The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (PG)
Starring: Ben Barnes
“Magical Sequel Takes Us Beyond the Book”
To be honest, the second book in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series, Prince Caspian, was never a favorite of mine. So the fact that the film version has an identical rating to the first movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, means director Andrew Adamson did a phenomenal job of preserving what worked in the book while broadening the scope and depth of the story. Having just reread the book a month before the movie’s release, I’m fairly aware of Adamson’s adaptations to the story—most additions are minor with the main change being more political intrigue among King Miraz and his traitorous lords. Unfortunately, expanding Miraz’ back story only adds to the confusion over Caspian’s role in the whole mess and still does little to elevate Miraz from misguided opportunist to malevolent villain, which is what the film really needed.
As the movie opens, Miraz’ wife delivers a son; the arrival of an heir to the throne places Miraz’ nephew, Caspian, in great danger. Fleeing the castle, Caspian stumbles upon some woodland creatures who tell him they are “original” Narnians. This comes as a surprise to Caspian, for when his people, the Telmarines, arrived in Narnia they drove out all of its native inhabitants (talking animals, dwarves, fauns, etc.), or so they thought. Caspian agrees to help the creatures reclaim their land by overthrowing his tyrannical uncle. When the battle goes ill, Caspian blows Susan’s magical horn and the four Pevensie children from the first story are magically transported back to the enchanted realm of Narnia—though it’s only been a year since their first visit, 1,300 years have passed in Narnia.
The four former kings and queens of Narnia—Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley)—are joined by Caspian (Ben Barnes), Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) and Nikabrik (Warwick Davis) in their campaign against Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). Other CG companions among the multi-species army are: Trufflehunter the badger (voiced by Ken Stott), Reepicheep the valiant mouse (Eddie Izzard), Aslan the majestic lion (Liam Neeson) and Patterwig the Squirrel (voiced by and the movie’s composer, Harry Gregson-Williams).
The battle scenes have been expanded from Lewis’ scanty skirmishes, and though they couldn’t hope to compete with LOTR’s epic sequences, Caspian’s are well-executed, especially the night raid on Miraz’ castle where griffins are used as drop ships to sneak in Caspian’s strike team. Several other nifty effects are: Narnians creating a cave-in underneath Miraz’ army, marching trees lassoing enemy soldiers with their tentacle-like roots and a river king who breaks the bridge and drowns Miraz’ troops. The trouble with all of these sequences is that they’ve already been done in LOTR. Granted, there are very few things that haven’t been done, and done better, by LOTR in the fantasy arena, but some originality would’ve been welcome.
If Medieval battles aren’t your thing, there’s plenty else to enjoy here; like lovely Lucy’s steadfast belief in Aslan, Edmund’s newfound belief in Lucy and Caspian’s fateful decision to turn his back on his own people. There’s some timely symbolism in the way the creatures and trees reclaim their land from the evil Telmarines (a lost tribe of humans). The passage of time in Narnia and the visible deterioration of once-great fortresses is a disheartening reality for the children and factors into the movie’s narrative in unexpected ways. The cinematography of devastated castle Cair Paravel and its surrounding mountains is absolutely breathtaking: New Zealand has become to fantasy flicks what the Midwest is to westerns.
The addition of new companions, like Trumpkin, Reepicheep and the centaur Glenstorm (John Cornell), keeps things fresh and lively and Adamson’s conscious decision to omit some of the book’s more kiddie names, like giant Wimbleweather, was a prudent one (in fact, he defaults to D.L.F. “Dear Little Friend” for Trumpkin, who, admittedly has a pretty hokey name himself). The only things I didn’t like in the film were Peter’s parochial attitude and bullying ways throughout the tale, the overlong sword fight between Peter and Miraz and the overly contrived scene where Lucy rides into the wood to find Aslan.
Though not as magical as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian is remarkable because it achieves nearly as much with less engaging source material. Now, on to The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, my favorite Narnia story! Can’t wait to see what Adamson does with the pool at Deathwater.