Last night I took my oldest son to see Prince Caspian. (It was the second time for me, because I wanted to preview it before taking him - and I wanted to see it on the opening night!) Today I finished the book.
Reviews on the movie seem to be mixed. Some people are saying that it is better than the first movie. Douglas Gresham even said (I'm paraphrasing, but this was the gist) that the director turned one of the weaker Narnian books into a stronger movie. Others are saying the film is too violent for children and are complaining about changes from the original.
Since both film and book are fresh on my mind, here's my take.
1. Violence. Yep, this is a more violent movie than the first. People die by the swords of mythological creatures, talking animals, and teenagers. Peter even decapitates someone. There is not much blood or gore in the movie and compared to Lord of the Rings, not to mention your average war movie, it's pretty tame. But it is something to think about before taking young children, especially if they scare easily.
But for the record, the book may be even more violent. There were at least two, maybe three, decapitations in the book! Of course, the medium is different, so its a bit more innocuous in the books. But let it be said that the film doesn't really stray far from the original in this regard.
2. Strong points in the movie. Here's a few: better music than in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Better action sequences. Better special effects. Slightly stronger acting from the children, though the script seemed weak in a couple of places. Aslan seems more majestic in this film than in the first and Liam Neeson's voice worked for me this time. So, as far as a comparison between the two films are concerned, this one is better.
3. Hollywoodisms. There are quite a few of these. Peter has a teenage boy attitude that is quite foreign to the book. He and Caspian compete for control, whereas in the book, Peter comes to serve Caspian and help him gain the throne. Susan seems to develop a crush on Caspian and even steals a kiss at the end. Kind of annoying. I doubt Lewis would have approved of either.
4. Story changes. In addition to the ones above, there is an attack on Miraz's castle that is not in the book. (It's actually one of the better sequences in the movie.) Peter and Caspian are both tempted to call back the White Witch through Nikabrik's sorcery (this is the scariest scene in the movie), while Edmund saves the day. I'm not sure Lewis would have liked this either. None of the children flirt with this temptation in the book, though Nikabrik does make the offer to Caspian. There are also quite a few things in the book which are assumed in the film, and the order of events is switched around and jumbled up a bit. I can live with all of these changes - some of them even in help.
However, the film is almost completely missing the mythopoeic qualities that make Prince Caspian more than a story about battles, but rather a story about beauty. The crisis of Narnia in Prince Caspian is not that "it's always winter and never Christmas" (as in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), but that the beauty, magic, and joy of Aslan's reign has disappeared. The native Narnians (i.e. the mythical creatures and Talking Animals) are in hiding and the Telmarines reign instead.
When Aslan returns in the book, he brings this joy and beauty back. Following Aslan comes Bacchus, the mythical Roman god of wine, accompanied by a consort of Myneads. Trees come to life, a river-god is awakened, the peoples of Narnia drink wine and feast sumptuously, children escape boring and untrue history classes - wonder and joy have returned! Aslan himself (without whose presence, the children surmise, Bacchus would be quite dangerous!) is so huge in the book, that he can only barely fit his head through the door of a sick old woman's house. So he roars to blow away the house surroundering her bed, before healing her (she turns out to be Caspian's childhood nurse). Aslan's roar is so loud that creatures all over Narnia awaken and tremble at its sound. And so on.
These typical Lewisian notes (he frequently weaves into his stories elements of Greek and Roman mythology, "sanctifying" them, so to speak, in the presence of his Christ-like figures) are almost entirely missing from the film - and the loss is great. (The river-god does show up, though, in some pretty cool CG animation). But Narnia itself is just not as Narnian as it should be. The battles and armor take over and the victory at the end seems somewhat anti-climatic - the triumph almost hollow.
5. Conclusion. So, do I recommend the movie? Yeah - it sure beats the PBS version (which I've never been able to stomach for more than 30 seconds!). It is relatively clean and definitely exciting. Most of the additions to the book are actually pretty good. The problem is what's missing. The film just doesn't capture the beauty of the book. For that, you'll have to read Lewis himself.
[For the record, I was helped several days ago by this rather critical review of the movie. At first, I was a little skeptical of this guy's skepticism. But what he wrote actually made me want to finish reading the book, to see for myself what he thought was missing from the film. When I did, I understood what he meant - and says much more eloquently than I have.]