Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Those who know me will recall I was not impressed by the first Narnia film. Yesterday I was delighted to discover that Prince Caspian, although derivative and occasionally awkward, is worlds better than its gormless predecessor.

In Caspian the four Pevensie children return to Narnia to find that a thousand years have passed since their reign as Kings and Queens. Caer Paravel is reduced to ruins and the Narnians have been hunted to the brink of extinction by the vicious Telmarines. The children unite with the exiled Prince Caspian to reawaken the Narnians, defeat the Telmarines and return Aslan to his people.

Those expecting a faithful adaptation of the book will be disappointed; the movie gleefully dances around CS Lewis' plot, totally ignoring key aspects while liberally interjecting epic battles. That's fine by me; Prince Caspian was always the dud book in the Chronicles by my estimation, and that the movie wrings a watchable story from the tripe therein is little short of genius.

More to the point, Prince Caspian skillfully identifies the key themes of the book and puts them front and centre. Where the first film glossed over a lot of the Christian symbolism, Caspian makes it abundantly clear that Aslan is a surrogate Jesus, and most of the character arcs are really about faith and innocence. The fact that the movie embraces its source material allows the Narnia magic to really start flowing, and in the end the religious themes are no more offensive than Zeus turning up in a Hercules movie.

Anna Popplewell as Susan is by far the best of the lead actors, with Ben Barnes as Caspian and Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin running a distant second. The CGI characters are handled adequately, although the mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard) isn't quite the triumph fans might have wanted. The Harry Gregson-Williams musical score is perfectly adequate but not exactly his best work.

Probably the most disappointing aspect of the movie is that it never finds a unique visual style. There's nothing here that you haven't already seen in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter; in fact, certain scenes seem like shot-for-shot homage. It's like Walden Media chose not to hire their own concept artist, and instead just got their crew to rewatch a bunch of genre classics.

Prince Caspian is not the best fantasy movie ever made, but it's an entire exponential better than I was expecting, and ends up being pretty recommendable. The next Narnia book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is my favourite of the bunch, so if they can keep up this level of quality for at least one more film I'll be a very happy filmgoer.

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