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Thursday, July 10, 2008

REVIEW - "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (2008)

When “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” came out I was mildly entertained by the vision of C.S. Lewis that wanted so badly to be the next “Lord of the Rings.” It was a fine movie, but it wasn’t a masterpiece. There were issues in pacing, visuals and overall adapting the story—It felt like director Andrew Adamson understood little about making a book in to a movie and used past, successful fantasy films as a visual and climatic template to create the first Narnia flick. And while “Prince Caspian” looks more like “The Two Towers,” and “Return of the King,” than ever, the series does feel as if its coming in to its own. Errors made in the previous film are corrected and Adamson sends “Narnia” in to much darker, exciting and controversial territory.

Peter, Edmund, Lucy and Susan are returned to Narnia after a year in their own time, but a thousand years in Narnia’s. Upon their arrival they find Narnia has long since been ravaged, with much of the magic drained and the world ruled by the tyrant King Miraz. Meanwhile, Prince Caspian, last noble remnant of Miraz’s rule, escapes his kingdom and allies with the remaining Narnians to claim his throne and return order to Narnia. At the same time, Aslan is long since missing.

With the Christian metaphors less obvious and better suited for debate, Narnia is used as a backdrop for man’s careless rule in addition to their cruelty. My favorite scene includes Lucy trying to talk to a bear that seems to be wild. A dwarf, Trumpkin, saves her and the Pevensie children are baffled as to why the bear seemed so mindless—He wouldn’t talk, was scavenging for food and nearly killed Lucy. “You get treated like a wild animal long enough, and you become one.” Trumpkin explains. In a beautiful contrast, however, one of Narnia’s finest warriors is a mouse with a sword: Reepicheep. As the final battle for Narnia ensues, many of Miraz’s warriors are enamored by the fact that this mouse is completely out classing them. “You people have no imagination!” he exclaims, as he tears in to more soldiers. (A side note: Reepicheep was by far my favorite character in this movie.)

Reepicheep’s words are the backbone of “Prince Caspian.” Imagination. Fantasy is a very particular art form used as a metaphor for many epic and powerful things. This film embraces that concept without apology and uses it constantly. Whereas the previous film felt cliché in its references to faith, this movie immerses itself in teachings and contrasts so that it is no longer preaching; it’s simply a fantastic companion piece to the moral law, and a beautiful character study on the potential and flaws of humankind.

Meanwhile, the characters from the previous film are more riveting than ever. Peter seems to overestimate his abilities as a leader, which causes conflict between him and Caspian. Lucy’s faith in Aslan is stronger than ever, believing like the child she is and convincing the audience that she is, through her faith, the strongest character in the lot. And Edmund, who became my favorite of the four Pevensie kids in this film, seems ever stronger from his mistakes made in the previous film. His quick, wordless answer to the White Witch’s return is another one of my favorite scenes from the film. It was perfect.

The film’s 11th hour puts everything on the line. We get to see Peter battle it out with King Miraz one-on-one as Lucy sets off on a seemingly irrational journey to find Aslan. The ending result is an epic battle between man and all the fantastical elements of Narnia that have yet to be seen. The climax is every bit as strong as it should be and the ending leaves us wishing there was more hope of a return to the fantastical land.

Acting, effects, narrative—“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” is a borderline masterpiece. If it weren’t for the fact that Andrew Adamson is still coming in to his own as a director, it might’ve been more memorable. But improvement is still improvement and few films have done it as well as “Prince Caspian.” It stands next to “Iron Man” among the summer’s best and gives “Narnia” a better name for itself.

***½ out of ****

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