Monday, 30 June 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Director: Andrew Adamson
Starring: Ben Barnes, William Mosley & Georgie Henley

The second installment of the Narnia series on the big screen is a big improvement over the first and manages to be very entertaining.

When Disney adapted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series, they were certainly hoping to capitalize on the success of New Line Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings adaptations. However, the film’s box office success, while good, was not as big as Disney had hoped and neither had the film received the critical success of The Lord of the Rings. With only average performances from the child cast, disappointing CGI and a plot that emphasized the saccharine elements of the book yet toned down the darker elements resulted in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe being labeled ‘Lord of the Rings-lite.’ Much then lies on the success of Prince Caspian. Not just financially (future installments relying on better Box Office success) but also critically. Luckily Prince Caspian succeeds on improving upon the latter by being a film more confident, and slightly darker, than its predecessor.

Like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian starts off with a strong opening scene. Where the first film began with a World War air raid on London, Prince Caspian begins in Narnia with some sinister intrigue. A child is born and announced to be a boy, his father now possessing an heir arranges for his nephew, the actual heir to the throne, to be murdered. The actual heir is Prince Caspian, and upon being alerted to the danger on his life, escapes to the woods where he comes upon the people of Narnia, long thought to be nothing more than myths. As an opening it is a gripping one and in addition to introducing political/royal intrigue it poses the question to what has happened since we were last in Narnia that the people of Narnia are now relegated to myth. This mystery and it what it means for the future of Narnia is the central theme to the film. We then find the Pevensie children, heroes of the first Narnia adventure, now back in the real world and restored to their youth despite having left Narnia in their adulthood. Trying to adapt to life back home in different ways, they all miss Narnia and soon find themselves returned there to find Narnia as it is now. One year has passed for the Pevensies since they left Narnia, but 1300 years have passed in Narnia itself.

The story of Prince Caspian is a much more satisfying affair, especially for adult audiences, than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with a series of circling and intertwining quests. Prince Caspian, with a band of Narnians, seeks the Pevensies and to retake his throne; the Pevensies seek out the Narnians and Aslan to discover what has happened to the world; and King Miraz seeks to find and kill Caspian to retain his hold on the throne and rule Narnia.

An additional benefit to Prince Caspian is the increased number of adult characters. Where The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe featured only a handful of adult characters, Prince Caspian has many and like its predecessor, Prince Caspian features some excellent casting in its adult cast. Peter Dinklage delivers the most entertaining performance of the film as the, very surly, dwarf Trumpkin offering many a sarcastic one-liner for the benefit of adult audiences and developing a believable bond with Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie children. Fantasy film stalwart Warwick Davis also appears playing a role somewhat darker than usual and Italian actor Sergio Castellitto as King Miraz (leading a mostly Italian cast in the roles of his followers) brings out the greed and menace of his character and his people effectively with a tone that evokes the feeling of the Roman Caesars. Our lead character is also well served in the casting of Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian. While Barnes could be dismissed as just a pretty face (and he is certain to attract much female attention) and his inexperience as an actor is occasionally evident, he manages to carry the film quite well and certainly shows enough potential to suggest an even more satisfying performance in later installments of the Narnia series.

The weak point in Prince Caspian’s casting however, is the same weakness that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe suffered and that is in the casting of the Pevensie children. While Georgie Hensley remains as likeable as before playing Lucy, and Skander Keynes shows improvement as Edmond, Anna Popplewell has little to do as Susan except pout and fire arrows while William Moseley, as older brother Peter, fails to demonstrate any of the qualities in his performance that would make Peter a convincing leader. Thankfully the next installment in the Narnia series sees the elder siblings, Susan and Peter, sidelined to focus more on Lucy, Edmond and Caspian.

There are a few other set backs to Prince Caspian that while not as prominent as they were in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, still hold Prince Caspian back from being an excellent film. Despite the more mature themes running throughout the film, the battle sequences, while better than before, still seem too soft and less impressive when compared to those of other Fantasy sagas. There are also a few moments throughout the film where the flow is interrupted to through in a moment for the children. The sword swinging mouse, Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard), while mostly entertaining, hijacks a scene at the film’s climax that interrupts a warm moment unnecessarily.

Overall, Prince Caspian is a great improvement over The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is an enjoyable experience for adults and children alike and, while the weaker elements of the first film are still present, the Narnia series shows the potential for even more improvements in future installments. Considering how the same progression has been evident with each additional Harry Potter film, if the pattern continues to with the Narnia series then The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will be an installment to look forward to.

Rating: 3/5