The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) — Suffers from sequel syndrome

“I think you’ll find Narnia a much more savage place than you remember.”

Mike’s rating: See? This is what happens when you leave your magical countries lying around.

Mike’s review: There’s a downside to a sure thing. Even though nothing is ever 100% guaranteed, some things have enough going for them to ensure reliability. The downside to this is that if it succeeds, it’s not exactly surprising or exciting. If the sure thing fails, it’s so disappointing that it can lead to tears, loss of faith in your fellow man, and Phil Collins records.

Prince Caspian is a sure thing. I went into the midnight show expecting to be entertained, but not necessarily surprised. But surprised I was. Rather than a complete carbon copy of the book and retread of the same aspects that made the previous movie so good, Director Andrew Adamson takes a few daring liberties with the story, ups the action and comes out of the gate flying.

Rather than begin the story in England as the book and the last film did, Adamson starts us out in Narnia right in the thick of the story. Narnia is occupied by the Telmarines, a race of men who conquered the magical country centuries ago, and hunted its inhabitants to near extinction, sending the rest into hiding. Caspian is different from his ethnic-cleansing brethren, having been raised with the stories of the magical creatures of Narnia by his tutor, Doctor Cornelius. It’s this Doctor who warns Caspian and helps him escape the assassination attempt of his uncle, Miraz. You see, now that he has a son/heir, and Caspian is the rightful heir to the throne, Miraz finds that his nephew’s existence is really annoying.

So before a cadre of guards can make him into a pincushion, Caspian makes for the woods. There he learns that the magical creatures of Narnia: the dryads, the fauns, the centaurs, the anthropomorphic computer-generated badgers, they’re all real, and awaiting a Son of Adam to lead them to freedom. They’ll just need some help along the way. One toot on Susan’s magic horn, and enter the Pevensies, stage right.

First things first. I liked that the story only strayed from the book in ways that made the story more fleshed out and amped the dramatic tone from the written word, (with one noteworthy exception, but I’m not up to my gripes yet. Be patient). The actors returning to their roles as the Pevensies have really come into their own and grown a great deal in confidence, which they translate nicely to the screen. These aren’t the children of the first movie after all, viewing everything with childlike wonder and innocence. They have the memories of being not only adults, but also kings and queens of this realm, and I love that that’s the way they carry themselves. I also love that it’s that very confidence that leads to serious issues of overconfidence in Peter, who has maybe let being high king go to his head.

This added confidence also extends to the action and fight scenes and makes them great fun to watch. Far from the nearly bloodless and PG-rated battle of the first movie where you never really saw the leads actually kill anyone, the “children” fight like experts and yes, they do slay a few enemies. More than a few actually, and the one on one fight between Peter and Miraz will more than satisfy anyone who watched the first film wishing Peter could’ve handled a blade a little less like the Star Wars kid from YouTube. Another aspect of the story I really liked was the portrayal of Aslan. In the first movie it bothered me that Aslan didn’t seem quite as regal, or majestic as the book described him. In this film, Aslan is given less screen-time but is portrayed as a lot more powerful and mysterious.

As far as I could see there were only two problems. First, is the pseudo-romantic relationship between Susan and Caspian. Not in the book in any way, shape or form, the decision made by the writers to depict said romance was not only gratuitous but also pointless. Now I’m not decrying deviations from the book (I’m not that much of a purist, or that much of a geek), but this particular deviation didn’t further the story at all. The mentality seemed to be, “Oh, both of these actors are good-looking, We should make them hook up so teenagers will watch the movie”. The result is the two actors making googly eyes at each other while way more important things are happening on screen. We know Susan’s not staying in Narnia and we know Caspian is, so honestly, what’s the point?

The final gripe is the special effects. While there are some gorgeous shots, the effects shots don’t really live up to the grandeur of the scenery or the wonder of the plot. They’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the bar has been seriously raised in the past few years and this movie showcases effects that are good, but only middle of the road by today’s standards.

Despite these gripes however, I had an awesome time watching this one. Altogether, it’s a really strong fantasy film. More amazingly, it’s that rare sequel that actually strays from its predecessor while being just as good, if not better. If this series of films continues on improving at this pace, then I’m ridiculously excited to see what they have in store for the remaining installments.

Lissa’s rating: Somewhere, Orlando Bloom is heaving a sigh of relief.

Lissa’s review: Of all the people happy about the release of Prince Caspian, Orlando Bloom must be one of the happiest. As enviable as it may seem, it must be difficult to be a teenage heart throb. Dealing with fangirls can be exhausting, I’m sure. I don’t think I could do it. And now, the onus is off his shoulders, because if the girls sitting in front of me at the 3:15 showing of Prince Caspian were any indicators, Ben Barnes and William Mosley are going to be helping him out in the pin-up department.

So, yeah. I got to see Prince Caspian (look, I’m not writing the entire title each time) in the theaters. Duckie surprised me with the offer, so I didn’t have time to reread the novel beforehand, which is sort of a shame. When I first read The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian was my second least favorite of the seven. (Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my least favorite.) However, I do wonder if that was a function of my age, and how much better I would like it now. When I read the Prydain books, Taran Wanderer was always my least favorite as a kid, and when I reread them it was my favorite of the series. So, I don’t know.

I know that many people believe you should separate the source material from the movie anyway, and what I thought of the book versus what I thought of the movie really shouldn’t matter. And in many ways, I can agree with that, because a movie can stand alone very well without the book. For example, take The Princess Diaries, which I keep saying I’m going to review some day and never do. I’ve read the book and seen the movie, and holy cow, they are NOTHING like each other. Seriously. And yet, taken as a movie, I actually really like the first Princess Diaries movie. It’s not the same story, but it’s still a good story in its estrogen-laden way.

On the other hand, take The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That has to be one of the most faithful adaptations I have ever seen of a book to a movie, and therein lies the appeal. The movie took a book I love dearly and visualized it perfectly. So it becomes apparent there are two questions here: how well does a movie tell a story, and how well does it bring to life the book people love? And that’s my divergent little essay (okay, paragraph) on adaptations.

ANYWAY. Prince Caspian is not the second book (or third book, depending on where you put The Magician’s Nephew, but I prefer that as book 6) of the Chronicles of Narnia. However, doing Prince Caspian next was a wise decision on the part of the movie makers, as it features the Pevensie children and A Horse and His Boy does not, and child actors age quickly. (Although this is apparently not why they are doing it that way.) The plot is a little more simplistic than the first one. The Pevensie children find themselves back in Narnia and help an on-the-run Prince Caspian regain the throne that his uncle Miraz stole from him. The end. Well, pretty much. Prince Caspian is much more straight-forward and battle-oriented than its predecessor.

While I really enjoyed the movie as a story, I did find it less challenging than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I do mean that as a criticism. There were more subtleties of both plot and character in the first movie, whereas the second was exactly how I described it above, with a side plot about faith as the Pevensie children wait for Aslan. I didn’t mind the lack of subtlety in the plot, but I missed it in the character. Peter, especially, I felt suffered. His cockiness was played up a little too much, and I got to the point where I just wanted to smack him around a little. I mean, it’s great that they made him quite fallible, but I think they actually overextended.

For some reason, I’m having a hard time writing this review, and I think I know why. The critical part of me is pointing out a lot of things that could have been improved or that I normally wouldn’t have liked. They’re not necessarily huge, but they are there, and the scientist in me thinks that I should be objective and mention them. Things like Caspian’s wavering accent and the tacked on Susan/Caspian romance and the thought that Caspian should be 13 and Peter 14 and the actors are 26 and 20, respectively. But the truth is, all those things aside, I liked Prince Caspian, really enjoyed watching it, and was sad when the movie was over. It made me want to get my butt moving on original work, and made me want to peek in my closet and see if maybe, just maybe, Narnia was there waiting for me. I liked the characters, the actors did a good job, the effects were even better than in the first movie, and it was an interesting, fun movie.

Of course, I very rarely make it to the theaters these days. What that means is that a.) I’m appalled that they’re charging TEN DOLLARS for a matinee, and b.) I don’t judge the films I do see in theaters as harshly because I’m savoring the experience. (And I’ve got to give the swooning tweens in front of me a lot of credit – they did so very quietly. Most of my assessment of their drooling comes from the “Caspian was HOT!” that came once the credits were rolling.) So take my opinion with a grain of salt, I suppose, but hey – you should be anyway – I’m an Internet reviewer, for crying out loud. But I really enjoyed it, and I’d easily see it again – just not in the theaters because at that rate, I could buy it.

Ten bucks for a matinee. Sheesh.

Justin’s rating: Renaissance Faire 2: The Renaigeddon

Justin’s review: When I was a kid and my dad read the Narnia series to us, at no time in my head did I envision Prince Caspian as a dead-on sexy hunk whose sole purpose was to be the non-threatening object of lust for every female inside and outside of that fantasy world. I’m pretty sure other readers would agree, and most likely C.S. Lewis as well, who wrote Caspian as a 13-year-old boy, not a 27-year-old Tiger Beat pin-up.

So when director Andrew Adamson (“Son of Adam”) boasts how his film adaptation of Prince Caspian is incredibly faithful to the book, he’s in part choking on his own lies in fear of being discovered as a typical Hollywood sell-out. Choke on those lies!

As we dive into the second film of the series (shot in the correct order, no matter what Lissa might have told ya), no time is wasted getting us back to the magical land of Narnia. An heir to the throne of a neighboring kingdom is threatened and flees into the deep woods of Narnia, where he assumes the mantle of leader for the oppressed, downtrodden creatures. To help him out, the four Pevensie children — Peter, Edmund, Susan and Lucy — are recalled from our world to hold back Narnia from extinction.

While The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe dealt with the obvious Christian themes of salvation and redemption, Prince Caspian is a bit more subtle with its message of a return to faith after years of doubt and discouragement. The creatures of Narnia feel abandoned by the absence of Aslan and the leadership of men after 1300 years of silence, to the point where these facts are degraded into mere myths and fables. Caspian is raised by a tutor who instills in him the desire to seek out and find the truth that’s been hidden from him and his people. And the Pevensies are downright eager to return to the land where they were recognized as kings and queens, not mere schoolchildren.

Now, where “hunky guy makes steamy eyes at Susan and Susan’s huge lips” fits into this, I’m at a loss. But I’m sure it’ll bring in the crowds of tweeners quite handsomely.

Both the book and the film suffer from sequel syndrome, a harsh feeling of “been there, done that” that rarely lifts to allow for some fresh new fun. When it does — such as during the castle invasion or in the characters of Trumpkin and Reepicheep — I cheered the movie on and greatly wished there could be more like that. Having Peter and Caspian play “who’s the bigger cock of the walk” (check out when Peter passes his “sword of power” off to Caspian) got old after about a half hour, and really, neither of these guys approach real levels of leadership, no matter what the soundtrack score tells you.

What worries me the most is that this series is reinforcing the Lord of the Rings Jr. feel to it, what with the constant battles, bloodless victories, and somewhat lacking creature makeup. I know that big battle scenes are practically the staple of any modern fantasy film, but considering how the next four books in the series don’t have any major clashes, I’m concerned with how they’re going to shoehorn them in just to appease expectations.

Narnia is a smaller world than LOTR, yet more intimate and thoughtful – and the films should rightly reflect this. It’s a strength that has yet to be tapped in the series, and as we head into the smaller adventures in the next few movies (with, I hope, a new director), I’ll hold on to faith that these translations will eventually make Lewis proud.

Didja notice?

  • The Guards around Caspian’s bed actually fired, reloaded, and fired again. That’s cold.
  • How sarcastic the conversation between Miraz and the council was?
  • The way the dwarf stares really IS creepy.
  • Edmund is badass.
  • The talking squirrel being all hyper.
  • Th dryad from the first movie in Lucy’s dream.
  • That the dwarf’s name is Trumpkin? Yeah, me neither. Kind of an important detail to leave out.
  • The little kid centaur.
  • Seriously, Edmund is REALLY badass.
  • The Telmarines have covered wagons? Are they Mormons?
  • Do NOT call the mouse cute.
  • Yeah, Miraz, slap your lieutenants. That’s the way to inspire loyalty, moron.
  • The tied-up cat.
  • That despite 1500 years of history there has been NO technological development? They should have flying cars by now.
  • Yes, she killed a soldier by throwing an arrow. Eat that Legolas!
  • The way Miraz’ generals totally played him?
  • Water spirits like to eat bridges, because they’re high in fiber.
  • Edmund is now hardcore champion.
  • Every – repeat, every – movie should feature a dwarf swordfighting a teenage boy twice his height

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