1. This is the kind of issue my colleague Bob Rehak thinks about so very well, but I was really struck watching Prince Caspian at how poorly the WETA house style serves that film. The script was pretty decent considering that of Lewis’ four “core” Narnia stories, I would flag Prince Caspian as the one with the biggest storytelling issues in terms of adaptability to a film. The book starts slow, spending a much longer time in the ruins of Cair Paravel, and then proceeds into an extended flashback. There’s only a bit of dramatic tension among the protagonists, early on, when Lucy can see Aslan and the others cannot. Caspian and the Pevensies only meet late in the story, and have few strong interactions. There’s only one major battle with a few offstage conflicts. The adaptation shortens the opening, sharpens the dramatic tension, adds a major battle sequence and tries to give Peter and Susan more of a dramatic arc (largely at the cost of making Peter a pouty whiner, unfortunately).
This is all fine, but WETA’s visuals end up making Prince Caspian feel like a cadet version of Lord of the Rings and I almost think that would have happened even if there never had been a Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings. Narnia somehow seems to me to need a wispier, less pseudorealist style, to look more earnestly fairy-tale.
I remember my viscerally negative reaction to seeing Disney’s The Black Cauldron in 1985 as a college student. Before I had any reaction to the (numerous) storytelling failures in the film, there was the fundamental issue that the cherubic roundedness of the Disney house style was simply and fundamentally the wrong choice for Lloyd Alexander’s Welsh-inspired fantasies.
WETA’s work is not technological destiny. The visual aesthetics found in digital games suggest the range of what’s possible: if you can have Okami, Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft, you can have satyrs, centaurs and dryads who don’t look like they wandered over from a forgotten corner of Middle-Earth and took a left-turn at Lantern Waste.
2) Speaking of works that demonstrate what’s visually possible, Speed Racer deserves a lot more critical appreciation than what it’s garnered so far. I’m not a huge fan of the original cartoon, but I enjoyed the film a lot. The visuals alone are very interesting (and yes, they’ll probably give you a headache in parts) but the film is also just a lot of fun. Chris Sims is perfectly right by calling out the sheer awesomeness of a film that features Racer X punching an upside-down Viking racecar driver. The entire cross-country race in the middle of the film is great, in fact, full of interesting images and great action sequences. Heck, I even found Spridel and Chim-Chim amusing, which is a wholly new sensation in my life. Yes, the film could use some further editing: snip out one or two bits of Moms Racer talking about how proud she is of Speed and a few other character bits, maybe, to shave it to two hours or under.