Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Film Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" *** (out of ****)

"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (2008) was the sequel to "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (2005). And was considered by many people to be a disappointment. I can see their point but, the movie works, in a way, just not in the ways you might expect it to.

When I first saw "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" my main compliant was the first film lacked a certain movie magic. The movie didn't seem to take great joy introducing us to the world of Narnia. It was a rather somber film with a message, which I interpreted as, children using their imagination to mask the terrors of the outside world.

If you recall the first film it took place in London during WW2. The children's father is a solider and their mother has sent them to the countryside for their safety, where they live with Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent) and discover an empty wardrobe closet which transports them to the world of Narnia.

In "Prince Caspian" a year in human time has elapsed. The children miss the world of Narnia and have not returned since. When we meet the Pevensie children we find Susan, (Anna Popplewell) the eldest daughter, has become a bit of a loner. The eldest son, Peter (William Moseley) gets into fights in school, where he gets beat up. He still wants to live in Narnia where he is a king and known for his bravery. In the real world he is just another boy who gets picked on. Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) still retain their innocence from the first film.

Just as in the first film, I came away with a story of children disappointed with the real world who use their imagination to escape into a fantasy world which they have created. Soon, in Harry Potter style, a subway train speeds by them and somehow opens a portal which takes them in Narnia.

But Narnia is not the same place they (or we) remember. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) no longer rules. Narnia is not a winter wonderland anymore. It now looks like a tropical island. We learn 100 years have passed since the children have been there. Gone are all their friends from the past; Tumnus (James McAvoy), Beaver (voice of Ray Winston) and Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) has not been seen since.

The creatures of Narnia have had to live underground due to a war with the Telmarians (who basically look like humans) who thought they completely killed off every Narnia creature. They are now ruled by Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), who has order his men to kill his nephew, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) after Miraz's wife has given birth to a son. Prince Caspian, who has been told stories of what Narnia was once like, finds himself befriending the creatures of Narnia and the Pevensie children to fight the Telmarians and restore order once again.

The reason a lot of people were disappointed by this movie, I think, is because first of all the tone of the film is much different. If "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was a children's fantasy picture, "Prince Caspian" is a medieval period piece adventure story, no different than the "Lord of the Rings" stories and the movie I kept thinking about while watching this, "The Two Towers" (2002). Also all of the beloved characters are gone here. Only the White Witch and Aslan make cameo appearances. They were quite frankly the most interesting characters, not the Pevensie children. There is no mention of the children's parents. Is the father even alive? No wardrobe in this movie either. Wasn't that the only way to enter Narnia?

As I said, the first movie lacked magic, this movie doubles that lack of magic. Instead the movie evokes a sense of nostalgia. We yearn for the first film and its world and cast of characters. There is a great sense of lost hoovering over this film. A desire to return things to the way we remember it. But this also coincides with the children's emotions. They wanted to return to Narnia because of their dissatisfaction with the real world.

I'm still of the belief Narnia doesn't exist and is all in the children's mind. I won't reveal the ending and I haven't seen "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (2010) yet, but, it seems the movie has the same message as "Peter Pan". Once we grow older we lose our imagination. It is suggested two characters will no longer return to Narnia because they have gotten older and have learned all they can from Narnia. What a mistake from an audience's point of view. Why keep eliminating all the characters we've come to know?

But I'm recommending "Prince Caspian". Why am I doing so if I find fault with the movie? I only find fault with the movie when compared to "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and what my expectations were. As an action/adventure story "Prince Caspian" is your typical film with the usual results. In that sense it delivers on what you would expect from this genre. To compare the film to the original, I admit, "Prince Caspian" is the weaker film and an odd continuation of the Narnia saga.

Directing duties were taken on once again by Andrew Adamson and adapted by the same writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. I've never read the Chronicle of Narnia books so I'm at a disadvantage. I don't know how successfully these films have been adapted. But even if the writers followed the book to the letter, this is a bizarre adventure.

"Prince Caspian" was a major letdown for Disney studios, which didn't even release "Dawn Treader". The movie grossed 150 million less than the first film domestically. It didn't even break even. Although I'm of the opinion a movie's box-office is not an indication of a film's quality. The movie is worth seeing just be prepared for something different.