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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chronicles of Narnia (The) ~ Prince Caspian

So who knew it was 1300 years since we last visited Narnia? It seemed to me it was only two-and-a-half ago I saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at the Essex Cinemas and then spent the next week trying to memorize the name of the blasted thing. Just saying the title of that “chapter” in the first release in this series was enough to leave me breathless, and not because I wasn’t dazzled beyond reason by what author C.S. Lewis had imagined, because, of course, I was. The trouble is that after all this time and my having watched hundreds of movies since then, my rust-covered brain would require that I go back and read what I wrote about The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe in order to recall exactly what I said back in 2005.

Fortunately, it looks like what I said then is just as applicable with (take another breath)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, an admirable follow-up to the original. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is just as rich, well-acted, well-executed, and dramatically thrilling as its predecessor, if not more so. The only thing missing is James McAvoy (Atonement) as Mr. Tumnus, the fabulous faun who first showed young Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley; tv’s “Jane Eyre”) around the Narnian countryside, but, then again, how many deer live for a millennium or more?

Prince Caspian begins in 1941 with all of the Pevensie children having come out of the closet; well actually that doesn’t sound quite right. *Ahem* Better to say they have left Professor Diggory’s wardrobe, that magical closet that acted as their portal to Narnia in the first story, far behind and are now back at school in London. Suddenly, though, they are whisked away while waiting for a train in the tube, which seems very 'Harry Potter’ except that it was written sixty years or so before Harry’s novels, so draw your own conclusion about where J.K. Rowling went digging for her inspiration (which sounds much nicer than accusing her of plagiarism, m’kay). They end up on a beach near Auckland, New Zealand, which, in this case, is also known as Narnia, and even though they are a little slow upstairs, they eventually figure out that the ruined castle on the cliff is Cair Paravel, their own home where they once ruled as the Kings and Queens of Narnia. Apparently Kings and Queens don’t always need to have instant smarts to be good rulers, I’m just sayin’.

It seems that Susan (Anna Popplewell;
Girl with a Pearl Earring) forgot her hunting horn (don’t you hate it when you do that?) somewhere when she was last in Narnia and now it has become a magical relic that the refugee Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes; Stardust) uses to call the Pevensies from their world to help him during a crisis in Narnia. Poor Caspian is on the run after his pointy-bearded evil uncle (aren’t all pointy-bearded uncles in these things rotten to the core?) Miraz (Sergio Castellitto; Fuga per la libertà - L'aviatore) has ordered him murdered, just as he killed Caspian’s father, so he could be King. I wondered right away if Aslan, the Christ-like lion from the first film was going to have an evil twin in this one, perhaps named Scar, visiting from the nearby Lion King-dom. But no, instead we get dwarves.

While on the run Caspian is saved from being captured by Miraz’s men by Narnian forest dwellers Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage; Underdog) and Nikabrik (Warwick Davis; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), who, along with Trufflehunter, an agreeable Badger (voiced by Kenn Stott; Charlie Wilson's War), who come to realize that Caspian isn’t like the rest of his race of Telmarines, the warriors who lay siege to Narnia shortly after the Pevensie children left 1300 years earlier and made Narnia their own. The Telmarines believed they had destroyed all of the Narnians in a genocide back then, but instead some the Narnians retreated to the deep forests where they have since become the stuff of fairy tales and legend.

Imagine Caspian’s surprise to discover that the stories told to him by his childhood tutor Dr. Cornelius (Vincent Grass; Empire of the Wolves) about Centaurs, Satyrs, Giants, Minotaurs, Gryphons, and all the other fanciful inhabitants of Narnia were actually true. Even better, the talking beasts are more than willing to align themselves with Caspian, who they accept as the True King of Narnia, and they promise to fight with him so Caspian can regain his throne and bring peaceful coexistence to all of Narnia. Now you know there is no way anybody is going to win any war without the help of “the true Kings and Queens of Narnia” as the Pevensie kids are now known in Narnian history and it is inevitable that they and Caspian’s paths cross and they join forces to mount an attack on the Telmarine forces.

This being a Disney movie, you can pretty much bet that even if 7,000 Telmarines and Narnians get skewered in the coming war nary a drop of blood will be shed. Well, okay, the make-up department bought one of those little four-packs of food coloring with the red dropper about the side of thumbnail. They use it to show us the suffering of the brave Peter, played by William Moseley. They dab a small scratch on his forehead or cheek occasionally so we will know this is what sacrifice is all about. After all, Moseley, who debuted in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch,
and The Wardrobe, and, at 21, is a more handsome version of what we’d like to think Britain’s Prince William actually looks like, is the real hero of Narnia.
Prince Caspian, for all his smarmy good looks, sounds Spanish, not to be confused with the rest of the Telmarines, who sound Italian, French, and vaguely anything but British, so his ethnicity is going to be an issue, even if it isn’t supposed to. I mean, if you haven’t read the books you probably don’t know this, but Lewis’ writing was outrageously biased in his ethnocentric view of the world. I doubt that this will ever be as blatantly obvious in the upcoming films as it in the books, but, even here, it is eyebrow-raising that the “bad” guys are the ones with the more "ethnic" accents. Hmmm.

The message buried in the midst of all this warring has little to do with battle and everything to do with faith. During the Pevensies’ trials and tribulations, only little Lucy claims to see Aslan (voiced once again by Liam Neeson; Taken), a sign that the others have lost their faith in the intervening year since they were last in Narnia. It is only when their faith is truly tested and they realize that they have made a mistake in not turning to the one source they know can help them do they find the resolve and resolution they need, thanks to Aslan.

Director Andrew Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe) has done an even better job with
Prince Caspian than with his original. There are more Narnian “critters”, and Adamson has expanded the story in a few ways that improved on the original novel. There is an additional battle, which could be perceived as perhaps gratuitous, but then again, how often do we get to see sword fighting these days, so I figure it is best to enjoy it whenever the chance comes around. One obvious change from Lewis’ book is in the not-romance-but-budding-interest between Caspian and Susan, which makes more sense today than in the chaste 1950s when Lewis wrote the book. While there is no groping behind the castle turrets between the two, even thirteen year olds in the audience would find it impossible to believe that these two attractive young people wouldn’t show some interest in one another unless they were both gay, and then they’d expect Caspian to try to hook-up with hunky Peter.

The biggest small change in the film version of
Prince Caspian has to do with the maturity of Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes; Ferrari), whose character has been shown to grow as quickly as the actor himself has done since the last movie. I hardly recognized Keynes at first as he has shot up a good 10 inches or so, but the real growth spurt comes in seeing how his Edmund more than any of the children (except perhaps Lucy) seems to have learned from his previous visit to Narnia. I won’t give away a surprise moment towards the last third of the film, but look for Edmund to impress in a most unexpected way.

If Prince Caspian is any indication of the quality of this series, I can hardly wait to see The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, scheduled for release in 2010. One thing that did puzzle me though was the shaky non-explanation of why we should not expect to see Peter and Susan in future Narnia chapters (although both actors are listed in the credits for the upcoming sequel). Aslan’s explanation that the older Pevensie kids had “learned all they needed” in Narnia seemed skimpier than Britney Spears’ panties collection. Whatever they learned was lost on me, which is just as well because it means I obviously need to return to Narnia even if they don’t. I hope to see you there.

1 comment:

patrick said...

the makers of Prince Caspian kept to the original story better than i would have expected... i had heard they were going to make it into a silly pure-action flick, but thankfully this was not so much the case