The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Movie Information

The Story: The Pevensie children are called back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian and the original Narnians reclaim the land from evil, intolerant usurpers. The Lowdown: A vast improvement over the first film in both structure and execution, but Prince Caspian misses true greatness by a considerable distance.
Score:

Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Director: Andrew Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skanday Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Peter Dinklage
Rated: PG

In the interest of full disclosure—especially since I didn’t actually review the film—I pretty much detested The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). A few may recall that it snagged the number-three slot on my Worst of 2005 list (“Just about the most tedious two hours I spent in a theater this year”). The fact that I didn’t hate the just-released sequel, Prince Caspian, could simply be the result of very low expectations. More to the point, if you ate up the first film and just couldn’t get enough of its crypto-religious fantasy, those adorable Pevensie children and the assorted talking animals, this outing may please you somewhat less.

Prince Caspian is darker in tone—and the fact that it’s 1,300 years later in Narnia (though inexplicably only a year later in our world) means that such old friends as Mr. Tumnus and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver have long since done the mortal coil shuffling-off routine. Whether replacing them with a chatty rodent (voiced by Eddie Izzard) and a coolly reasoning badger (voiced by Ken Stott, Charlie Wilson’s War) is sufficient recompense is a personal call. On the other hand, bringing in Peter Dinklage as the sarcastic dwarf Trumpkin is very much in the film’s favor. (Casting Dinklage is always in a film’s favor.)

The story this round is set up in Narnia, in a sequence of Lord of the Rings-lite intrigue (truth to tell, this part of the film is alarmingly reminiscent of Uwe Boll’s In the Name of the King). Evil usurper King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto, Paris, Je T’Aime) tries to murder rightful heir to the throne Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, Stardust, who seems to have been cast more for his Tiger Beat factor than his acting skills). Fortunately, Caspian has a kind of ersatz Dumbledore mentor, Dr. Cornelius (Vincent Grass, a kind of ersatz Michael Gambon), who packs the prince off to the woods, leaving Miraz’s archers to re-enact the last scene of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood on an empty bed—resulting in a shower of feathers instead of the expected arterial spray.

All this is really just to get Caspian to blow Aslan’s horn (keep your remarks to yourselves) and summon the Pevensies back to Narnia and their Aslan-given status as kings and queens of the realm. And all that is really just to get some pretty nifty battles underway for the future of Narnia.

The battles here are surprisingly brutish—even if PG-rated bloodless—and even more surprisingly well done. That uber-lame “big battle” at the end of the first film that looked like a rumble among dressed-up mead guzzlers at a Renaissance fair is more than made up for with two large-scale battle scenes. Better yet, the action in these set pieces is refreshingly coherent—an increasing rarity in these days of frenzied cutting as a substitute for well-choreographed mayhem. Equally admirable is a truly chilling scene (one that would have petrified me as a child) where Caspian is bamboozled into conjuring the White Witch (an unbilled Tilda Swinton) back to life.

These qualities—and much better pacing—raise the film considerably above the original, as does keeping Aslan the magic Lion (aka the CGI Christ) off the screen for most of the proceedings. Yes, I know that C.S. Lewis intended these books as Christian parables for children, but Aslan—at least as presented in the films and voiced by Liam Neeson—is such a smug, self-satisfied character (not to mention a very CGI-looking effect) that he’s more tiresome than inspiring. That he allows much misery, carnage and assorted destruction to take place while he’s on a marathon sulk in the woods because the people (and assorted anthropomorphic livestock) have forgotten him may be an arguable theological point, but it hardly makes him admirable. When he finally gets his Aslan-ex-machina moment—thanks to the intercession of the rather dreary youngest Pevensie (Georgie Henley) and her unwavering faith in him (subtle, this ain’t)—he simply shows up to go all Old Testament on the bad guys, which seems a little on the mixed-message side.

That the film finally falls prey to Return of the King (2003) syndrome by going on and on after the action to an “OK, end already” point hardly helps. Battle scenes and the White Witch sequence to one side, Prince Caspian suffers a bit on the effects side—just like its predecessor, only a little more so. For whatever reason, the CGI beavers of the first film were more believable than the CGI badger here. (Now, there’s a sentence you won’t see every day!) Still, as a fantasy action movie, there’s enough about Prince Caspian that works to make it an enjoyable rather than punishing experience. Rated PG for epic battle action and violence.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

23 thoughts on “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

  1. See, now summer is turning out to be not so bad after all. You liked IRON MAN, SPEED RACER and PRINCE CASPIAN.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Liked is perhaps a little strong in this case. This certainly isn’t a movie I can imagine ever feeling the need to see again. It was, however, entertaining enough for one sitting.

    In any case, the fact remains that I’m not excited by any of this. I’d like to be actually looking forward to something.

  3. ephrem

    I enjoyed this movie. One of the best I’ve seen in a long time. I heard adults and children laughing at the same numerous funny lines – especially Reepacheep’s. That’s a rarity for humor to hit all generations at once. It helps that I saw this with my kids.

    The Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies. I wish this could be reviewed by a fan of what is called here “crypto-religious fantasy”. Do we detect a prejudice against anything Christian or religious in this review? I think the writer, Lewis would not have a problem with that. He fills his stories with skeptics and cynics. Most of them turn around though.

    Did you like The Lord of the Rings? That’s crypto-religious fantasy for grown ups and elves.

    The BBC did a series of Narnia chronicles years back, and if you thought Aslan is hokey in this movie, you should see the muppet-mask furry blanket creature in those renditions! Maybe it’s just really hard to make a real talking lion. I agree with you, it’s not perfect in this movie. Still, a far cry from earlier attempts.

    Fans of the Narnia series seem pleased with this movie, knowing this is arguably the weakest story in the series, especially to make into a movie. The makers and Lewis’s grandson did some movie magic on the script, even added some, and filled it in with the battle scenes you liked. (Me too.)

    The Dawn Treader and others are coming out. Those have even stronger stories to start with. It’s a bit more enjoyable if you take a couple of kids who love stories, and are not upset by seeing, and appreciating some divine glimmers in a movie.

  4. Ok, replace “tolerate” with “liked.”

    I love the Narnia books and have high hopes for this series. Will they go back and film THE SILVER CHAIR?

  5. Ken Hanke

    The Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies. I wish this could be reviewed by a fan of what is called here “crypto-religious fantasy”.

    That — broadly speaking — is a concept that often crops up, but it’s also pretty impractical and of limited value when you examine it. First, it requires finding someone who’s enthusiastic about the material for everything that comes along, which is just not possible. Second, the results would be inevitably skewed — though not inevitably in a positive direction. By that I mean, yes, you’d get someone more in tune with the material, but you’d also get someone more protective of that material and more apt to be annoyed by any departure from it.

    Do we detect a prejudice against anything Christian or religious in this review? I think the writer, Lewis would not have a problem with that. He fills his stories with skeptics and cynics. Most of them turn around though.

    A prejudice against it? Not in and of itself. Still, I see nothing wrong with pointing out the material’s obvious agenda. You wouldn’t deny that it’s there, would you? Certainly Walden Media didn’t when they heavily promoted the first movie to churches on exactly that basis. However, I do admit a skepticism, will freely admit to agnosticism, and even more freely concede that I am prejudiced against heavy-handed, simplistic allegory, which is much more my problem with this than the fact that it’s religious-minded. In fact, I am a great admirer of many movies that could be called religious/Christian in nature — ranging from Leo McCarey’s Going My Way (1944), which is anything but allegorical, to Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class (1972), which examines the nature of religion, to Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975), which is ultimately a Christ allegory about sin, guilt and redemption. As for the skeptics and cynics having a turn-around in Lewis’s stories, I’ll only point out that I’m no a character in a Lewis book.

    Did you like The Lord of the Rings? That’s crypto-religious fantasy for grown ups and elves.

    I’d be hard-pressed to think of what actual religious agenda Lord of the Rings has, though that’s based entirely on the films, since I’ve never made it through the books. That said, yes, I liked the films — they’re much better filmmaking than this — but I’m not morbid about them. In fact — and despite their merits, which are many — I’ve only ever seen the first one more than once.

    It’s a bit more enjoyable if you take a couple of kids who love stories, and are not upset by seeing, and appreciating some divine glimmers in a movie.

    Possibly so. I suppose I could borrow some (my daughter being 31 probably wouldn’t qualify), but, bear in mind, I would also caution those children against taking those “divine glimmers” at face value. Even so, it’s really less those glimmers that I find troublesome as concerns the films’ quality as it is the clumsiness of the presentation. More, I question whether this is even a good approach to the message, since I find Aslan unlikeable and the little girl unbearably sanctimonious as presented in the film.

    I’ll be interested to see where this series goes, especially since Prince Caspian underperformed as concerns what was expected by the studio — by about $30 million — and doesn’t have the Christmas moviegoing season to carry it along. In fact, it finds itself in the unenviable position of trying to hold its ground up against an onslaught of other big summer movies, including Indiana Jones.

  6. bert

    I think the problem with both of these films is that they seem so heavily commercialized and disneyfied. I almost expect Miley Cyrus to turn up in the next one. Lewis was on record as hating Disney, so I don’t think he’d be too pleased. I would love to see what a more playful director like Tim Burton would do with “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Of course, he might disagree too much with the book’s theological subtext to want to tackle it. But we can always hope.

  7. Ken Hanke

    I almost expect Miley Cyrus to turn up in the next one.

    Something close happens in this one. There’s a pretty dreadful pop song that turns up near the end and is very destructive to the mood.

    Lewis was on record as hating Disney, so I don’t think he’d be too pleased.

    Not that fond of Disney myself, so I’m naturally curious as to the specifics of this. Do you know why he hated Disney?

  8. ephrem

    Interesting:
    1 Chronicles of Narnia 2 $55.0M
    2 Iron Man $31.8M
    3 Happens In Vegas $13.8M
    4 Speed Racer $8.1M
    5 Made of Honor $4.7M
    6 Baby Mama $4.6M
    7 Sarah Marshall $2.7M
    8 Harold & Kumar 2 $1.9M
    9 Forbidden Kingdom $1.0M

    And we have lots of kids and families headed for the movies this weekend and this summer.

  9. Ken Hanke

    1 Chronicles of Narnia 2 $55.0M
    2 Iron Man $31.8M

    Yes, but first of all that’s about $30 million less than projected for Prince Caspian, and that $31.8 million for Iron Man is for its third week in release. We’ll see what happens, but when you consider that Indiana Jones took in $25 million on Thursday alone, it’s definitely poised to be this week’s big winner.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing Prince Caspian beat the odds and increase in its second week of release, if only to make studios stop writing movies off as failures as soon as the Friday grosses aren’t what they hoped.

  10. bert

    All of Lewis’ comments on Disney are found in his letters. The only one I can find online is the one quoted on wikipedia where Lewis laments that Disney “combines so much vulgarity with his genius.” Actually, I think Tolkien was far more scathing on Disney but the book with his letters is at my parents house, so I can’t quote directly.

    I suspect the reason they were both not fond of Disney is that they were the last of those classical children’s literature writers, carrying the torch for the Grimm brothers, J.M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson etc. I think that they didn’t like the commercialization and cheapening of children’s classics that they found in the Disney films.

    Personally, I think there is some good Disney stuff but it is all swallowed up in the totalitarian Empire of Disney that has such a monolithic a hold over children’s entertainment. Whatever happened to the group that made the Farfel American Tale movies?

  11. TigerShark

    >> where Caspian is bamboozled into conjuring the White Witch (an unbilled Tilda Swinton) back to life.

    Gee, thanks for spoiling *that* scene!

  12. Ken Hanke

    Gee, thanks for spoiling *that* scene!

    It’s hardly a big surprise and has been discussed a number of places.

  13. Andrew Leal

    The scene’s existence (but not full details, which Ken’s review kept pretty vague as well) is also mentioned in the Disney presskit (which, from its final credit list, *does* seem to bill Tilda Swinton, only in a “With/as” way seperate from the main star billing *and* not repeated in the full cast list, but buried somewhere above that and below the script supervisor; I wonder if that’s becoming a new trend for cameos in this kind of movie, since the last “Pirates of the Caribbean” had similar billing for Keith Richards).

  14. Ken Hanke

    Personally, I think there is some good Disney stuff but it is all swallowed up in the totalitarian Empire of Disney that has such a monolithic a hold over children’s entertainment.

    I’d never say that there’s no good Disney stuff, even if I find it largely outside the realm of my taste and almost all of it invariably disappoints me when I try it again. The notable exception to this is Lilo and Stitch, and I suspect the reason is that it’s the least corporate-minded film ever to come out under the Disney banner. That’s to say that it’s almost entirely the vision of two men — Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders — and was re-written, rehashed, and smoothed over by a committee.

    I suspect that you’re on the money with what at least seems wrong with Disney. I know part of my problem with it is the image portrayed as some kind of benefactor of children courtesy of kindly “Uncle Walt,” when in fact it’s a huge money-making concern that when I was a kid charged such exorbitant rates for its movies that the prices at the theaters had to be jacked up to cover it. Subsequent stories that have surfaced in recent years claiming that if you crossed Disney (which usually meant asking for a raise or screen credit) he would turn your name over to HUAC for investigation have not helped my feelings in the matter.

  15. Ken Hanke

    The scene’s existence (but not full details, which Ken’s review kept pretty vague as well) is also mentioned in the Disney presskit (which, from its final credit list, *does* seem to bill Tilda Swinton, only in a “With/as” way seperate from the main star billing *and* not repeated in the full cast list, but buried somewhere above that and below the script supervisor

    Does her name actually appear on the film itself? I freely confess that by the time the credits rolled — combined with that inappropriate song — I was ready to leave and didn’t sit through them.

    It’s interesting that “guest stars” have now become a publicity device. Back in the old days when Bing Crosby would pop up in a Bob Hope picture that wasn’t the case. Even more recently, there’s Peter O’Toole showing up as a surprise in Casino Royale (1967), Oliver Reed in two Ken Russell pictures — Maher (1974) and Lisztomania (1975) — and so on. By advertising your guest stars (which may have also started with Casino Royale in that it touted bits by Charles Boyer, Jean-Paul Belmondo and George Raft) the spontaneous nature is gone, as is the feeling that you’re part of the joke if you spotted them. Of course, there’s not much chance of not spotting Swinton or Keith Richards.

  16. Ken Hanke

    That’s to say that it’s almost entirely the vision of two men—Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders—and was re-written, rehashed, and smoothed over by a committee.

    That was supposed to read “and wasn’t rehashed etc.” An editing feature would be very nice on here…

  17. [b]Whatever happened to the group that made the Farfel American Tale movies?[/b]

    You mean Don Bluth films? I think their deal with Fox ended around the time [i]Titan A.E.[/i] came out. Last I heard — which was years ago — he was still trying to make the [i]Dragon’s Lair[/i] video game into a movie.

  18. Ken Hanke

    I looked and Don Bluth has done nothing since Titan AE. Of course, so much has changed — not necessarily for the better — in the past few years thanks to computer animation. There was a period not very long ago when you could almost count on some new computer animated kiddie flick every week. Unfortunately, the vast majority were pretty darn mediocre. And the people putting them out seemed splendid unaware of that. Just why the Weinsteins were hell-bent on being sure I had a chance to see Hoodwinked! before voting for the SEFCA awards, I cannot imagine.

  19. Andrew Leal

    Ken, re credits, I haven’t seen the movie yet (and may not at all), but the presskit claims to include the final credits as they would appear attached on screen (only omitting the row of star names), and this is how it’s arranged: “Script Supervisor. . . . . . . . . . . ALEXA ALDEN
    With
    TILDA SWINTON
    as “The White Witch””

    Then comes the regular cast list, which omits Swinton, and another “With” for Liam Neeson as Aslan. Every recent Disney movie I’ve seen has tallied with the advance credit list, so I’m reasonably certain she is billed in the actual screen credits, but intentionally buried.

    I’ve always got a kick out of Peter O’Toole in “Casino Royale” (or even Peter Sellers’ unbilled Indian doctor in Hope and Crosby’s “Road to Utopia.”) My single favorite may well be Jack Benny in “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” I don’t think the movie itself has aged well, but Benny’s cameo is a brief moment of calm as he drives by (sadly, not in a Maxwell), offers assistance, and when rebuffed, delivers a trademark “Well!”

    By the way, while plenty of dubious stories have circulated about Walt Disney, the HUAC thing is so well documented that the book “Walt Disney: Comversations” from University Press of Mississippi includes a full transcript of his testimony before the committee, in which he blames Communists for the strike at his studio (refusing to believe “his people” would have turned against him because of their own dissatisfaction) and denounces Dave Hilberman, who was involved in the strike, as a Communist because he “has no religion” and studied art at Moscow. The book itself glosses over this and even tries to claim Disney was doing what he thought was right. The many smear books about “Uncle Walt” to date, as well as a bizarre stage play in which Disney and Hitler are bosom buddies and meet in Berlin, have yet to really examine his behavior during the McCarthy era. They tend to focus instead on anti-semitic claims and other half-truths and rumors and even trot out the whole “frozen Walt” tale now and again, instead of looking at instances like this which cannot be in any way dismissed or originate in rumor and which shed some light on the complex Disney person as opposed to the “Uncle Walt” persona; his command in the 1930s to Mickey Mouse comic strip artist Floyd Gottfredson that he create a storyline in which Mickey tries to kill himself also doesn’t fit in with the Disneyfied image.

  20. Ken Hanke

    Peter Sellers’ unbilled Indian doctor in Hope and Crosby’s “Road to Utopia.”

    “That’s when you find out who your real friends are.” (But it’s Road to Hong Kong.) I’m trying to think if there’s a cameo I like better than the O’Toole one in Casino Royale. (I like the fact that it assumes you’ve seen What’s New, Pussycat.) I’m not coming up with one at the moment.

    Speaking of Jack Benny, he has a pretty good cameo in the largely indifferent Bob Hope picture The Great Lover. My favorite Benny guest shot, though, is probably in the Fred Allen movie It’s in the Bag!, but he got billing for that one.

    By the way, while plenty of dubious stories have circulated about Walt Disney, the HUAC thing is so well documented that the book “Walt Disney: Comversations” from University Press of Mississippi includes a full transcript of his testimony before the committee, in which he blames Communists for the strike at his studio (refusing to believe “his people” would have turned against him because of their own dissatisfaction) and denounces Dave Hilberman, who was involved in the strike, as a Communist because he “has no religion” and studied art at Moscow.

    Thanks for coming up with this. I figured someone with a greater interest in Disney than I have might know the score.

    his command in the 1930s to Mickey Mouse comic strip artist Floyd Gottfredson that he create a storyline in which Mickey tries to kill himself also doesn’t fit in with the Disneyfied image.

    That’s straying on over into the weird world of Max Fleischer!

  21. Kevin F.

    THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN might just be my favorite movie regarding “guest star” spots and cameos.

    All of the surprise faces on the ship sequence itself really make the movie. Roman Polanski has never been better at looking creeped out (though he comes pretty close in THE TENANT).

    I know that some of these appearances were advertised, especially with Raquel Welch on all the US and UK posters.

  22. Ken Hanke

    I know that some of these appearances were advertised, especially with Raquel Welch on all the US and UK posters.

    Good Lord, La Welch takes up the entire center of the one-sheet (currently on display in my living room).

  23. Sean Williams

    Well, I’m a Christian and have a deep respect for allegory, but even I found the Chronicles of Narnia too heavy-handed. I much prefer Lewis’ adult novels (viz., Out of the Silent Planet), which, besides being less theologically bombastic, are simply better from a stylistic standpoint.

    However, I still found these Disney adaptations gutless. If you advertise a film as Christian, it’s artistically dishonest to sanitize any message more controversial than “Believe in yourself!” (In point of fact, the original Prince Caspian asserts that Narnians doubt Aslan’s existence because of his protracted absence, not that Aslan is absent because of their doubt. But, of course, the First and Greatest Commandment of Walt Disney is, “Thou shalt cherish thine imagination beyond the point of reason — and if thou hast not imagination, thou mayest buy it in plentiful quantities at My sanctified retail outlets.”)

    Besides, despite his reputation, C.S. Lewis was not a particularly hardline Christian. He used magic and even Pagan mythology as plot devices and probably would have championed Harry Potter had he lived to see its publication. (Note the presence of Greek phallic gods in the original novel Prince Caspian. For some reason, they didn’t make it into the movie….)

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