Entry for May 20, 2008: Prince Caspian

Friends, I hope you had a good weekend. On Saturday, 17 May 2008, Janice and I met Sara F. & Josh C. at the AMC Framingham cineplex for The Chronicles of Narnia [2]: Prince Caspian. The fantasy movie was entertaining enough for fans of C.S. Lewis' children's books, but it shared some of the source material's flaws.

Prince Caspian follows two plot threads, which have been altered only slightly from the novel. In the first, the title character realizes that his usurping Uncle Miraz intends to kill him (shades of Shakespeare's Hamlet) and flees into the forest, where he finds the mythical creatures that his people, the Telmarines, have nearly driven to extinction.

In the second track, one year after the events in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the four Pevensie children are having difficulty adjusting to their mundane lives back in World War II-era London. They are magically summoned back to the world of Narnia by Prince Caspian and learn that about 1,300 years have passed since they were kings and queens of the once-peaceful realm. The youngsters must learn to work together in the name of wise lion Aslan to defeat Miraz and his armies.

The film's acting, production design, and special effects are all very well-done. The young actors have grown but retain their charm from the first film. William Moseley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell, and Georie Henley return as Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie, respectively, and they are joined by the soon-to-be teen heartthrob Ben Barnes as Caspian (see photo).

The conquistador-style Telmarine newcomers, led by Sergio Castellitto as Miraz, were appropriately imposing. Veteran character actors Warwick Davis and Peter Dinklage are good as dwarves Nikabrik and Trumpkin, and cameos by Liam Neeson as Aslan, Tilda Swinton as the white queen Jadis, and Eddie Izzard as swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep again steal the show.

The costumes, castles, and creatures (including centaurs, satyrs, and gryphons) are arguably better realized than in Weta Workshop's previous efforts in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of a few years ago. The mountains, forests, and beaches of Poland, the Czech republic, Slovenia, and New Zealand are also spectacular. (Full disclosure: I have a shelf's worth of reference books on Lewis and the movies.)

As in many adaptations of classic literature, the focus shifts from character development to set-piece battles that were often mentioned only in passing originally. The action scenes are well-choreographed, but as with the book, there is a lack of narrative momentum. I have fond memories of a BBC live-action Narnia miniseries, which was somewhat less polished. We'll see if changing directors can make Voyage of the Dawn Treader more compelling, a strategy that has worked for the "Harry Potter" franchise.

The movie has its weak points, but I disagree with several critics who disliked Prince Caspian and don't appreciate the genre. Any similarities between Prince Caspian's animated trees and similar flora in Middle Earth or The Wizard of Oz are to be expected, since Lewis was friends with fellow author and professor J.R.R. Tolkien and drew inspiration from similar sources as L. Frank Baum.

Overall, I liked Prince Caspian more than other recent juvenile fantasy flicks, such as The Golden Compass, but I wonder if Disney should continue pushing the allegory-heavy series. I'd give this movie a 7 or 8 out of 10, or a solid B, while I'd give The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a B+/A-. The newer movie was rated PG for violence.

So far, Iron Man is the movie to beat for me this summer. Speed Racer and Prince Caspian were decent, but this coming weekend, I plan to screen Indiana Jones [4] and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. In the coming months, we have Kung-Fu Panda, Incredible Hulk, Hellboy 2, Dark Knight, X-Files 2, and Mummy 3 to look forward to!