"Prince Caspian": Out of the wardrobe, into a war zone | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 17, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 17, 2008

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"Prince Caspian": Out of the wardrobe, into a war zone


(From left) Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Ben Barnes, Anna Popplewell and Skandar Keynes in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Here in the unenchanted world of ordinary moviegoing, it has been about two and a half years since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first instalment in Walt Disney and Walden Media's mighty Chronicles of Narnia franchise. In wartime England, where the Pevensie children live when they're not consorting with talking lions and battling witches, a year or so has gone by. But in Narnia itself, to which the four plucky Pevensies return in Prince Caspian, the second movie in the series, centuries have passed, and everything has changed. The grand hall where Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were made monarchs of the realm has fallen into ruin, and the friendly woodland creatures with their homey British accents and computer-animated fur seem to have vanished from the scene.
When the exiled child kings and queens are thrown back into Narnia (thanks to a sudden outbreak of special effects in a London tube station), they seem no longer to be in a children's fantasy story but rather in some kind of Jacobean tragedy, a reminder that C.S. Lewis was, along with everything else, a scholar of English Renaissance literature. In a dark castle in a dark forest, men with heavy armour and beard-shadowed faces quarrel and conspire. Instead of fauns and Turkish delight, there are murder and betrayal, and a grave, martial atmosphere lingers over the story, even when the spunky dwarfs and chatty rodents return. (Aslan the lion also shows up eventually, speaking in the soothing voice of Liam Neeson.)
So Prince Caspian is quite a bit darker than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, both in look and in mood. It is also in some ways more satisfying. The relative scarcity of digital effects in the first part of the movie allows the director, Andrew Adamson, and the director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub, to explore the beauty of the Narnian landscape by more traditional cinematic means. Its lush glades and rocky escarpments provide a reminder that the supernaturalism of fairy tales originates in the magic of the natural world.
And tales of heroic adventure, however fanciful, are grounded in human problems of power, cruelty and conflict. Prince Caspian is named for its square-jawed, rather bland hero (played by Ben Barnes), but its major source of dramatic energy is the villain, Caspian's uncle Miraz, who is played with malignant grandeur by the great Italian actor Sergio Castellitto. Miraz is a classic royal usurper, who has taken the throne from Caspian's father, the rightful king, and who plans to pass it along to his own newborn son once Caspian is out of the way. His court is a viper's nest of double-dealing and shifting allegiance.
Cue grumpy dwarfs, swashbuckling mice and apple-cheeked Pevensies. And hail the popular struggle of the Narnian underground! Since the Telmarines took over and suppressed the old magic, a hardy remnant of Narnians has been hiding amid the pacified trees, sustaining themselves with the legends of King Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Queen Lucy (Georgie Henley), Queen Susan (Anna Popplewell) and High King Peter (William Moseley). When these rulers return, they rescue Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), a small, angry Narnian taken prisoner by Miraz's soldiers, and eventually join Prince Caspian, who exchanges some long, half-smouldering looks with Susan.
In spite of this hint of romance, what ensues is basically a war movie, with elaborate battle sequences in a castle courtyard and on a grassy plain, accompanied by thundering hoof beats, whizzing arrows, clanking swords and Harry Gregson-Williams's rousing score.
The main characters, whose sometimes fractious sibling dynamic provided the first Narnia movie with a hint of psychological complexity, seem a little flatter here, as if they've grown accustomed to their jobs as action heroes. And Prince Caspian isn't really about them, anyway, except insofar as the kids in the audience identify with their courage and good sense.
The cloak of allegory in which Lewis swathed the Narnia books is worn lightly on the screen, and some of their charm and novelty has been chipped away -- not so much by any lapse on the part of the filmmakers as by a sense of familiarity. Tales of good and evil set in enchanted lands populated by mythical beasts are ubiquitous these days, which may diminish the power of each new spell. The Pevensie children can withdraw to London between episodes, but moviegoers are unlikely, and also perhaps unwilling, to escape from Narnia and the other increasingly numerous, and therefore increasingly mundane, places like it.
Source: The New York Times.

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