WARNING: MOVIE SPOILERS AHEAD! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THESE FILMS YET, YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ THIS POST.

One of the best tests of quality for new, professionally produced movies these days, in our family, is whether or not we want to own the DVD of a movie we have seen at the theater. We don’t regularly see many movies at the theater anymore, since so many great DVDs are available via Netflix, but some films are so highly anticipated we find it difficult to wait for the DVD release! Although it is comparatively expensive for a family of five, it’s always fun to go to the actual movie theater and see a new release.

In the last couple of weeks, my wife and I have seen “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (once) and we have seen “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” twice with two of our kids. My review of these two films can be summarized with the following statement: We’ll definitely be purchasing the DVD of Prince Caspian once it is available, but we will NOT purchase the DVD of Indiana Jones Episode #4 or recommend that others see it. This movie, while it includes some potentially engaging themes and several familiar, fun characters, appears to have been created mostly to serve as content fodder for video game sales and new theme park attraction rides.

In one of his presentations during the 2007 Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference (available as a podcast from Bob Sprankle) Tim Tyson discusses “the willing suspension of disbelief” by the audience as one of the key, magical ingredients of live theater performances. Tim goes on to talk about how we, as teachers, need to invite students into a similar experience of “suspending disbelief” willingly to exceed our own expectations of our performances and engage in meaningful learning experiences together. In the context of these two recent films, I found that the writers of the Indiana Jones movie somehow crossed an invisible and somewhat nebulous (but none-the-less real) line of credibility in their script. To be as enjoyable as possible, I think motion pictures (about fictional topics, of course) need to be able to maintain the audience’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” The jungle scene where the Russians are fighting against the Americans for control of the crystal skull, and the eventually Indy Jones Junior engages in an extended sword fight with the leading evil Russian scientist, definitely stepped over that line for me. After that point, I found the film to be amusing but not entertaining and engaging in the way I want great films to be. Similar to “National Treasure #2,” the movie felt more like a theme park ride than a motion picture. I am speculating here, but the film seemed like it was designed more to provide content for video games as well theme park rides than it was created to be an outstanding motion picture. This is, perhaps, understandable from an economic standpoint (given the size of the video game industry particularly) but still disappointing from a moviegoer’s standpoint.

I did think there were some interesting possibilities with the themes of Area 51 and aliens influencing the Maya civilization, but these themes seemed to be haphazardly stitched together to provide requisite action sequences rather than to tell a compelling story. The scene in which Indiana learns about his son was entirely devoid of any emotional impact for me. This plot line was predictable, I suppose, but I still felt it lacked an emotional impact which I expected it to have. I am sure this movie will bring in millions of dollars for Lucas Film, director Stephen Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and many others involved in the production. I for one, however, was pretty disappointed in the movie, and would not recommend it to others who have better options for summer movies.

The movie Prince Caspian, in contrast, is an outstanding, epic film which again exemplifies the wonderful capacity for Walden Media to create authentic movie versions of classic books. Walden’s corporate theme is “Recapturing imagination, rekindling curiosity,” and they certainly live up to that high ideal with this movie. I did think the relationship between Peter and Caspian was not fleshed out quite as well as it could have been, but had relatively few critiques of the movie otherwise. Susan and Edmond were my two favorite characters in the movie. Edmond’s journey of learning and maturity from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was evident in multiple scenes, and I really enjoyed the courage as well as leadership shown by Susan throughout the film. Anna Popplewell does a superb job in her role, and would win my nomination for “best actor/actress” in this film. There were multiple, powerful Christian messages included in the movie’s script as well, which is both appropriate and in line with the motives of the original book author, C.S. Lewis. If you are able to see ANY summer movies this year (I’m showing my northern hemisphere perspective with this statement, I know) I highly recommend you see Prince Caspian. The scene with “death” and the other dark creature who attempts to convince Caspian to pledge himself to the forces of evil and bring back the witch Jadis is the scariest one for young viewers, but was (like most other scenes of the film) re-enacted and interpreted in a very faithful way to the original book. For more background about the movie “Prince Caspian” and Walden Media, see my notes from Randy Testa’s presentation in August 2007 at our Oklahoma Encyclomedia conference, “‘Prince Caspian’ and the Return to Narnia: Making the Journey to Literacy Through Fantasy.”

Movie sequels which disappoint and fail to live up to the higher bar of creativity, original humor and entertainment value of their predecessors are not anything new. Perhaps we should expect more films, like “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” to feel in the theater more like an amusement park ride and a video game than a motion picture. Even if this is “the trend” for new movies and particularly films which continue in a series, I think I will continue to value the most basic element of a good movie over special effects or exciting action sequences: A good story. Without a compelling story told by compelling characters, a movie quickly can devolve into a hodge-podge of special effects, fight scenes and explosions. Thankfully, as evidenced by Walden Media’s cinematic rendition of “Prince Caspian,” it’s clear not all filmmakers are willing to succumb to the economic pressures or other factors which may encourage such an outcome. Long live Prince Caspian, and long live the Kings and Queens of Narnia! I can’t wait for the DVD version of “Prince Caspian” to be released, or the movie version of “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” scheduled for a May 2010 release. Long live the gallant Reepicheep!

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  • Mom

    We haven’t seen Prince Caspian, so no comments there. However, we saw the new Indy movie today, and thought it was great — just what a fun summer escape movie should be! We rarely consider buying a movie, so that doesn’t enter into our rating of any movie. This Indy movie was fun, funny & included lots of random unexpected elements as well as predictable ones. We found lots to laugh about and felt really good as we left the theater. (I did consider the theme park ride element, and found it as likely to be fun as the existing ride.)

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Well good, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was “a good ride,” I agree, and we weren’t sorry we saw it, but I don’t think it measures up to other films. The previous three Indiana Jones films were SO exceptional, I suppose my expectation level for this one was quite high. (It was co-written by George Lucas himself, and directed by Stephen Spielberg, after all!) I’ll be interested to hear what you think of Prince Caspian.

  • http://www.kogmedia.com patrick

    the makers of Prince Caspian kept to the original story surprisingly well… i heard they were going to make it into a silly pure-action flick, but thankfully this was not the case

  • http://mkrill.edublogs.org/2008/01/29/unpacking-the-mind/ Michelle Krill

    My thoughts exactly! I saw these movies back to back (Caspian first) and had the same reaction. I really enjoyed Prince Caspian – all of the fantasy was just what it should have been and was so good it was ‘real’ to me while watching. The reaction to Indy 4 was let down for me. It’s not that I had set my expectations too high and was let down – I went in with no real expectations other than to enjoy myself. I guess in that regard it was okay, but that’s all it was for me – okay. It just went too far for me and lost the charm that I recall of the first movie. Just because they can do anything in movies these days, doesn’t mean they should.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Michelle: Thanks so much for sharing your perceptions too. I’m glad at least one other person had a similar reaction to mine! We actually went and saw Indy4 again (with our daughter who had missed it the first time we went because she was out of town) and I did enjoy it more the second time around. I’m sure expectations played into this. Certainly the plot lines and characters are interesting. But the film is on a completely different plane than the Narnia series!

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