Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I foisted my 2 kids on my parents and ran for the hills, totally taking advantage of my parents’ generosity to spend 6 straight hours at the local megaplex. The order of the day was blockbuster fantasy adventure in the form of the latest sequels to 2 successful franchises. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian won the coin toss for the opening feature, leaving Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to play us out.
It’s interesting to note that even though we had heard Caspian was great and Indy was… not so great… we had decided that if we could only get to one movie, it would be Indiana Jones. As it turns out, we didn’t have to make that choice, but it shows how much of a draw Indy can be.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
It has been decades since I’ve read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. I remembered a great deal of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, when that movie came out, but I had almost zero recollection of the Prince Caspian story beyond some vague impressions. I just knew I liked it.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Narnia series is inherently Christian in its viewpoint. The first book/movie (Lion, Witch, Wardrobe) was very clear in the lion Aslan’s parallel to Jesus. This second movie is not as pointed on that matter, but the story clearly revolves around faith and trust in Aslan as the key to success in all matters – despite the character’s relatively small amount of screen time. When High King Peter draws up battle plans built under his own ego, disaster ensues. But when he plans with trust in Aslan as his driver, he succeeds. It’s not just in the big ways that tests of faith are displayed here, though; there are littler moments where some of the children must choose whether to believe that another (Lucy) has seen Aslan in the forest, and whether Lucy lets the others sway her from following Aslan’s lead. Later, the consequences of her decision to follow the others rather than Aslan are brought forward. In a short conversation, Lucy asks if the troubles they had through the movie could have been avoided if she had followed Aslan’s guidance at the beginning. Aslan states that we will never know what could have been. It’s easy to blow past that, but it’s such an important lesson – when we make mistakes, lose faith, and fail, we have to deal with the consequences of our choices. We can’t go back and change it so there is no use focusing on what might have been – we can only go forward from here and make the best of the situation.
So the movie certainly works for me as a Christian. How does it work as a fantasy-action film? Very well, thank you. This is certainly a darker entry in the series. Though hanging on to its PG rating, there is a lot of death in this movie, including an important decapitation. Action abounds! Arrows fly, swords swing, claws cut, heads roll… it’s all good. Weta does another admirable job with the effects. Though not nearly as dark as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there are obvious similarities in the look – and that’s a good thing.
However, that does bring to mind a good point from a review I read:
Tragically, the biggest downfall to the fascinating world of Narnia and its engrossing inhabitants is the fact that nearly every idea has already been expended by other movies. C.S. Lewis may have crafted many of his creative elements years before Shrek or 300, but those movies beat Narnia to the big screen. Whether itâ€™s Reepicheep, who is unappealingly similar to Shrekâ€™s Puss In Boots, or the Telmarine infantry, whose armored masks closely resemble 300â€™s Immortal army, Narnia simply doesnâ€™t feel original. Itâ€™s a shame that many viewerâ€™s first encounter with the thaumaturgical inventions will be through the film and not the novels.
That is a shame, because this story came first by a long shot and, while still excellent, it is a bit visually reminiscent of other recent films, and I can’t deny that I noticed it.
That said, though, if you’re at all a fan of fantasy or action, you’ll like this film. It’s very well made and has superior, time-tested source material.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
First off… that title’s way too long. So we’re off to a bad start.
Now we have to deal with the film.
Okay, Indy’s lookin’ old in these first few scenes… not sure he’ll pull it off.
Not sure I’m buying the magnetism thing. But once the action starts… he’s back! (thank you, Mr. Ford!)
Then there’s the nuclear explosion. Argh. Sooooo many problems with that.
And that’s how the rest of the movie goes for me. “Woo hoo! Excellent!” followed closely by “oh, come on… seriously?”
Despite some nice scenes and the return of everyone’s favorite Indy love interest, Marion, this is the weakest of the four movies. There are moments of cool throughout, but most of them are in the trailers – except the ants… I liked those. Even the music, while excellent, never found a signature sound like each of the previous three films. (Where was this movie’s “Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra”?)
And then there’s the basic problem of the movie: Indy’s chasing aliens. Aliens don’t belong in Indy’s world. Not acceptable. You’ve got to leave an element of the mysterious in Indy’s quests. The supernatural is never fully explained in the previous three movies… there are elements of faith woven through all three. This movie breaks that mold, and that, in the end, is what’s unforgivable about this plot. I can get past all the other stuff I didn’t like (and Lee covers most of those pretty well over at Quit Your Day Job) but once you remove the necessity of faith as a theme, you’ve lost the essence of the films (even though Indy himself would probably argue against me, faith is a major underpinning of each of his outings).
Now… having said all that, this still manages to be a fun ride of a film. If you treat it as non-canon material, you can have a great time just going along for the ride. It’s not true Indy, as far as I’m concerned, but it has enough of the elements to make it fun and exciting.
Head to Head?
Seeing these two movies back to back provided an interesting comparison opportunity. I love both franchises and wanted both to succeed. But how do they stack up against each other?
Caspian wins hands down for emotional impact and a feeling of importance – that it mattered.
Caspian wins for a grounding in its own previously established rules. Indy dropped that ball.
Caspian wins on action.
Indy, however, in a shocking decision (even to me), wins for fun. It’s simply fun to watch that team (Ford, Lucas, Spielberg) do their thing with that film. Despite my own annoyance with the plot, I still enjoyed the heck out of that thing. It’s just fun to be back in that world (even if it is a parallel universe version of it).
Go see ‘em both!