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Rapid Reviews – Prince Caspian

July 9, 2009
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I love The Chronicles of Narnia.  It was the first series of books I read as a kid that really transported me to another world.  I would’ve given anything to be Peter or Edmund, and to this day, I can’t open a wardrobe without hoping just a little that it’s a portal to someplace else.  Ok, so there’s not a lot of wardrobes around, but you get my point.  These books affected me.  They opened my imagination.  They gave me magic.  After I first read them, I was told about the Christian connection, but I doubt it’s something I ever would’ve put together at that age.  Reading them as an adult, I can see that allegory can be heavy-handed, but I also think it’s irrelevant.  These aren’t stories meant to indoctrinate, although I’m sure there are people on both sides of the fence who would disagree.  Religious people may feel that the Christian underpinnings are what make these stories popular and necessary, whereas the non-religious may see something insidious in hiding it under the cloak of fantasy.  For me, though, they are just stories meant to be enjoyed by children, meant to give them something to hope for, meant to give them something to dream about.

As for the movies, they seem like low-rent Lord of the Rings knockoffs.  Sure, the production design and special effects are on par with any major blockbuster (for the most part.  In both movies, there are at least a couple special effects scenes that needed a few more runs through the rendering computer). I’d also say it seems clear that the filmmakers have a respect for the source material.  Not that they slavishly follow the books (nor should they), but they do seem to be putting in a serious effort to make good movies.  However, even with all that, I could never get over the feeling that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was just skipping along the surface.  I hoped for more with Prince Caspian, but I think I got less.

The fault seems to lie in two main areas.  First, the director, Adam Adamson, although serviceable, does not really have a handle on how to expand these movies into epic territory.  His battle scenes feel hemmed in, both physically and emotionally, and he never really builds a powerful moment.  Some of this blame can fall on the screenwriters as well, but most of these problems are with the visuals, not the words.  That’s not to see these movies look bad, but more that they feel like a patchwork of scenes without the necessary connective tissue.

The other main problem is the casting.  The actors playing Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy aren’t horrible, but nor are they ever quite up to the task.  The girls get the better of it, and Edmund is fine.  Peter, however, never once makes me believe.  Each and every time the movie needs him to deliver at least a ringing double, he, at best, hits a seeing-eye single.  Being that most of the heavy emotional beats fall on him, the movie never really has a chance.  As for the title character, Ben Barnes as Prince Caspian is definitely handsome enough (in fact, I’d say he’s a little too pretty.  He kept reminding me of a particular actress whose face I can see, but whose name escapes me at the moment, which is frustrating me to no end.), but he doesn’t bring much else to the table.  The only good bit of casting I found in this movie was Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin the Dwarf.  He took a character that’s written as a bit of joke and gave it some dignity.

I’m hearing that Prince Caspian may be the last of the Narnia movies we see for awhile.  Although I’d love to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the big screen, I’m happy to wait until new creative voices take over this series.

These reviews are becoming a lot less rapid with each installment.

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