The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running time: 144 min
Cast: William Mosely, Ben Barnes, Sergio Castellito, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Peter Dinklage, Warwick Davis, Vincent Grass, Pierfrancesco Favino, Cornell John, Damian Alcazar
Voices: Liam Neeson, Eddie Izzard
Cameo: Tilda Swinton
Director: Andrew Adamson
Screenplay: Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (based on the novel, "Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia" by C.S. Lewis)
The Narnia saga continues with its creative team and cast mostly intact, and if you were a fan of the first entry, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chances are you'll be equally ecstatic for this entry, if not more so. Truth be told, I didn't like the first entry, and as much as I'd hoped for an improvement, I do have many of the same feelings about this sequel. Though it is more beautifully presented and not without moments of interest, the overhead of the excessively hokey heroics is a major impediment to taking anything we see remotely seriously.
The story starts out with Prince Caspian (Barnes, Stardust) , the rightful heir to the kingdom's throne, out to take down his uncle, the ruthless king Miraz (Castellito, Paris I Love You), who all but completely wiped out the Narnians from the land. After Caspian blows the magic horn to summon them, the Pevensie quartet returns back to the land, only discover that, though only a year has passed since their last adventure, 13 centuries have gone by in the magical land, and their tales are the stuff of myth in these parts. To continue his rule and lineage, Miraz decrees Caspian's assassination. The children and Caspian soon find themselves allies on the side of good, with the remnant Narnian rebellion set to take back their kingdom and put an end to the era of tyranny and malice.
The aspects of Prince Caspian that I cannot withhold praise for happen to come from the aesthetics. It's a marvelous looking film, with gorgeous fantasy backdrops, sumptuous set design, fantastic CGI, and vivid cinematography. From the costumes to the lighting, there's no denying that this entry has been crafted by the best -- an eye candy lover's ecstasy.
As beautiful as the film may be for the eyes, the problem's with the storytelling elements prove cumbersome to bear. What's really missing is a sense of awe and mystery to the land of Narnia to go along with the stunning, magical presentation. The reverence the children have for the magnificence of their environs can be seen on their faces, and surely the slow, ponderous shots suggest that anyone would be thunderstruck by seeing giant, dilapidated ruins or the splendor of the vast ocean side. Alas, Andrew Adamson is never quite able to get us to give that same look to what the children are seeing, as we're not given nearly enough true substance and feeling to their emotions or plight to get us caught up with what's going on. The story suggests majesty, and instead we are offered mawkishness in its place.
I mentioned in the first paragraph that many of my negative feelings regarding this series stem from the hokey qualities that are pervasive to the point where I find certain scenes meant to be the highlights of the film as downright embarrassing to watch. It's hard to get into the epic scenes of thunderous battle when Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard, Ocean's Thirteen), a talking mouse with a stylish feather headdress, is taking down hardened warriors with a needle-sized sword, quipping like Puss-in-Boots from the Shrek sequels (no surprise that Adamson also directed Shrek and Shrek 2). Walking-talking badgers and bears, satyrs and centaurs who stand around like window dressing, hardly emoting while world-shattering drama transpires in front of them only show that the craftsmen behind this adventure care more about getting the look right than in delivering a story with the grandeur and mystery called for.
At only the second film in this proposed seven film series, the clichés have overtaken the plotting. In almost any example you can point to where one of the main characters is in peril, the formula is for them to be chased and/or get to the point where they are all but surely dead, only to be saved right at the last second by a surprise external force. Most of the time, this force is one of the other main characters, or new characters they are meant to befriend, but towards the film's climax, it gets to the point where their bacons are saved when nearby trees and bodies of water decide they'd like to chip in with a "deus ex machina" moment. The bar is set so high now that I'm expecting future entries will have the quartet of children surrounded by a million man army, only for that army to be eviscerated by an unexpected giant meteorite at the last possible moment.
Despite my tepid feelings after the first film, which literally had me putting my hands over my face in embarrassment as the film's juvenile-minded chest thumping grew more hackneyed as it strived for a cataclysmic finale, I retained hope that the future entries would delve more into the characters in order to compel us with richer, more interesting dilemmas. Alas, though encroaching toward the 2.5-hour mark, Prince Caspian proves to have even less character nuance than the first film, beefing up the action and CGI while cookie-cutter characters are borrowed from Lord of the Rings and injected into Braveheart-lite scenarios. Nevertheless, while I'm clearly still not on board with this franchise, I haven't lost hope that future entries will prove more interesting, especially as some of the sequels aren't about the Pevensie children, and the nature of magical world of Narnia, religious subtext and all, will become more readily apparent.
- Followed by The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
©2008 Vince Leo