I always feel a certain amount of sympathy towards those who attempt to adapt beloved stories into movies. No matter what they do, there will be always someone who will find something to criticize. The majority of the time the criticisms revolve — often unfairly — around changes made to the story necessitated by the process of adaptation. Whether it's a character omitted or a subplot trimmed, most adaptations are forced to truncate the original story because of the time constraints of the medium.
When I go to see an adaptation of a book that I've really enjoyed, I do my best to try and look past the the story as it unfolds on the screen and focus on how well they've managed to recapture the spirit or intent of the original. The last three installments of the Harry Potter series — Prisoner Of Azkaban, Goblet Of Fire, and Order Of The Phoenix — all took liberties with the source material but did such a great job of bringing the world and the characters to life and capturing the essence of each book that they worked.
After having been pleasantly surprised by the excellent job done in bringing the first book of C.S. Lewis' Narnia stories,The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, to life, I was looking forward to enjoying the second movie, The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian, just as much. Not able to get out to movie theaters easily and too impatient to wait for its release on DVD, I downloaded a DivX version from a legitimate site (not that I'm worried about depriving the Disney Corp. of a few bucks, but I don't trust file sharing sites so I'm more than willing to pay $1.99 for a copy of a movie that I can play on my computer). Unfortunately, and almost right from the start, Prince Caspian fell far short of the mark set by its predecessor, as those responsible took what was a straightforward story and complicated it needlessly with subplots, burying the book's themes of faith and belief to the point at which they were almost unrecognizable.
English brothers and sisters, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) had stumbled into the magical land of Narnia while evacuated to the country from London during the air raids of WWII. While there they, with the help of the great lion Aslan, had led the mythical beings (talking animals, fauns, satyrs, giants, and centaurs) of the land in overthrowing the evil White Witch who had ruled the country and kept it locked in winter for a hundred years. Although they stayed in Narnia until they grew to be adults and ruled as kings and queens, when they stumbled home as accidentally as they had gone in the first place, they found that absolutely no time had passed at all. One hour passing in our world could be the equivalent of anything from a year to a century passing in Narnia.
A year has passed and while the four children are waiting impatiently to return to Narnia, things have changed drastically since they left. Humans still rule, but instead of caring for the beings of the country who inhabited it when they arrived, the Telmarines have conquered the country and done their best to exterminate all the original inhabitants. Those who survived have hidden themselves deep in the woods or in some cases reverted to being dumb animals. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is the rightful heir to the Telmarine throne, but with his father dead his Uncle Miraz rules as regent. When Miraz's wife has a baby son, Caspian's life is in danger as Miraz will want his son to inherit the throne, so his tutor sends him away just in time to avoid an assassination attempt by soldiers in his Uncle's employ.
Caspian's tutor, a half-dwarf, had told him the real history of Narnia, so he knew who had originally occupied the lands, but like other Telmarines thought them to be extinct. As a farewell gift, his tutor gives him Susan's magic horn, which he had somehow recovered. When that horn is blown it will bring its user powerful help, and in this case when Caspian blows it, it hauls the four children back to Narnia from England. Joining forces with Caspian and the old Narnians who have been in hiding, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – battle to overthrow Miraz and restore Caspian as rightful King.
While the movie follows the same basic plot line as the book, they seem to have lost track of what the story was about. While the original books were dominated by Christian imagery — only natural as Lewis was a devout Christian — they also were designed to teach children about the power of faith and belief. Narnia was a wondrous place where myths came alive, animals talked, and trees danced. However, in order for it to survive, people have to want it to survive, which means not just sitting idly back and waiting for someone to come and save them when things go bad, but to make the effort themselves to set things right. According to Lewis, that and faith are an unbeatable combination.
While the movie version of Prince Caspian makes passing reference to believing and having faith, it's done through showing the opposite traits in characters: impatience, questioning, and losing faith; rather than any positive demonstrations of belief. The various side plots introduced for the movie — turning the Telmarines into refugees from 15th century Italy, complete with thick, and in some cases bad, Italian accents; a rivalry between Peter and Caspian; an extra battle; additional action sequences — might fill up screen time, but they do nothing to advance the themes of the story.
In the book, when the four children land in Narnia, Caspian had blown the horn that summoned them after he and his forces had suffered a defeat at the hands of his uncle's army. Like in the movie the children meet up with the character of Trumpkin the dwarf (Peter Dinklage) and he guides them to Caspian. However, in the book, while on the way to meeting Caspian the five of them meet up with Aslan. He sends Peter, Edward, and Trumpkin off to meet with Caspian, while he and the two girls travel through Narnia waking the tree and river spirits and generally reviving the magic of the country. It's a beautiful journey that reminds the reader of all that is wild, exciting and beautiful about Narnia and makes Aslan real to us. What we are given in the movie instead of this is the extra battle scene, which might make for excitement, but does little to weave the spell of magical beauty that the book or the first movie did.
After watching the movie I was left with a feeling of disquiet, like something wasn't quite right. For although the acting was in general as good as that in the first movie, if not even better (aside from the silly Italian accents every Telmarine has to speak with), the creatures were every bit as believable as they were as before, and the cinematography just as lush and gorgeous, it wasn't anywhere near as satisfying to watch as The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. It was like the difference between eating a fast food meal, and one that somebody had worked at for hours preparing for you. They both fill you up, but only the latter has the intangibles that make it satisfying to both body and soul.
If you only are interested in watching an exciting action and adventure movie, than The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian won't disappoint you. However, if you were hoping for something a little more, something that would capture the same feeling of lightness and delight that you felt from the first movie or from reading the books, you won't find it here. Narnia is a magical country where we can go and remind ourselves of the meaning of faith and belief, no matter what it is we believe in personally. Prince Caspian, the movie, takes place in a far different Narnia, and is the worse for it.