the bright golden light of Lucy’s vision and the dim, early morning light when she awakes is great.[9]For the record, that’s not to say the dim, early morning light isn’t beautiful. If anything, I might prefer it. She tries to wake Susan up. Here’s a quote from the corresponding part of the book.

She went to Peter first and shook him. “Peter,” she whispered in his ear, “wake up. Quick. Aslan is here. He says we’ve got to follow him at once.”
“Certainly, Lu. Whatever you like,” said Peter unexpectedly. This was encouraging, but as Peter instantly rolled round and went to sleep again it wasn’t much use.

The movie keeps this hilarious moment but gives Peter’s part to Susan. As I wrote above, the adaptation arguably switches their roles in general. Lucy wanders off in the direction of the twig cracking sound. She sees the same birches she saw in her dream, now immobile, and places her hand on one, saying plaintively, “Wake up.” Of course, nothing happens, and she sadly moves on. This is based on a scene that actually takes place the night before Lucy sees Aslan in the book.

A great longing for the old days when the trees could talk in Narnia came over her. She knew
exactly how each of these trees would talk if only she could wake them, and what sort of human form it would put on. She looked at a silver birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face, and fond of dancing. She looked at the oak: he would be a wizened, but hearty old man with a frizzled beard and warts on his face and hands, and hair growing out of the warts. She looked at the beech under which she was standing. Ah! she would be the best of all. She would be a gracious goddess, smooth and stately, the lady of the wood.

“Oh, Trees, Trees, Trees,” said Lucy (though she had not been intending to speak at all). “Oh, Trees, wake, wake, wake. Don’t you remember it? Don’t you remember me? Dryads and Hamadryads, come out, come to me.”

Though there was not a breath of wind they all stirred about her. The rustling noise of the leaves was almost like words. The nightingale stopped singing as if to listen to it.
Lucy felt that at any moment she would begin to understand what the trees were trying to say. But the moment did not come. The rustling died away. The nightingale resumed its song. Even in the moonlight the wood looked more ordinary again. Yet Lucy had the feeling (as you sometimes have when you are trying to remember a name or a date and almost get it, but it vanishes before you really do) that she had just missed something: as if she had spoken to the trees a split second too soon or a split second too late, or used all the right words except one, or put in one word that was just wrong.

At first, the movie’s version may seem pale and even lame compared to the passage from the book. But I think, practically speaking, Lucy delivering a big speech to the trees, begging them to come to life would have come across as ridiculous, especially if she really seemed to believe it would work. As it is, I feel Georgie Henley’s performance makes the moment nicely sad.

Lucy tentatively starts to call for Aslan when someone clamps a hand over her mouth and pulls her down into the bushes. Fortunately, it’s Peter. He wordlessly points out an armed minotaur nearby. Leaving Lucy in hiding, Peter emerges and draws his sword. Before he can challenge the minotaur though, Caspian jumps in and starts fighting him. Peter disarms his opponent but Caspian ducks right before Peter can slice his head off and Peter’s sword gets stuck in a tree. Caspian kicks Peter aside and tries to pull the sword out. Peter picks up a rock when Lucy calls for him to stop. Peter sees the Narnians, including Nikabrik and Trufflehunter, rally around this Telmarine. “Prince Caspian?” he asks.

I think the movie’s plot would make more sense if Peter didn’t know Caspian had become the leader of the Narnians even if that would be another change from the book’s story. Trumpkin and everyone just assuming Caspian is their destined king because he blew the horn is never explained well, as I’ve written before, and it’s a bit odd that it would take Peter so long to guess his identity if he was expecting the Narnians’ leader to be a Telmarine youth. Back to the scene. “Yes, and who are you?” asks Caspian. “Peter!” yells a voice. Caspian turns to see Susan (the voice’s owner), Edmund and Trumpkin run up. He looks down at the now dislodged sword in his hand. “High King Peter?” he asks. “I believe you called,” says Peter, trying and failing to sound cool. “Well, yes,” Caspian says, “but…I thought you’d be older.” Caspian, unlike Trumpkin, never expresses surprise at the Pevensies’ ages in the book but I don’t mind the idea as long as he gets over it quickly. In fact, his reaction to seeing the larger-than-life heroes of his bedtime stories as people his own age could be really interesting though the movie, alas, hasn’t established him having enough respect for or interest in them for it to work. “Well, if you like, we can come back in a few years,” says Peter. I enjoy the joke, but I wish Peter delivered it in a jocular way instead of a snobby, offended tone of voice. It’s a line that could have been included in a Prince Caspian adaptation that stayed truer to C. S. Lewis’s Peter if only it weren’t for that tone. Caspian quickly apologizes. “You’re just…not exactly what I expected,” he says, turning an admiring glance at Susan who smiles, appreciative but a little embarrassed by the attention.

Sigh.

Yes, this adaptation has Caspian and Susan, two characters who barely interact in the book, be in love with each other. It’s such a stereotypically Hollywood thing to do, adding romance between characters who were not romantically involved at all in the source material just because. The best thing I can say is that at this point in the movie, the chemistry between Caspian and Susan is just a humorous little bit of subtext, so it isn’t too much of a nuisance for book fans. I can even enjoy it and laugh at it a bit. Later, the movie will try to make it this big dramatic part of their characters and it’s just dumb, but we’ll get to that in time. Speaking of time, I recommend my readers take a break from reading this and watch this short YouTube video from Narniaweb.com, a site that keeps fans of the books updated on news of adaptations. The video has a rather hilarious and horrifying story about the history of the 2008 Prince Caspian.

Hope that made you laugh. Anyway, in response to Caspian’s “not what I expected” line, Edmund says, “Neither are you,” looking suspiciously at the minotaur. “A common enemy unites even the oldest of foes,” says Trufflehunter. I hate to go straight from one thing about this adaptation that annoys me to another one but here we are. In the book, when it’s suggested that the Narnians should ally themselves with “an Ogre or two and a Hag,” both Caspian and Trufflehunter strongly object.

“We should not have Aslan for friend if we brought in that rabble,” said Trufflehunter…

“Oh, Aslan!” said Trumpkin, cheerily but contemptuously. “What matters much more is that you wouldn’t have me.”

By changing this dynamic, the movie loses the book’s theme of avoiding moral compromises. Well, it doesn’t entirely lose it since later it will have Nikabrik align himself with some other descendants of the White Witch’s followers with nearly disastrous consequences. But it doesn’t set it up nearly as well as the book does. Of course, you could argue that some of the creatures working for the White Witch, such as dwarfs and talking wolves, had good and evil members of their species and minotaurs could be one of those. But I doubt anyone reading the book would have guessed that.[10]And don’t tell me the book sends a bad message by portraying some creatures as inherently evil! They’re fantasy creatures. It’s not like the National Association for the Advancement … Continue reading It feels like the filmmakers just made minotaurs good creatures because they wanted an excuse to have them in every Narnia movie and… I don’t really see what’s so cool about them. They were hardly the most visually interesting of the White Witch’s soldiers. Then again, I suppose the fact that they weren’t grotesquely ugly is what made the filmmakers feel they could make heroes of them.

Enough of my complaining. We’ve now reached a fun part of the adaptation. Reepicheep steps forward and bows to Peter. “We have anxiously awaited your return, my liege,” he says, “Our hearts and swords are at your service.” It’s disappointing that Reepicheep is the only Narnian in this scene who seems really delighted to see the ancient kings and queens but like I said this is part of a fun moment. “Oh my gosh, he is so cute,” Lucy whispers to Susan. Reepicheep whips out his sword and spins around. “Who said that?!” he demands. Lucy apologizes and Reepicheep seeing who she is, sheathes his sword. “Oh! Your Majesty. With the greatest respect, I do believe courageous, courteous or chivalrous might more befit a knight of Narnia.” While these two characters don’t interact in the book version of Prince Caspian, according to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, “Lucy longed…to take Reepicheep up in her arms and cuddle him. But this, as she well knew, was a pleasure she could never have: it would have offended him deeply.” So, this moment in the movie is both great fun for book fans while still making sense and being funny for viewers who haven’t read a word of the books.[11]I’m not sure English girls in the 1940s used the word, “cute,” that way but come on, lighten up! It’s a hilarious moment.

Peter: Well, at least we know some of you can handle a blade.
Reepicheep: Yes, indeed and I have recently put it to good use securing weapons for your army, Sire.
Peter: Good cause we’re going to need every sword we can get.
Caspian: Well then, you will probably be wanting yours back.

He hands Peter back the sword with an attempt at a friendly smile. Peter accepts it without any such attempt and just glares coldly at Caspian.

Yeah, this is a big problem for fans of the book and for some of them, the biggest problem with the adaptation. While Caspian and Peter don’t meet until the book is almost over, they’re relationship is perfectly friendly. When Peter sees that Caspian is overawed by his presence, he addresses him as “Your Majesty” and tells him “I haven’t come to take your place, you know, but to put you into it.” A page or two later, Caspian is described as liking Peter very much. In the movie…not so much. I can’t blame any fans for being upset by this character assassination, but I will defend it a bit. I get the impression from some fan complaints that they feel the movie is changing the themes and messages of the book here. But I feel like the basic message is the same. It’s not like the filmmakers read the book and were like, “Peter is a terrible role model for children! The way he peacefully passes on the mantle to Caspian and supports him is just sick! He should be rude and power hungry! That’s how someone should behave in this situation!” I’d say the movie and the book are sending the same message. It’s just that the book is using a positive example whereas the movie is using a negative one. Of course, if you grew up with High King Peter as your role model, I understand that there’s no way you can ever accept this change. (Personally, I grew up with Polly Plummer from The Magician’s Nephew as my Narnian role model because of her talent for telling the other characters exactly what’s wrong with them. Maybe it’s just as well this series of adaptations never got around to her story.) I’ll also reiterate that I think Peter’s reaction would work better if he hadn’t known that Caspian was the leader of the Narnians even though that would take the story even further from the source material. If Peter were expecting to resume his role as King of Narnia and then were surprised to learn that he was supposed to set this wet-behind-the-ears boy on the throne, especially if that boy were a member of the royal family that conquered Narnia, I think viewers would sympathize with his feelings more. At least Caspian is likeable in this scene as it is. How long will that last though?

Next Week: What Was That Reepicheep Said About Recently Securing Weapons?

References

References
1 Though in the literary Prince Caspian, the trees had already been cut down long before the story’s main events.
2 The same thing happens in a different Narnia book, The Last Battle.
3 Maybe it would have worked if Trumpkin and the Pevensies had looked shocked to see the dryad before it died but if you check out the deleted scenes, you’ll see that’s not how the actors played it.
4 I’d argue the book version already does so with Lucy’s line about Susan “talking like a grownup” and her deluding herself into not believing that Lucy saw Aslan because following him would be inconvenient. But many readers apparently find that insufficient to prepare for her later offstage trajectory.
5 Critics tend to condemn this part of The Last Battle for vilifying adulthood. Jill, a younger girl who also had adventures in Narnia, says that Susan’s problem is that “she always was a jolly sight too keen on being grownup.” What these critics never mention is that Polly, an older woman who’s had adventures in Narnia, disagrees, saying that Susan’s real problem is that she refuses to grow up. “Her whole idea of life is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.” Do detractors of The Last Battle just skip over that part when they read it?
6 Actually, he saved her from being hit by a train. Read the book to get that joke.
7 I would not recommend an adaptation change the ending of Susan’s story and have her reembrace Narnia. Completely ignoring or reimagining controversial endings annoys me. I am open to nuancing them though.
8 In that case, it’s ambiguous how much of the dreamlike scene is real but it has real effects.
9 For the record, that’s not to say the dim, early morning light isn’t beautiful. If anything, I might prefer it.
10 And don’t tell me the book sends a bad message by portraying some creatures as inherently evil! They’re fantasy creatures. It’s not like the National Association for the Advancement of Minotaurs was going to object to the movie.
11 I’m not sure English girls in the 1940s used the word, “cute,” that way but come on, lighten up! It’s a hilarious moment.
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Prince Caspian (2008) Part 5: He Wanted Us to Follow Him

Prince Caspian makes his way through the woods. He hears Trufflehunter and Nikabrik sneaking behind him. “I just think we should wait for the kings and queens,” Trufflehunter says. When Caspian doesn’t pay attention to this, he sarcastically calls after him to “see if the others will be as understanding.” This prospect inspires Nikabrik to say maybe he’ll go along with Caspian. “I want to see you explain things to minotaurs.” Caspian stops walking and looks behind him, not so much scared as intrigued.

Caspian: Minotaurs? They’re real?
Trufflehunter: And very bad tempered.
Nikabrik: Not to mention big.
Trufflehunter: Huge.
Caspian: What about centaurs? Do they still exist?
Trufflehunter: Well, the centaurs will probably fight on your side but there’s no telling what the others will do.

Caspian hesitates before asking another question, this one as if he’s scared of the answer. “What about Aslan?” Now while he’s never the protagonist and usually doesn’t show up until two thirds of the story are over, Aslan is the only character to appear in all seven Narnia books and is probably the most important one. A common fan criticism of these movie adaptations is that he doesn’t feel as important as he does in the books. I feel like Prince Caspian is the Narnia movie in which that is a problem the least, in part because of things like that pregnant pause before asking about Aslan.

Anyway, by this time, Trufflehunter and Nikabrik have overtaken Caspian. Now it’s their turn to stop walking and turn around, intrigued. “How do you know so much about us?” asks Nikabrik suspiciously. “Stories,” replies Caspian. “Your father told you stories about Narnia?” asks Trufflehunter. I’m really not sure why he would assume it was Caspian’s father who would tell him those Narnia. I guess the screenwriters just wanted to establish that his deceased paternal parent is a sore point for the character. Sure enough, he clams up. “No, my professor,” he says[1]As I wrote in my last post, in the book, it was also his nurse., “Listen, I am sorry. These are not the kind of questions you should be asking.” Just then Trufflehunter smells something dangerous. It’s a group of Telmarine soldiers with their bows pointed at the group who promptly run for it.[2]I was going to argue that it doesn’t make sense for Caspian to run here since he was heading back to the Telmarines anyway and, at this point, Miraz is pretending that the Narnians were the … Continue reading

This chase scene isn’t from the book, and I know some book fans would criticize Hollywood for adding action scenes for the sake of more action. I was able to do that, to an extent, with the added action scenes in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But with this scene in this movie, honestly, I really enjoy that. There’s one cheesy shot that tracks an arrow but other than that, I really enjoy the chase for its own sake and feel no desire to make the movie closer to the book by removing it. Sue me.

At one point, an arrow pierces Trufflehunter and he falls to the ground. Both Nikabrik and Caspian turn to go back for him, and the latter tells the former not to bother. Even though he doesn’t trust Caspian, Nikabrik obeys. (I guess he just realizes that Caspian’s legs are longer?) Trufflehunter hands Caspian the horn. “Take it! Go! It’s more important than I am,” he says. As Caspian hastily bundles up the horn, he sees something strange. Something is sneaking under the forest undergrowth and apparently cutting off the feet of the Telmarine bowmen.[3]We don’t see any feet being cut off, of course. In fact, if you pause the movie, you can see them intact as some Telmarine fall on their backs. But that seems to be the implication. This scene … Continue reading Caspian manages to hoist Trufflehunter onto his shoulder and run away. Soldiers pursue him but more and more of them fall. It starts to feel less like they’re running after the prince and the badger and more like they’re running away from whatever is attacking them.

By the time, Caspian gets Trufflehunter to Nikabrik and tells him to get him out of there, there are only two soldiers left.

Make that one.

Caspian really should take this moment to run himself but as the remaining soldier hacks desperately at the underbrush with his sword, searching for his invisible opponent, he just stands there and stares, apparently overcome by curiosity. Fans of the book will have already guessed what’s happening here and I don’t mean that as a criticism. In fact, as a fan myself, I enjoyed the realization of what was coming-or rather who was coming. The Telmarine falls and its killer heads straight for Caspian, coming closer and closer until, rather than stabbing him in the foot, it (fortunately) leaps onto his chest knocking him backward. It turns out to be a foot-high mouse wearing a swordbelt and, around its head, a little gold circlet with a dashing red feather. It draws its sword and points it at Caspian’s throat, saying (in Eddie Izzard’s voice), “Choose your last words carefully, Telmarine.”

Caspian just stares at it in bewilderment. “You are a mouse,” he says. The mouse sighs. “I was hoping for something a little more original,” he says. This is Reepicheep, one of the most iconic and quotable characters in the Narnia books. He’s also surprisingly complex[4]Albeit not so much in Prince Caspian as in the next story, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. and I’m not sure any adaptation has gotten him entirely right. That doesn’t mean every adaptation has gotten him terribly wrong though! There’s a lot to appreciate about this version. Reepicheep’s personality here is almost exactly like it is in the book except for one nagging little detail. He’s too quippy and sarcastic. While C. S. Lewis’s Reepicheep was definitely intended to be funny, he was funny in spite of himself. All of his dialogue was elegant, courtly and fiercely dignified. I can definitely see the character being annoyed by his victims being surprised that a mouse was killing them but not him saying, “I was hoping for something a little more original.” If I were to rewrite the scene, I would have him give Caspian a death glare as he started to say “mouse” and have Caspian amend it to “mighty warrior.” That would still be funny while also being truer the book’s character. I’d also have Reepicheep be voiced by a “serious” actor rather than a comedian to send the message that he wasn’t trying to be funny.[5]Honestly, even granting that the cinematic Reepicheep is more sarcastic than his literary counterpart, the role still doesn’t play that much to Izzard’s strengths as a performer anyway.

Having said that, Reepicheep is easily the best comedic relief supporting character in any of the Narnia movies.[6]The only one funnier is Eustace Scrubb in the next movie and he’s more of a protagonist than a supporting character. Actually, Reepicheep himself becomes something of a protagonist in that … Continue reading He’s far funnier than the beavers were in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And to be fair, when the movie gives Reepicheep a serious line-which it does at least as often as it does a humorous one-Izzard delivers it well.

Reepicheep: Pick up your sword.
Caspian: Uh, no thanks.
Reepicheep: Pick it up! I will not fight an unarmed man.
Caspian: Which is why I might live longer if I choose not to cross blades with you, noble mouse.
Reepicheep: I said I would not fight you. I didn’t say I’d let you live!

Fortunately, Trufflehunter, propped up by Nikabrik, intervenes. (Apparently, his wound just winded him; it wasn’t that serious.) “I trust you have a very good reason for this untimely interruption,” says Reepicheep. “He doesn’t. Go ahead,” says Nikabrik. Ha ha! It’s not just Reepicheep actually. This Narnia movie in general makes me laugh louder and more consistently than the previous one did. I criticized The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe‘s screenplay for being written like a generic quippy action movie. That’s as true or truer of Prince Caspian but I find myself enjoying the generically Hollywood-esque banter in it a lot more. It may not be what I’d prefer for a Narnia adaptation but if they had to write it this way, at least they’re doing it well and much the same could be said for the action scenes. Trufflehunter tells Reepicheep that Caspian is the one that blew the horn and Reepicheep looks at him with more respect. “Then let him come forward,” says a voice. It belongs to Glenstorm (Cornell S. John), a centaur who is accompanied by three others, his sons (Ephraim Goldin, Yemi A. D. and Carlos DaSilva.) “This is the reason we have gathered.” C. S. Lewis depicted centaurs in the Narnia books as intimidatingly wise and solemn beings. (“No one ever laughed at a centaur,” says one character in the book Prince Caspian.) John projects that kind of presence perfectly, even with just his voice. He’s much more memorable than Patrick Kake’s centaur in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.[7]C. S. Lewis almost certainly didn’t intend the centaurs to be dark skinned but, while 2008 was a politically contentious year for my country (America), people were less sensitive about color … Continue reading

It is weird to me that the Narnians assume Caspian must be good because he blew the horn. Very shortly in the movie, Nikabrik will say this just proves the Telmarines have stolen something else from them and… yeah, that attitude makes more sense. But I’ll get into that in the next scene with Caspian.

Elsewhere, Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy and Trumpkin are threading their way through trees and rocks. Susan isn’t sure they’re going the right direction. “That’s the problem with girls,” says Peter, “Can’t carry a map in your heads.” To which Lucy replies, “That’s because our heads have something in them.” That exchange was from the book though there it was between Edmund and Lucy. As I wrote in my last post, I feel like this Narnia movies includes more dialogue from its source material than the last one. Props to them for that, particularly in this case because it’s hilarious. Susan whispers to Lucy that she wishes Peter would listen to “the D. L. F.” “The D. L. F.?” asks Edmund. “Dear Little Friend,” explains Lucy. “Oh, that’s not at all patronizing, is it?” Trumpkin snarks. That nickname was also from the book. There it was actually bestowed on Trumpkin by Edmund as payback for him calling the Pevensies his “dear little friends”[8]“Little from you is really a bit too much!” Edmund says in the book. I’m surprised that line wasn’t in the movie. before observing their royal skills and pledging his fealty to them. The nickname would have made more sense in the film if that had been included but, as things are, it’s still very funny.

Peter stops and looks around him in confusion. “I’m not lost,” he insists, mainly to himself, it seems. “No, you’re just going the wrong way,” says Trumpkin. OK, I know I just wrote that I was enjoying the movie’s banter on its own terms even if it’s not what I’d prefer for a Narnia movie, but sometimes, even on those terms, it can be a little tiresome. Characters don’t need to respond to everything with a quip; it can get kind of annoying. To be fair though, the book does portray the characters as being wearied of wandering in the woods with minimal food and generally uncomfortable conditions and as being a bit short tempered as a result.[9]I actually imagine the exchange about maps and brains in the book as being snippier than it is in the film. I don’t think the movie is actually a huge stretch.

Peter: You last saw Caspian at the Shuddering Woods and the quickest way there is to cross at the river Rush.
Trumpkin: But unless I’m mistaken, there’s no crossing in these parts.
Peter: That explains it then. You’re mistaken.

I feel like the movie’s problem of Peter being unpleasant would be halved if William Moseley just delivered that last line as a cocky joke instead of an angry one. I mean, Peter would be an arrogant jerk either way, which he really isn’t in the book, but at least he could be a fun jerk and our satisfaction in seeing his comeuppance would be less grim. Then again, I kind of admire how seriously the movie takes the character’s flaw of arrogance. It’s pretty typical for Hollywood action heroes to be full of themselves. (Think Robin Hood or Han Solo.) I feel like treating the hero’s pride as a serious vice the way this movie does is somewhat unusual.[10]Though maybe I’m not giving Star Wars or The Adventures of Robin Hood enough credit.

Peter leads his followers to the Rush, but it doesn’t make him look very good since the river is now at the bottom of a deep gorge.

Susan: See, over time water erodes the earth’s soil, carving deeper-
Peter: Oh, shut up.

Did I mention this movie was really funny?

Edmund asks if there’s a way down. “Yeah, falling,” says Trumpkin. Peter still pathetically insists that he wasn’t lost even if he led everyone in a useless direction. In the book at this point, the characters were trying to find the Rush so they could follow it, not cross it and Trumpkin actually cheers a despondent Peter up by saying that even if the river is now at the bottom of a gorge, they can still follow it.[11]To be fair to the movie, Caspian hasn’t yet reached the location he’s at when the Pevensies and Trumpkin are searching for him in the book. Here he tells the Pevensies that their best bet is to head for the ford near Beruna. He starts to lead them away when Lucy, still looking across the river, says, “Aslan? It’s Aslan! It’s Aslan over there! Don’t you see? He’s right…” But as everyone turns to follow her pointing finger, Lucy’s face, which has lit up, falls. No Aslan can be seen across the gorge.

“Do you see him now?” Trumpkin asks, sounding a bit worried. “I’m not crazy,” insists Lucy. “He was there. He wanted us to follow him.” The others exchange unsure glances. There’s something subtle I love about this scene in the book. Lewis doesn’t write, “Suddenly, Lucy saw Aslan” or anything like that. Instead, he has her interrupt a conversation between the others with the news. The movie happily captures that by not showing us Aslan from her point of view. This puts us in the same position as her companions. I’d say it works even better dramatically in the book where Trumpkin has made a good argument for following the river and Aslan leading the characters a different direction is something of an inconvenience. Here, Trumpkin has made looking for Beruna seem like a necessary evil (“How do you feel about swimming?”), altering the dynamics of the scene. But it still works.

Peter: I’m sure there are any number of lions in this wood. Just like that bear.
Lucy: I think I know Aslan when I see him!
Trumpkin: Look, I’m not about to jump off a cliff after someone who doesn’t exist.
Edmund: The last time I didn’t believe Lucy, I ended up looking pretty stupid.

Props to the movie for keeping the book’s detail of Edmund being the only one to really advocate for trusting Lucy! That was definitely a memorable character moment. Peter pauses as if considering his brother’s point but isn’t quite convinced. “Why wouldn’t I have seen him?” he asks Lucy. Since I criticized Moseley’s performance earlier, I should say that I like the way he infuses that question with wistfulness, implying that Peter is wishing for comfort from Aslan and really wishes he had seen him. “Maybe you weren’t looking,” Lucy replies. That line could have been written for another book C. S. Lewis wrote, Till We Have Faces. Reminding me of Till We Have Faces is almost always a great thing. “I’m sorry, Lu,” says Peter and he leads Susan and Trumpkin away. Lucy stares sadly at the place she saw Aslan. Edmund gives her a sympathetic look, then they both follow the others. This is far from the flashiest scene in either the book or the movie, but it is a highly pivotal one and they do a great non-flashy job with it.

We cut to what I assume is Dancing Lawn at night. I assume that because it’s where this scene’s equivalent in the book takes place though no dancing takes place there in the movie. The Narnians or what the book calls “the people that lived in hiding” have gathered and are debating whether they should follow Caspian as their king or not. It’s not really clear why the question is on the table in the first place. A couple of marketing tie-in books give Trufflehunter a line about it being said that whoever sounded Queen Susan’s horn would bring back the Ancient Kings and Queens and lead the Narnians to freedom. No such prophecy was in the book but if that line of dialogue was originally in the screenplay, it really should have been kept because the way the Narnians talk about Caspian is confusing without it.[12]If the line wasn’t in the screenplay originally, I have to credit the people who wrote the marketing tie-in books with being better at exposition than the screenwriters!

Nikabrik: All this horn proves is that they’ve stolen yet another thing from us!
Caspian: I didn’t steal anything.
A Minotaur (voiced by Josh Campbell with Shane Rangi in the suit)
[13]Aren’t the minotaurs supposed to be bad guys? We’ll get to that later.: Didn’t steal anything?! Shall we list the things the Telmarines have taken?
Glenstorm’s Wife (Lejla Abbasova): Our home!
A Faun (Curtis Matthew): Our freedom!
Someone I Can’t Identify in the Crowd: Our lives!
Caspian: You Would hold me accountable for all the crimes of my people.
Nikabrik: Accountable and punishable.

As he speaks that last line, Nikabrik moves toward Caspian menacingly, but Reepicheep gets between them and draws his sword. “Ha!” he says. “That is rich coming from you, dwarf! Or have you forgotten that it was your people who fought alongside the White Witch?” When I first saw the movie, I hated that line because it struck me as way too petty for Reepicheep. But multiple viewings have led me to believe that the movie actually intended him to be making a good point. I just wish they could have had him say it in a tone that sounded less like he wanted to pick a fight and without that little “ha” at the beginning. Anyway, the way Nikabrik casually swats aside Reepicheep’s little blade is funny.

He says he’d gladly fight alongside the White Witch again if it would rid Narnia of “barbarians” like Caspian. “Then it is lucky that is not in your power to bring her back,” says Trufflehunter in the voice of a parent ending an argument between their children. “Or are you suggesting that we ask this boy to go against Aslan now?” This possibility draws a negative reaction from the gathered Narnians. “Some of you may have forgotten,” continues Trufflehunter, “but we badgers remember well Narnia was never right except when a Son of Adam was king.” Nikabrik scoffs at this. “He’s a Telmarine,” he says, “Why would we want him as our king?” Caspian assures him that he’ll make it worth their while. “Beyond these woods, I am a prince,” he says. “The Telmarine throne is rightfully mine. Help me claim it and I can bring peace between us.” Glenstorm speaks up. “It is true. The time is ripe. I watch the skies for it is mine to watch as it is yours to remember, Badger. Tarva, the Lord of Victory, and Alambil, the Lady of Peace, have come together in the high heavens and now here a Son of Adam has come forth to offer us back our freedom.” I doubt many viewers unfamiliar with the book will connect those lines with the planets we saw in the movie’s opening seconds but maybe some do. After all, they had to have been wondering why that seemingly random image was the first thing we saw. And in any case, Cornell S. John does a great job of giving the lines a mystical import.

I really should show an image of Glenstorm’s face here. But I really like this shot framed through his hooves and there’s nowhere else to put it in this post.

“Is this possible?” pipes up Pattertwig, a talking squirrel (voiced by soundtrack composer Harry Gregson-Williams.) “Do you really think there could be peace? Do you? I mean-I mean really?” Pattertwig is a minor character in both the book and the movie, but Gregson-Williams’s (intentionally) jittery vocal performance is endearing enough, especially considering he’s not a professional actor, that I kind of wish he could be in it more.

“Two days ago,” says Caspian, “I didn’t believe in the existence of talking animals or dwarfs or centaurs. Yet here you are in strength and numbers that we Telmarines could never have imagined. Whether this horn is magic or not, it brought us together and together we have a chance to take back what is ours.” Glenstorm draws his sword in salute. “If you will lead us,” he says, “then my sons and I offer you our swords.” Not only Glenstorm’s family but practically all the other Narnians follow suit with their weapons. “And we offer you our lives unreservedly,” says Reepicheep.

OK, there’s Glenstorm’s face for you.

Now this scene has a lot to commend about it. Much of the dialogue takes inspiration from the book, even if it doesn’t always follow the exact wording. But it also really exemplifies what I consider one of this adaptation’s biggest faults, one that arguably weakens the movie as a story in its own right too. In the book, Caspian has grown up longing for the stories about Old Narnia to be true. At one point in his childhood, “he dreamed of Dwarfs and Dryads every night and tried very hard to make the dogs and cats in the castle talk to him. But the dogs only wagged their tails and the cats only purred.” His only interest in becoming king seems to be that it might give him the power the bring Old Narnia back to life. There’s no question in the book of whether he’ll go back to the castle to accuse Miraz of attempted murder or stay with Trufflehunter and company. “I’ve been looking for people like you all my life,” he tells them. You really get the impression from the book that Caspian was born in the wrong world and that by becoming the leader of Narnians he’s finding his true destiny. This is a big part of the story’s poetic appeal. In the movie however, while Caspian briefly seems intrigued to hear that minotaurs and centaurs aren’t extinct and, credit where credit is due, even more intrigued by the possibility of Aslan being out there, he mostly seems like he’s helping the Narnians so that they’ll help put him on the throne. It’s only thanks to moments like him going back to save Trufflehunter and Ben Barnes’s likeable performance that he doesn’t come across as completely mercenary. The line “whether this horn is magic or not, it brought us together” is especially problematic. It makes this version of Caspian less like the literary one who had a deep faith in Aslan than like Nikabrik who just wants to use others belief in Aslan if it furthers his own ends. While the screenwriters clearly want to tell a story proclaiming the importance of faith, I feel that they tipped their hand with that line, making me think they don’t have much, err, faith in faith. Also, keep in mind, Caspian was always a bit of a bland lead in the book.[14]The book that bears his name anyway. He’s arguably a bit more charismatic in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and even in The Silver Chair in which he plays a minor but integral role. By taking away his dissatisfaction with the world into which he was born and his longing for something else, this Prince Caspian just made him that much blander! That is the main reason that while I can concede that the movie’s story improves on the book in several ways, I’m never going to agree that it’s an improvement on the whole.

It’s worth noting that the book also didn’t have a big scene where Caspian convinced all the Narnians to accept him as their king. Some of the dwarfs were described as being understandably suspicious at first but they were also described as quickly convinced. I understand why the movie felt like this was past the point of believability. It might be plausible enough that beasts like Trufflehunter would accept Caspian on the grounds that “Narnia was never right except when a son of Adam was King”[15]Some may find that rule itself to be ridiculously convenient but if you ask me, it corresponds enough to reality in our world to emotionally resonate. Of course, I know there are philosophers who … Continue reading but it’s a bit much to buy that the skeptical Trumpkin becomes as loyal and obedient to Caspian and the Pevensies as swiftly as he does. Even granting that this was a real storytelling problem in the source material though, this scene in the adaptation is very much a band-aid solution, one that arguably draws attention to the problem. All it took was that speech to get everyone on his side? Is that really better than them all agreeing right away?

“Miraz’s army will not be far behind us, Sire,” says Trufflehunter. “If we are to be ready for them,” says Caspian, “we’ll need to hurry to find soldiers and weapons. I’m sure they will be here soon.”

Next Week: Lucy Gets Another Glimpse of Aslan

References

References
1 As I wrote in my last post, in the book, it was also his nurse.
2 I was going to argue that it doesn’t make sense for Caspian to run here since he was heading back to the Telmarines anyway and, at this point, Miraz is pretending that the Narnians were the ones after his nephew. But, on reflection, while Miraz may have “officially” sent these soldiers to rescue Caspian, he probably ordered some of them privately to kill him, so he could blame it on the Narnians.
3 We don’t see any feet being cut off, of course. In fact, if you pause the movie, you can see them intact as some Telmarine fall on their backs. But that seems to be the implication. This scene takes inspiration from a battle scene in the book, but it made more sense there.
4 Albeit not so much in Prince Caspian as in the next story, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
5 Honestly, even granting that the cinematic Reepicheep is more sarcastic than his literary counterpart, the role still doesn’t play that much to Izzard’s strengths as a performer anyway.
6 The only one funnier is Eustace Scrubb in the next movie and he’s more of a protagonist than a supporting character. Actually, Reepicheep himself becomes something of a protagonist in that story.
7 C. S. Lewis almost certainly didn’t intend the centaurs to be dark skinned but, while 2008 was a politically contentious year for my country (America), people were less sensitive about color blind casting specifically, so it went largely without comment.
8 “Little from you is really a bit too much!” Edmund says in the book. I’m surprised that line wasn’t in the movie.
9 I actually imagine the exchange about maps and brains in the book as being snippier than it is in the film.
10 Though maybe I’m not giving Star Wars or The Adventures of Robin Hood enough credit.
11 To be fair to the movie, Caspian hasn’t yet reached the location he’s at when the Pevensies and Trumpkin are searching for him in the book.
12 If the line wasn’t in the screenplay originally, I have to credit the people who wrote the marketing tie-in books with being better at exposition than the screenwriters!
13 Aren’t the minotaurs supposed to be bad guys? We’ll get to that later.
14 The book that bears his name anyway. He’s arguably a bit more charismatic in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and even in The Silver Chair in which he plays a minor but integral role.
15 Some may find that rule itself to be ridiculously convenient but if you ask me, it corresponds enough to reality in our world to emotionally resonate. Of course, I know there are philosophers who believe that man is just another animal and so would beg to differ.
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Prince Caspian (2008) Part 4: A More Savage Place Than You Remember

Finally, we cut to our title character who was introduced in the opening. (That’s not a necessarily a complaint by the way. It’s not like I was desperately wondering about him or anything. Then again, that might have just been because I’d read the book before watching the movie and knew who he was. A newcomer to the story might really have gotten impatient to return to him.) Prince Caspian awakens to find himself lying in bed with his head bandaged. He’s in a room inside a tree. This is a great set, very much what I wish the beavers’ abode in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) had looked like.

Caspian overhears a conversation in the next room. He stealthily gets out of bed, sticking close to the wall, and peeks through the door. The conversers are Nikabrik, the black dwarf played by Warwick Davis in the first scene, and a talking badger called Trufflehunter (and voiced by Ken Stott.)

Nikabrik: This bread is so stale!
Trufflehunter: I’ll just get him some soup then. He should be coming around soon.
Nikabrik: Well, I don’t think I hit him hard enough.
Trufflehunter: Nikabrik, he’s just a boy!
Nikabrik: He’s a Telmarine, not some lost puppy! You said you were going to get rid of him.
Trufflehunter: No, I said I’d take care of him. We can’t kill him now. We just bandaged his head. It-it would be like murdering a guest.
Nikabrik: Oh, and how do you think his friends are treating their guest?
Trufflehunter: Trumpkin knew what he was doing. It’s not the boy’s fault.

Of the voice actors in this film, Ken Stott gives what is easily my favorite performance, perfectly capturing the warm, wise old character from the book. The way he sadly lowers when his when speaking of his friend, Trumpkin, whom he has every reason to believe has been executed for helping Caspian, is especially great.

Speaking of Caspian, he makes a bolt for the exit, inadvertently spilling Trufflehunter’s tray of nourishment in the process. Nikabrik blocks his way and draws a sword. Caspian counters by grabbing a fireplace poker. The two of them fight despite Trufflehunter’s protests.

Nikabrik: I told you we should have killed him when we had the chance!
Trufflehunter: You know why we can’t!
Caspian: If we’re taking a vote, I’m with him.
Nikabrik: We can’t let him go! He’s seen us!
Trufflehunter: That’s enough, Nikabrik! Or do I have to sit on your head again?

That last line originates in the book though there its equivalent was said by Trumpkin who hadn’t been captured yet in that version. The same is true of the line about killing Caspian after bandaging his head being like murdering a guest. In general, while this Narnia movie is written very much in the vein of a modern action movie, I believe it has more lines that correspond to ones from the book than the last adaptation had, and I appreciate that. Nikabrik’s reaction to the line about sitting on his head is subtle but funny.

Having subdued him, Trufflehunter turns to chiding Caspian about making him spill the soup. Seeing that his life isn’t in immediate danger for the moment, Caspian takes a moment to really take in his hosts. “What are you?” he asks. “You know, it’s funny you would ask that,” says Trufflehunter, “You’d think more people would know a badger when they saw one.” Caspian clarifies that his shock comes from the fact that Narnians are supposed to be extinct. “Sorry to disappoint you,” snipes Nikabrik. Trufflehunter brings out another bowl of soup. “Since when did we open a boarding house for Telmarine soldiers?” Nikabrik grumbles. “I’m not a soldier,” says Caspian. “I am Prince Caspian the Tenth.” At these words, we hear a wistful musical theme on the soundtrack.

Nikabrik: What are you doing here?
Caspian: Running away. My uncle has always wanted my throne. I suppose I have only lived this long because he did not have an heir of his own.
Trufflehunter: That changes things.
Nikabrik: Yeah, it means we don’t have to kill you ourselves.
Caspian: You are right.

This scene contains the first really long lines from Caspian so I should take a moment here to stop and say something about his “Telmarine” accent. Ben Barnes didn’t have as much time as might be wished to practice it and many viewers, including some who are fans of the film on the whole, find it cheesy. Me, I don’t mind it, but enough people do that I feel I should acknowledge their opinion. Anyway, Caspian put on his chainmail and prepares to leave. “Where are you going?” asks Trufflehunter. “My uncle won’t stop until I’m dead,” replies Caspian, apparently having decided to go back and confront Miraz and maybe get some support from some of the Telmarine nobles we saw a few scenes ago. We’ve now come to a change from the book’s story and protagonist that in this fan’s opinion, really hurt the movie. In the original version, Caspian has no wish to leave Trumpkin, Trufflehunter and Nikabrik once he meets them. He’s grown up hearing stories about what the book calls “Old Narnians” and is utterly delighted to have met some of them even though at least one of them wishes to kill him. Basically, Caspian is a big Narnia nerd/fanboy. That is the main thing that makes him interesting or endearing in the book. In this movie, while he’s not opposed to the Old Narnians the way his uncle is, we really don’t get that smitten fanboy vibe at all. Not only does this make him less distinctive of a character but it means lessening, even losing, the book’s theme of longing for something beyond the mundane world. But maybe it’s too early to lament that. I hope to write more about it in next week’s post. “You can’t leave,” Trufflehunter protests. “You’re meant to save us!” He holds up the horn Caspian blew. “Don’t you know what this is?”

Again, the movie cuts to another scene right when a character is going to explain about the horn! This really is frustrating by now but don’t worry. This next scene actually will explain everything or near enough.

Back at the Telmarine castle, Dr. Cornelius returns to his study[1]Another great set. to find that the door is ajar, which isn’t how he left it. He enters to find Miraz casually reading a book. “You have quite a library, doctor,” he says. “Is there anything particular you seek, my lord?” asks Cornelius. “I think I’ve already found what I’m looking for,” says Miraz, “in one my soldiers!” And he stabs a book with Susan’s arrow. To be more specific, he stabs it into an illustration of King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund and Queen Lucy. This is probably the craziest instance of the characters being able to identify the Pevensies’ Christmas gifts centuries later. Peter’s sword I can maybe buy. But are arrows with the feathers dyed red really that rare in this world? To be fair though, the fact that Trumpkin’s mysterious rescuers appeared near the ruins of Cair Paravel makes this a bit more plausible. It would have been less of a logical leap if they had established that the movie’s Telmarines feared ghosts in that area as the ones in the book do.

Anyway, as Cornelius looks at the illustration, we hear the musical theme associated with the Pevensies at their most heroic from the last movie.

Miraz: What do you know of Queen Susan’s horn?
Cornelius (carefully): It was said to be magic.
Miraz: Magic?
Cornelius: The Narnians believed it could summon their kings and queens of old. At least, such was the superstition.
Miraz: And what does Caspian know of this…superstition?
Cornelius: My lord, you forbade me from mentioning the old tales.
Miraz: So I did.

That last part is a reference to something from Caspian’s childhood in the book that tragically isn’t in the movie. Dr. Cornelius turns to see soldiers ready to arrest him and decides to go down defiantly. “I will say this,” he says, looking Miraz in the eye for what feels like the first time in the scene, “If Caspian does know of the deep magic, my lord would have good reason to be nervous.” In the book at this point, by the way, Dr. Cornelius, who is “a very minor magician,” makes himself scarce, “having no wish to be questioned… in Miraz’s torture chamber” and actually manages to escape and find Caspian. I mention that as an observation by the way, not a criticism.[2]Though, on reflection, I understand why some fans of the character might object to making him less competent. I also don’t mind taking away the character’s magician status. After all, the only magic he did in the book was drugging Caspian’s gentlemen-in-waiting so he could escape and later magically tracking him to Dancing Lawn.

In the hallway, Sopespian sees Dr. Cornelius being led away and takes the opportunity to try to win Glozelle to his side.

Sopespian: First our prince, now his tutor. If the members of Miraz’s own house are not safe, are any of us?
Miraz (offscreen): Lord Sopespian!
Glozelle: Those are dangerous words, Lord Sopespian.
Sopespian: But these are dangerous times, General. One should choose his words as carefully as he chooses his friends.

In the study, Miraz asks Sopespian how long until “the bridge” is finished. (We’ll see what he means before too long.) “Construction continues on schedule,” Sopespian replies. “That’s not good enough,” says Miraz. “I need my army across that river now!” Sopespian suggests Miraz contribute some of his own men. “I have only so many at my disposal,” he says. “A fact you’d be wise to remember,” Miraz snarls. He turns to Glozelle. “Go to Beruna. Take as many troops as you need. We must get to Caspian before they do.” Sopespian asks whom he means by “they.” “It’s time you learned your history,” says Miraz and storms out of the room. Left alone, Sopespian looks at Susan’s arrow sticking out the book about her. That might not seem like it could possibly be important now but trust me.

Meanwhile, the Pevensies and Trumpkin are rowing inland into Narnia in the boat they got from Trumpkin’s would-be executioners. The scenery is beautiful, but the returning monarchs don’t seem to be enjoying it much.

Lucy: They’re so still.
Trumpkin: They’re trees. What’d you expect?
Lucy: They used to dance.
Trumpkin: It wasn’t long after you left that the Telmarines invaded. Those who survived retreated to the woods. The trees…they retreated so deep into themselves that they haven’t been heard from since.
[3]This makes the trees’ comatose state sound more self-imposed than in the book which describes the Telmarines as silencing them.
Lucy: I don’t understand. How could Aslan have let this happen?
Trumpkin: Aslan? I thought he abandoned us when you lot did.

There’s a lot to unpack here. A minor thing this adaptation specifies that the book doesn’t is that Caspian’s ancestors conquered Narnia fairly soon after Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy returned to their own world.[4]According to a timeline C. S. Lewis wrote, which was published after his death, it was actually nine-hundred and eighty-three years later. But there are some things in the timeline that don’t … Continue reading This gives the Pevensies more reason to feel guilty for not being there to defend their kingdom.[5]You could argue they’re responsible however much time passed between their absence and the Telmarines’ invasion since if they had left heirs behind, Narnia might very well have been in a … Continue reading I’ve described this movie previously as packing a bit more of an emotional punch than the book does-or trying to do so anyway. This is one of the reasons why. Another reason is that in the book, this exposition comes from Dr. Cornelius telling it to the young Caspian who has only heard of dryads and naiads in bedtime stories. We never see the Pevensies’ initial reaction to learning how much Narnia has lost. It probably isn’t quite as sad as the movie wants it to be, mainly because we haven’t seen enough of the trees being alive in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for the contrast to really stand out here.

But that’s a complaint that could be made against the books too[6]C. S. Lewis, or, more specifically, his characters told us that the trees were listening in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe far more often than he ever showed us evidence of it. and it’s still pretty sad. Georgie Henley’s line readings and Peter Dinklage’s pained facial expressions are very effective.

A side effect of having Trumpkin be the one to give this exposition though is that he has to believe in dryads, the ancient kings and queens of Narnia’s golden age, and Aslan. In the book, he believes in things like dwarfs, fauns, centaurs and talking beasts because, well, he’s one of them and he’s seen them all his life. But he is inclined to agree with the Telmarines’-or the Telmarines’ official story that other parts of Narnia’s past never existed. Note that he says Aslan and the Pevensies abandoned his people, implying that they exist. Whether intentionally or not, this conveniently allows the movie to resonate with theists, specifically Christians, who struggle with the feeling that God has abandoned them without necessarily alienating atheists.[7]For what it’s worth, the honestly skeptical Trumpkin was more positively portrayed by the book than Nikabrik who says he’ll “believe in anyone or anything that’ll batter these … Continue reading I feel like this makes the world of the story less rich as there are fewer worldviews represented in it. In the book, we get Miraz who denies the entire existence of “Old Narnia,” Trufflehunter, Caspian and Cornelius who believe in all of it and Trumpkin who believes in the parts he can confirm to be true but only them. In the movie, we get a background character who refers to Narnians as fairy tales but otherwise, everyone, good or bad, agrees about the truth of the old stories. They just disagree about whether or not the legendary figures in them can be trusted. To be fair, that’s still an interesting question to explore.

Peter is stung by Trumpkin’s last comment. “We didn’t mean to leave, you know,” he says. “Makes no difference now,” says Trumpkin. “Get us to the Narnians and it will,” Peter insists, quickening his oar strokes. This implied guilt goes some way to keeping the movie’s reimagining of Peter from being totally unsympathetic, but it doesn’t go as far might be wished. Later, the crew pulls up onto the shore. While the others secure the boat, Lucy wanders a little way away from them and sees a bear. “Hello there,” she calls, assuming it can talk. The bear rises on its hind legs, threateningly. “It’s alright,” says Lucy, “we’re friends. Her older siblings see this and aren’t particularly concerned but Trumpkin stiffens in horror. “Don’t move, Your Majesty,” he calls. Lucy automatically turns toward him and the bear charges at her, growling. Susan draws her bow. “Stay away from her!” she cries. But the beast pays her no heed. Before it can hurt Lucy, an arrow brings the bear down but it’s Trumpkin’s arrow, not Susan’s. “Why wouldn’t he stop?” she asks. “I expect he was hungry,” Trumpkin replies.

Lucy thanks Trumpkin for saving her. It’s a brief moment but it serves to show them bonding. She and her brothers and sisters stare at the bear’s body. “He was wild,” says Edmund. “I don’t think he could talk at all,” says Peter. “Get treated like a dumb animal long enough, that’s what you become,” says Trumpkin, taking out a knife and starting to skin the bear. “You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.”

What I find interesting about this scene is that fans of the Narnia books who dislike the movie adaptations typically criticize them for adding random action scenes.[8]If you’re someone who likes the books and not the movies and you feel like I’m stereotyping, I beg your pardon. But this bear attack pretty much was a random action scene in the literary Prince Caspian where its main function was to give the heroes something to eat besides apples. This adaptation gives it much more of a point.[9]While still having it serve to provide the characters with bear meat. The book had already established that talking beasts had become the exception rather than the rule in Narnia by this point. The movie hasn’t and this bear’s animal behavior is meant to be a shock both to the Pevensies and to the viewers. Again, I don’t think it totally works. If it did, we would empathize more with Lucy’s reaction to the bear, but I feel like she and her siblings just come across as silly. Maybe the problem is that while we’ve seen plenty of talking animals in Narnia before this point, with the major exception of Aslan, they’ve been relatively small.[10]I believe there was a presumably talking bear in Aslan’s army in the last movie, but he was just in the background. This scene kind of gives the impression there were no dumb beasts in Narnia at all when the Pevensies reigned, which raises some questions, the main one being what did they do for meat then? The Narnia books are a lot more specific about how all this works. The question can be resolved though by the idea that all the bears in Narnia originally talked but other species had both talking and nontalking examples.

Anyway, while I don’t think the scene is as emotionally devastating as the movie intended it to be, the idea behind it was solid and it’s still somewhat emotionally devastating. I especially like the way Lucy weeps into Peter’s shoulder at the end of the scene. Hmm, I hope that last sentence didn’t sound too sadistic.

I Think I’ll Take a Break From Blogging Next Week. But the Following Week, We’ll Meet One of the Most Memorable Narnian Supporting Characters

References

References
1 Another great set.
2 Though, on reflection, I understand why some fans of the character might object to making him less competent.
3 This makes the trees’ comatose state sound more self-imposed than in the book which describes the Telmarines as silencing them.
4 According to a timeline C. S. Lewis wrote, which was published after his death, it was actually nine-hundred and eighty-three years later. But there are some things in the timeline that don’t quite align with the books, so it’s debatable if fans should accept it as canon.
5 You could argue they’re responsible however much time passed between their absence and the Telmarines’ invasion since if they had left heirs behind, Narnia might very well have been in a better condition to defend itself.
6 C. S. Lewis, or, more specifically, his characters told us that the trees were listening in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe far more often than he ever showed us evidence of it.
7 For what it’s worth, the honestly skeptical Trumpkin was more positively portrayed by the book than Nikabrik who says he’ll “believe in anyone or anything that’ll batter these cursed Telmarine barbarians to pieces.”
8 If you’re someone who likes the books and not the movies and you feel like I’m stereotyping, I beg your pardon.
9 While still having it serve to provide the characters with bear meat.
10 I believe there was a presumably talking bear in Aslan’s army in the last movie, but he was just in the background.
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Prince Caspian (2008) Part 3: I Think It’s Time We Found Out What’s Going On

In a great transition, we cut from the bright and colorful ruins of Cair Paravel to the grim looking Telmarine castle. OK, I admit it’s not very original to give the good guys bright colors and the bad guy’s darker ones, but it works here. And while the contrast isn’t subtle, the muted colors the Telmarines aren’t as much of a villain cliche as them wearing black would be. All of the scenes at the Telmarine court have a very chilly, gray, gritty atmosphere that contrasts wonderfully with the lush, storybook aesthetic of the Narnians.

If I have a problem with the Telmarine aesthetic in this adaptation, it’s that it’s a bit too visually interesting. How can that be?

In keeping with what Aslan tells us about the Telmarines’ history at the end of this story, the filmmakers gave their culture a broadly Mediterranean feel and cast mainly Spanish and Italian actors in their roles.[1]Many of whom are famous in their own countries but not in the UK or the US. For what it’s worth, I think this makes a pleasing change of pace from the first movie which had a mostly English cast with a few Americans thrown in the mix. The cinematic Telmarines’ armor also suggests that of the conquistadors, probably as a nod to their history of invasion and conquest. I’m a bit bemused by the decision though. Later books in The Chronicles of Narnia have been criticized for making the villainous country of Calormen generically Middle Eastern/Oriental in its culture. The literary Telmarines, by contrast, were clearly intended by C. S. Lewis to be generically European. You’d think the filmmakers would be relieved by the opportunity to have an evil culture that’s so nonspecific but instead they decided to give them a specific nationality and cast somewhat swarthy looking actors as the villains to boot.[2]Perhaps they were actually thinking ahead to The Last Battle which pits King Tirian, a descendant of Caspian’s, against the Calormenes, the idea being that viewers would be less offended by … Continue reading

I’m not personally offended, I guess[3]Though I can understand why some Hispanics and Italians would be since Caspian, the one unambiguously sympathetic Telmarine, is the only one played by an English actor., but I wonder if giving these villains a distinctive aesthetic goes against Lewis’s intentions with Prince Caspian. Whereas he meant the Calormenes to be exotic adversaries, he clearly meant the Telmarines to be generically European to the point of dullness in contrast to the varied and fantastic native citizens of Narnia. Often in stories, the bad guys are much more charismatic than the flat heroes. What C. S. Lewis does in Prince Caspian is something of an interesting inversion of that. To be fair though, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, it’s hard to make something visually boring in a movie without it coming across as laziness rather than a deliberate artistic choice. And you still get a good contrast between the Telmarines and the Narnians with the Telmarines’ costumes (courtesy of Isis Mussenden), buildings and props (courtesy of Roger Ford) looking less like something from a fantasy story and more like something from a historical drama albeit with a few fanciful touches.[4]It’s a bit odd that they have images of eagles considering that the Telmarines are supposed to be enemies of beasts but, hey, eagles are birds of prey after all. This works very well on its own terms.

Anyway, Lord Miraz and Lady Prunaprismia are playing with their newborn son when they see General Glozelle and his soldiers ride into the courtyard with a captive in tow. Miraz leaves his family to go see them. There was originally a brief dialogue scene here where Prunaprismia asked her husband where Caspian was, and he told her they would see him soon. In my opinion, this really shouldn’t have been cut since Prunaprismia is going to get a highly dramatic scene in the middle of the movie after she’s been simply a silent background character, much like she is in the book, prior to that moment and afterwards she goes back to being one until the very last scene. It’s very jarring and awkward and keeping that minute-long dialogue scene could have fixed it.

Miraz strides into the stables where the soldiers are dismounting and heads straight for the horse with the prisoner on it, covered by a cloth. “Wait, my lord,” says Glozelle, “It is not what you think.” “Then what is it?” asks Miraz. “We’re not exactly sure,” Glozelle replies, looking nervous. The cloth is pulled back and Miraz gasps at what he sees. “Impossible,” he murmurs. (Could this be a callback to Susan’s reaction to see Narnia for the first time and the White Witch’s reaction to Aslan’s resurrection in the last movie?) Then wheels start to turn in his head.

Meanwhile, a council is being held in the Telmarine council chamber. Many chairs in it are empty including the fancy one for the king. “I warned this council when it put its trust in Lord Miraz, there would be consequences,” declaims a lord named Sopespian (Damian Alcazar.) In the book, Lord Sopespian, like Glozelle, is initially a supporter of Miraz and only turns against him at the climax. Here he’s antagonistic towards him from the start. I think that change works well. As I’ve mentioned before, Glozelle and Sopespian are a bit of a random deus ex machina in the text. Another lord objects that they can’t accuse the lord protector of Narnia without proof. “How long are we going to hide behind that excuse?” grouses Lord Scythley (Simon Andreu), another council member. “Until every chair in this chamber is empty?” This is a reference to how Miraz has been discreetly killing off nobles who might support his nephew’s claim to the throne as Dr. Cornelius explains to Caspian in Chapter 5 of the book. The meaning isn’t immediately clear to someone who hasn’t read the source material but, to be fair, it’s not too hard to infer the meaning. Sadly, that’s not true of some other parts of this movie’s plot which are only understandable for book fans.

See what I mean about the Telmarines having this chilly, gray, gritty aesthetic?

Miraz enters the room and takes his seat.

Miraz: Lords of the council, I apologize for being late. I wasn’t aware we were in session.
Sopespian: No doubt you were otherwise occupied.
Miraz: My lord?
Scythley: Ever since the death of Caspian the Ninth, you’ve behaved as if you were king and now it seems that behind these walls even Prince Caspian has gone missing!
Sopespian: My deepest condolences, Lord Miraz. Imagine losing your nephew, the heir to the throne, on the very night your wife has blessed you with a son.
Miraz: Thank you, Lord Sopespian. Your compassion is a boon in these troubled times.

What those words can’t convey on the screen is the hilariously sarcastic delivery of Damian Alcazar and Sergio Castellitto. The latter’s line readings are especially impressive considering his English language skills weren’t the best when this movie was being filmed and he sometimes needed a translator on set. Alcazar gives his character a smug smile and twinkling eyes that actually let you empathize with Miraz’s annoyance at him. Simultaneously, since we know Miraz is a bad guy, we kind of root for Sopespian. The animosity between these two evil characters is highly entertaining, definitely one of the most fun parts of any Narnia movie that’s not from the books.[5]Well, it’s kind of in the books but as I said, it’s not developed much and the dynamic between them is a bit different.

“I trust you can tell us how such a tragedy could have occurred,” Sopespian says. Right on cue, Glozelle demurely enters. “That is the most disturbing news of all,” says Miraz, “Our beloved Caspian was abducted. By Narnians!” The council scoffs at this. “You go too far, Miraz!” says Scythley. “You expect us to stand by while you blame such a blatant crime on fairy tales!” Miraz signals to Glozelle who opens the door, and two guards bring in the red dwarf from the forest, bound and gagged. The Telmarines gape at him. “You forget, my lords,” says Miraz, “Narnia was once a savage land. Fierce creatures roamed free. Much of our forefathers’ blood was shed to exterminate these vermin. Or so we thought.” Ironically, in his first scene in the book, Miraz is the one who insists that the Narnians are fairy tales to Caspian and forbids him to ever mention them again. Of course, that was in Caspian’s childhood, which this movie tragically cuts. (I’ll start to really explain why it’s tragic in my next post.) Of course, in the main part of the story, Miraz has to affirm the existence of the native Narnians since he’s waging war against them. Still, it’s sad that the part about him insisting they never existed had to be dropped from this adaptation. It’s a memorable detail. Anyway, back to his speech. “But while we’ve been bickering amongst ourselves, they’ve been breeding like cockroaches under a rock, growing stronger, watching us, waiting to strike!” On the last word, Miraz smacks the dwarf’s face, actually knocking his gag off. (Is that possible?) “And you wonder why we don’t like you,” the dwarf snarks.

Miraz ignores this. “Well, I intend to strike back,” he says, “Even if I have to cut down the entire forest, I assure you, I will find Prince Caspian and finish what our ancestors began.” Here’s another place where I think you could reasonably argue that the movie improves on the book. The literary Miraz has few actual scenes and is easily the most boring villain in any Narnia book. To be fair, I believe C. S. Lewis intended him to be somewhat boring by the design; his mundane, realistic villain makes him something of a foil to the White Witch from the previous story. But that design doesn’t always make for the most fun reading. By dramatizing the way Miraz maneuvers himself from the position of Lord Protector to King of Narnia, something that is only summarized by Cornelius as having happened a long time ago in the book, this movie makes him much more threatening, especially coupled with Sergio Castellitto’s charismatic performance. We’ll see more scenes of how he uses the threat of the Narnians for his own political purposes later. This villain proves to hold up surprisingly well against Tilda Swinton’s White Witch from the previous movie.

Back at the island-oh, I should mention something. In both the books and the movies, Cair Paravel was originally on a peninsula, but it became an island by the time of Prince Caspian. Back at the island, Edmund finds evidence that Cair Paravel didn’t just fall into ruins after being abandoned but was attacked by catapults. Then he and Peter push aside a stone wall to reveal a secret door.

Peter pulls apart the rotting wood then he tears a strip of cloth from his shirt and wraps it around a stick to make a torch.

“Don’t suppose you have any matches, do you?” he asks Edmund. “No, but would this help?” his brother replies, taking out an electric torch from his satchel. This moment is both really funny and allows the filmmakers to avoid confusing American audiences who would call the device a flashlight.[6]Edmund will refer to it as a torch though in the last scene. Not that I’m complaining. It’ll be a really fun bit from the book. “You might have mentioned that a bit sooner,” says Peter, laughing. It’s nice that this scene shows him accepting this little moment of humiliation in good humor instead of having him be all angry and arrogant as the movie will later portray him.

The Pevensies troop through the door and down a flight of stairs to an ancient treasure chamber. “I can’t believe it,” says Peter, “it’s all still here!” There are four treasure chests, each with a statue of one of the four siblings at the height of their Narnian reign. Edmund, Lucy and Susan rush over to their respective chest and open it.

“I was so tall!” says Lucy as she pulls out an old dress. “Well, you were older then,” says Susan. “As opposed to hundreds of years later when you’re younger,” says Edmund. I’d complain about him explaining the joke, but I love the humorous visual of him wearing a Narnian helmet with his school uniform. Actually, in a clever touch, the Pevensies have already abandoned parts of their uniforms and the girls’ hair has come unbraided, so they appear to be in halfway stage between their English selves and their Narnian selves in this scene.

Although he was the one who seemed to want to return to Narnia the most, Peter is taking his time looking over his former treasure. First, he blows the dust off a golden disc[7]A shield maybe? with an image of Aslan’s face on it. Then he slowly and reverently approaches his chest with the statue of himself standing guard over it. His attention is momentarily distracted by Susan who has found her bow and arrows from Father Christmas in her treasure chest but not her enchanted horn. “I must have left it on my saddle the day we went back,” she says. Finally, Peter opens his chest and pulls out his sword. He reads part of the inscription aloud. “When Aslan bares his teeth, winter meets its death.” As you may remember, that was the prophecy that was never spoken in the previous movie. Better late than never, I suppose. Lucy wistfully recites another part of it. “When he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.” There’s a moment of silence. In the book, after Peter unsheathes his sword, “the others all felt that he was really Peter the High King again.” Their silence indicates something a bit different in this version. “Everyone we knew,” says Lucy, “Mr. Tumnus and the Beavers…they’re all gone.” The children in Prince Caspian the book never seem disturbed by the revelation that coming back to Narnia centuries after their last visit means all their friends have long died. It arguably makes the story sadder and, to use a tired word, darker than it originally was. I wouldn’t say it’s untrue to the spirit of the Narnia books in general though.[8]One of them, The Silver Chair, has a character from this world return to Narnia and be shattered to find that a friend he knew as a strapping youth is now an old man at the point of death. “I think it’s time we found out what’s going on,” says Peter.

Outside, two Telmarine soldiers (stuntmen Mana Davis and Winham Hammond) are rowing in a boat up the coast by way of a river. With them is the bound and gagged dwarf. The dwarf’s name is Trumpkin by the way. That won’t be said in the dialogue until the next scene and in these recaps, I try to avoid saying names until their mentioned in the dialogue to replicate the experience of watching the movie but describing this whole scene without calling Trumpkin by name would just be a pain. One of the soldiers is unnerved by the dirty look the dwarf is giving him and both soldiers seem to be on edge. “Here’s far enough,” the one complaining about Trumpkin’s stare says. They pick him up and are about to throw him into the water. You may wonder why Miraz has had them take a prisoner all the way out here to drown him instead of doing the practical thing and killing him right away in some simpler manner. That was actually explained in the book. There the Telmarines believed that the woods around Cair Paravel’s ruins, as well as woods in general, were haunted by ghosts and ceremonially left certain prisoners there. This seems to be the implication in the movie too, given the soldiers’ jitteriness, but it’s not explained at all. Truth be told, this plot device was already a bit contrived in the book. C. S. Lewis’s reason for including it seems to have been that Trumpkin simply going to the island in search of the ancient kings and queen and then finding them would be boring, so he had to have him captured and taken there against his will.[9]Incidentally, Trumpkin also wasn’t captured by Miraz in the book but by a random seneschal. But it feels really contrived in this movie which never explains this weirdly specific form of execution. Sadly, that’s not the only plot point in the adaptation that viewers won’t understand if they haven’t read the book. Anyway, back to the scene. The soldiers barely lift Trumpkin before an arrow strikes their boat. They look up to see it came from Susan’s bow. She stands on the beach with her brothers and sister, all of them dressed in Narnian clothes. It’s a bit of a stretch that they would each find outfits their size just lying around the ancient ruins. (In the book, they spend most of the story in their school clothes.) But who cares? It’s a really cool moment to see them in Narnian garb for the first time in the movie. It really feels like the kings and queens of old have returned to rescue a Narnian from Telmarine oppression.

“Drop him,” orders Susan. The soldiers oblige my dropping Trumpkin into the water. Peter and Edmund dive in after him. Susan fires another arrow. One of them hits a soldier in the side. He and his companion jump out of the boat and swim away with all possible speed. (Again, this would make more sense if we knew they were afraid of ghosts.) Edmund drags their boat to the shore. Peter retrieves Trumpkin and Lucy cuts the sputtering dwarf’s bonds with her dagger.[10]The dagger wasn’t mentioned in the book by the way. I believe C. S. Lewis included it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe since Peter and Susan each got a weapon from Father Christmas. But … Continue reading

Trumpkin: “Drop him?!” That’s the best you can come up with?
Susan: A simple “thank you” would suffice.
Trumpkin: They were doing fine drowning me without your help!
Peter: Maybe we should have let them.

OK, I hate to say it but I’m really not a fan of the way this movie’s script writes Trumpkin. In the book at this point, he needs to be reassured several times that his rescuers aren’t ghosts, which is quite amusing, and is also very grateful to them. The movie makes him a grouch, mostly because…well, as we’ll see, Trumpkin is the Narnian who is most skeptical about Aslan and the Pevensies and naysaying sidekicks in fiction are expected to be bitterly sarcastic. The literary version of Trumpkin was quite sarcastic but in a cheerfully cynical way.[11]Imagine Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie if he didn’t start out as a mercenary but were a loyal ally from the start. Staying true to that would have made for a more original character and honestly would have fit in perfectly with this adaptation’s quippy action movie milieu.[12]For what it’s worth, director Andrew Adamson wrote the part specifically for Peter Dinklage, but I don’t think it would have been that hard for the actor to bring the book’s … Continue reading

Lucy: Why were they trying to kill you anyway?
Trumpkin: They’re Telmarines. That’s what they do.
Edmund: Telmarines? In Narnia?
Trumpkin: Where have you been for the last few hundred years?
Lucy: That’s a bit of a long story.

Susan hands Peter back his sword which he naturally dropped when diving into the water. Trumpkin notices it and his mouth falls open. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he says. “You’re it?! You’re the kings and queens of old?!” It’s an odd aspect of this movie that people can immediately recognize the Pevensie’s Christmas gifts at a glance. I guess their oral legends included very specific physical descriptions of them and it never occurs to anyone that it could just be a sword or a horn that with a similar design. Anyway, Peter holds out his hand to shake. “High King Peter the Magnificent,” he says. Trumpkin just stares at the hand. “You probably could have left off the last bit,” opines Susan. Trumpkin laughs, looking and sounding more like his literary counterpart, and agrees. “Probably.” Peter draws his sword. “You might be surprised,” he says. “Oh, you don’t want to do that, boy,” says Trumpkin. While the movie has just made Peter insufferably full of himself and will do so later, it happily gives him a moment of humility now. “Not me,” he says and indicates Edmund instead. (It’s depressing that I have to point it out whenever Peter does something likeable in this adaptation.)[13]In the book, Peter offers to be the one to fight Trumpkin to prove his and siblings’ worth but Edmund objects that “It will be more of a sucks for him if I win, and less of a let-down for … Continue reading

Edmund draws his blade and Peter lends Trumpkin his. For a moment, it looks like the sword will be too big for the dwarf and that this duel will be a bit of a mismatch. But then he almost chops Edmund’s head off and hits him in the eye.[14]I feel like it’s out of character for him to get so violent in a friendly match but oh well. Lucy actually calls out Edmund’s name in fear at that point though she quickly relaxes. In the book, it was Susan who was uncomfortable with the fight. (She “never could learn to like this sort of thing.”) But this adaptation, as we’ll see, makes her much less squeamish about violence. Anyway, before too long, Edmund disarms Trumpkin who falls to his knees and gapes at him, saying, “Beards and bedsteads!” In the book, that’s something of a mad libs catchphrase for the character. Variants include “horns and halibuts,” “whistles and whirligigs” and “giants and junipers.” Sadly, this is the only example of such an exclamation we get in the movie.

“Maybe that horn worked after all,” Trumpkin says. “What horn?” asks Susan. Before he answers, we cut to another scene. You’ll remember that the movie had Dr. Cornelius give Caspian a horn and tell him only to blow it at his greatest need but didn’t have him explain why. That was because the screenwriters wished to eliminate the original book’s nonlinear storytelling but wanted Susan’s horn being the thing that summoned her and her siblings back to Narnia to be a big revelation just as it is in the book. While Cornelius withholding the vital information didn’t make much sense in-universe, I appreciate the movie trying to be keep the book’s sense of mystery. But it does start-only start-to get annoying for it to hold back on explaining everything here.

Next Week: Hey, We Still Haven’t Seen Caspian Since the First Scene, Have We?

References

References
1 Many of whom are famous in their own countries but not in the UK or the US.
2 Perhaps they were actually thinking ahead to The Last Battle which pits King Tirian, a descendant of Caspian’s, against the Calormenes, the idea being that viewers would be less offended by villains looking and sounding generically non-Western if the hero isn’t generically Western.
3 Though I can understand why some Hispanics and Italians would be since Caspian, the one unambiguously sympathetic Telmarine, is the only one played by an English actor.
4 It’s a bit odd that they have images of eagles considering that the Telmarines are supposed to be enemies of beasts but, hey, eagles are birds of prey after all.
5 Well, it’s kind of in the books but as I said, it’s not developed much and the dynamic between them is a bit different.
6 Edmund will refer to it as a torch though in the last scene. Not that I’m complaining. It’ll be a really fun bit from the book.
7 A shield maybe?
8 One of them, The Silver Chair, has a character from this world return to Narnia and be shattered to find that a friend he knew as a strapping youth is now an old man at the point of death.
9 Incidentally, Trumpkin also wasn’t captured by Miraz in the book but by a random seneschal.
10 The dagger wasn’t mentioned in the book by the way. I believe C. S. Lewis included it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe since Peter and Susan each got a weapon from Father Christmas. But Lucy never showed a talent for using the dagger that her sister did for archery or her brother did for swordplay, so he forgot it by the time he wrote Prince Caspian.
11 Imagine Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie if he didn’t start out as a mercenary but were a loyal ally from the start.
12 For what it’s worth, director Andrew Adamson wrote the part specifically for Peter Dinklage, but I don’t think it would have been that hard for the actor to bring the book’s Trumpkin to life.
13 In the book, Peter offers to be the one to fight Trumpkin to prove his and siblings’ worth but Edmund objects that “It will be more of a sucks for him if I win, and less of a let-down for us all if I fail.”
14 I feel like it’s out of character for him to get so violent in a friendly match but oh well.
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Prince Caspian (2008) Part 2: I Don’t Remember Any Ruins in Narnia

In a nice transition, we cut from the sound of Caspian blowing the horn to the sound of an automobile horn in our world as our old friend, Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley), runs across a London street, wearing a school uniform and carrying suitcases. The car’s (uncredited) driver yells at her to watch where she’s going, and she apologizes as she hurries off. For the first time in this movie, we hear a musical theme from the last film’s the soundtrack. The movie reuses a lot of musical themes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe actually, sometimes without even remixing them. The first time I watched it, I found this something of an annoying distraction, but repeated viewings have given me an appreciation for it. The movie never musically hearkens back to the last movie without there being a good thematic reason for doing so. Even on my first viewing, I liked that we first hear an old theme in the scene where, after a scene entirely about new characters, we’re reintroduced to ones we already know.

We find Anna Popplewell’s Susan before her sister does. She’s wearing a uniform for the same school and browsing a magazine rack. (The movie doesn’t make a big deal of it but there’s a newspaper being sold there announcing the raid is over.) A rather geeky looking boy (Ash Jones) tries to strike up a conversation with her.

Geeky Boy: You go to St. Finbarr’s?
Susan: That’s right.
Geeky Boy: I go to Hendon House. Across the road. I’ve seen you. Sitting by yourself.
Susan: Yes, well…I prefer to be left alone.
Pause
Geeky Boy: Me too! What’s your name?
Susan: Phyllis.

This dialogue is pretty hilarious though I feel like Susan is being kind of mean. (Her counterpart in the books always tried to avoid hurting people physically or emotionally.) Of course, other viewers might feel that this guy is being a clueless stalker and Susan (and the movie) should be harder on him. But there’s something I really appreciate about this little bit of comic filler. The Narnia books describe Susan, both in Narnia and her own world, as the most physically attractive of the Pevensies. And the idea persists among both lovers and haters of the series that she’s really into boys. But I’d argue that they’re the ones who are into her. She’s not particularly into them.[1]A major part of one book’s plot is actually Susan rejecting a suitor and him not responding well. The common perception of Susan being boy crazy comes from the final Narnia book, The Last … Continue reading So it gratifies me greatly that this movie is portraying a guy as being attracted to Susan and her being uninterested. Now if only the film could keep that up for its entire runtime!

Anyway, Susan’s alias (Phyllis) is blown when Lucy runs up and tells her she’d better come quickly. The girls run into an underground railway station. (In the book, this station was above ground and rural by the way.) They find a crowd of other school children gathered to watch a fight between three boys. Two of them are handing the third his posterior. That third is Peter (William Moseley.) He and Susan lock eyes and she looks at him with reproach and disgust.

Just as Peter is getting his face pressed against the wall, another boy comes to his aid. It’s Edmund (Skandar Keynes.) He does his best, but Peter still takes quite a beating. Fortunately, two soldiers (John Bach and Jack Walley) come along and break up the fight. “Act your age,” one of them tells Peter. We then cut to the four Pevensies glumly seated on a bench with their luggage.

Edmund: You’re welcome.
Peter: I had it sorted.
Susan: What was it this time?
Peter: He bumped me.
Lucy: So you hit him?
Peter: No, after he bumped me, they tried to make me apologize. That’s when I hit him.

Um…yikes! In the literary Prince Caspian, Peter is a completely noble hero albeit one that makes a major mistake. He’s also a very humble hero and arguably as great a diplomat as he is a warrior. And here the adaptation has him brawling in public like a common hooligan. And it’s implied that this is something he’s been doing regularly for a while. Even if the movie really wanted to include this fight for the sake of more action, it would have been so easy to give Peter a more sympathetic reason for getting into it. He could have been defending a smaller boy against bullies.[2]That would have actually tied into his larger character arc in the movie anyway. We could have at least seen the two boys being really rude to Peter when they bumped into him, so that we’d be more likely to sympathize with him lashing out at them. Either of those ways to make Peter more sympathetic are so obvious that I’m not sure if I’m angry with the movie for not using them or impressed by it avoiding the obvious route.

I feel like his siblings’ reactions to Peter’s petty excuse in this shot pretty much sum it up.

Perhaps most troublingly for fans of the book, we’ll learn in a matter of seconds that his issues stem from a sense of wounded pride and entitlement. For many fans, this one change to this one character is enough to ruin the adaptation for them. I can understand that if King Peter was a huge role model for you growing up. But while I consider Peter in the book to be admirable and well written, he’s not a particular favorite of mine and while there’s a lot I dislike about the execution of this character arc for him, as well as with William Moseley’s performance, which feels like he’s playing a different character from the likeable one in the last film, there’s also a lot that appeals to me about it conceptually. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter’s journey was all about him learning to have more confidence. I like that this sequel gives him the opposite arc rather than rehashing what we’ve already seen. Also, I don’t really get why so many kids’ movies, like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, feel that the main thing they need to teach their young viewers is to be more confident. Doubtless, there are some children who need to learn that but aren’t there also many-possibly even more-who suffer from overconfidence? Having the protagonist in a mainstream kids’ movie[3]I know I described this as being the Narnia movie most geared toward teenagers, but I also mentioned that I was speaking relatively. learn to be humble is an interesting and refreshing move if you ask me and one more in line with the broad themes of the Narnia books.[4]To be fair, while I’m not much interested in superheroes and haven’t kept up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m informed that many of its heroes start out as prideful and end … Continue reading

Back to the conversation.

Susan: Really! Is it that hard to just walk away?
Peter: I shouldn’t have to! I mean, don’t you ever get tired of being treated like a kid?
Edmund: Um, we are kids.
Peter: Well, I wasn’t always![5]Some fans have argued that English children in this time period were expected to mature as soon as possible what with World War II going on, making this angst on Peter’s part anachronistic. The … Continue reading It’s been a year. How long does he (Aslan) expect us to wait?
Susan: I think it’s time to accept that we live here. There’s no use pretending any different.

That last line is interesting in that it foreshadows events in the final Narnia story, The Last Battle. (If you haven’t read that one and don’t want anything spoiled for you, skip the rest of this paragraph.) There we’re informed that the older Susan has reached a point where if her siblings bring up Narnia, she says, “What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.” Many readers find this development for the character random and it’s not a bad idea for an adaptation to foreshadow it though I feel like this one may be trying too hard to make Susan sympathetic. Still, that’s better than just dropping the plot point entirely. That would be both the easiest and the most cowardly route to take if you ask me.

Susan notices her unwanted admirer from the magazine rack heading her way. (Don’t worry. He’s not stalking her. He’s just going to take the same train.) Quickly, she instructs her brothers to pretend they’re talking to her. “We are talking to you,” Edmund points out. Suddenly, Lucy yells, “ow!” and jumps to her feet. Even though I’d read the book, I assumed at first, she was trying to create a distraction to help Susan. But no. “Something pinched me,” says Lucy. “Hey! Stop pulling,” says Peter, rising to his feet. “I’m not touching you,” Edmund replies. As a train rattles past them, he and Susan feel the pull too and get to their feet. As a book fan, I’m tickled to report that the order in which the characters feel the mysterious sensation is the same as in the text.

Susan: What is that?!
Lucy: It feels like magic.
Susan: Quick, everyone holds hands.
Edmund: I’m not holding your hand!

Nevertheless, the Pevensies’ do grab each other’s hands.[6]Ironically, in the book, Edmund got the line about the experience having the feel of magic and the suggestion that everyone hold hands. The walls of the railway station appear to be sucked away bit by bit while everyone besides our heroes is oblivious to it. Suddenly, they’re standing in an empty cave. The train disappears down the railway tunnel which transforms into the cave’s mouth, leading out onto a beautiful beach. This is a great magical transition though regrettably it conveys more of the impression that the world around the characters is being pulled away when it should be they who are being pulled out of the world.

Lucy gives Susan a you-were-saying look. To her credit, Susan grins back and all four Pevensies run into the water, shedding their shoes and less comfortable school clothes, splashing each other and having a good time. In the book, they arrive in an uncomfortable thicket rather than a cave and are initially more shocked than delighted. They only happily rush into the water after they’ve picked their way out. I feel like that’s a little more believable, but I don’t mind the way the movie does the scene. I’ve described it earlier as being darker than the book or trying to be so anyway. This moment of joy is welcome, especially since it’s aided by a lovely location. We hear another old theme on the soundtrack, the one that played when all four Pevensies were in Narnia together for the first time in the last movie.

As the music fades, so does Edmund’s smile. That’s not to say he frowns; he just looks thoughtful. “Where do you suppose we are?” he asks. “Well, where do you think?” says Peter. “Well, I don’t remember any ruins in Narnia,” Edmund says. All four children grow silent as they stare up at the ancient remains of a castle on the cliffs above them. Then we see them exploring the site. Lucy eats an apple from an overgrown orchard. In the book, it takes the characters a long time to find this ruin and it’s stressed how grateful they are to find a source of food in the orchard as well as how sick they get before long of having nothing to eat but apples. I think I’m glad the movie trimmed all of that and also glad it still included the apples so that viewers would still get an idea of how the Pevensies avoid starvation.

“I wonder who lived here,” Lucy says. Susan’s foot bumps against a tiny golden figurine of a centaur studded with ruby fragments. “I think we did,” she says, picking it up. “Hey, that’s mine,” says Edmund, “from my chess set.” Peter asks him which chess set. “I didn’t exactly have a solid gold chess in Finchley, did I?” says Edmund. As we’ll see, this adaptation generally tries to be more emotionally intense than its source material, so it’s interesting that this moment was actually more emotional in the book. There the chess piece belonged to Susan herself and the memories it raised nearly reduced her to tears. If the movie weren’t going to try to be more tearjerking than the book later, I would object to toning down the emotions in this scene. But since the movie does try that, I think it makes for better pacing not to get too sad too soon.

Lucy realizes something. “It can’t be,” she whispers. Then she grabs Peter by the hand and drags him to an open area that was once an interior. Susan and Edmund follow. “Don’t you see?” says Lucy. “Imagine walls and columns there and a glass roof.” The Pevensies realize that they’re standing exactly where their thrones once were. “Cair Paravel,” murmurs Peter. In the book, he was the one who figured out that the ruins were their old castle centuries after they’d left.[7]And incidentally he did so after evening had fallen. Giving that role to Lucy is typical of how the movie makes its version of Peter less heroic than C. S. Lewis’s but, to be fair, it’s one of the less annoying instances of it.

Next Week: What About All Those New Characters from the First Scene?

References

References
1 A major part of one book’s plot is actually Susan rejecting a suitor and him not responding well. The common perception of Susan being boy crazy comes from the final Narnia book, The Last Battle, in which a character dismissively describes as being only interested in “nylons and lipstick and invitations.” But, as one fan has pointed out online (in a forum that is no longer available to read) clothes and makeup are often a way for girls to impress each other.
2 That would have actually tied into his larger character arc in the movie anyway.
3 I know I described this as being the Narnia movie most geared toward teenagers, but I also mentioned that I was speaking relatively.
4 To be fair, while I’m not much interested in superheroes and haven’t kept up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m informed that many of its heroes start out as prideful and end up being humbled, so maybe I’m exaggerating the cinematic Prince Caspian‘s uniqueness. It should be noted though that it was released the same summer as Iron Man, the first movie in the MCU. Maybe Narnia was just ahead of the trend.
5 Some fans have argued that English children in this time period were expected to mature as soon as possible what with World War II going on, making this angst on Peter’s part anachronistic. The undertones of get-off-my-lawn in these critiques make me unsure how seriously to take them but they sound legitimate enough, so I’m including them in this footnote.
6 Ironically, in the book, Edmund got the line about the experience having the feel of magic and the suggestion that everyone hold hands.
7 And incidentally he did so after evening had fallen.
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Prince Caspian (2008) Part 1: You Won’t Be Watching the Stars Tonight, My Prince

This blog series is going to follow the same format as the one I did for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) so you might want to go back and read the introduction to that one since it explains why I’m going to give away my overall feelings about the adaptation before I describe the first scene.

After The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a huge financial hit, the Walt Disney Company had high hopes for its sequel, Prince Caspian, and gave it a corresponding budget. They were disappointed. One of the reasons for that may have been the decision to make that sequel a summer action movie rather than marketing it as a film for families to watch together over the holiday season as they’d done with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Another reason may have been returning director Andrew Adamson’s goal of making the sequel (relatively) darker and edgier and aimed more at teenagers, the age group least likely to gravitate toward Narnia. (The books are more for children and nostalgic adults.) But the main reason for the studio’s disappointment was probably that they forget that while the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a well-known and beloved classic of children’s literature, this is less true of the other books in the Narnia series. They’re beloved by people too, but not by the public in general and even among the fandom, Prince Caspian is widely considered the weakest installment.

Because they were adapting the least beloved Narnia book, Adamson and his returning collaborators, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely[1]Ann Peacock did not return, leading me to imagine her contributions to the first movie were minimal., probably felt that they had some leeway in adapting the book. This sequel takes far more artistic license with its source material than its predecessor and it should be noted that many critics praised it as the better of the two movies. Some would even call it better than the original book. But many Narnia fans were angered and disappointed by the liberties taken with the text, which I think is a heartwarming tribute to the book, showing how much fans love even the least favorite Narnia book. Or maybe the movie made people realize the book’s greatness.

Where do I stand? Well, I don’t consider the 2008 Prince Caspian movie better than the first Narnia movie on the whole. But neither do I consider it worse than it on the whole. They each have their pros and cons and for me, if no one else, it all balances out in the end. Now do I think the movie is better than the book? Well, I can understand that opinion-at a first glance. The adaptation removes some of its source material’s structural issues. It brings the title character into contact with the other four protagonists much sooner, allowing it to develop relationships between them, and trims the lengthy central section of the characters being lost in the wood.[2]Theoretically, there’s no reason why stories about people trying to find their way out of woods can’t be great. After all, the first really popular novel was Robinson Crusoe, which was … Continue reading But unfortunately, this adaptation also cuts some of the most emotionally potent themes and interesting ideas from the book, making for a movie that feels less specifically Narnian and much more like a generic fantasy action movie.

But, hey, sometimes a generic fantasy action movie, assuming it’s well made, is exactly what I feel like watching. Actually, it’s kind of amazing how much I enjoy the Prince Caspian movie considering how many strikes it has against it from my point of view. As I mentioned before, of the three Narnia movies, this is the one most trying to appeal to teenagers, and I think that’s a mistake if fidelity to the books’ spirit is a goal. And while I don’t necessarily mind the idea of a Narnia movie being dark per se, there being plenty of dark material in the books, to suggest that Prince Caspian is an edgier story than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is ridiculous. If anything, you could argue it’s the least intense Narnia story.[3]Well, literary critic Doris T. Meyers made a good argument that Prince Caspian is a more mature and adult book than its predecessor but in a comparatively subtle way. I feel like the filmmakers just went that direction because it’s Hollywood convention to make the second movie in a series be darker than the first one. C. S. Lewis, by contrast, made the seventh and last Narnia book, The Last Battle, the darkest by a long shot. Making Prince Caspian edgier arguably would have undermined that if Walden Media had been able to adapt the whole series. (It really should be noted though that this movie is dark compared to the 2005 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but hardly the darkest movie ever. Likewise, it’s aimed more at teenagers but can still be enjoyed by kids. Not every kid maybe but some.) Also, this is the Narnia movies that’s an action movie the most and, truth be told, while I enjoy a good action scene, modern action movies tend to give me headaches.

Yet, for all that, I get a big kick out of this movie. Why? Well, let’s start the deep dive.

Remember what I wrote in my analysis of the first Narnia movie about how this more recent Disney logo makes for a rough transition to dark, ominous opening scenes? Yep.

We open with a nifty transition from the Walden Media logo to two planets crossing each other in the Narnian night sky.

Those familiar with the book will realize that these are Tarva and Alambil.[4]Which were described as stars there, not planets, but never mind. They will also recognize that the adaptation is playing around with the original story’s chronology. The camera pans down to reveal a clifftop castle. It’s a great set-too great even. You see, it’s the castle of the Telmarines, this story’s villains and C. S. Lewis deliberately made them boring compared to the more colorful Narnians. This castle is just a little too cool in its creepy looking way to be boring. But in the movie’s defense, it can be tricky to make something look boring in a movie without the viewers just getting the impression the designers were simply untalented.

Fans of the book instantly learn that the adaptation is taking even more liberties with the chronology than they originally supposed[5]That is if they didn’t do any research before watching the thing. as a woman’s scream is heard and the camera zooms in on one particular room in the castle where a noblewoman (Alicia Borrachero), surrounded by midwives, is giving birth to a son.

The only midwife with a speaking part is played by Hana Frejkova who does a great job. When she asks for towels, I really believe she needs them.

In another room-it’s a great set by the way-a burly, grizzled soldier (Pierfrancesco Favino) enters to find a nobleman (Sergio Castellitto) staring up at the sky through a window. These two are the only ones there.

“Lord Miraz,” says the soldier, “you have a son.” In the book at this point, Miraz is already a king. The movie is going to show his rise to the throne which was summarized in one speech by a character in the book. “The heavens have blessed us,” Miraz says, still looking at the planetary phenomenon. “You know your orders.” The soldier hesitates, evidently not completely comfortable with these orders. Miraz turns his head slightly. “General Glozelle?” he says. “Yes, my lord,” the man replies. In the book, Glozelle is only really introduced before the climax of the story[6]The aforementioned speech summarizing Miraz’s political career mentions that “his flatterers (as he had instructed them) begged him to become king” and it’s eventually implied … Continue reading and incidentally is a lord, not a general. He’s also completely a villain in the book with no apparent conscience. I think it makes sense to give him more screentime since he’s something of a deus ex machina in the source material. I generally dislike the idea of redeeming characters from the books who weren’t redeemed there but adding some sympathetic aspects to Glozelle’s character is going to allow this movie to keep an interesting little moment from the book that would otherwise have probably been cut. Anyway, on its own terms, this scene is great, especially the tension between Castellitto and Favino.

Meanwhile, a cloaked and hooded figure sneaks through the moonlit castle hallway, avoiding a sentry. He slips inside a royal bedchamber, draws open the bedcurtains and places a hand over the mouth of our hero, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes.) I should say a word hear about the casting here. Many fans object to Barnes, who was in his early twenties at the time, playing this character who is a boy in the book. However, the only thing the book specifically says about Caspian’s age is that he was about as old as Peter and the previous movie had already cast a teenager as that character, a teenager who was even older when this sequel was filmed and yet nobody complained then. To me, the important thing is that Caspian looks like he could be Peter’s peer and Barnes does a great job making the character seem youthful and naive. I think the reason fans insist on seeing Caspian as really young in the book is that C. S. Lewis stresses that he was a very little boy in the first chapter depicting him and fans forget that years take place between that chapter and the main body of the story. The movie entirely cuts the section of the story about Caspian’s childhood, and I have strong opinions about that but let’s put the subject on the back burner for now, shall we? Caspian’s eyes pop open in fear but he relaxes when he sees that he’s being awakened by his twinkly eyed gray bearded tutor, Doctor Cornelius (Vincent Grass who’s great in the role.) Actually, they never say Cornelius’s name in the movie; everyone just addresses him as “doctor” or “professor.” It’s in the credits though and I’m going to use it on this blog.

“Five more minutes,” Caspian says, rolling over. “You won’t be watching the stars tonight, my prince,” says Cornelius. This is a reference to the book in which he sometimes takes Caspian up on the castle battlements at night for astronomy lessons. In fact, during one such lesson, he revealed to Caspian the true history of Narnia about which everybody is forbidden to speak. It was a wonderfully atmospheric scene in the book that has been barbarically scrapped by this movie. (Remember what I mentioned about Caspian’s childhood?) “Come,” says Cornelius, “we must hurry.” He drags Caspian over to his wardrobe. “Professor, what’s going on?” he asks. “Your aunt has given birth to a son,” says Cornelius. There’s a great moment of silence as the implications of this, not yet clear to the viewers, sink in for Caspian. Cornelius reveals a secret passage in the back of the wardrobe and bustles the prince inside. They close the door behind them, but Caspian lingers to peer through the crack and see what happens in his absence. Glozelle leads a group of bowmen into the room. They surround Caspian’s bed and fire arrows at it, only to find the bed empty.

Did I mention I love this film’s sets?

Cornelius hastily helps Caspian dress and arm himself. “You must make for the woods,” he instructs the prince as he mounts a horse in the stables, “they won’t follow you there.” In the book, Dr. Cornelius[7]Lewis always calls him Doctor Cornelius but I’m going to call him Dr. to save typing. also tells Caspian to seek sanctuary in the court of King Nain of Archenland. That is a much more intelligent plan than just hiding in the woods, but I don’t blame the movie for cutting it since neither King Nain nor Archenland are ever going to appear in this story. Then Cornelius hands Caspian an object wrapped in cloth. “It has taken me many years to find this,” he says. “Do not use it except at your greatest need.” “Will I ever see you again?” asks Caspian. Don’t ask me why he would ask that instead of “what is this mysterious object and why must I use it at my greatest need?” Well, because this movie wants to retain a mystery in the book’s plot while avoiding the nonlinear storytelling that allowed it to be a mystery. “I dearly hope so, my prince,” says Cornelius. “There is so much more I meant to tell you. Everything you know is about to change.” They hear a voice outside calling for the drawbridge to be closed so naturally Caspian has to hightail it out of there, leaving Cornelius feeling like a fool for saying, “everything you know is about to change,” a line obviously written so it could be used in the movie’s trailer, instead of taking the time to tell Caspian just what the mysterious artifact is to be used as a last resort.

Caspian rides across the courtyard. Two sentries try to stop him, but he knocks aside their pikes, taking one of them. He gallops across the stone drawbridge on his horse as celebratory fireworks go off in the background. (In case that sentence was confusing, they’re celebrating the baby’s birth, not Caspian’s escape.) A town crier (Douglas Gresham, one of the movie’s producers and the head of C. S. Lewis’s literary estate) is heard proclaiming that “Lady Prunaprismia has this night given Lord Miraz a son.” Glozelle and his soldiers chase Caspian on horseback through the town and into the countryside. I may be alone here, but this is an iconic opening for me.

Like the last movie, this has a great opening credits scene albeit one with a very different feel. Caspian enters the woods, and his pursuers initially hang back in fear with the exception of Glozelle. “Which of you superstitious old women wants to spend the night in a cell?” he demands. Reluctantly, they follow him. In the book, the Telmarines fear the woods because of their people’s past inhumanity to trees and imagine them to be full of ghosts. As a fan, I’m glad that this was kept but it’s unfortunate that the movie never explains it. We can deduce that they believe these particular woods are haunted but not necessarily why. Oh well. We do get to see some lovely scenery in this chase scene and listen to some great tense chase music by composer Harry Gregson-Williams.

At one point, Caspian has to ride across a ford. (This is the ford of Beruna which was supposed to be the location of the battle in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.) The obstacle relieves him of some of his pursuers but not all of them. He does put enough space between himself and them to give him hope. Hilariously (and intentionally), the dramatic mood is shattered when he looks behind him, then turns back only to get hit in the head by a low hanging branch, knocked off his horse and dragged around for a while before finally managing to get his foot out of the stirrup. Caspian lies there on the ground while his steed runs off. (In the book, by the way, something like this didn’t happen until he’d been riding for a whole day and into another night. The Telmarine castle is much closer to the woods in the movie.) The silence grows ominous.

Caspian painfully raises himself and is shocked to see two dwarfs, one with a red beard (Peter Dinklage) and one with a black beard (Warwick Davis who also played a couple of roles in the BBC’s Narnia miniseries from the late 80s and early 90s), emerge from under the roots of a tree. There’s also light coming from under the roots and if you have sharp eyes you can see a talking badger behind them.

“He’s seen us,” says the black bearded dwarf. Both of them carry swords. Caspian’s lies out of reach. The red bearded dwarf, blade drawn, runs up to Caspian but stops when he sees that the bundle Dr. Cornelius gave the prince has unfurled, revealing an ivory horn that should look familiar to viewers though the camera probably doesn’t linger on it long enough for it be recognizable. The dwarf recognizes it though. Apparently, so do the other one and the badger though they should be standing too far away to see it in the dark. One of the Telmarine soldiers appears on the horizon. “Take care of him” the red dwarf tells the other and runs to distract the newcomer. It eventually becomes clear that the sight of the horn has earned Caspian these dwarfs’ loyalty and that he means “take care of him” in a friendly sense. Why this is so won’t be abundantly clear, I’m sorry to say, but it’s too early to start criticizing that. Caspian understandably interprets the red dwarf’s words in a threatening way and when the black dwarf heads his way, he grabs the horn in desperation, raises it to his lips and blows before the dwarf knocks him out. I’d roll my eyes at Caspian blowing the horn seemingly hours after being told to only do so in his greatest need-if it took that long. But I understand why the filmmakers had him do so. And all quibbles aside, I really do love this opening scene. Some viewers may not like how it features none of the characters from the first movie and doesn’t even explain very much about the new ones it introduces but I don’t mind. If anything, I enjoy the mysteriousness of it all.

Well, this feels like a good place for a cliffhanger.

Next Week: How Have the Four Pevensies Been Doing Since the Last Movie?

References

References
1 Ann Peacock did not return, leading me to imagine her contributions to the first movie were minimal.
2 Theoretically, there’s no reason why stories about people trying to find their way out of woods can’t be great. After all, the first really popular novel was Robinson Crusoe, which was all about its hero surviving in the wilderness. And the profitability of shows like Survivorman and Man vs. Wild testify to the hold the theme has on the human imagination. But when I look back on the scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia that I feel like rereading the most often, the scenes of Prince Caspian that focus on the characters struggling to survive in the wild are nowhere near the top of the list and the book’s relative lack of popularity makes me think I’m not alone in that.
3 Well, literary critic Doris T. Meyers made a good argument that Prince Caspian is a more mature and adult book than its predecessor but in a comparatively subtle way.
4 Which were described as stars there, not planets, but never mind.
5 That is if they didn’t do any research before watching the thing.
6 The aforementioned speech summarizing Miraz’s political career mentions that “his flatterers (as he had instructed them) begged him to become king” and it’s eventually implied Glozelle was one of them, but this is easy to miss.
7 Lewis always calls him Doctor Cornelius but I’m going to call him Dr. to save typing.
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The Best Great Expectations Miniseries Is Unavailable for Streaming

It may sound crazy to say that the Disney Channel produced a better miniseries adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations than the BBC ever did but that’s what happened in 1989!

Just eight years prior to the 1989 miniseries, the BBC had done its own version and it’s astonishing to see how much more visually appealing the later series was. Credit to that goes to director Kevin Connor, cinematographer Doug Milsome and production designer Keith Wilson. True, the sets don’t look as “lived in” as much as might be wished and the costumes even less so but for a TV serial of this time, they’re quite impressive and the locations are lovely.

The casting for the 1989 miniseries is also superior to that of the 1981 version and the scripts by John Goldsmith[1]Who also wrote adaptations of The Old Curiosity Shop and David Copperfield in 1995 and 2000 respectively. are far more engaging. Basically, this adaptation makes the 1981 miniseries look dull and clunky in every way. Well, truth be told, I think that one comes across as dull and clunky by itself, so that’s small praise. But I’d also stake the 1989 Great Expectations against any of the other miniseries based on the book and there have been several. In fact, I’d stake it against any adaptation yet made. That’s not to say it’s only one that’s any good, just that it’s the most consistently great in my opinion.

Of course, nothing is perfect, so I’ll start with a flaw. Young Martin Harvey who plays the character of Pip in his childhood[2]This is going to be one of those blog posts where I don’t explain the story. If you haven’t the read the book, you should either do so or read my previous post. is something of a weak link in the cast. His facial expressions are pretty great, but his line deliveries tend to sound fake compared to those of everybody else. And his crying sounds even more so.

Anthony Calf as the older Pip though is perfect. He looks and sounds more like how I imagine the character than any other portrayal I’ve seen, and he’s helped by the writing which excels at finding ways for Pip to express his thoughts aloud to the other characters that he only tells readers in the book. If I had blogged about this miniseries before I did my “awards ceremony” post, Calf’s Pip would have been a shoe in for best antihero.[3]Jeremy Irvine’s Pip from the 2012 movie would have gotten an honorable mention.

Another problem with this production is the choice to have Pip’s two possible love interests, Biddy and Estella, each be played by a single actress throughout the whole series rather than using child actresses in the characters’ youths and older ones afterwards. I know, I know. It’s unfair of me to first say that the child actor for Pip was inferior to the adult actor and then criticize the decision to not use child actors for other characters.[4]The only other character here to be portrayed by two different actors is Herbert Pocket who is played by Henry Power as a boy and Adam Blackwood, who was Dick Swiveller in The Old Curiosity Shop from … Continue reading This probably does make for more consistently great acting but if you’re not familiar with the story, it’s very confusing. Biddy’s early maturity isn’t as impressive when she looks like an adult from the beginning and there’s a scene where we see Estella as a teenager for the first time that was clearly written to be the first look viewers would get of her played by a new actress, but she looks just like she did the last time we saw her except that she’s wearing more age-appropriate clothing.[5]Viewers familiar with the historical culture in which this story takes place can theoretically tell that the characters are supposed to be younger based on how they wear their hair. But if said … Continue reading

Fortunately, the actual quality of the actresses’ performances is exemplary. As I wrote previously, anyone playing Estella has to delicately balance many contradictory characteristics to bring this unforgettable character to life. Kim Thomson does so without breaking a sweat, giving us an Estella who is sometimes icily indifferent, sometimes casually friendly and sometimes intensely bitter. Returning to the scenario in which I’d blogged about this miniseries before my awards ceremony, she’d have won best antiheroine.

Susan Franklyn is also great as Biddy. Like Thomson, she’s helped by how well this adaptation develops her character. You could even argue she has a bigger presence here than in the book. (Remember what I wrote about this miniseries finding ways to have Pip confide things in other characters that he only tells us through narration in the book?) Estella may be the story’s leading lady, but this adaptation understands that Biddy is its heroine in the moral sense.

You’ve probably picked up by now that this miniseries has a stellar cast. As awkward and ignorant as the loveable Joe Gargery can be, John Rhys-Davies plays him without a hint of condescension or winking at the camera. Some of the most emotional moments in the series belong to him.

As Pip’s shrewish older sister, Rosemary McHale makes her character’s abuse of her brother and her husband genuinely disturbing while simultaneously bringing great comedic timing to the role.

Other great performances include those of Anthony Hopkins as Abel Magwitch, the escaped convict who terrorizes young Pip[6]Though I must admit I prefer Ralph Fiennes from the 2012 movie, partly because, for once, the character is better developed there. Hopkins is still great though.,

Ray McAnally as Jaggers the fearsome lawyer[7]Don’t read this footnote if you haven’t read the book or experienced any adaptations. His most memorable scene is in the last episode where, after being chilly and inhumane throughout the … Continue reading,

and Charles Lewsen as his clerk, Wemmick who is cold and businesslike to the point of cruelty in his “professional capacity”

but friendly and playful outside of office hours.

But as much competition as she has, the crown jewel of the cast by a long shot is Jean Simmons, whom you’ll recall played the young Estella in the 1946 movie, as Miss Havisham. She brings a throaty growl to every line that she doesn’t venomously spit or deliver in a mournful wail. Even when she’s not speaking, she seems to radiate bitterness. I fully believe that she’s brooded over her grudge every day for years. This is the most awesomely creepy Miss Havisham I’ve ever seen, and she would have won the “Adaptee” for best tragic villainess with her hands tied behind her back.[8]I’ve gone on record as saying that Helena Bonham Carter was more moving as the remorseful Miss Havisham in the last act of the story and I’ll stand by that. But I enjoy Simmons’s … Continue reading

Nearly every minor character from the novel is present in this adaptation. There’s harried Matthew Pocket (Jonathan Newth) and his lazy, pretentious wife, Belinda (entertaining Angela Ellis),

Wopsle (John Quentin), the overly ambitious amateur actor,

“Trabb’s boy” (Mark Williams who’s good but I’d have preferred a younger actor in the role), the insolent tailor’s assistant who irritates Pip

and Orlick (Niven Boyd), the vengeful journeyman.

True, not all of these subplots are as well developed as in the book. I wish there were more audible heckling in the scenes of Wopsle’s bad performances to make them funnier and Orlick only shows interest in Biddy in one shot, making his later accusation that Pip “come twixt” the two of them rather inexplicable. Still, this is adaptation is an admirably complete take on the novel’s plot. In fact, it expands on the minor character of the useless young manservant who Pip hires for the sake of a genteel appearance and gives him a subplot to good effect. As played by Paul Reynolds, he resembles a young Uriah Heep and that’s no accident as this version has him conspire with his employer’s enemies.

Sadly, this adaptation does stumble a bit at the finish line. The way it handles a plot twist in the second-to-last scene[9]You’ll know it when you see it. makes Dickens’s bittersweet ending, which leaned more into the sweet in the book, lean more into the bitter here. A botched ending can sometimes ruin a whole story, but the very last scene of the miniseries, taking place eleven years afterwards, manages to mollify me. The adaptation moves the location to the churchyard to bookend with the very first scene of the first episode. I’m theoretically against this change since the scene’s location in the source material is thematically significant. But I’ll allow it since it gives the miniseries the opportunity to put a hilariously ironic inscription on the tombstone of one of the villains. I’d like to think Dickens himself would have gotten a kick out of that addition to his story.

No, I’m not going to show you the inscription. Maybe I should though since exasperatingly this, my favorite adaptation of Great Expectations, is unavailable for streaming anywhere and has only ever been released on VHS and Region 2 DVDs, something not every DVD player will play! Oh, the injustice! Currently, the miniseries can be watched on YouTube though it could be taken down for violating copyright at any moment. Normally, I would advocate paying for it but since whoever owns the series isn’t really selling it, I advise everyone to enjoy it while they have the chance.

References

References
1 Who also wrote adaptations of The Old Curiosity Shop and David Copperfield in 1995 and 2000 respectively.
2 This is going to be one of those blog posts where I don’t explain the story. If you haven’t the read the book, you should either do so or read my previous post.
3 Jeremy Irvine’s Pip from the 2012 movie would have gotten an honorable mention.
4 The only other character here to be portrayed by two different actors is Herbert Pocket who is played by Henry Power as a boy and Adam Blackwood, who was Dick Swiveller in The Old Curiosity Shop from the same screenwriter, as a man. Did the director just have something against child actresses?
5 Viewers familiar with the historical culture in which this story takes place can theoretically tell that the characters are supposed to be younger based on how they wear their hair. But if said viewers aren’t familiar with the book, I can easily imagine them assuming on a first viewing that the makers of the miniseries just didn’t do research on age-appropriate hairstyles.
6 Though I must admit I prefer Ralph Fiennes from the 2012 movie, partly because, for once, the character is better developed there. Hopkins is still great though.
7 Don’t read this footnote if you haven’t read the book or experienced any adaptations. His most memorable scene is in the last episode where, after being chilly and inhumane throughout the series prior, he reveals himself to be capable of compassion.
8 I’ve gone on record as saying that Helena Bonham Carter was more moving as the remorseful Miss Havisham in the last act of the story and I’ll stand by that. But I enjoy Simmons’s overall take on the character more and it’s not like she’s bad in the scenes where we sympathize with Miss Havisham. Her reminiscing over the first time she saw Estella is especially powerful.
9 You’ll know it when you see it.
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Two Adaptations of Great Expectations that Deserve Commendation

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens has been adapted into several miniseries and you’d expect that I, as a fan of the book, would prefer those to the film adaptations. After all, they’re longer, slower paced and theoretically include more from the rich source material. But, weirdly enough, there is only one miniseries adaptation of Great Expectations that I love, one I hope to cover on this blog next week. The rest of them range from OK to bad in my estimation. Two of my favorites are shorter movie adaptations, one from 1946 directed by Sir David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago) and one from 2012 directed by Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) The first one isn’t a controversial choice since it’s widely considered a masterpiece, both as an adaptation of the book and a movie in its own right. The second, while not widely hated or anything, is regarded as inferior but I’m not convinced of this. I’m going to look at both movies, what they each do well and what they each do poorly.

Writing and Direction

David Lean’s Great Expectations is justly celebrated for its atmosphere. The opening scene of the main character, a young boy called Pip (Philip Pirrip), being confronted by an escaped criminal in a churchyard on the lonely Kentish marshes is magnificently creepy. So is Satis House, the manor whose mistress, Miss Havisham, has decreed that everything shall stay in it exactly as it was the moment she received a letter from her con artist fiancé breaking off their engagement on what was to be their wedding day. Mike Newell’s direction for his Great Expectations is basically fine but rather bland by comparison.[1]I really wish that another Harry Potter director, Alfonso Cuaron, could have directed this version of Great Expectations instead of the 1998 movie which reimagined the story in contemporary America … Continue reading It drives me crazy how much sunlight gets through the cracks of Newell’s Satis House when it’s supposed to be lit only by candles. This makes a line about how a character raised there has never seen her mother figure’s face by daylight ridiculous. But on the flipside, the emotionally uplifting scenes in Newell’s Great Expectations tend to be much better directed than those in Lean’s which tend to be rather flat compared to the creepy ones. To be fair, a great deal of that may be due to the scriptwriting.

There’s much to love about both the screenplay for the 1946 movie by Lean, Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allen, Kay Walsh and Cecil McGivern and the screenplay for the 2012 movie by David Nicholls. Each one stays very true to the book’s story and dialogue while gracefully simplifying them for the movie format and nearly every scene is packed with little fan-pleasing details. I think of the two I prefer the 2012 script since it does a better job of developing the most important characters and even some of the less important ones as I hope to show below. There are some great lines from the 1946 script that aren’t in the 2012 one though. I especially have to praise it for including more lines from the book that indicate the character of Estella’s dark side.

In a wonderful piece for the Guardian, David Nicholls mentions voiceover narration and flashbacks as risky cinematic devices. His Great Expectations uses flashbacks but not narration. The 1946 movie uses narration but not flashbacks. Each one demonstrates the benefits of the risk it takes. When Pip returns to his old neighborhood after having a fortune and the status of a gentleman dropped in his lap in the 1946 movie, voiceover grants us access inside his head and we learn exactly how he talks himself out of visiting his old friends from when he was a lowly blacksmith’s apprentice-the only friends he had growing up. This also allows it to include one of the most haunting quotes from the book. “All other swindlers upon earth are nothing to the self-swindlers, and with such pretenses did I cheat myself.” By contrast, the 2012 movie has only an awkward scene of Pip walking all the way to the blacksmith’s forge, seeing one of his friends without being seen, and then wordlessly walking away again. On the other hand, the 2012 movie’s use of flashbacks for scenes of the various characters explaining their backstories makes them far more dramatic and compelling than the equivalent scenes in the 1946 movie, which were just a bunch of talking heads. I hasten to add that sometimes it’s more interesting to just watch a character explain their backstory and other characters react to it. I just don’t usually find it so in the 1946 Great Expectations.

Charles Dickens’s main claim to fame is his characters, so let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?

Pip

I’ve mentioned something before about movies that follow a character or characters from childhood to adulthood: it’s typical for either to actors playing them as a child to make a better impression than the one playing them as an adult or vice versa. These movies are a case in point. Young Anthony Wager who plays Pip is perfect in the role[2]Though I have read some criticize his accent as being too posh for a “common laboring boy.” A valid complaint, I suppose. with his perpetually traumatized facial expression. Believe me, considering that he’s raised by an abusive older sister, blackmailed by an escaped convict and regularly summoned to a creepy mansion to be systematically emotionally abused by a femme fatale, this kid should look perpetually traumatized. Toby Irvine is fine in the same role in the 2012 movie but not nearly as memorable.

Sir John Mills isn’t terrible or anything as the adult Pip in the 1946 film but he’s not nearly as great as Wager and the movie’s overall quality consequently takes a drop when he takes over as the lead. Part of the problem is that Mills was in his late thirties and Pip is supposed to be in his early twenties. He just feels too old for the immature character to me.[3]Part of the problem might also be that the first thing I ever saw Mills in was Swiss Family Robinson (1960) in which he played the father. Jeremy Irvine, brother of Toby, is far better as the adult Pip in the 2012 film, bringing much more youthful vigor and enthusiasm to the role. I have read some criticism to the effect that he’s too palpably angry and emotional for the character’s culture. But, hey, Pip is supposed to be an unusually passionate person and this movie doesn’t have voiceover to give us access to his thoughts and feelings.[4]And while this version of Pip is definitely one of the angriest I’ve seen, it never annoys me the way Ioan Gruffud’s even angrier one from the 1999 miniseries does. If the overall quality of the 1946 Great Expectations drops for me when Mills takes over as Pip, the overall quality of the 2012 one improves when Irvine takes over as the character.

Estella

No one should envy an actress who has to play the young Estella, the girl at Satis House who bewitches Pip. She has to portray a snobby, sadistic bully while also coming across as beautiful, elegant and somehow charming enough to make Pip’s lifelong romantic obsession with her understandable. Jean Simmons in the 1946 movie knocks it out of the ballpark! Helena Barlow is sadly less effective in the role in the 2012 film. Her performance isn’t terrible or anything, but she just doesn’t have the screen presence necessary to make Pip’s infatuation with her believable, especially when there’s another girl in his life who is no less pretty, has the same social status and is actually nice to him.[5]Her hairdos are also relatively less goofy looking. There are a lot goofy looking hairdos in both these movies but if they’re period accurate, I suppose I can’t complain. I feel cruel for critiquing such a young actress for not being convincing as a charismatic supermodel[6]I’m sure Barlow would do better as Estella now that she’s had more acting experience. but it’s impossible for me to critique the movie without doing so, especially as I’m comparing it the 1946 one. For what it’s worth, Jean Simmons was actually a teenager when she played Estella and so she had that advantage over Barlow.

Speaking of charisma or a lack thereof, Valerie Hobson as the adult Estella is rather a disappointment after Simmons, in some ways even more than John Mills is a disappointment after Anthony Wager. In her defense though, the adult Estella is arguably an even more difficult role than the youthful one. She’s still cruel and callous but not sadistic like she was as a child. We’re told that she’s tormenting many men by making them fall in love with her and then crushing their hearts, but she does this out of obligation to the vengeful misandrist who raised her, not for fun. In fact, we get the impression she really resents this obligation and wishes for a different life. But this is out of boredom, not compassion for her victims. She’s grown genuinely fond of Pip in a strange way and tries to avoid hurting him, but she can’t really empathize with his feelings for her, limiting any compassion on her part. The actress has to balance a ton of contradictions to play this character. She needs to be both casual and intense, cold yet warm.[7]Readers may remember I wasn’t a fan of Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Emma Woodhouse but I think she’d actually make a great Estella. If she did play her, it’d be the second … Continue reading During her early scenes, Hobson mostly just plays her as casual to the point of being bland and boring.[8]From what I understand, Hobson disliked working with David Lean and said he gave her inadequate direction, so maybe the fault lies with him. Fortunately, as the movie goes on and Estella is brought into conflict with Pip more, giving the actress more specific emotions to show, she improves. I still wish Jean Simmons could have played the character for the whole movie somehow.

Holliday Grainger certainly isn’t boring as the adult Estella in the 2012 film. In fact, for what it is, her performance is great, but I still consider it fundamentally misguided. As much as I love the screenplay for this adaptation, I have to admit that the fault lies with it or at least the script got the character off on the wrong foot. Like the 2011 miniseries, this version has Miss Havisham end young Pip’s visits to her house because she can tell that Estella is becoming genuinely attached to him, which would not fit in with her plans for the girl at all. (Remember this is while Pip is still common! In the book, she only becomes friendly to him once he’s a gentleman.) We’re told that Estella is “hard and haughty and capricious to the last degree” and that she’s deceiving many men. But we never see any evidence of this in Grainger’s performance. She comes across as sad and wistful in every one of her scenes. I can live with softening the character a little bit, especially in a shorter adaptation that has less time to develop her, but not in every single scene! It’s all but stated that this Estella really does love Pip but is in denial about it. This makes Pip seem far less delusional in his pursuit of her and an important choice of Estella’s, which was difficult to understand in the source material, downright incomprehensible here. Not helping much is that while Holliday Grainger is certainly a beauty, she’s not necessarily beautiful in an Estella-esque way. I feel that Estella should be tall and stately in keeping with her “inaccessibility” to use the book’s description. Grainger’s Estella, if anything, appears to be shorter than Jeremy Irvine’s Pip.

Miss Havisham

With the decaying wedding dress she always wears and the decaying wedding cake she keeps in her house, Miss Havisham is one of the most unforgettable antagonists in Dickens-no small praise-and for many readers, the most memorable character in Great Expectations. Martita Hunt is effectively eerie and brooding in the role in the 1946 movie. If I have a criticism of her performance, it’s that she could stand to be a little more energetic once in some moments, such as her rant ordering Pip to love Estella. (“If she favors you, love her. If she wounds you, love her…”) Don’t get me wrong. I prefer Miss Havisham to be somewhat subdued and withdrawn in her early scenes as if she’s always preoccupied with the grudge that she’s nursing. But I also feel like she should be more palpably gleeful in later scenes as her vengeance seems to be coming to fruition. It would be flat slander to accuse Hunt’s Miss Havisham of never being palpably gleeful though.

Helena Bonham Carter has been accused of doing nothing at this point in her career but recycle her performance as Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter movies. Looking back at all the recent movies in which I’ve seen her, I wouldn’t say that’s totally fair, but I will say with regret that her portrayal of Miss Havisham in the 2012 movie is very much what has become the generic Helen Bonham Carter performance. Still, the generic Helena Bonham Carter performance at least makes for a good solid cartoon character, not like Gillian Anderson’s irritating, squeaky-voiced Miss Havisham in the 2011 Great Expectations miniseries whom one critic accurately described as “the ghost of all bad Ophelias.” I don’t understand why she seems to be asleep or half asleep whenever Pip enters her room. Isn’t the idea of her sitting there, alert and waiting for him, creepier? But there are some interesting things about this Miss Havisham. When Pip says the only card game he knows is Beggar My Neighbor and she tells Estella to “beggar him,” she laughs like that’s the most hilarious joke she’s ever heard. Again, I prefer something less hammy for those early scenes but it’s not a bad take on the character. In her final scenes of penitence, Carter grants my wish that she treat this as one of her serious performances and actually makes her Miss Havisham more sympathetic than Hunt’s or any other actress’s I’ve seen.

Joe Gargery

If Miss Havisham is this story’s most dastardly villain[9]Another character, Compeyson (played by George Hayes in 1946 and William Ellis in 2012), is arguably a better candidate for the honor of being the main villain but it’s easy to forget about him., Pip’s brother-in-law, Joe Gargery, is its most lovable hero. Bernard Miles is appropriately gentle and childlike in the role in the 1946 movie, but he doesn’t bring a lot of depth to the character.[10]He also doesn’t look particularly muscular for a blacksmith but that’s a relatively minor criticism. For example, when Pip, having had wealth and status suddenly bestowed upon him, leaves him to be a gentleman in London, we don’t get the impression that Joe is really saddened but hiding it for Pip’s sake. To be fair, a lot of the blame for that lies with the script and direction. It feels as if David Lean simply wasn’t interested in Joe. Granted that the character wasn’t going to be as fully developed as in the book, there are far fewer scenes of him than there should be and the scenes we get are directed with none of the flair of, say, the scenes at Satis House. One bit of comic business in the scene of Joe’s awkward visit to London is downright bad. Joe is supposed to rush over to grab his hat before it falls off its stand and fumbles with it so much that it falls in the food. It’s staged so awkwardly that it looks as if a demon suddenly possessed Joe so he could ruin his hat and the meal. Happily, Jason Flemyng’s Joe in the 2012 movie is even more appealingly gentle and childlike as well as even funnier in the bits where he’s played for laughs and much better served by the script. The final scenes of reconciliation between him and Pip are far more heartwarming than their perfunctory counterparts in the 1946 film.

Biddy

The novel’s saintliest character next to Joe is Biddy, Pip’s aforementioned alternative love interest to Estella. The 1946 movie ages her up and makes her more of a mother figure to him. Goodness knows the kid needs one! Eileen Erskine is likeable and appealing in the role, but the movie sadly though understandably doesn’t give her much to do and it feels like she was included out of obligation. Biddy keeps her original age and is much more of a possible love interest in the 2012 movie in which she’s played by Bebe Cave as a child and Jessie Cave as an adult. In fact, at one point, she grabs Pip and kisses him on the lips, which I’m fairly sure would have been considered inappropriate in this time period.[11]Pip also kisses Estella on the lips right after she’s told him they’re never getting together. This was obviously done just so they could show the leads kissing in the trailer. The shooting script describes the moment thus. “Her hand reaches across and takes Pip’s hand (or perhaps even a kiss?)” They probably should have shown restraint and left it at that when filming or had the kiss just be on the cheek. It’s horribly frustrating for fans of the book to read that script and discover that some great lines of the literary Biddy’s were going to be in the movie but were cut for time. I especially wish the scene of her upbraiding Pip for his patronizing attitude towards Joe had made the cut.[12]There’s plenty of other great stuff in the script that ultimately wasn’t in the movie. The whole thing is well worth a read. Still, while she’s not nearly as memorable a character as in the book, this adaptation still probably does more justice to her than the 1946 one. Her introductory scene at the local schoolhouse effectively establishes her as kind, competent and someone who has had to grow up very quickly and a brief shot of her bursting into tears after Pip leaves for London is more moving than almost anything in the 1946 Great Expectations. And for once, the actor playing the character as a child and the one playing the character as an adult are equally great. The Cave sisters look so much alike in this movie, I barely noticed when the switch occurred.

Abel Magwitch

As Abel Magwitch, the escaped convict who terrorizes the young Pip in the churchyard, Finlay Currie is memorably fearsome in the 1946 movie’s early scenes. However, when Magwitch unexpectedly reenters Pip’s life in the second half and becomes a much more sympathetic figure, Currie’s performance is less effective. That’s not to say it’s bad. Just that it isn’t great. Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch in the 2012 film, on the other hand, is wonderful throughout the whole thing, helping it achieve its biggest tearjerking moments. He’s helped of course by the fact that the script devotes much more time to his backstory than that of the 1946 adaptation. (Remember what I wrote about flashbacks?) Fiennes still deserves a lot of credit though. Along with Jeremy Irvine and Bebe and Jessie Cave, he’s probably the 2012 cast’s biggest asset.

Random Thoughts on Other Characters

As Pip’s abusive older sister in the 1946 movie, Freda Jackson looks like Mrs. Tweedy from Chicken Run-which makes all kinds of sense! Sally Hawkins is less intimidating in the role in the 2012 version but she’s still good.

Miss Havisham’s gold-digging relatives aren’t much more than a cameo in either movie, but they serve more of a purpose in the 2012 one. They’re also very funny thanks to the performances of Pooky Quesnel, Kate Lock, Richard James and Roberta Burton. (Everley Gregg and Anne Holland play two of them in the 1946 movie. The other two are uncredited.) I’m not sure if it was such a good idea though to have one of them call Estella a “little bitch.”[13]That wasn’t in the script by the way.

The menacing character of Orlick is cut from both adaptations, reasonably so. While Orlick is a memorable villain in the book, he usually comes across as a bit extraneous in the adaptations that include him. With the 1946’s movie’s flair for creepiness and suspense though, I do wonder what it could have done with the final confrontation between him and Pip.

As Mr. Jaggers the lawyer, neither Francis L. Sullivan in the 1946 movie nor Robbie Coltrane in the 2012 one is quite as intimidating as the book’s character. Of course, you could argue he’s not meant to be as intimidating in the 2012 movie, which eventually humanizes him and has him admit to Pip that “there have been too many secrets.” I maintain this confession would have been more interesting though if he had been smugger and icier earlier. Come to think of it, the 1946 adaptation ends up humanizing Jaggers too in a subtler way.

The “Aged Parent” of Jaggers’s clerk, Wemmick (Ivor Barnard in 1946, Ewen Bremner in 2012), gets a cameo in both movies. (O. B. Clarence plays him in the 1946 film and Frank Dunne in the 2012 one.) The 1946 cameo is funnier but feels like it was included out of obligation. I actually prefer the 2012 one since it serves to develop Wemmick’s character. The scene’s joyfulness also makes for a nice break from the cynicism of that section of the story.

The Ending

Regrettably, there’s no way to discuss how the 1946 Great Expectations adapts the book without getting into the ending. I’ll try to keep the details about the movie-specific aspects of it vague, but I am going to have to give away the book’s conclusion. If you haven’t read it and don’t want it spoiled, skip to the end of this blog post.

The 1946 adaptation, to its credit, is so true to the book for most of its runtime that when it dramatically veers from it in the last scene, it’s downright jarring. The first time I watched the movie, I was too dumbfounded by the ending to know whether I liked it or not. After repeated viewings and years to reflect on the matter, I’ve decided I dislike the ending. It’s well written but losing Estella’s years of suffering makes her redemption feel unearned compared to the book. To be fair though, she does undergo an interesting humiliation in this version that she never does in the source material. I also dislike the way this revised ending makes Pip more of a romantic hero and Miss Havisham more of a symbol of evil whereas in the book, she’s ultimately seen as human and pitiable.[14]Frustratingly, nearly every adaptation has Pip be less forgiving to her than Dickens had him be. In the book, he tells her “I want forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with … Continue reading

The 2012 movie’s ending is pretty much the same as that of the book except that it changes the location. This is somewhat unfortunate as I consider the location of the book’s last scene thematically significant but, on the plus side, it does allow the movie to show that Pip’s friend, Herbert Pocket (Olly Alexander in this one, Alec Guinness in the 1946), has remained helpful to him after his fortunes fell. The same can’t be said of the other film. Anyway, the 2012 version’s ending would be beautiful if only the adaptation hadn’t softened Estella’s character so much prior to it. The result is that it’s hard to see how she’s supposed to have changed at all. I can’t really see contrast between Holliday Grainger’s performance in this scene and every other one. That’s the only major problem with this Great Expectations as an adaptation, as opposed to any shortcomings it has as a movie in its own right[15]Though I’d argue it ends up being both., but it’s an aggravatingly big one.

Concluding Thoughts

For me, these two movies have a weird relationship where what each one does well the other does poorly. The 1946 film does a much better job with creepy characters and aspects of the book. The 2012 one does much better with the book’s healthier minded characters and heartwarming aspects. Which one you favor likely depends on what you consider the most important part. If only there were a way to combine their strengths! Actually, the one miniseries adaptation of Great Expectations that I do love does just that and I intend to write about it next week. Stay Tuned.

References

References
1 I really wish that another Harry Potter director, Alfonso Cuaron, could have directed this version of Great Expectations instead of the 1998 movie which reimagined the story in contemporary America and wasn’t nearly as well written. His emotional style would have been perfect for Dickens. Kenneth Branagh is another director whom I’d have preferred for this script.
2 Though I have read some criticize his accent as being too posh for a “common laboring boy.” A valid complaint, I suppose.
3 Part of the problem might also be that the first thing I ever saw Mills in was Swiss Family Robinson (1960) in which he played the father.
4 And while this version of Pip is definitely one of the angriest I’ve seen, it never annoys me the way Ioan Gruffud’s even angrier one from the 1999 miniseries does.
5 Her hairdos are also relatively less goofy looking. There are a lot goofy looking hairdos in both these movies but if they’re period accurate, I suppose I can’t complain.
6 I’m sure Barlow would do better as Estella now that she’s had more acting experience.
7 Readers may remember I wasn’t a fan of Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Emma Woodhouse but I think she’d actually make a great Estella. If she did play her, it’d be the second time to my knowledge that the same actress has portrayed both Emma and Estella.
8 From what I understand, Hobson disliked working with David Lean and said he gave her inadequate direction, so maybe the fault lies with him.
9 Another character, Compeyson (played by George Hayes in 1946 and William Ellis in 2012), is arguably a better candidate for the honor of being the main villain but it’s easy to forget about him.
10 He also doesn’t look particularly muscular for a blacksmith but that’s a relatively minor criticism.
11 Pip also kisses Estella on the lips right after she’s told him they’re never getting together. This was obviously done just so they could show the leads kissing in the trailer.
12 There’s plenty of other great stuff in the script that ultimately wasn’t in the movie. The whole thing is well worth a read.
13 That wasn’t in the script by the way.
14 Frustratingly, nearly every adaptation has Pip be less forgiving to her than Dickens had him be. In the book, he tells her “I want forgiveness and direction far too much, to be bitter with you.”
15 Though I’d argue it ends up being both.
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Special Anniversary Lookback: The Best of the Obscure

I admit it. I write about many famous stories on this blog. But one of my favorite things about it is drawing attention to works of art or entertainment about which many people haven’t heard. It gives me joy to think that readers might have been inspired to seek them out thanks to me. Or, you know, it would give me joy if my blog had actual fans but let’s pretend it does for the moment.[1]For the record, I meant that to sound humorous, not bitter. I understand that this blog is unlikely to have a big fanbase because it covers such a random assortment of stuff. A reader interested in, … Continue reading For The Adaptation Station’s three-year anniversary, I thought it would be fun to make a list of my favorite books, movies and TV shows that I’ve discussed on it about which your average joe or jolene probably hasn’t heard. First, I should lay down some guidelines.

I’m not listing every obscure thing about which I’ve blogged, just the ones I consider my favorites. There are others that I also enjoy, just not as much. I wanted to keep the list reasonably short.

I don’t love every item on the list. There are plenty of books, movies, etc. about which I’ve blogged that I prefer to many of the ones I’ve listed. This is the best of the obscure, not the best period. I do consider each one to be OK at the very least though.

I’m only listing adaptations of famous works if they’re ones about which most people haven’t heard. I love the 1999 David Copperfield miniseries and the 1996 Emma movie[2]The one directed by Douglas McGrath, not Diarmuid Lawrence. more than many of the adaptations on this list. But while the average person on the street may not have seen either of them or read their source material for that matter, they have probably heard of that source material and those adaptations are likely to appear first in a Google search, partly because of the famous actors in the lead roles. My goal for this list is to give more publicity to stuff that’s more removed from the mainstream.

On the other hand, I am listing the source materials for famous movies. People who pay attention to credits probably know that Freaky Friday and One Hundred and One Dalmatians were based on books, so, strictly speaking, they have heard about them. But I’m not sure how many have actually taken the time to read them, and I’d like to see the number increase, so they’re going on the list. So really this is a list of books about which people know without having read them and movies and shows about which they haven’t heard at all.

I’m counting filmed plays as movies/television. If I didn’t, I would have to include a category with only two entries.

I’m listing these in alphabetical order. Ranking them is just too hard for me.

If a title isn’t a link, it’s because I’ve already linked to the post about it. Some of my posts are about multiple adaptations of the same source material. Also, I’ve included both lesser-known books and (my favorite) adaptations of them. If an image intrigues you but there’s no link to it, just scroll back up and you should find what you seek before too long.

I can’t guarantee you’re going to like any or all of them. My taste can be weird sometimes. Of the people who have read or watched these things, not all of them enjoyed them as much as I did. In some cases, very few did. I mean, hey, what would be the point of having my own blog if I couldn’t express an unpopular opinion on it now and then? I do recommend everything on this list in that I think they each deserve a chance, but I don’t recommend them in that I think anyone reading this list will love every item on it. But there’s probably one that you, whoever you may be, would love though. It’s your job to figure out which one it is.

With that warning out of the way…

Books

Caging Skies by Christine Leunens[3]I know many people would find this book too unpleasant to be enjoyed and I can’t blame them. It’s not a big favorite of mine. But it has such great prose and such a striking story that I … Continue reading

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare[4]I know this is technically a script for a play, not a book but I’m recommending the play itself, not any particular production of it. Like Caging Skies, this is not a pleasant work of art with … Continue reading

The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens[5]I feel weird putting this on the list but not Bleak House by the same author. Both books contain many great things, and both are also very flawed. I decided to just include this one since while you … Continue reading

Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers

The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

Love and Freindship (sic) by Jane Austen[6]OK, I’ve never actually blogged about any adaptations of this obscure book, just an adaptation of Lady Susan that borrows this book’s title. But it’s so hilarious that I had to … Continue reading

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P. L. Travers[7]Many people are probably inspired by the original Mary Poppins movie to check out the first book in the series, I don’t know how many of them go on to read the whole series. As you can guess … Continue reading

If you look closely, you’ll see that author P. L. Travers and illustrator Mary Shepard have cameos in this picture.

Movies

As You Like It (2006)

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)

Fantasia 2000 (which was actually released in 1999.)[8]You’ve probably heard of the original Fantasia even though you probably haven’t seen it but not this sequel.

Freaky Friday (1976)[9]Most people know about the 2003 Freaky Friday or perhaps the 2018 one since it’s the most recent but not the first adaptation. Many probably don’t even realize the 2003 movie is a remake.

Fun and Fancy Free (1947)[10]I feel bad for including this “anim-anthology movie” and not the more consistently great The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. But I’d feel weird including that one and not the … Continue reading

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1947)

Little Women (2018)[11]I still say Sarah Davenport is the best Jo March and Allie Jennings is the best Beth.

Love and Friendship (2016)

Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

Peter Pan (1924)

Peter Pan (2000)[12]Technically, people have heard of this musical but they’re more likely to watch either the first filmed version or the most recent one. That’s too bad because this “middle … Continue reading

Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)


Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)[13]If all of Dreamworks’s animated movies were trapped in a burning building, I’d actually rescue this one before trying to save any of the Shrek or How to Train Your Dragon movies. … Continue reading

Snoopy Come Home (1972)

Television Series and Specials

Charlie Brown’s All Stars (1966)

It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown (1976)

It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974)

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1982)

The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby (2012)[14]Yes, I’m including each of my top four Nicholas Nickleby adaptations. What? It’s an awesome story!

Little Dorrit (2008)

Play It Again, Charlie Brown (1971)

Jim Henson’s The Storyteller (1987-1989)[15]Part of me feels bad for not also putting Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre on this list. But people are less likely to have heard of The Storyteller. And it is much more consistently great.

There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown (1973)

You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown (1972)[16]Yes, I’m also including every underrated Peanuts special. Just be glad I’m only doing the ones I described in some detail and not ones that got throwaway mentions.

Well, I think that’s a good list even if Nicholas Nickleby and Charlie Brown did take up large portions of it. As a reward for those who made it all the way to the end, I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend something I haven’t on this blog before. Well, technically speaking. If you’ll scroll up a little bit, you’ll see a link to an early post of mine about the old TV series The Storyteller, which adapted several European folktales in a way that felt both classic and unique. I didn’t mention that the show’s acclaimed screenwriter, Anthony Minghella, also wrote a tie-in book version of it, retelling each of the short-lived show’s nine episodes. It’s just as beautifully written as the show and since I’m more of a book guy than a television guy, I’d probably say I enjoy it even more.[17]Though it is true that the book doesn’t have the delightful comedy of the Storyteller’s dog. Give it a read if you can.

So… had you heard of anything on this list? Did anything pique your interest? It’d make me glad to know on my blog’s anniversary that it was responsible for directing anyone to a hidden gem.

References

References
1 For the record, I meant that to sound humorous, not bitter. I understand that this blog is unlikely to have a big fanbase because it covers such a random assortment of stuff. A reader interested in, say, my posts about adaptations of Les Misérables isn’t necessarily going to be interested in reading about Freaky Friday adaptations too. It’s a price I willingly pay to get to write about stuff that interests me rather than worrying about a target audience.
2 The one directed by Douglas McGrath, not Diarmuid Lawrence.
3 I know many people would find this book too unpleasant to be enjoyed and I can’t blame them. It’s not a big favorite of mine. But it has such great prose and such a striking story that I felt compelled to include it.
4 I know this is technically a script for a play, not a book but I’m recommending the play itself, not any particular production of it. Like Caging Skies, this is not a pleasant work of art with its rather unlikeable protagonist. But he’s an unlikeable protagonist to whom I personally relate, something I can’t say of every Shakespearean tragic lead. (To my way of thinking, Lear was an old idiot, Romeo and Juliet young idiots, Cleopatra a treacherous diva and Hamlet a self-righteous, self-absorbed, navel gazer.) And the play’s climax is one of the most powerful in all of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.
5 I feel weird putting this on the list but not Bleak House by the same author. Both books contain many great things, and both are also very flawed. I decided to just include this one since while you likely haven’t read either, you’re more likely to have heard of Bleak House. And Cricket on the Hearth does have the virtue of brevity.
6 OK, I’ve never actually blogged about any adaptations of this obscure book, just an adaptation of Lady Susan that borrows this book’s title. But it’s so hilarious that I had to include it here, especially since many of the tropes it satirizes, mainly that forbidden love is inherently nobler than unforbidden love, are still familiar to us today.
7 Many people are probably inspired by the original Mary Poppins movie to check out the first book in the series, I don’t know how many of them go on to read the whole series. As you can guess from the title, this book was the main source for Mary Poppins Returns.
8 You’ve probably heard of the original Fantasia even though you probably haven’t seen it but not this sequel.
9 Most people know about the 2003 Freaky Friday or perhaps the 2018 one since it’s the most recent but not the first adaptation. Many probably don’t even realize the 2003 movie is a remake.
10 I feel bad for including this “anim-anthology movie” and not the more consistently great The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. But I’d feel weird including that one and not the 1995 animated Wind in the Willows which is a more accurate adaptation and that one sadly hasn’t endeared itself enough to me to make this list.
11 I still say Sarah Davenport is the best Jo March and Allie Jennings is the best Beth.
12 Technically, people have heard of this musical but they’re more likely to watch either the first filmed version or the most recent one. That’s too bad because this “middle child” is easily the best of the three and one of the most sheer fun Peter Pan adaptations I’ve seen.
13 If all of Dreamworks’s animated movies were trapped in a burning building, I’d actually rescue this one before trying to save any of the Shrek or How to Train Your Dragon movies. That’s not to say I dislike those. I just prefer this movie.
14 Yes, I’m including each of my top four Nicholas Nickleby adaptations. What? It’s an awesome story!
15 Part of me feels bad for not also putting Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre on this list. But people are less likely to have heard of The Storyteller. And it is much more consistently great.
16 Yes, I’m also including every underrated Peanuts special. Just be glad I’m only doing the ones I described in some detail and not ones that got throwaway mentions.
17 Though it is true that the book doesn’t have the delightful comedy of the Storyteller’s dog.
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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Part 12: Will We Ever Go Back?

We transition from the battlefield to the sea. Sea people leap and dive in the water. We don’t hear them sing, something they do around this point in the book, but it’s great to see them at all. The camera pans up to the Castle Cair Paravel, which looks as beautiful as I could imagine or better than that.

Aslan leads Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, all four dressed in beautiful Narnian garb, to the fabled four thrones. The beavers stand with two silver crowns for Edmund and Lucy and two golden crowns for Peter and Susan on cushions. In another Narnia book, The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis describes dwarf-made Narnians crowns as “not ugly, heavy things like modern European crowns, but light, delicate, beautifully shaped circles that you could really wear and look nicer by wearing.” I think the movie’s designs live up to that description nicely. Tumnus, whose amusing idea of formal wear is a dress scarf and nothing else, places a crown on each Pevensie’s head as Aslan gives a speech. “To the glistening eastern sea, I give you Queen Lucy the valiant, to the great western wood, King Edmund the Just, to the radiant southern sun, Queen Susan the Gentle and to the clear northern sky, I give you King Peter the Magnificent. Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen in Narnia. May your wisdom grace us until the stars rain down from the heavens.” In the book, those titles (valiant, just, etc.) are acquired by the Pevensies after years of reigning and they make more sense that way, but I understand why the movie didn’t feel like it had time to explain that and I don’t mind Aslan knowing what they would become, either through supernatural foresight or seeing their potential. This speech has some great shoutouts for fans of the book series. All the geographical information Aslan mentions comes from there and the stars raining down from the heavens is exactly what happens when the world of Narnia comes to an end in The Last Battle. Of course, a persnickety fan might point out that in The Horse and his Boy, a Narnian character says his fellow citizens have no use for sayings about wishing for their monarchs to live forever. (“I don’t want him to live forever and I know he’s not going to live forever whether I want him to or not.”)

If you look closely, you can see symbols of each king or queen on the back of their throne.

Aslan leads the guests in chanting, “Long live King Peter! Long live Queen Susan! Long live King Edmund! Long live Queen Lucy!” In a fun little gag, Mr. Beaver shouts, “long live Queen Lucy,” while his wife shouts, “long live Queen Susan!” Among the crowd, we see the fox has been saved from being a statue by Aslan.[1]C. S. Lewis never mentioned if the equivalent of the fox’s character was turned back in the book but he assured a younger reader that he was in a letter. If you have quick eyes, you can see a couple of badgers in the corner of another shot. Hopefully, one of them is the badger who was a friend of Mr. Beaver and whom the Witch turned to stone for helping Tumnus. More prominently, in the same shot as the fox, you can see the stone lion from the Witch’s courtyard, restored to flesh and blood but still with the moustache and glasses Edmund drew on her. Lewis described that act of Edmund’s as “something very silly and childish,” so he probably would disapprove of the visual joke. But I guess I’m silly and childish because it makes me laugh.

Later, we see Aslan walking along the beach, away from the castle. In the books, Aslan is described as always coming to Narnia from across the sea, so I took this as a nod to that, indicating that he’s returning to his home. On reflection though, it’s probably just because the sea is right beside Cair Paravel. Lucy runs out onto the balcony, the celebration visible behind her. She’s sad to see Aslan go without even a goodbye. “Don’t worry. We’ll see him again,” says a voice from behind her. It’s Tumnus. In the book, Mr. Beaver is the one to tell the Pevensies this and that arguably makes more sense since he and Mrs. Beaver are the main sources of exposition about Aslan and are implied to have been more devout followers of him than Tumnus. But I think the filmmakers were ultimately right to give the speech to Mr. T since his friendship with Lucy is so important, yet he has so little to do in the story. She asks him when they’ll see Aslan again. “In time,” he says ruefully. “One day he’ll be here and the next he won’t. But you mustn’t press him. After all, he’s not a tame lion.” Lucy looks thoughtful. “No,” she says, “but he is good.” Tumnus produces a handkerchief and hands it to her. “You need it more than I do,” he says. The two of them look back the seaside and see that Aslan has entirely vanished. Despite their sadness, they manage to smile acceptingly.

We cut to years later. The two kings and queens, now adults, are riding through the forest, hunting a stag. In the book, this is the legendary White Stag that can grant wishes to anyone who catches him. The movie doesn’t specify this, but it seems to be the subtext since they speak of “the stag,” not “a stag.” Edmund (Mark Wells-all the actors who play the Pevensies as adults are great by the way) slows down and asks his horse if he’s alright. “Not as young as I once was,” replies Philip. In this instance of riding a talking horse, I can’t even defend it by saying he’s training Edmund for war. What’s really annoying is that this the only instance in the scene of him speaking. Neither Philip nor any of the horses participates in their riders’ conversation or pays attention to what’s going on around them the way humans would. In the Narnia books, C. S. Lewis really worked out the implications of talking beasts and treated them as equals to the other intelligent species.

Edmund’s fellow monarchs rejoin him.

Susan (Sophie Winkleman): Come on, Ed.
Edmund: Just catching my breath.
Susan: Well, that’s all we’ll catch at this rate!
Lucy (Rachael Henley, sister of Georgie): What did he say again, Susan?
Susan: “You girls wait at the castle. I’ll get the stag myself.”

In the book, the adult kings and queens speak in a formal sounding medieval dialect. It might have been nice for the screenwriters to try to replicate this, but I don’t blame them for not doing so. Their dialogue in this scene was rather a pain to read in the book. Well, that’s to say it was a pain to read when I was a kid. As an adult who enjoys a good bit of Shakespeare now and then, I have no problem with it thought it’s still rather jarring to go from the rest of the book’s dialogue to “fair consorts, let us alight from our horses.” Anyway, the way Edmund is still a bit defensive about his sisters’ ribbing demonstrates that he’s still the same old Edmund while the concern he shows for Philip demonstrates how far he’s come. (I know I just criticized the bit with the horse, but I can have complicated opinions, can’t I?)

Everyone’s laughter fades as Peter (Noah Huntley) notices something strange and dismounts from his horse. The others follow suit. The strange thing is the lamppost, now overgrown with greenery.

Peter: What’s this? This looks familiar.
Susan: As if from a dream.
Lucy: Or the dream of a dream.

See how the horses are just acting like regular dumb horses?

Now we get my favorite bit of humor from the movie that’s not from the book though it is riffing on one from there. As Lucy stares at the lamppost, a memory stirs in her mind. “Spare Oom?” she says, causing the others to look at her in bewilderment. She runs into the thicket, and they run after her. (“Not again,” Susan grumbles. Another good funny moment.) As the Pevensies go deeper into the woods, they find themselves brushing against fur coats rather than pine branches. Then they tumble out the wardrobe into the old spare room, their old ages again[2]By which I mean the ages they were when they first went to Narnia, not that they reverted to being in their seventies or anything. and in their old clothes. The door to the room opens and Prof. Kirke enters. “Oh. There you are. What were you all doing in the wardrobe?” he asks with a twinkle in his eye. The Pevensies stare at each other in bittersweet wonder. “You wouldn’t believe us if we told you, sir,” says Peter. The professor raises his eyebrows and tosses Peter a cricket ball. “Try me,” he says.

As the end credits start to roll, a pop song starts. Now there are some people who hate the idea of pop music playing over the credits of a Narnia movie or any movie that takes place long before such music was invented. Me, I don’t really think you need any songs for the end credits of any given movie. It strikes me as an extra expense when you already have a musical score you could use. And I hate the idea of pop songs in the body of a Narnia movie itself, but I don’t necessarily mind them in the credits. In fact, I think having a modern song play over the credits of a historical story can emphasize that the themes in that story are still relevant today. It’s probably a stretch though to say that any of the songs that play over the credits of this movie do that with their rather vague lyrics. But I like the first one, I Can’t Take It In by Imogene Heep. Harry Gregson-Williams’s score for the last scene does a really nice job of transitioning into it so the sudden change in musical style doesn’t jar too much and the title expresses the marvelousness of finding Narnia in a wardrobe and all that it entails.[3]Another of the credits songs, Wunderkind by Alanis Morissette is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.

Before too long, the credits pause, and we see Lucy sneaking into the wardrobe room in the middle of the night. On my first viewing, I thought this was an outtake since there was an earlier scene like this in the movie. But, no, this time Lucy has no candle and when she opens the wardrobe door, a voice behind her says, “I don’t think you’ll get back in that way.” She turns to see Prof. Kirke, sitting on the windowsill in his bathrobe and pajamas. “You see, I’ve already tried,” he says ruefully. Lucy stares wistfully into the now ordinary wardrobe. “Will we ever go back?” she asks. “I expect so,” says the professor, closing the wardrobe door, “but it’ll probably happen when you’re not looking for it. All the same, best to keep your eyes open.” In the book, the part of his speech about keeping one’s eyes open was about finding others who have visited worlds like Narnia. I think it made more sense in that context, as the professor’s advice is rather contradictory this way. (“It’ll probably happen when you’re not looking for it” but “keep your eyes open?”) Lucy takes his hand and smiles at him as they leave the room. In their absence, the wardrobe door opens a crack. Lights pour out from it along with the sound of Aslan’s triumphant roar. Both the pre-credits ending and this post-credits one beautifully capture the spirit of the book’s ending. I love that our final image is of a door closing, symbolizing how the door to Narnia is closing for us as well as the characters.

The movie is dedicated to the director’s children, Isabelle and Sylvie by the way. Aww!

Concluding Thoughts

On the whole, I think this is a great movie with a beautiful sense of childlike awe and wonder, what the source material describes as “that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.” I think it’s got a great story with great themes, great casting, great visuals, great music. (Well, maybe not all of the music is great but enough of it is.) I don’t think however that it has a great script. That’s not to say the script is terrible or anything. But even at its best, during the first act of the story or so, I would call it solid writing rather than inspired. The uninspired elements aren’t bad enough to keep the movie from being good, but they dilute the overall quality enough to hold it back from being as great as it could easily have been. As frustrating as that is though, I honestly find movies where everything is great except for the script, as long as that script is OK rather than terrible, less frustrating than movies where the script is the only thing about them that’s great.

It should be noted that while for many readers, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is their favorite Narnia book or even the only Narnia book they consider great, for me, it’s one of my least favorites in the series if not my least favorite period. Keep in mind though that being my least favorite Narnia books means I’d only grade it an A- rather than an A or A+. So I am going to be picky about any adaptation but not as picky as some fans. I’d argue that the many of the things this one adds or expands may be untrue to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe specifically but aren’t untrue to The Chronicles of Narnia in general. An emphasis on character development for the young leads and their relationships with each other, including conflict between them, is characteristic of The Horse and his Boy, The Silver Chair and The Magician’s Nephew. The Horse and his Boy and The Last Battle both feature epic battles. (It’s right in the title of the latter!) And even the short battle at the climax of the next Narnia book, Prince Caspian, is described in more detail than the one at the climax of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.[4]There’s also a case to be made that girl characters were more likely to be involved in action scenes in later Narnia stories. If you’re mainly a fan of the specific book which this movie adapts, you may not love it. But if you’re a fan of Narnia in general, you very well may. If I’m being completely honest, I kind of enjoyed seeing the familiar story be told in a different style. I even kind of enjoyed things like focusing more on the four children than on Aslan. It made me think about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from a different angle. I don’t believe it improved on the book as a whole and I’ll always wish it had been truer to some aspects of it. But I believe I’ll also always enjoy the movie for what is.

Phew! It’s been taxing doing one blog post per week for so long, especially with each one being so detailed. I still intend on giving the two other Narnia movies, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, this treatment but I intend to take a nice long break first.

Bibliography

C.S. Lewis letters to children : Lewis, C. S. (Clive Staples), 1898-1963 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Lewis, C. S. (1954) The Horse and his Boy. HarperCollins Publishers.

Lewis, C. S. (1950) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. HarperCollins Publishers.

Lewis, C. S. (1955) The Magician’s Nephew. HarperCollins Publishers.

References

References
1 C. S. Lewis never mentioned if the equivalent of the fox’s character was turned back in the book but he assured a younger reader that he was in a letter.
2 By which I mean the ages they were when they first went to Narnia, not that they reverted to being in their seventies or anything.
3 Another of the credits songs, Wunderkind by Alanis Morissette is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.
4 There’s also a case to be made that girl characters were more likely to be involved in action scenes in later Narnia stories.
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