Sunday, 5 July 2015

Prince Caspian

A film review from April 2010. I could make a lot of very similar points about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy.

I can't possibly give this an objective review. When I was young – really very young, now I think about it – the Narnia books basically built the inside of my head. There were books I read more times, and books I liked more. But, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” is the first novel I have any real memories of reading. “The Last Battle” was the first time I remember disagreeing with the ideas in a book. The wish fulfilment fantasies that Narnia provided (and they provided a hell of a lot more than wish fulfilment fantasies) were precisely the same fantasies that my young brain was producing. These books plugged themselves pretty deep in my subconscious, and I don't think they ever left.

Which means that watching Prince Caspian was more of a heady rush of nostalgia than it was a traditional film-watching experience. I enjoyed it. I can't deny that.

But it's not a good film in any traditional sense. It drags: huge sections could be removed without any detriment to the plot. The acting feels wooden. The spectacle feels hollow, the design second-rate. Beyond what the source material gives it, there's a serious dearth of imagination here.

If I was trying to diagnose a problem with the film, it's that it seriously misunderstands its setting. There is no way that the Narnia of the book could work as a real kingdom. As far as we know no one farms, no one builds, no one makes anything, or sells anything. The place doesn't try to make itself believable. And to be honest, this is fine, because the stories don't work on a literal level: at no time in the recorded history of the real world have a bunch of kids been heralded as genius-level military tacticians, and been blindly followed by huge armies. Narnia is simply a backdrop for stories to happen in.

The fault of the film is that it tries to go down the Lord of The Rings route of creating a realistic universe. Instead of the shimmering, dreamlike world of the books, we get gritty battle scenes, gruelling cross-country hikes and scheming, politicking villains. This all feels out of place, and doesn't work with the story we're being told. But more importantly, by killing off this storybook quality of the novel, the film kills off the metaphor. Everything is made literal. So while the film tries to make a statement about faith in the midst of adversity, in the end it tells us nothing more profound than that, if you're attempting to win a war, it's more useful to be led by an omnipotent lion than a gang of hormonal teenagers.

But Eddie Izzard plays a Swashbuckling mouse. If that idea doesn't excite you, then your soul died a long time ago.

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