The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (review)

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Into the Woods

Yes, it’s sort of even more Lord of the Rings-ish than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was — I’m talking about the movies here — what with warrior trees and some deadly magic on a raging river and all the battles and creatures and so on. For which you cannot honestly put all the blame on director Andrew Adamson, who also wrote the screenplay with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who jointly wrote You Kill Me), because all those things are in C.S. Lewis’s book. You can maybe blame Lewis for being such pals with J.R.R. Tolkien that they argued about stuff like God and morality and such and ending up riffing on each other in their fiction. But they’re not around to complain to anymore.
So ya gotta feel for Adamson (Shrek 2), who must have said to himself, “Crap, Jackson just did this, the trees and the river and all, and did it so well….” And ya gotta admire him for dealing with it as he does here, in Prince Caspian, by just plowing through and getting it up on the screen without a lot of fuss or showing off. By letting the real charms of his second outing with The Chronicles of Narnia flow much as they did in the first one: by not lingering on the spectacle but on the sweetness of what is unique here, in the child characters and the enchanting talking animals. Which makes Prince Caspian even more like Lord of the Rings Babies than Wardrobe, but you know what? That’s great. Guess who steals the show here? It’s Eddie Izzard (Ocean’s Thirteen) as the voice of the warrior mouse Reepicheep… and the CGI wizards who animated him. Just adorable.

But things are a bit more intense this time out, too. The Pevensie kids have been magically transported from World War II England back to Narnia a year after they left, but 1,300 years have passed in the magical realm, and the critter Narnians — talking badgers and fauns and centaurs and mice and minotaurs (the minotaurs are extremely cool) and so on — have been subjected to a genocide by the invading human Telmarines. Hoorah for children’s movies with their talking badgers and their genocide! The concept is not fixated on, so mommies and daddies may escape some awkward questions from the kiddies, but the fight for survival the Narnians are engaged in is what the film is all about, and while there isn’t a lot of blood or gore — there isn’t any, in fact — there are lots of scary-thrilling moments, and unpleasant ones too. When the eldest Pevensie and Narnian High King Peter — he’s meant to be about 16; actor William Moseley is now 21, and a sweetly charismatic screen presence — leads an attack on the Telmarine castle that goes badly, he’s forced to make a tough decision, as leader and military commander, that is handled by Adamson — and Moseley — with surprising depth and feeling. Again: it’s not drawn out, not turned into the kind of drama that would drag down what is, for the most part, a romp of a flick, but it’s there enough to lend some genuine heft. And it’s a nicely balancing bookend to the rousing, enthusiastic cry with which Peter opened the battle: “For Narnia!” Which I admit gave me a little chill.

And then there’s the Telmarine Prince Caspian (played by 26-year-old British stage actor Ben Barnes in his first major film role — he had a small part in last year’s Stardust — which makes the character twice as old as he is in the book, but who cares, because there will be much sighing and daydreaming from the junior-high set, and not a little from, ahem, us older gals, too). His uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto: Mostly Martha), who’s got his eye on the Telmarine throne in the wake of the death of King Caspian, our Caspian’s father, wants his nephew dead, and there’s the fun way the movie opens: with Miraz’s men attacking Caspian in his bed. Good luck getting the kids to go to sleep after that.

So Caspian flees… into the mysterious woods of Narnia. Where he meets a talking badger and a warrior mouse and a dwarf named Trumpkin (the always wonderful Peter Dinklage [Death at a Funeral], who makes himself stand out even under layers of latex) and ends up siding with the Narnians against his uncle for the throne of the kingdom… and the betterment of all Narnia, of course. Oh, and of course he meets the Pevensies, too, the “kings and queens of old” who’ve returned to help Narnia in its hour of need, and gets to butt heads with Peter a bit over who’s in charge and who isn’t.

Aslan is back, bringing the “deep magic” of Narnia into play, and even the White Witch makes a brief appearance. But if you think two pretty boys with swords ain’t the icing on the fantasy cake for me, well, you’d be wrong.

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Thu, May 15, 2008 5:31pm

Glad you liked it. I’ll be seeing this tomorrow, hoping that it’s as kind to my childhood memories as the first one.

Thu, May 15, 2008 10:13pm

As a lifelong fan of the Narnia books, I am curious to see if the White Witch is handled properly and not merely shoehorned in.

I love the approach you took to the LOTR question, MaryAnn. True geeky goodness with rational heft, and a big reason why I enjoy reading your musings.

I must tortuously wait until Monday to see this– my wife is out on a week-long competition and has made me swear not to see it without her.

Fri, May 16, 2008 12:43am

I am curious to see if the White Witch is handled properly and not merely shoehorned in.

I don’t recall how she’s handled in the book, but the way she appears in the movie makes perfect sense.

Fri, May 16, 2008 5:12am

she’s not in the book AT ALL, but what they did in the movie didn’t bother me at all (except the makeup on that bird woman that summons Jadis).
NOw that the two less interesting books have been dealt with, I can’t wait for the rest (including Magician’s nephew, the second best IMO, regardless of the opinion of most fans).

Fri, May 16, 2008 1:40pm

The White Witch doesn’t make a bodily appearance in PC the book, but there is a thwarted attempt made to summon her. If they just take this farther, then I wouldn’t call it shoehorned. Sounds good!

I agree PC is one of the lesser of the Narnia books. However, it is certainly not one of the least interesting to me. Its themes are unique in the Narnia series– in fact, it’s nearly full-blown pagan and devoid of almost any Christian allegory (beyond the generic “return of the king” motif– not really allegory in the strictest sense). My problems are more with pacing and structure of the book. The least interesting to me is The Horse and His Boy. My favorites are The Magician’s Nephew and The Silver Chair. I even named my pug Puddleglum!

I just hope Disney, et. al. don’t bail mid-series like the BBC did. The latter books deserve treatment, with the possible exception of “Horse…” I’m not looking forward to a buddy flick with a talking horse coming out of Disney studios.

Fri, May 16, 2008 2:22pm

I agree PC is one of the lesser of the Narnia books.

Maybe, but — at least as far as I remember — it’s the only other book with all four kids, so they needed to make this one now before the kids, especially the younger ones, got too old. *Voyage of the Dawn Treader* is already in production, so we’ll get at least one more.

Maurice Webb
Maurice Webb
Fri, May 16, 2008 6:14pm

I had no idea Eddie Izzard was the mouse. No wonder he had me rolling in the aisles.

Fri, May 16, 2008 7:29pm

I’m just glad they put the movies out in the original publishing order instead of that abominable new edition chronological order.

Sun, May 18, 2008 2:15am

I think they pretty much had to make the prince older. The only thing about the book that ever really bothered me was the young age of the prince going into single combat. It wasn’t moral to send him nor was it believeable that he’d win. But since I haven’t seen the movie yet (I read reviews to help me decide which movies I want to see in the first place) I will just have to look forward to seeing how they handle the age change.

Sun, May 18, 2008 2:52am

I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, and thanks for a pleasant review. Is the music as enjoyable as it was for LWW? That was one of my favorite things about the first movie.

Now for something almost completely different. I’m curious what you would think about the idea of replacing (not anytime soon, please) a very popular Doctor, who has transformed the role and become the only Doctor for many people, who has distinctive facial expressions, hair style, and mannerisms, with someone who is much younger, appears more vulnerable, is well-known for his accomplishments in another popular venue, and is blond.

It would be like repeating history, eh?

William Moseley for the eleventh Doctor? He’ll be almost old enough if David Tennant can hang in there for a while yet without getting tired of it like Tom Baker.

Sun, May 18, 2008 4:45pm

I’d like to see Moseley weather a little more before seeing him as the Doctor. He’s got a lot of potential, but at the moment it’s mostly potential. He’s fine here, in an ensemble, and he’s got a lot of charisma that cannot be learned, but I’m not sure if he could carry something like *Doctor Who* yet.

I will just have to look forward to seeing how they handle the age change.

It’s just fine. And it does make more sense that he’s older than he was in the book — it would have been far less easy to suspend disbelief at a 13-year-old going into battle when you can actually see him doing it, as opposed to merely reading about it.

Mon, May 19, 2008 9:33am

Paul wrote “I think they pretty much had to make the prince older. The only thing about the book that ever really bothered me was the young age of the prince going into single combat. It wasn’t moral to send him nor was it believeable that he’d win.”

If I remember correctly, in the book Peter went into single combat with Miraz, not Caspian.

Mon, May 19, 2008 4:52pm

You’re right– It was Peter mano-a-mano with Miraz in the book.

I saw the movie yesterday, and I’m seeing it again today, because it was absolutely fantastic. As a lifelong fan of the series and an avid book-to-movie adaptation junkie, this is saying A WHOLE FRAKKING LOT, but it is worlds better than the book for me. More narrative tension, more balancing of action and quiet, gorgeous scenery, tasteful and intelligent re-arranging of set pieces to provide above-mentioned, and much more mature acting and writing.

I’m still on a high, so I don’t want to gush all over everyone just yet, but it is probably in my Top Ten favorite movies of all time (which is a very different list from my Top Ten best movies of all time). An incredibly fulfilling moviegoing experience.

Just one comment, though: They got Aslan right. Dear God, they got him right this time. He’s not safe, but he’s good– I just about tore the screen down when they left out my favorite line from the first movie. In this one, they showed it to you; I finally got the sense of dread, awe, curiosity, wonder, and the numinous which I felt reading the books the first time through. Marvellous direction and CGI animation.

Mon, May 19, 2008 4:58pm

One more thing: I’ll probably get reamed for this, but the trees here were better for me (visually) than the Ents in LOTR. They weren’t sore thumbs in LOTR, but they were a very far cry from my imagination and were somewhat hard to get into (when they weren’t kicking ass, at least) due to the production design chosen.

This is probably the only time I’ll say it, but I liked the all-CGI better than the animatronic. Part of that was the ambulation issue: I always envisioned and wished the Ents would have walked with their roots like PC’s did, rather than bipedally. Way to go, Adamson et. al.

Mon, May 19, 2008 5:30pm

Aside from feeling silly now, I wonder if I should reread the book before or after I see the movie.

Tue, May 20, 2008 12:01pm

I’ve seen the movie twice now, and it was FANTASTIC. Definitly way up there on my list of all-time favourites.

I thought the trees in this one were a million times better then the ents in LOTR. Although, I’ll give credit to LOTR that they managed to make walking and TALKING trees not incredibly cheesy.

My only real issue with this movie was the age difference for Caspian. I think that making him older was a good decision on the filmmaker’s part. But, if he was as old as I was taking him to be (at least, like 18) he seemed really naive! Okay, shocked to find out that your uncle was trying to have you killed is alright. But, when he found out that Miraz was trying to get his throne, I think that a half-way intelligent person would have assumed that he killed your father too.

One other comment: I wished there was more Aslan. I know, he wasn’t in the book that much either, but he was so much better in this movie that I just wish there was more of him!

Tue, May 20, 2008 12:07pm

My position (on rereading books regarding which one’s memory is hazy right before seeing their adaptation) is that there is hardly EVER any reason to do so.

Books and film are radically different media, and consumers of both expect completely divergent setups and payoffs. Thus, whenever possible, I am always in favor of experiencing and enjoying both on their own merits, and with their own set of criteria for what is desirable/acceptable.

It’s entirely and utterly improper to judge a movie from the standards of literature, or to judge literature from the standards of cinema. In my opinion, the latter is far more common nowadays and far less acknowledged, but the former is just as pernicious. Often, it’s impossible to impose ignorance on yourself for an adaptation whose source material you are intimately familiar with. In cases like yours, however, where it’s already present, if I were you I would try to enter the theater with as clean of a mental slate as possible.

In fact, that was what I did and I think I enjoyed both better for it.

Tue, May 20, 2008 12:19pm

I think that a half-way intelligent person

Wellll, I gotta say that Caspian doesn’t come across as exactly the brightest flower in the forest, does he? :->

Tue, May 20, 2008 12:43pm

:) Nice one.

The book contains Caspian’s backstory, and more interaction between Caspian and Miraz which gives a little better story support to why Caspian is in the dark about this: his uncle (in the book) is not always a brooding outright tyrant. There is a period of time where Caspian is intended to be the king, while Miraz is failing to have a son. Then, the revelation of his father’s fate and the threat on his life happen at the same time. And we never hear of it again.

Cinematically, it makes sense to hold back this information, reveal it at a crucial moment (when Caspian catches Miraz helpless), and then make it a major character motivation for the climactic showdown. This makes it personal as opposed to political or ideological, which makes the appeal broader.

But the whole thing still could have been handled better by making it a bit clearer.

Tue, May 20, 2008 4:58pm

Re: William Moseley as the 11th Doctor

I dunno. While William certainly gets the lion’s share (hehe) of the screen time in Prince Caspian, I kinda feel that Skander Keynes gives the more compelling and nuanced performance. I rather enjoyed the way he was able to portray Edmund as Edmund-minus-the-bratty-selfish-streak. Whether that would translate into the Doctor for him either, it’s rather early in both of their careers to tell.

Sun, May 25, 2008 2:50am

On re-reading the books: I think it might be a good idea actually, because I was quite rusty on the book going in to see the film today and felt like the only reason I could sort out what was going on was because I had read the book once upon a time.

I can’t help but think that parts of it must’ve been hopelessly confusing to people who hadn’t read the book.

On the film overall/film-as-adaptation: I found this to be a very exciting and fun adaptation that cut through a lot of the ‘travelogue’ stuff from the book. There’s been a lot of comparisons made to Tolkien and I think that ‘Prince Caspian’ is one of the books that has the most Tolkienesque flavor to it. Maybe C.S. and J.R.R. were trading a lot of ideas intensively at that time or something, but as I recall, there’s a lot of expositional passages in PC as the Pevensies travel through Narnia, especially near the beginning when they’re exploring the ruin of Caer Paravel and then in bits throughout. I quite enjoy this sort of writing which is partly why I love Tolkien so much too, but the movie cuts through a lot of that and presents it visually which overall makes for a tighter story.