A Long, Boring Trip Back to Narnia in Prince Caspian
“Things never happen the same way twice,” says a stately Aslan, Narnia’s own Lion King, well into Prince Caspian’s second hour.
Maybe he didn’t see Lord of the Rings.
If he had, he might have been reminded of another set of stories in which trees come to life to fight for the good guys; in which a river floods at the behest of a magical being, laying waste to enemy forces; in which several mythical races form an uneasy alliance to battle an evil empire.
Yes, things happen the same way twice quite often on this second journey to Narnia. Not to accuse anyone involved of lacking imagination, but as someone who hasn’t read CS Lewis’ beloved series of books, and who only watched the first film as a professional obligation, I felt like I’d seen all of this many times before.
The first Chronicles of Narnia story, adapted in 2005’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, followed the four Pevensie children into a fantasy realm held in deep freeze by Tilda Swinton’s White Witch.
In Prince Caspian, they return one year later (though each of the young actors appears to have grown three feet and aged about seven years since the last film). They’re understandably shocked to find that around 1,300 years have passed in Narnia time. Gone are Mr. Tumnus, the talking beavers, and the rest of their old menagerie. In their place: some ill-tempered dwarves, a talking badger, a milquetoast prince and a brewing war.
In time, Peter, Edmund, Susie and Lucy (William Moseley, Skandar Keynes, Anna Popplewell and Georgie Henley) learn that they have been summoned back to save Narnia by Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), cast out of his kingdom by a bloodthirsty uncle angling for the crown. The four young kings and queens eagerly don their Renaissance Fair attire and set about restoring Caspian to his kingdom. This task also involves helping the put-upon residents of Narnia – centaurs, minotaurs, anything with CGI tail or a set of wings – return to their rightful place in Fantasyland. Like Caspian, it seems they too have been ejected from their homes over the centuries.
If you aren’t snoring, you’re either a fan of Lewis’ book or, at the very least, someone who enjoyed the first film. I’m neither, and I admit that Prince Caspian was utterly unappealing to me from the start.
The child actors, who did a fine job the first time around, don’t seem to have progressed in their craft very much since Wardrobe. Consequently, this film rests itself on some awkward, clunky performances, and doesn’t benefit from the addition of Barnes to its cast. It seems like Caspian is supposed to be a young warrior king, but Barnes shows so much of his softer side, it’s almost a surprise when he picks up a sword. Only Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Death at a Funeral) acquits himself well, drawing on his considerable talent to make his character a comparative pleasure to watch.
In fairness, however, the material doesn’t do its actors any favors. Not having read the books, I simply can’t imagine director Andrew Adamson (who co-wrote the film with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) is doing justice to Lewis’ vision. The sloppy allegory of the first film has become ham-fisted and overly obvious in Caspian, and the script is full of hackish jokes and long, dull conversations that don’t further the plot.
Finally, like the first Narnia, Caspian suffers mightily from that most modern of maladies, excessive special effects. Over time, the talking animals and fantasy creatures become exhausting to watch, especially since they don’t blend very well with the often-stunning natural scenery.
The film just feels like Tolkien in junior high. The players are the same, but the depth isn’t there, nor is the subtlety, nor the overwhelming spectacle. Caspian might appeal to kids who haven’t experienced much fantasy literature. At nearly two and a half hours, however, it could also be the first film to teach its young audience the difference between ‘epic’ and ‘just plain long.’
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