Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 6/12/09

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Back in 2005, I was thrilled when director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) filmed a tremendous adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s classic The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The film was one of the most faithful book-to-film adaptations I’d ever seen, and a great movie. Last year, the second film in the Narnia series, Prince Caspian, was released. Heather and I never made it to the theater to see it, but we caught up with it last week on Blu-ray, and while it wasn’t as good as the first (and to be honest, the source material isn’t as good either), it was still an entertaining entry in the series.

Caspian, which is actually the fourth book in Lewis’ Chronicles (Lion is actually #2), picks up with the Pevensie kids (Williams Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and Georgie Henley) back in London and having trouble readjusting to life as schoolkids after their long lives as kings and queens in Narnia. Suddenly, they are summoned back to Narnia, only to find that well over a thousand years have passed in the magical land. Their castle lies in ruins, a foreign power has invaded and occupied the land, and the rightful heir to the throne, Prince Caspian X (Ben Barnes) is on the run from his ruthless uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). After discovering exiled Narnian creatures hiding in the forest, Caspian joins with them and summons the Pevensies back to the land, seeking to overthrow their oppressors and return Narnia to peace. Together, they seek the long-absent Aslan and fight for the future of Narnia.

The movie is a little slow out of the gate, with the story taking a while longer to get rolling than it did in Lion. Part of this is due to the fact that Caspian is hardly the strongest Lewis novel (it was chosen for the second film because of the required age of the kid actors), and I imagine it took a fair amount of work to adapt the screenplay into something that played well onscreen. Once all the characters come together, though, the film finds its stride and its second half is noticeably stronger than its first. I had heard a lot of buzz going in about the drastic changes made to the story for the film, but I must say, I didn’t find anything that was so out of spirit with the book that it negatively affected the movie for me. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Caspian is hardly my favorite Narnia tale, so I don’t mind seeing a couple tweaks here or there. The action scenes were well shot, and it’s apparent that Adamson feels more comfortable in the director’s chair in his second outing than he did for his first. The cast is serviceable, but nobody (including Barnes in the titular role) turns in a performance that you’ll remember down the road. As for the film’s allegorical power, those looking for the vivid Christian imagery of the first film will still find it here, though it’s not nearly as prevalent. In the end, this is a good film but it’s not one that I think I’ll have the desire to re-watch quite as much as Lion. Adamson and company took one of Lewis’ weaker offerings and made a film that, while not great, is a decent entry in the series and paves the way for new director Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough, Amazing Grace) to take the reigns for the next installment (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). If you haven’t already, give Caspian a rental. It’s well worth the time. - *** (out of 4)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is rated PG for epic battle action and violence.

1 comment:

Darius said...

You're actually the first person I know who enjoyed it so much. I thought it was quite weak, but then, I'm comparing it to the old BBC movies (which actually outdid the new Lion version as well except in special effects budget). I particularly loathed the teeny bopper love song playing in the background as the children said goodbye to Narnia.

And you are correct, the acting left a lot to be desired, especially Caspian's. He obviously was chosen for his pretty face and not his acting chops. That's what ultimately has left me wishing for more from both of these movies (especially the latest): the production team has clearly cared more about making it a pop culture movie which appeals to shallow teenagers than a film true to the message of the books.

I hate to see what they'll do with the Silver Chair or Last Battle (assuming they get to either of those). They will have to seriously darken up the movie to match the book (though Puddleglum is delightfully funny). Perhaps they'll go the route of Harry Potter and progressively darken the plot...