Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008): Starring Ben Barnes and Tilda Swinton

Bigger, larger, and “more epic” do not necessarily mean better in Disney and Walden Media’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” a disappointing sequel to the first chapter, the 2005 Oscar-winning, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which earned over $745 million in its worldwide release, of which the domestic gross amounted to $292), thus making it one of the most successful movies in Disney’s annals.

Based on C.S. Lewis’ series of beloved literary classics, the second picture continues the story of the Pevensie siblings, but without the narrative momentum, dramatic energy, story continuity, and emotional involvement that had marked the first film. Overextending its welcome, “Prince Caspian” is too long and structurally messy, with one too many battles for its own good.

The White Witch (magically played by Tilda Swinton) and the Lion Aslan (magisterially voiced by Liam Neeson) are very much missed as central figures from this saga, which may have too many subplots, locations, and characters. Both the Witch and the Lion appear in much smaller roles and toward the end of the film; the Witch has practically one extended scene.

Though lacking the overall magic of the first installment, “Prince Caspian” is darker and more sinister in tone, and quite impressive on a strictly technical level, with spectacular battles and visual and aural effects that offer partial compensation for the textual flaws. It’s the kind of picture that Hollywood makes well, which means that it should score at the global box-office, but perhaps not as big as the first chapter, due to mixed critical reception. The picture’s release date is tricky too, bowing a week or two after the f/x driven tentpoles “Iron Man” and “Speed Racer,” and just days before Lucas-Spielberg’s eagerly-awaited epic adventure, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” with an all-star cast.

To be fair, some of the problems of this screen version, co-penned by director Andrew Adamson and his writing partners Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (HBO’s The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), derive from flaws in Lewis’ second book which, though crammed with events, is not as involving as the first one. This saga sees the quartet of the Pevensies–Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy–beckoned back to Narnia to find a vastly different world, where a new enemy stalks the battlefield and the lands kind creatures on the brink of extinction.

Once again cast as the Pevensies are the four young Brits discovered by Adamson in the first picture: Georgie Henley as Lucy, the youngest and the first to encounter the great Aslan on the new journey through Narnia; Skandar Keynes as Edmund, the younger boy who betrayed his siblings for his own selfish gain in the first adventure; Anna Popplewell as Susan, the cautious and practical older sister; and William Moseley as Peter, the eldest sibling, now High King of Narnia, who leads the battle to save his realm from the tyrannical reign of the evil King Miraz.

This time out, the Pevensie siblings are magically transported from World War II era England to Narnia, not through a wardrobe but through a subway station, the Strand, near Londons Trafalgar Square. They embark on a perilous new adventure that presents greater tests of their faith and courage. Like the first, this installment serves as a Christian allegory with strong messages about sacrifice and forgiveness.

Some background is necessary: One year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the former Kings and Queens of Narnia find themselves back in that faraway realm, only to discover that more than 1,300 years have passed in Narnian time. During their absence, the Golden Age of Narnia has faded into legend. The land’s magical talking animals and mythical creatures exist as folk tales to the Telmarines, a race of humans led by the merciless Lord Miraz. Moreover, the mighty lion Aslan has not been seen in a thousand years.

The movie begins extremely well, with a long nocturnal shot that takes us closer and closer to a castle, where a scream is heard, followed by a childbirth and a plot to assassin Prince Caspian (newcomer Ben Barnes), who is then forced to flee on his horse into the forest.

The four children have been summoned back to Narnia by Caspian, the young heir to the Telmarine throne, to combat his evil uncle Miraz, who had killed Caspian’s father. With the help of a crusty yet valiant dwarf named Trumpkin, a courageous talking mouse named Reepicheep, and a mistrustful Black Dwarf Nikabrik, they lead the Narnians on a remarkable journey to restore glory to the land.

Unfortunately, after the striking establishing chapter, helmer Adamson shows problems with pacing his narrative at the right clip, and several of sequences seem to be self-contained, lacking dramatic continuity. At times, it feels as if the yarn has been too consciously made as an epic, sort of a circus spectacle comprised of varied, multiple rings.

It doesn’t help that the actors essay a mixture of different accents for their roles. This is particularly the case of the Telmarines, who speak in a strange, non-specific Mediterranean dialect chosen by Adamson. But the blend of accents is also a reflection of the ensemble’s international composition. The cast is toplined by Barnes, an English actor who uses a Spanish accent, and it includes Italian Sergio Castellitto as the villainous King Miraz; fellow Italian performer Pierfrancesco Favino as the leader of the Telmarine army, General Glozelle; Mexican star Damin Alczar as Lord Sopespian, another high-ranking soldier in Mirazs army; Spanish actress Alicia Borrachero as Mirazs loyal wife, Queen Pruniprismia, and veteran French-Flemish Vincent Grass as the wise old sage Doctor Cornelius.

Further problems are presented by the number and sequential order of the battles, which occupy at least half of the running time, with each getting bigger and bigger in terms of participants, weaponry, and violent acts. Though employing state-of-the-art f/x, the combats register as rather conventional, and at times even old-fashioned, recalling Hollywood’s swasbuckling pictures of yesteryear.

On the positive side, it needs to be mentioned that a new star may be born in this picture. The title character is played by Ben Barnes, 26, an extremely handsome and appealing British stage actor known for his role in Allan Bennett’s drama “The History Boys,” which premiered at the National Theatre, and is soon to be seen in the new screen version of Noel Cowards Easy Virtue opposite Jessica Biel and Colin Firth. Barnes has also starred in the indie feature Bigga Than Ben, and has played s secondary role in Matthew Vaughn’s middling fantasy film Stardust.

Fortunately, the supporting cast is excellent. Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent) plays Trumpkin the Red Dwarf, who accompanies the Pevensie children on their new journey, and Warwick Davis is the suspicious Black Dwarf, Nikabrik. Veteran Kiwi actor Shane Rangi plays Asterius, the aging minotaur, and British musical theatre star Cornell S. John is Glenstorm, the leader of the centaurs. Scottish actor Ken Stott lends his vocal talent to the CGI character of Trufflehunter, the faithful badger; Liam Neeson returns as the voice of Aslan the Lion, and best of all is vet English comedian Eddie Izzard, who voices Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse.

Most of the humor in the film stems from the lines delivered by the cynical Trumpkin and the mouse’s encounters with the human protags, which often escalate into the realm of animated features like the “Shrek” series, partly due to the fact that the DreamWorks franchise was directed and/or produced by Adamson.

Representing a massive operation, “Prince Caspian” was shot on both the North and South Islands of New Zealand, the sound stages at Pragues Barrandov and Modrany Studios), the Czech Republic’s Northern Bohemian City of Usti, which served as the primary site of the extended climactic battle, as well as other colorful locales in Poland and Slovenia.

The striking efforts of live-action and CGI animation were conducted under the supervision of returning visual effects co-supervisor and Oscar nominee Dean Wright (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic), who has collaborated with VFX veteran Wendy Rogers (Shrek). The pair, who reportedly supervised over 1,600 CGI shots for this film, teamed with the magicians of London’s Moving Picture Company (Harry Potter films), the Oscar-winning Framestore-CFC (Superman Returns) and Weta Digital in New Zealand. Oscar-winning visual artist Richard Taylor (Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong) and his Weta Workshop crew have designed the impressive armor and weaponry for Narnia’s new inhabitants, the Telmarines.

End Note

For the record: “Prince Caspian” is the second of Lewis’ seven-book “Chronicles of Narnia” series, which includes “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “The Silver Chair,” “The Horse and His Boy,” “The Magician’s Nephew,” “The Last Battle,” and the story that launched the film series, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Published between 1950 and 1956 and long regarded as one of literature’s most enduring classics, Lewis’ books have sold over 100,000,000 copies in more than 35 languages, making it one of the world’s biggest book series.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe earned the Oscar Award for Best Achievement in Makeup, as well as Oscar nominations for visual effects and sound. It also garnered the British Academy (BAFTA) Award for Makeup, and nominations for visual effects and costumes.

Cast

Lucy Pevensie – Georgie Henley
Edmund Pevensie – Skandar Keynes
Peter Pevensie – William Moseley
Susan Pevensie – Anna Popplewell
Prince Caspian – Ben Barnes
Trumpkin – Peter Dinklage
General Glozelle – Pierfrancesco Favino
Nikabrik – Warwick Davis
Doctor Cornelius – Vincent Grass
Lord Sopespian – Damian Alcazar
Prunaprismia – Alicia Borrachero
Miraz – Sergio Castellitto
Voice of Aslan – Liam Neeson
The White Witch – Tilda Swinton

Credits

A Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures release presented with Walden Media of a Mark Johnson/Silverbell Films production.
Produced by Johnson, Andrew Adamson, Philip Steuer.
Executive producer: Perry Moore.
Co-producers: Douglas Gresham, K.C. Hodenfield. Directed by Andrew Adamson.
Screenplay: Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based on the book by C. S. Lewis.
Camera: Karl Walter Lindenlaub.
Editor: Sim Evan Jones.
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams.
Production designer: Roger Ford.
Supervising art director: Frank Walsh.
Senior art director: Jules Cook.
Art directors: David Allday, Stuart Kearns, Matt Gray, Phil Sims, Jiri Sternwald.
Set decorator: Kerrie Brown.
Costume designer: Isis Mussenden.
Sound: Tony Johnson.
Sound supervisor: James Mather.
Rerecording mixers: Terry Porter, Dean Zupancic.
Sound designer: Jimmy Boyle.
Visual effects supervisors: Dean Wright, Wendy Rogers.
Visual effects: the Moving Picture Co., Framestore-CFC, Weta Digital, Scanlinevfx Munich-Los Angeles, Studio C.
Special effects supervisor: Gerd Feuchter.
Special makeup and creatures: Howard Berger,
Gregory Nicotero.
Stunt and fight coordinator: Allan Poppleton.
Specialty wardrobe, armor and weapons: Richard Taylor.

MPAA Rating: PG.
Running time: 145 Minutes.