Okay, so let me bring everybody up to speed on cinematic Narnia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was okay, Prince Caspian was just a couple of notches this side of terrible, and Nancy and I went to see Dawn Treader last night. Let me tell you about it, shall I?
The Narnia movies should be evaluated on whether or not they wreck the center of the books -- whether or not they mangle the spirit of the gospel that is pervasive in the books, and whether they fool around with the integrity of the characters.
There will be some spoilers in the review here, and since the movie is actually worth seeing (unlike Caspian), you might want to read this after you have seen it. Up to you.
This is not a movie that makes you disgusted and mad with idiots in Hollywood who unaccountably get people to give them millions of dollars. This is because this time they left most of the central things intact. I think it remains true that if the movies draw kids to the books, who otherwise would have had nothing to do with the books, so much the better. But it is probably best for Christian parents to not let their kids see the movie unless those kids are already steeped in the books.
Understandable changes (for the sake of time, presumably) include conflating islands -- Deathwater Island here is the same island where Eustace is dragoned. Eustace as a dragon is given a much bigger role -- instead of going from pill to fairly helpful, he goes from pill to flat-out heroism. This was the most drastic change that seemed somewhat forgiveable -- don't know why, but I haven't made up my mind about that one yet. It was redemption in big, block letters, as opposed the understated way that Lewis described the aftermath of Eustace's change. Still, it was recognizably the same kind of thing.
Unnecessary and irritating changes included how they handled the Lone Islands episode. In the book, Caspian and others are enslaved while hiking across the countryside. But this doesn't provide enough scope for spookaloo effects, and so instead we find the slave traders are running a desolate place, instead of a thriving and compromised town -- and instead of having a bureaucratic functionary in cahoots with slave traders, the whole place is a pirate lair. The cleansing of the provincial government, one of the most satisfying scenes in the book, is left out entirely. Another missed opportunity is later in the movie -- they leave out the rejoinder of Caspian's future wife, where she says that in Narnia the princess is kissed only after the enchantment is broken.
Another bad deal was the introduction of an unnecessary B-story -- there is this green miasma that has been taking sacrificial victims from the Lone Islands off to the Dark Island, and in the movie it hauls off a mom with a boatload of others. Her husband enlists on Caspian's crew to follow her, and their little daughter stows away on the Dawn Treader to be with him. This is how Lucy finds herself with a girl companion. While a major irritant, this B-story was itself a stowaway, and didn't mangle the subsequent voyage that much. It is simply one more illustration of how modern screenwriters are dogmaticians -- "thou shalt have a B-story" -- and when confronted with the prospect of having to do without one, they become screenwrithers.
The book is more episodic than the movie. The book does have a basic quest running through it, but the movie wants more cohesion, darn it, and so they have the quest be the necessity of placing on Aslan's Table all seven swords from the lost lords. This will dispel the threatening green miasma that proceeds from the Dark Island, and which Sauron-like, poses a danger to the whole world. Dealing with the Dark Island becomes a global battle, instead of being what it was in the book -- a battle with every man's Midnight Fantods, and the rescue of Rhoop.
The casting was good, especially with Eustace.
I was happy with the ending. Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that they must become acquainted with Him under another name in our world -- clearly Christ. Reepicheep goes to the utter East just like he should have done.
Lucy's desire to be beautiful like Susan is handled very well -- with one exception. When she sees the spell that will make her beautiful, she takes the page from the book of spells, and hides it. This would have been a minor change, but they have her hide the page in her clothing while Aslan is admonishing her -- something Lucy would never have done. Her temptation in this area is handled well over all, but for her to do something like that in Aslan's presence was entirely uncharacteristic, and amounted to a slander.
So, here is my gradebook on these movies as adaptations so far
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- B
2. Prince Caspian -- D minus
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader -- C
Here is how I would rate the movies as stand alone ventures, if C.S. Lewis had never existed, and producers had not been laboring under the burden of finding someone who understood the books. Of course, we shouldn't be too hard on them. They only have many millions of dollars. How could they possibly find somebody who understands the books? Give them a break.
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- A
2. Prince Caspian -- B
3. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader -- A minus