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?


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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