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“Prince Caspian”, or “To Make a Short Story Long”

July 1, 2008

As a child, the books in the Narnia series were amongst my favourites.  Once I’d read them all, I re-read them regularly – apart from The Horse and His Boy, which I found too tangential to the Narnia I loved, and The Last Battle, which was depressing.  Usually, with much loved books, I dread the film adaptation, however the good work done on The Lord of the Rings gave me hope that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe would continue that trend.  It didn’t, and I can’t really remember what I disliked about it as I only saw it once and have not been tempted to see it again.  Yet, despite the negative reviews of Prince Caspian, and the precedent set by TL,TW&TW, I was resolved to see the series through and so I spent 145 minutes of Saturday afternoon with the latest installment in The Chronicles of Narnia.

Expectations were low, for the reasons above, and because I am becoming increasingly impatient with films that unnecessarily break the 120 minute mark.  Still, the time in the cinema passed more quickly than I had anticipated it would.  There were some truly cringy bits – usually around the flirtation between Susan and Caspian over the horn and some not-of-the-period-(either-of-the-periods) dialogue – but, overall, I enjoyed it more than I had its predecessor and felt that some of the criticism had been misdirected.  There was one nagging doubt, however.  I was sure that reading the book would not take 145 minutes and so yesterday I re-read Prince Caspian with a timer.

It took one hour and eighteen minutes. One hour and seven minutes less than the film.

As a result of the re-reading, I have completely revised my opinion of the film.  The reason it took nearly twice as long to watch as it did to read?  The writers added in loads of extra scenes.  These extra scenes required a complete reinterpretation of key characters.  Rather than Peter as the noble, returning High King offering assistance to Caspian, he was a petulant adolescent threatened by Caspian’s possible ascension to the throne and engaged in a ridiculous power struggle with him.  In order for this to work properly, Caspian was no longer a similar age to Peter, but was clearly his senior in years.  Where the book referred to Miraz’s cruelty without providing specific examples, the film-makers let no opportunity for violence slip past.

I won’t go on and on. As written, the book could be a perfectly good film for children and those of us who grew up with, and loved, the books.  The cast would probably have been equal to that film. Unfortunately, the film-makers decided that this was not the audience they wanted.  Their target audience required sexual tension and lashings of violence and the story was the poorer for this.

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