Friday, December 5, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - DVD Review

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN (**1/2) - Starring Georgie Hendley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Peter Dinklage, Sergio Castellitto, Warwick Davis, Pierfrancisco Favina, Tilda Swinton, and the voices of Eddie Izzard, Ian McShane and Liam Neeson.
Directed by Andrew Adamson.

I reread the seven Narnia books right before the first movie came out, and I can't say I remember how all the stories went but Prince Caspian was one of the weakest. The book is about 200 pages long in small paperback format, and it sends the four Pevensie kids back to Narnia, where it takes them about 30 pages of exploring to figure out centuries have passed there. Then they meet a dwarf who tells them about Prince Caspian, and we get 70 pages or so strictly on him. So we're halfway through the book at that point. Then they figure out how to meet up with the prince, they prepare for a battle with the Telmarines (the human race that has since banned the magical creatures of Narnia), the actual battle is about 10 pages, and then we get denouement.

The movie's first half handles this the best possible way, cutting back and forth between the two stories. The second half is about 30 minutes longer than it needed to be due to the fetishizing of big fantastical battle scenes somewhere between Braveheart and Lord of the Rings. If I'm swept up in the battle, great, but I couldn't help but think a kids movie should have a little more magic and a little less killing.

On its own merits, the attention to detail is scrumptious. The sets, the creatures, the scope, all of that works. Acting-wise, I didn't find Ben Barnes that compelling a protagonist. He's a prince denied his throne by a scheming uncle. Got it. He's Hamlet. Or Simba. Maybe it's because his long, thick hair was always perfect that I felt Caspian was more about posing than motivation.

I found it shrewd of the director to cast all the Telmarines with French or Italian actors. They have a vague Eurotrash sense about them without being overtly against any particular ethnicity. Sergio Castellitto is the main villain Miraz, but when we get Tilda Swinton back in a cameo as the White Witch, we get a taste of what a real movie villain should feel like. The White Witch is Malificent meets Cruella De Vil. Miraz is a poor man's Jean Reno.

I liked a lot of it. I thought the first 75 minutes or so were perfectly paced, but at that point I realized we still had an hour to go in what took the book about 40 pages to tell. I am encouraged that the next chapter in Narnia's tale will have a different director.

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