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The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

DIRECTOR: Andrew Adamson

CAST:

William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Ben Barnes, Sergio Castellitto, Pierfrancesco Favino, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Tilda Swinton

voices:

Liam Neeson, Eddie Izzard, Ken Stott

REVIEW:

Following 2005’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, the second in C.S. Lewis’ beloved but juvenile seven-book series, makes a conscious effort to inject more action but remains a close relative of its predecessor, with all the flaws and virtues that entails.

After a year back in the real world, the Pevensie siblings Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Lucy (Georgie Henley), and Edmond (Skandar Keynes), again find themselves abruptly transported back into Narnia, where their glee quickly wears off as they find quite a few things have changed. While it’s only a year later to them, 1,300 years have passed in the land of Narnia, which has been conquered and ruled in the meantime by foreign invaders called the Telmarines, who have- they believe- completely wiped out the native Narnians. The rightful heir to the Telmarine/Narnian throne is young Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), but when his uncle and ‘protector’ Lord Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) is told that his wife has given him a son, Caspian narrowly escapes assassins led by Miraz’s General Glozelle (Pierfrancesco Favino) intent on clearing Miraz and his line’s path to the throne. The Pevensies find that there are still pockets of Narnian resistance in hiding in the woods, including dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), badger Trufflehunter (voice of Ken Stott), and swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep (voice of Eddie Izzard), but the lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) is nowhere to be found. Of course, the Pevensies and their allies must form an uneasy alliance with the fugitive Prince Caspian to restore the kingdom of Narnia, but has Aslan forsaken them?

In its prologue, Prince Caspian feels tantalizingly like it’s going to be more mature and engaging than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. In fact, throughout its running time, the scenes involving the court intrigue and power plays among the Telmarines is adult and engrossing. But no sooner do the Pevensies enter the woods then plucky dwarves and talking animals show up, and we see we’re not too far from what came before. The best parts of Prince Caspian are better than anything in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, but on the whole we’ve got much the same recipe.

Despite reprising their roles here, the Pevensies show no progress in either acting or character development. The siblings are defined by one or two basic character traits- Peter is the cocky self-appointed leader who learns a thing or two about leadership, Susan has a thing for handsome Caspian, Lucy looks for Aslan, and Edmond pouts- and never move beyond two-dimensionality. The biggest addition, relative newcomer Ben Barnes, nicely fits the mold of the dashing hero, although he’s a tad bland (albeit not as bland as William Moseley, and unlike Moseley, Barnes is actually halfway credible as someone who can take charge). Peter Dinklage and Eddie Izzard provide a little comic relief, while Liam Neeson again brings his regal tones to Aslan, although he doesn’t play a prominent role until the climax.

It’s no secret that C.S. Lewis wrote from a Christian standpoint, and while the first film had Aslan’s sacrifice and resurrection as an unsubtle Christ allegory, here we have a running theme about maintaining faith in something that cannot be seen or touched (Lucy’s search for the elusive Aslan, who the other characters are quick to dismiss). Like everything else in Narnia, the Biblical parallels are unsubtle to the point of heavy-handedness. There are points at which the filmmakers (again led by director Andrew Adamson) make a conscious effort to make the second installment more rousing with expanded cinematic versions of things only implied or briefly mentioned in Lewis’ work, including an assault on Miraz’s castle and a large-scale climactic battle. Both are more effective than their equivalents in the first installment, partly because the failed castle takeover features a body count, and partly because the climactic battle varies things up, with a one-on-one duel between Peter and Miraz and the Telmarine forces getting attacked by walking trees and a river god that bear suspicious resemblances to very similar scenes in The Lord of the Rings (then again, I’m reluctant to quickly call ‘rip off!’, considering Lewis and Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien were close friends who may well have influenced each other’s work, although Tolkien was not a fan of Lewis’ stories, and vice versa). The feisty swordfighting mouse Reepicheep is an entertaining character, and the scene in which Peter is forced to leave doomed comrades behind is one of the few in the movie to make a genuine impact. Adamson and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely also inject a touch of spice with a rivalry between Peter and Prince Caspian over who ought to really be in charge here, and a hint of attraction between Caspian and Susan. I also liked that the filmmakers made the Telmarines seem like a distinct ethnic group, mostly cast with Spanish and Italian actors (Ben Barnes is British, but adopts a Spanish accent to fit in).

But in some other areas, Caspian is weaker than Wardrobe. While there’s nothing wrong with Sergio Castellitto’s performance as the power-hungry, ruthless Miraz, and in fact he and the rest of the Telmarines usually seem like they’re out of a different, more grown-up movie than the Pevensies and the talking animals, as far as fantasy villains go, he’s a step down from Tilda Swinton’s White Witch (this is only confirmed in the movie’s best scene, a legitimately ominous attempted resurrection which gives Swinton a tantalizingly brief cameo, in another cinematic embellishment of something only mentioned in passing by Lewis, but to good effect). The climactic battle suffers from the same too-easy, PG-rated gloss of the climactic conflict in Wardrobe, as if the filmmakers were once again trying to have their cake and eat it too. This blandness extends to the film overall, the same problem which afflicted Wardrobe. The filmmakers try to pump things up with epic battle sequences and political intrigue while keeping the tame, wholesome feel of Lewis’ books, and the two tones don’t quite mesh. Unless, like Harry Potter, the next installments can find their own groove, the Narnia series doesn’t look like too much of a rival in the fantasy genre.

**1/2

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