DVD Reviews - 'Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian'

Poster for Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN  Collector’s Edition (Disney) (3 DVDs)

In various notes on his Narnia series, CS Lewis stated the first book of the series, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, was about introducing “true faith” to his audience. The second book, Prince Caspian, was about losing and then regaining it.

Lewis did this by having his four original characters, the Pevensie siblings returning to the mystic world after, at least in our terms, a year’s time. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy have survived the ravages of World War II and are back to school. Their biggest crisis appears to be a nerd’s fixation on one of the girls. Then they decide to take the train home, not realizing their next stop would be Narnia.

As any fan knows, the Narnia they return to is quite different from the one they left. While it’s been barely a year in their world, it’s been over a millenium in Aslan’s land. The native Narnians have been overthrown by invading humans called Telverines. Not that the current rulers don’t have their own issues. Their king and queen had been killed. Their land is currently ruled by a lord regent, Miraz, who has ambitions of being king himself. The only thing holding him back is a surviving Prince, Caspian. When Miraz’s wife Prunaprismia (Alicia Borrachero) gives birth to their own boy, he makes his move to take Caspian out of the picture. The young man escapes, and hooks up with the four Pevensie sibs and the surviving Narnians to reclaim his throne.

The problem with this second film can be easily summarized in two words, “sophomore jinx.” One gets the impression the need to make Caspian every bit as good as the first book, if not better, took its toll on director Andrew Adamson and the folks at Disney. Yes, this second effort has all the bells and whistles and technological magic the outing deserves, but the soul of the book got lost in the SFX.

One can plainly see this when it comes to the acting of the five principles; William Mosely (Peter), Anna Popplewell (Susan), Skandar Keynes (Edmund), Georgie Henley (Lucy), and Ben Barnes (Caspian). With the possible exception of Keynes and Henley, the rest of this young cast feels like they are drowning in the effects, leaving the audience completely detached. One also gets that impression from Sergio Castellitto (Miraz). In interviews he did elsewhere, he felt his responsibility was to “act out a stereotype,” and the apparently renowned European actor did just that, to a boring “T.” This can be easily seen in the all-too-brief reappearance of Tilda Swinton as the first film’s main antagonist, The White Witch. She casts a ton more chills and terror in her few minutes than Castellitto does in his few hours of film time.

Not that all the acting is lame. Hardly. The extra content disk contains long portraits of Warwick Davis and Peter Dinklage as the Narnia dwarfs Nikabrik and Trumpkin, respectively. They deserve it much more than the four kids as they steal the film as the conflicted Narnians with their own agendas.

Sad but true, the same can be said for the animated characters. The badger Trufflehunter (voiced by Ken Stott) is fascinating as the old school true believer. The heroic mouse Reepicheep (Eddie Izzard), is another scene stealer with his solid sense of humor and chivalry. Of course, when Aslan (Liam Neeson) does make his appearances, his magnetic presence still sets the screen on fire.

In fact, it’s the extra content that really drives the problems with this film home. One has to admit, when seeing the film itself, the special effects are the best part of the movie. Sequences such as when the Narnians come out of their underground caves to take on the Telverines are spellbinding, truly well-conceived and choreographed head-bashing ballet. The initial train station sequence is borders on revolutionary. If the acting stood up to the FX, this would have been a monster film.

Yet getting back to the extra content, where the first collection included long meditations on Lewis, his life and work, this set concentrates on production notes. SFX tech geeks will probably find Adamson and crew’s pains and labors in producing all the cinematic magic and particular locations intriguing, but two hours of such content does get a tad dry real quick. As any good stage magician knows, if you part the curtain and reveal too much of the mechanics of the act to the audience, the sense of disbelief is thrown out with the bath water. What’s left are a pack of fancy contraptions and definitely no enchantment.

A new video essay on Lewis’ motivations for this book, how Caspian ties into the entire series, becomes a screaming necessity. When done right, annotation to highly symbol-driven works such as Caspian actually helps a reader’s appreciation of an author’s intention. Like any good series, this second volume has weight not only because of its own message, but as to how it feeds into the third volume in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In that book, Peter and Lucy will not be central characters, as it focuses on Caspian, Lucy, Edmund, and Reepicheep. The idea these humans are going to be outstaged by another Disney-generated mouse has a certain irony to it, something one feels Lewis would not appreciate.

Returning to the original theme here. What one ends up feeling is Adamson and company probably lost a touch of what made the first movie such a magnificent bit of entertainment. Maybe the weight of having a tremendously respective first outing took its toll, and while the concentration on all the bells and whistles causes a plethora of pretty pictures, the enchantment of was exiled in its own right. Hopefully this lesson has been well-learned over at Disney for Dawn Treader.

Features:

Disc 1:

- Audio Commentary with Director Andrew Adamson and Actors

Disc 2:

- The Bloopers of Narnia

- Deleted Scenes

- Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns

- Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes to Life

- Big Movie Comes To a Small Town

- Previsualizing Narnia

- Talking Animals and Walking Trees: The Magical World of Narnia

- Secrets of the Duel

- Becoming Trumpkin

- Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik

Disc 3:

- Disney File Digital Copy

Related:

  • New York Comic Con 2008 Video Archive Page (Prince Caspian cast interviews)  

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