We made a rare venture out to the movie theater to see Prince Caspian when it opened in theaters this weekend. I won't write a full review now, but overall I thought it was better than the first Narnia movie -- and that the plot threads they made up out of whole cloth actually were more tightly written than the ones they were trying to adapt. A good solid attempt at adapting a book which is structured in a very difficult fashion when it comes to putting it on the screen.
However,a couple of the scenes therein reminded me of an ongoing beef that I've had with the recent spate of epic fantasy movies.
How is everyone getting fed?
Yes, this labels me as officially being a history and economics geek, but this invariably bothers me when you see the sweeping shot of an isolated citadel set on rolling plains with a mountain crag in the background.
Take the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. You see lots of farm land and grazing animals in the Shire because that's a comforting and pastoral place, but throughout the rest of the movie cities and citadels are set in complete isolating in New Zealand wilderness.
In Tolkien's original Two Towers, Edoras is set amidst rich pasture land. In the movie, it was built on top of this hill.Similarly, in Tolkien's account of the battle of Helm's Deep, the fortress is nestled against hills above some of Rohan's more fertile farmland, and as the defenders watch from the walls they can see the orcs' approach because they're burning the fields, farmhouses and haystacks as they come. In the movie, Helm's Deep was built in this valley:In the lead-up to the battle of Pelennor Fields at Minis Tirith, Tolkien describes all the farmers and villages from the surrounding farmland being brought into the citadel, and the invading army burning crops and farmhouses. In the movie, the citadel is again in a barren, windswept plain of low grasses:And finally, the reason last night's movie reminded me of this, in Prince CaspianMiraz's castle is set amid an empty landscape, with the only Telmarines that ever appear being soldiers until the very, very end when suddenly 10,000 commoners appear out of no where for the closing crowd scenes. No fields, no flocks, no herds.
Now, don't get me wrong. The visuals on these movies are brilliant, and the starkness of the landscape is one of the things that gives them their beauty. However, it strikes me that this underlines in part a fundamental disconnect we have as modern people from the way that people have traditionally lived. When we imagine ancient civilizations, we imagine the big buildings, and perhaps the surrounding buildings in a city. We're picturing the ruins that we see when we visit historical sites. And we don't think about where the food comes from, because we know that food comes fromrestaurants and supermarkets. Fields? When's the last time you had to have a field near your house in order to eat well?
In a real ancient or medieval level culture, you'd virtually never have a city or major fortress that wasn't within a few miles of food sources. But to our eyes, unconcerned with food production, the huge windswept vistas seem more ancient and primal.