For those who can’t go to Narnia often enough, the world just beyond this one that rolled out of the extensive imagination of C.S. Lewis, the coming to the screen of the second film from his Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian, is much anticipated, not only for its sheer fun, but much more for its spiritual dimension.
Our standards get beaten up enough at the movies to find any story from a Christian framework exceptionally refreshing.
This time the four Pevensie children are not whisked into this parallel world through a wardrobe in a spare room, but as they are sitting in a train station at Trafalgar Square, flanked by every sign that they live in a city embroiled in World War II, with a sign overhead that says “Way Out.” Suddenly the station flies apart, they shed their school shoes and jackets, and they are on the beach in the bright world of Narnia.
Yet, this isn’t the Narnia they knew. Although only a year has passed for them, the golden age of their rule as kings and queens is 1300 years ago in Narnia, and a dark crisis is brewing that requires their help. The Telmarines have vanquished Narnia, and all of its old inhabitants have retreated. The trees have fallen asleep and no longer dance; the bears and animals have become dumb, and worst of all, Aslan, the golden-maned lion who is the Christ figure, has become merely the stuff of whispered legend.
Ruling this world is the usurper, Miraz, whose infant son is born as the film begins, suddenly casting the true heir, his nephew, Prince Caspian, into danger for his life. Caspian blows the horn that summoned Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund back to Narnia, and together their quest is to reawaken Narnia and gather enough strength to throw off the oppressors.
Thus begins the fantasy, which unrolls with harrowing moments, the clash of armies representing forces of light and dark, and marvelous creatures like centaurs, minotaurs and a chivalrous, proud, sword-swashing mouse named Reepicheep, who is offended if anyone doesn’t think he’s formidable, though tiny, foe in battle.
With solid production values, beautiful vistas and hard-pounding action, the film is immensely entertaining, and lovers of C.S. Lewis will find many familiar elements here. Yet I have to admit that at one point in the movie, I leaned over and asked my daughter, “Do you remember any of this in the story?” – for in many ways some of the Lewis charm was replaced with battle and chase and too many clashing swords.
Though a representative of Walden Films at the screening told us that the company had made every effort to be faithful to C.S. Lewis’s pitch perfect story telling, an embittered dwarf in the movie captures it all when he says, “You might find that Narnia is a more savage place than you remember.”
It is indeed. Aslan has more of a side role than he did in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and though bloodless, war has replaced some of Lewis’s charming scenes in his book of Prince Caspian. It seems that the movie creators were trying to transpose the original children’s story into something that would appeal to adults as well.
In that vein, new dimensions and conflicts were added to the characterizations. Dewy-lipped Susan becomes a girl warrior who readily takes down opposing soldiers with her bow and attracts the interest of Prince Caspian himself until she reminds him, “It would never work. After all, I am 1300 years older than you.”
Still, C.S. Lewis himself made the battle of good and evil the context of this book, a war he believed was actively waged on this earth. His own context was, like the Pevensie children, a world at war, where virtue triumphed by struggle, courage and sacrifice.
Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias. His mind must, if possible, be kept clear of things he can’t bear to think of. Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil.
If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to the.atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.
By far, my favorite parts of the film revolved around Aslan, the untamed Christ-figure lion, because Lewis had the deft ability to say in a line of dialogue, something memorable about seeking the Lord. When the children return to Narnia, they long to see Aslan again, but it seems that no one has seen him for a good long time.
Finally, Lucy gets a quick glimpse of him with an instruction of what they should do, but no one will believe her. “Why do you think we didn’t see Aslan?” Susan asks. “I don’t know,” answers Lucy. “Maybe you really didn’t want to.”
At a moment when they are trying to marshal all their forces and wits to fight their enemies, Lucy asks, “Have we forgotten who really defeats the White Witch, Peter?”
Once when they are doubting that Aslan is near and will help them, Peter says, “I wish he’d given me some kind of proof,” to which a sister answers, “Maybe he wants us to prove ourselves to him.”
When it is time for the little band of Narnians to go up against the mighty army of the Telmarines, which marches relentlessly forward in rows and rows of armor clad soldiers with brass face plates, the message is that despite appearances, “They that be with us are more than they that be with them,” and there is a moment when their best and maybe hope against a formidable foe is to send a little girl into the forest to look for Aslan.
Finally, even the most virtuous characters face grave temptation, and they are only made susceptible to it because they have become discouraged in the face of hardship. These are not moments lost on Christian viewers.
Despite the few drawbacks I saw in the movie, I liked it, and I always find myself cheering for the success of films made by Walden. Indeed, they have done well. The first movie in the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, grossed $745 million worldwide after it was released in 2005. The movie’s production costs totaled only $180 million.
My regard for Walden goes back to their purpose that is rare in today’s media industry. Philip Anschutz, a devout Christian from Kansas, was frustrated by the heavy doses of violence, sex and vulgarity in typical Hollywood output. He explained in a 2004 speech, “So four or five years ago I decided to stop cursing the darkness – I had been complaining about movies and their content for years – and instead do something about it by getting into the film business.”
His vision has produced a list of family-oriented films like Bridge to Terabithia, Nim’s Island, and Holes. The films are usually accompanied by outreach programs to schools and churches and educational materials.
Michael Flaherty, president of Walden Media said:
We wanted to create a company dedicated to recapturing imagination, rekindling curiosity, and demonstrating the rewards of knowledge and virtue. All of our films would be based on great books, great people, and great historical events. They would be made by the best talent in entertainment and they would all be linked to educational materials developed by some of the best talent in education.
We were taking Henry David Thoreau’s famous advice – to march to the beat of a different drummer – to Hollywood, which is why we decided to name our company after Thoreau’s most famous book, Walden.
In launching Walden Media, our greatest challenge was in identifying the stories that we wanted to bring to the screen. We did not want to waste our time making films out of “the wrong books” that Eustace Scrubbs wasted his time reading [in the Chronicles of Narnia]. So rather than turn to the usual parade of agents and Hollywood producers, we launched an unusual campaign that continues to this day.