by Mel Valentin
"The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," the Disney Studios/Walden Media produced adaptation of the second book in C.S. Lewisí series for children (2006ís "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" was the first), arrives in multiplexes two weeks after Jon Favreauís 'Iron Man" adaptation and just one week after the Wachowski Brothersí "Speed Racer" (with next week bringing the much anticipated "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull"). That doesnít give "Prince Caspian" much time to win over the hearts and wallets of the moviegoing public, but even if they donít, fans of C.S. Lewisí series will be (or should be) pleased with director Andrew Adamsonís ("The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," "Shrek I and II") improvement both as a visual stylist and action set piece choreographer.The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian picks up a year after the four Pevensie siblings, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley), returned to England, circa World War II. Crowned as kings and queens in Narnia, the Pevensies have had some difficulty in readjusting to the status quo ante. Peter especially takes umbrage at any sign of disrespect, getting into a fight with several other boys after bumping into one of them. Edmund rushes to Peterís defense while Susan and Lucie look on in disapproval. Luckily for Peter and Edmund (both losing badly), the arrival of a constable saves their rears from, at minimum, a loss of pride and, at worst, serious beatings. Moments later, a train rushes by, magically sending them back to Narnia.
"A sequel that actually improves on the original."
Except itís not the Narnia they remember at all. In Narnia, thirteen hundred years have passed. While the defeat of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) ushered in an era of peace, harmony, and tranquility for the Narnians, human and non-human, a group of humans identified as the Telmarines have conquered Narnia, slaughtering the non-human Narnians and forcing the survivors to hide in the surrounding forests. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), next in line to the Narnian throne, looks like an improvement on the Telmarine kings that preceded him. His uncle and regent until Caspian reaches maturity, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), however, is just as dictatorial and tyrannical as the earlier Telmarine kings. He also wants Prince Caspianís throne for himself and his newly born son. Alerted to Mirazís perfidy, Prince Caspian flees to the forest where he meets two dwarves, Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) and Nikabrik (Warwick Davis). Mirazís men capture Trumpkin while Nikabrik pulls Prince Caspian to safety.
Prince Caspian awakens to a talking badger, Trufflehunter (Ken Stott) and Nikabrik discussing his fate. As Prince Caspian slowly convinces them of his good intentions, the Pevensies learn of Narniaís history from the recently freed Trumpkin. The Pevensies make their way through the forest to find and join forces with Prince Caspian and his newly gathered forces (made up primarily of non-human Narnians). Miraz, of course, isnít sitting idly by. Heís planning a full out assault on the Narnians as soon as his army completes an all-important bridge over the river separating Telmarine land from the forest. Meanwhile, Lucy thinks sheís spotted Aslan (Liam Neeson), the resurrected Lion King, in the forest, but her older siblings, doubting Thomases, one and all disbelieve her. War seems inevitable, as is conflict between the headstrong Peter and the equally headstrong Prince Caspian.
Not surprisingly, Prince Caspian carries all the elements fans of C.S. Lewisí series and the first adaptation had, e.g., fantastical, magical creatures (care of WETA), a medieval setting where courage and chivalry are tested on the battlefield, epic set pieces (with the production values to match), and Christian allegory (mostly subtle, but sometimes heavy-handed). With the ever-wise Aslan a literal deus ex machina (again saving Narnia at a crucial time) and a stand-in for Jesus Christ (he was resurrected in the first book and film) and Lucy standing firm in her belief in Aslan (despite the disbelief of others), Disney Studios and Walden Media arenít exactly trying to avoid claims that theyíre proselytizing to the unconverted, but all that Christian allegory is set firmly in a magical world that owes more to pagan ideas and concepts than to Christian beliefs or mythology.
While the pagan mythology and classic fantasy genres (e.g., kings and queens, usurpers, battles, etc.) effectively neuter any attempt to push a Christian message across to a presumably pliable audience, whatís more interesting is Adamsonís choice (presumably with Walden Mediaís approval) to depict the Telmarines as 16th-century Spaniards. The Telmarines are dark-skinned, power-hungry, xenophobic, and generally ill-tempered. Theyíre either stand-ins for Roman Catholics and the Spanish Armada that tried to invade England in 1588 or, worse, Moorish Spaniards (i.e., Muslims who converted to Catholicism to avoid expulsion). The religious beliefs of the Telmarines, however, are left out of the film, but itís clear they stopped believing in Aslan (if they ever did) long ago and are, thus, illegitimate rulers. But hereís one contradiction out of many: Prince Caspian offers hope in large part because heís willing to adopt an inclusive position toward the non-human Narnians.Subtext aside, "Prince Caspian" is at its most engaging when Adamson is using the considerable resources at his disposal to stage battle scenes, including a raid on Mirazís castle at the mid-point and the climactic battle near a Helms Deep-like fortress that breaks off into a dramatic swordfight that surprisingly enough, seems to carry with it a sense of jeopardy for the characters involved. Unfortunately, all of those set pieces take time to set up and carry through. With a two and one-half running time, "Prince Caspian" comes close to overstaying its welcome on more than one occasion. Still, thatís a minor point to what ends up as an unexpectedly intense film to sit through. That makes "Prince Caspian" less kid-friendly, but, given the evidence onscreen, thatís a small, almost negligible price to pay.
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originally posted: 05/16/08 00:14:39