Chronicles of Narnia, The: Prince Caspian (United Kingdom/United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Chronicles of Narnia, The: Prince Caspian Poster

For the second installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, director Andrew Adamson has caught a severe case of Lord of the Rings-itis. While the 2005 adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe kept close to the tone of the book, Prince Caspian plays a little less like a fairy tale and a little more like an effort to expand the audience. That's not necessarily a bad thing and it makes Prince Caspian more accessible to older would-be movie-goers. Overall, while not as strong in terms of plotting or character development, Prince Caspian is nevertheless a better cinematic experience than its predecessor, if only because it feels more confident and polished.

Adamson and his co-writers remain reasonably faithful to the source material, although there are additions and deletions. The role of Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) in the movie is significantly reduced from what it is in the book. On the other hand, the battle scenes are beefed-up and a subplot is added focusing on a rivalry between Peter (William Moseley) and Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes). Meanwhile, the movie version of the "boy king" Caspian has been aged into his mid-20s. He even has a mild flirtation with Susan (Anna Popplewell) - something definitely not found in C.S. Lewis' writing.

Prince Caspian transpires one year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in our world and 1300 years later in Narnia. Prince Caspian, the true heir to Narnia's throne, has been denied his birthright by his uncle, King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). Now that Miraz has a son, Caspian has been marked for death. He is aided in his escape from the castle by Dr. Cornelius (Vincent Grass), who also provides him with a valuable artifact - a horn to be used in only the most dire of circumstances. With Miraz's soldiers at his heels, Caspian flees into the forests of Old Narnia, where he encounters danger. Before being knocked unconscious, he sounds the horn, which summons the "old kings and queens of Narnia" from their mundane life in London.

Peter, Susan, Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) arrive at the ruins of their former seat of power, Cair Paravel. There, they are able to reclaim their clothing and equipment from long ago. They also meet the dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), who tells them of the struggle between Caspian and Miraz and how they have been summoned to once again save the creatures of Narnia from evil. Under Caspian's rule, all of the birds, beasts, and humans of the land will be able to live in peace. Not so with Miraz in control. And where is Aslan? He has not been seen in centuries but, shortly after their arrival, Lucy claims to have glimpsed him. No one else believes her… at first.

The most stark area of difference between Prince Caspian and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe relates to the diverse manners in which the films depict battle. The climactic clash in the first movie was perfunctory; here, the final hour of the 137-minute motion picture is devoted to a series of skirmishes. As Peter Jackson did in The Two Towers, Adamson has expanded a relatively short portion of the book into an epic segment in the movie. One could argue that the battles in Prince Caspian go on for too long (or that there's one too many of them - the sneak attack on Miraz's castle isn't in the book), but this is preferable to how war was handled in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Here, there's a sense of breadth and scope to the death and destruction with a sanitized similarity to how things were handled in The Two Towers. And, while there's no blood and gore to speak of, Prince Caspian nevertheless contains some of the most extreme violence I have seen in a PG movie. In terms of the body count and the rather nasty ways in which some of the deaths occur, this is really PG-13 material.

Most of the special effects issues that plagued The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe have been corrected. The computer work is well integrated and there are few instances in which it calls attention to itself. Aslan is better rendered, as are monsters like the minotaurs and centaurs, and the talking animals like Reepicheep the valiant rodent and Trufflehunter the badger. One suspects, however, that as much as the effects artists were challenged with Prince Caspian, that's nothing compared with what they will be faced with in the next installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Prince Caspian's greatest weakness lies in middling character development. None of the individuals in this movie - neither the four returning children from the first movie nor the dashing newcomer - attains three-dimensionality. The rivalry between Peter and Caspian (a construct of the movie) is an attempt to flesh out personalities, as are the quasi-romance between Susan and Caspian and Peter's assertion that he can save the day. Despite these and other additions, the protagonists feel half-formed, and the audience's bond with them is tenuous. The chief villain, King Miraz, fares worse. He looks like King Leonidas from 300 but acts like Snidely Whiplash. Compared to Tilda Swinton's White Witch, he's unimpressive.

In terms of its overall appeal to fantasy lovers, Prince Caspian is a stronger movie than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and attempts have been made to capture that portion of the fantasy audience turned off by the child-friendly nature of the first movie. And, although Prince Caspian is less directly allegorical than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it offers a message about the importance of having faith and Aslan remains a messianic figure. Adamson tones down the symbolism a little but not to the extent where it is unrecognizable. Nevertheless, Prince Caspian does not come across like a sermon. As fantasy adventures go, this one falls short of The Lord of the Rings' pinnacle, but there are enough rousing moments to make it worth the price of admission.

Chronicles of Narnia, The: Prince Caspian (United Kingdom/United States, 2008)

Run Time: 2:17
U.S. Release Date: 2008-05-16
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1