STARRING: Georgie Henley, Skandar
Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Peter Dinklage, Warwick
Davis, Vincent Grass, Ken Stott, Pierfrancesco Favino, Sergio Castellitto, Liam
Neeson, Eddie Izzard
2008, 140 Minutes, Directed by:
felt indifference to 2005's The Lion, the Witch, and the
Wardrobe, and I feel indifference to its sequel, Prince Caspian.
There's something missing from this franchise, and three years ago the absence
of persuasive content was baffling. Now, the clues are more apparent.
When a magical train station
whisks siblings Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar
Keynes), and Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) back to the realm of Narnia, they
learn that while one year has passed for them since their last visit, hundreds
have gone by in Narnia, and the land is in ruin. Overrun by humans led by
villainous King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), it's up to Prince Caspian (Ben
Barnes) to escape the clutches of Miraz and seek counsel with the creatures and
leaders that remain in Narnia. Teaming up with the Prince, Peter and the clan
decide to fight Miraz for control of the land, while Lucy searches anxiously for
signs of the all-powerful lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson).
I'm aware that stepping on the
literary throat of C.S. Lewis is sure to provoke a rabid response, but
understand that my beef is not with the source material, but with the director
of the two Narnia films, Andrew Adamson. While
surely putting forth a Herculean effort to lift these massive fantasy features
off the ground, Adamson has a horrible grasp on the drama and performances.
Surely Wardrobe could coast on the very newness of it all, but Caspian
is a visual sleeper hold from frame one; a constipated effort to erect
widescreen wonderment, yet the production is missing dimension and needed
"A constipated effort to erect widescreen wonderment . . ."
Caspian handles oddly
from the opening sequence, which introduces us to the new Narnia look:
muddy, low-lit cinematography, which lends the picture a brooding stance, making
an already overlong picture feel eternal. While the story might come easy to
Lewis devotees, as a film Caspian has substantial difficultly arranging
itself into a kinetic whole. It takes a good 30 minutes for the film to warm up
properly, only to find that Adamson has little interest in his characters,
giving mere seconds to important motivations and sweeping Shakespearean dramatic
turns that seem critical to the experience.
Caspian doesn't feel
rushed, just unfinished. Adamson's focus is on the eye-opening, big-bang
material, in which Caspian and Peter try to lead Narnia forces of dwarves
(played by Peter Dinklage and Warwick Davis), centaurs, and sword-wielding CG
mice into battle against Miraz. That's all well and good, but where's the meat
here? Where's the connective tissue that the audience can savour while our
heroes step into battle? Caspian is marked by long stretches of screen
time where there's nothing dramatic to grab onto, as though the film was engaged
in a dullsville holding pattern while waiting for the next opportunity to
declare war. Once it becomes clear that Adamson isn't interested in establishing
a human element, the picture becomes a chore to sit through.
performances don't exactly help matters either, with the Pevensie clan of young
actors showing a noticeable lack of panache with these more difficult roles.
Truthfully, the kids are completely ineffective, and it cripples Caspian, which
details the once and future kings and queens of Narnia as troubled souls, yet
nothing registers in their body language, nostril flaring, or distant stares. I
also wasn't thrilled with Barnes as the titular royal heir. It's difficult to
get excited about a hero who looks exactly like and seems about as threatening
as a Jonas Brother.
Caspian is quick to head
into battle, and the final hour of the movie is devoted almost entirely to
expansive combat arrangements and a marathon one-on-one duel between Peter and
Miraz. Admittedly, I was more swayed by this section of the film due to its
thankful influx of velocity, but Adamson is hardly serving up anything new here.
It's the same war cries and catapult assaults as detailed in such hits as
Lord of the Rings, without anything
to single them out for Caspian. It all speaks to the fatigue of the
production's imagination, and while it may entertain the faithful, I doubt it'll
inspire more than a drowsy yip-ee-do out of the casual viewer.
I suppose I was expecting the
next chapter in the Pevensie family adventure story that was promised at the end
of Wardrobe. What Caspian ends up becoming is a simpleminded,
violent war picture (the film's PG rating is misleading) with minimal effort put
into character growth. It's a decent ride for special effects and all things
that go boom, but anyone expecting depth here might be better off snuggling up
with the original books instead.