May 18, 2008

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian

In 2005 director Andrew Adamson leapt from the world of animation, having helmed the first two Shrek outings, to the land of living, breathing actors, taking charge of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was the first time the CS Lewis epic novel (part one in a series of seven) has been adapted to the big screen. It was met with much enthusiasm, although after I saw it, I found I liked it but did not love it as much as many had. So now, three years later, we have the first sequel, subtitled Prince Caspian. How does it compare? Well, production qualities are about equal, but the pacing is worse this time around and I found myself growing restless, checking my watch with some regularity. Perhaps my lukewarm reception is due to my not having read the books, therefore not being attached to the story going in.

As Prince Caspian opens, we are privy to the birth of Lord Miraz's son (a scene which, oddly enough, reminded me of the opening scene from The Hills Have Eyes II). This birth signals an absolutely urgent necessity for the young Prince Caspian to flee the castle and head for the forest. Apparently, Miraz has his eyes set on Caspian's throne, now with an heir of his own, he is free to take a more active role in acquiring it. So, as Caspian escapes, he blows a horn to call for help.

Transition to the present day, well the present of the Prevensie siblings. The kids are waiting for the subway when they are magically transported back to Narnia. The big difference between this time and their first trip is that 1300 years have passed, Narnia has been decimated following a long battle with their neighboring Telmarines, of which Caspian is prince. Finding the fantastical land in this condition proves to be something of a shock to Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.

Before long, the foursome find themselves aligned with Caspian and the remaining Narnians in a battle with Miraz and his Telmarine forces. The end goal is to return freedom to Narnia, return Caspian to his throne, and bring peace to the land. Will they succeed? You're just going to have to see the movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is all about the surface flash and epic scope of Caspian's attempt to regain the throne and the uniting of the Narnian forces to clash on the open field of battle with the forces of evil. It is so caught up in this that the idea of character development and actual story is put on the backburner. This imbalance in the screenplay leads to a pace that is all hurry up and wait. The plot moves forward in fits and spurts, and with a running time north of two hours, it overstays its welcome. With a time that long you would think that something would happen, but I do not believe that much did, again, it is all about the epic flash of the battles and less about forward motion. Much like this review, going nowhere and fast.

To its credit, there is an attempt to weave a subtext of faith throughout, but it is shoved to the back. While it is made to feel deep and meaningful, it is not explored fully enough to have any sort of real impact. Well, at least there is more of an attempt here to retain the author's thoughts than there was in The Golden Compass.

The biggest problem I had with the film is that I did not care about any of the characters. It did not matter if they loved or died, nor did it matter if they succeeded in taking back the throne or whether they found Aslan or not. The blandness of the actors did not help matters, either. Just how many vacant stares does Ben Barnes, as Prince Caspian, possess? Oh yes, just one that is used over and over. Then there is Sergio Castellitto as Miraz, I kept wanting him to laugh maniacally while stroking his beard. The four kids are all right, but they never really light up the screen either.

I guess it wasn't a complete loss, but there I can see so much more potential in the material than what is shown. I did enjoy the comic vignettes with Reepicheep, the battle mouse voiced by Eddie Izzard. Peter Dinklage is an excellent actor and his skill shown through the big beard he had to wear as Trumpkin. Still, this should have been a stronger experience than it was.

Bottomline. This is not a bad movie nor is it a good movie. What it is, is a very mediocre movie. The screenplay is loaded with clunkers, not to mention the pacing/story, or lack thereof, issues. I am sure fans of the novel will have plenty to complain about, while others will enjoy the flash of it all. I was not able to get behind it, yet I am not inclined to completely pan it. There are much worse films you could be subjected to.

Very Mildly Recommended.


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