Friday, May 16, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

“You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.”

The film begins with the exile of Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the rightful heir to the throne of Narnia. His uncle (Sergio Castellitto), whose wife has finally given him a male heir, takes the opportunity to seize control of the kingdom.

In his flight Caspian blows the magic horn (your joke here) which calls the “great kings and queens of the past” back to Narnia. And so the Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), are magically transported from a London subway to the beaches of Narnia.

Narnia is quite different than they remember as thousands of years have past and the magical animals and creatures now live in fear of the human invaders which have driven them into seclusion in the woods. Now Peter and the rest of his clan must help put Caspian back on the throne and give back Narnia to the Narnians, that is if they can stop bickering among themselves.

Let me start with what the film gets right. The special effects, at times laughably bad in the first film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (read that review), are much more competently handled here. The children’s acting has improved and they seem more comfortable in their roles, and acting against the CGI characters (though at times they still struggle with some childish dialogue). The addition of Barnes (who comes off like Timothy Olyphant‘s much more charming younger brother) helps balance the film as well. The real bright spot in the film however is Peter Dinklage who steals the film as the Dwarf Trumpkin.

The film also turns down the religious overtones for most of the film allowing you to enjoy the adventure without feeling preached at. However the heavy-handed Christian allegory will appear briefly from time to time before completely taking over the film’s final 20 minutes in what amounts to little more than a forced Sunday school sermon to teach us the point of the film, and faith.

The battles are still bloodless, and the armies are still led by children. These are both problems which I had in the first film. The bloodless battles continue to make no sense whatsoever, but given that these children have lived for centuries in Narnia, and thus are adults (whatever their outward appearance) I felt more lenient to the mass slaughter committed by their hands. For a PG movie this film has a body count in the hundreds (if not thousands), including stabbings, beheadings, maulings, and more; yet another example of the spineless incompetency of the MPAA. I guess righteous Christian warriors can get by with anything, even in Hollywood.

However the history of these characters also creates a new problem the film is never able to rectify. These characters have lived, we are told, for 1300 years, aside from the perplexity of why they appear as children in Narnia (I’m willing to accept that), they shouldn’t act like children. It’s the constant failing of the film to treat these characters as if they only have the experience (except what they need in battle) of average teenagers still on their first trip to Narnia. The film tries to have the characters be both experienced and childish, which simply doesn’t work.

Although not great, and still severely flawed, the film is certainly an improvement from the first film. I’d rank it the B-class of fantasy films for children, such as Eragon (read that review) or The Seeker: The Dark is Rising (read that review), as films which contain moments but never fulfill the promise of something more. Kids and those who love the books may enjoy the film more than I, but I expect spending 147 minutes in Narnia may be more than enough for all but the die-hard fans.

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