While Walden Media, the production company with the magic touch when it comes to adapting children’s fantasy classics for the big screen, had great success with the first Narnia movie, they don’t have the same knack for making sequels. Prince Caspian (the fourth book in the C.S. Lewis series, but second movie) is an obvious attempt to recapture whatever made its predecessor a blockbuster. While sequels are supposed to up the cinematic ante, Caspian could only muster some meagerly diminishing returns. Along with the reappearance of the four still-relatively-unknown actors who played the Pevensie children in the previous movie, Ben Barnes has been introduced as the titular Caspian. His character uses Queen Lucy’s magical hunting horn to summon the four back to lead the army that will save the land of Narnia, but none of these young actors (including Barnes) have enough charisma to rally the audience as the story drags on.
I never read the original book, so I cannot say how much blame falls on Lewis’s shoulders, but right from the start, this story about royal legitimacy and political machinations makes for weak fantasy. Caspian flees from the castle after his uncle Miraz tries to kill him for the throne. He stumbles upon a few dwarves and is secretly ushered into the Narnian underground where the remaining magical creatures live in hiding after eradication by his people, the Telmarine. Determined to defeat his uncle and regain freedom for the Narnians, Caspian plans to lead this ragtag band of fauns, dwarves, minotaurs and centaurs to overthrow Miraz and his huge human army (who apparently have no loyalty to the legitimate heir to the Telmarine throne). For most of the first half, the movie cuts back and forth between Caspian’s gang, and the Pevensies: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, have been magically brought back to Narnia (it’s okay, they were not enjoying London anyway) and discover that hundreds of years have passed since they went back through the wardrobe. The Narnia they knew is gone. Surprisingly they discover a cache containing all their old weapons, clothes and magical objects among the ruins of their palace, Caer Paravel.
It’s ironic that Lucy actually comments that the dress she finds among her things fits a more mature Lucy (since they have returned in their child-aged bodies for some reason). The four seem to lack any of the experience they had gained as kings and queens of Narnia. As expected, when they meet up with Caspian, Peter takes over as leader, but he’s pretty inept and his strategies fail. Just like in the first movie, Peter must fight his adolescent insecurities in order to become a true leader. Just like in the first movie, Narnia is asleep — this time it’s not frozen by the White Witch, just neglected — waiting for king Aslan to wake it all up. Just like in the first movie, on the brink of battle, Lucy and Susan trek through the woods in an attempt to get Aslan’s aid (and I’m sure you can predict that outcome).
So how is this movie not terrible? Well, for one, Walden employs some amazing visual effects and cinematography. Everything looks great: from the costumes, to the aerial shots and beautiful scenery, to the wonderfully realized creatures (including flying gryphons and a very charming swords-mouse). There is a long scene of one-on-one combat between Peter and King Miraz which had me surprisingly on the edge of my seat. There’s another nice soundtrack (occasionally working too hard to keep the excitement level up) from composer Harry Gregson-Williams. Finally, there’s a certain cool scene featuring a nice cameo which unfortunately reminded me exactly of the kind of fantasy film this could have been. If only the story and characters had been a bit more inspired, this movie could have been another Walden success. (3 out of 5)
What if I had made Prince Caspian?
This book was obviously chosen for adaptation ahead of books 2 and 3 because it brought back the four characters from the first story, but I would have down-played those characters in lieu of Prince Caspian. His name is the title, after all. I would have done more to make his character heroic and his cause worth fighting for. The King Peters and Queen Lucys could be there to help him out with the whole Aslan thing, but he should have been the lead, instead of splitting the focus. Also, I would have developed some of the side characters a bit more and given them more of a relationship to Caspian. We’re supposed to believe that these creatures are rallying an army to fight for the prince of the nation that slaughtered their friends and families. Surely some team-building exercises are required. Finally, I would have done a better job with the Telmarine people. Make it clearer that they are loyal to Miraz because they fear him or because he told them that Caspian was evil or because they hate the Narnians. Anything is more believable than nothing. (And I’d seriously trim the epilogue — you’ll know what I mean when you see it.)