I was thinking about how to start a small post on Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian [whew], but Ross Douthat nails what made the film disappointing. It's difficult for me to be objective about the Narnia books: along with Louise Fitzhugh' s Harriet The Spy series, they were my favorite books as a boy. I reread them until the bindings came off. The much-ballyhooed Christian allegories with which Lewis purportedly bludgeons the reader never stood out much to this beneficiary of twelve years of Catholic school education; I mean, they were there, but I noted them and went on.
But back to the films. I was surprised that The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe kept most of the book's nuances. Thanks to the casting of Tilda Swinton as the White Witch (a much cooler and imperious vision of evil than Lewis', and thus compelling) and Georgie Henley as Lucy Pevensie, we understand the tug that this pagan world exerts on the four children. It says a lot about the first adaptation that by the time the children are coronated I wanted it to keep going. As the book that really got me to keep reading the series (I read TLTWATW not knowing it was the first of seven volumes), I've a special affection for Prince Caspian, narrative problems notwithstanding. The film adaptation straightens the unwieldy flashback with which the book's first half begins, yet sacrifices the children's affection for each other and connection to their adopted world for swordplay and horseplay. Peter Dinklage's Trumpkin – the novel's most enduring character – gets nothing to do. There's little sense that these four children were once kings and queens and mighty warriors, worthy of being summoned from the High Past (Edmund in particular wanders in a daze through most of the film). Peter and Caspian arguing over battle plans could very well be Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez bickering over who asked a girl out first. Finally, whoever came up with the bright idea of having the Telmarines talk like Ricky Ricardo and look like Raul Julia should be sacrificed on the Stone Table.
Good news, though: director-adaptor Andrew Adamson will hand the franchise to someone else for the next adaption, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the most leisurely, action-packed, and religio-mystical of the seven books, and somehow my favorite.