Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones

I saw two movies over the weekend: Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a rare treat for me; since my daughter was born I’ve seen about two movies a year on average.

Prince Caspian is a good movie, but it’s not the movie that I hoped it would be. I had high hopes, having read more than one review that said that the movie was even better than the book. I should have read between the lines and interpreted that to mean that the movie improved on the shortcomings of the book (as perceived by those reviewers). The book is a tale about faith in which there happens to be talking animals and a big battle. The movie is a story about big battles involving talking animals.

Crystal Skull is not a very good movie. All the previous Indiana Jones movies were implausible, but within the genre you could suspend disbelief. The latest installment crosses the line into farce.

(Spoilers follow.)

To my mind, the central sequence of Prince Caspian, the book, is when Lucy sees Aslan and calls her and her siblings to follow him, but her siblings do not see him. They end up taking a different route that dead-ends and they have to retrace their steps. Then, during the night, Lucy sees Aslan again and speaks with him. At his direction Lucy wakes her siblings and says they must follow Aslan immediately. If they do not, she will follow alone. They reluctantly agree, and over the course of the journey, one-by-one they are able to see him. Aslan leads them to Prince Caspian and gives them their instructions. The entire sequence takes three chapters of a fifteen chapter book.

The movie truncates the sequence. It begins the same, with the siblings not believing Lucy, reaching the dead-end, and turning back. Then Lucy meets Aslan, but there the sequence ends. The meeting with Aslan turns out to be only a dream, and the scene in which they follow him is deleted entirely. Alas, that omitted scene is the most important one in the book. By leaving it out, they place the children in charge, rather than Aslan. Aslan waits deep in the woods, doing nothing, waiting for Lucy to summon him at the end.

I can see why they made this change. With Aslan at their side, there can be no doubt about the battle’s outcome. (As if the viewer would have any doubt anyway.) Since the movie centers on the battles (one from the book and one they added), they must move Aslan off-screen to create suspense. In contrast, the book allocates to the battle just three pages at the very end.

To be sure, Prince Caspian is a good movie. It has swashbuckling, talking animals, spectacular battles, and a very creative original scene in which the heroes assault Miraz’s castle. Taken by itself, it’s quite entertaining. Just don’t go expecting to see C.S. Lewis’s book put to the screen, as the movie’s theme is largely different.

Crystal Skull starts out okay. The shift from the Interbellum to the Cold War works fine, and Harrison Ford effortlessly returns to the role. From the beginning, however, everything is a little bit sillier than the previous installments. The first half of the movie still works; it’s clear that the movie won’t be better than Raiders or Last Crusade, but it seems possibly better than Temple of Doom. Around halfway through, the silliness reaches the level of farce. For me, it went over the top when Mutt (Indy’s sidekick) starts vine-swinging through the Amazon jungle, Tarzan-style, to catch up with the Soviet convoy. It gets worse from there, building to a ridiculous ending.

Disappointing, but it wasn’t a complete waste. At least it offended the Communists.

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