Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

For multiple reasons, Prince Caspian has big shoes to fill. Continuing the story begun by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), this film has the built-in problems of being based on a beloved book and being the sequel to a hit film. Prince Caspian deftly leaps across both these hurdles, not just living up to its predecessor, but complementing it. Like the books on which they’re based, these two Narnia films are stronger as a pair than they are as individuals.

The story begins in 1941, as the four Pevensie children are mysteriously whisked away to Narnia, the fantasy realm they discovered one year earlier. They soon learn that though they have only been away from Narnia for one year, 1300 Narnian years have passed. Everything has changed, and the kingdom is now ruled by the cruel Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), a usurper who plans to kill the rightful heir to the throne: his own nephew, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes). The four children join an underground resistance to help Caspian, all the while wondering why the creator and true ruler of Narnia, the great lion Aslan, doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

This film adopts a much darker tone than its predecessor through its themes, its intense action, and even in its color palette. The film carries a PG rating, as no blood is seen, but let’s just say PG isn’t what it used to be. Battles are much more frequent, and much more potent. Despite the heavy overtones, the family-friendly nature ultimately remains intact, and humor helps offset the violence. Trumpkin, a sharp-tongued dwarf played by Peter Dinklage, breathes fresh air into the series. The four main actors, all of whom successfully sustained the first film, are even better this time around.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t as compelling as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. C.S. Lewis’ second Narnia novel unfolds at a slower, more contemplative pace. The writers compensated for this in several ways, the biggest of which was adding an important action scene to Prince Caspian that isn’t in the original novel. Surprisingly, the addition enhances the story. What could have been an empty action sequence becomes powerful because of how it connects to the story’s key themes. It’s a change that I think C.S. Lewis would have approved of.

Your enjoyment of the first film can serve as a fair barometer for this one. If you didn’t care for the first, there’s probably nothing here to win your interest. If you haven’t seen the first, I recommend that you do so before seeing the sequel, because as I said before, the two films complement each other very well. As an avid fan of C.S. Lewis’ novels, I loved the first film, and enjoyed this second journey into Narnia just as much, if not more. Within the last decade, breakthroughs in visual effects have allowed many great fantasy classics to translate legitimately to the big screen, and I’m thrilled that so many have been done so well. Visual effects make fantasy films possible, but classic cinematic virtues bring them to life.

Prince Caspian is based on the second of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia. I hold what seems to be a minority opinion among fans of the books, and that stance is that the next film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, should be the last. It’s the last story to feature the Pevensies as children, so there’s no race against the clock to retain the same young actors (like with the Harry Potter films). I just think that the stories become too abstract and philosophical down the road, and in its themes and scope, Dawn Treader would be a fine finale. Whatever the filmmakers choose to do, I hope they can match the same quality of work already set forth. For lovers of fantasy and adventure, this latest journey into Narnia is one worth taking.

Click here to view the trailer

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated PG for epic battle action and violence.

I think most double-digit kids will enjoy Prince Caspian, but you may want to prescreen it or talk to other parents who have seen it if you’re planning on taking younger children. It’s PG only because there isn’t any blood, but the action is certainly intense enough to warrant PG-13. As I understand it, director Andrew Adamson even had to make minor adjustments to squeak-by with a PG rating.

1 comment:

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