“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”
The first time we visited Narnia in 2005’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, its citizens were threatened by the mercurial White Witch. In this second installment of the beloved series of books by C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, the heroes discover that the threat comes in the form of a corrupt human ruler. No doubt that Lewis felt that a greater, more relatable challenge to the resilience of the young heroes would be an evil that is not an external force but personified in greed and tyranny.
The story wastes no time in whisking the Pevensie siblings, Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Peter (William Moseley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) away from WWII Britain into the
Caspian barely manages to escape the attempt on his life thanks to the early warning from his mentor, Doctor Cornelius (Vincent Grass) and finds himself in the midst of Narnians. The latter group is reluctant to trust a Telmarine like him at first until he shows his extensive knowledge of the Narnians, including talking animals, Centaurs, Minotaurs and others including Trumpkin the Red Dwarf (Peter Dinklage). As they realize that the Telmarines led by Miraz will come to hunt all the Narnians down, the Pevensies, Caspian and the Narnians band together to battle against the impending threat.
The original C.S. Lewis books have been read by millions of children worldwide and one thankful note is how director Andrew Adamson (who did the first two Shrek movies) and his co-writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who wrote both the first film and this one, have not diluted the allegorical themes of the source novels. They may rely much more on spectacle this time around than in the first one and the climactic battle at the end does substantially blow up a small portion of the original book. But they retain the lessons of faith particularly in Lucy, who still believes the Christ-like lion king of Narnia, Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) will come again to restore order to the land. While Peter, Edmund and Susan provide good role models for children in their fierce, admirable mettle (even if they cannot imitate their surprising fighting skills in Narnia), Lucy reflects how there may come a point when we must consider allowing God to step in and do the rest.
Besides those deeper lessons, Adamson and his visual effects crew have improved on the scale and sweep of the original, which is perhaps why the time of release was switched over to summer instead of Christmas in the first film. We can certainly see the $100 million budget particularly in the extended climax as we see the camera swoop over skies to capture large mythical birds and, in a very neat shot, slides under to show a booby trap launched by the Narnians to literally “pull” the ground down under the Telmarines. I could have, however, done without some of the slow motion shots of the one on one battle between Peter and Miraz that dulls its ferocity and glamorizes it a bit too much. There is also no escaping that this film, despite its PG rating, probably has just as much furious swashbuckling as The Lord of the Rings, just with a less amount of blood.
The actors all do a fine job though I do wonder whether the kids will grow up by the next film as markedly as they have from the first one. I certainly hope that will not affect the future casting of young Georgie Henley who, as Lucy, really is the crucial moral center of the story and brings just the right amount of pluck to balance her bedrock values. Tilda Swinton also gets to make a juicy cameo appearance as the White Witch, whose representation and context is actually slightly improved from the original book as she tries to tempt Prince Caspian into selling his soul.
It is remarkable in many ways how an explicitly Christian-themed series of books have provided such a wildly popular, accessible escapist fantasy (though the overt religious references do get progressively more implicit in the series). Part of it is a tribute to C.S. Lewis’ vivid imagination to project his values and messages to an otherworldly universe and much of it is the filmmakers’ ability to translate it without being too didactic. And with this film’s battle brought down to a more accessible human level, more children and adults alike will identify with this battle that many loyal fans will readily recognize not so much as a metaphorical battle of David vs. Goliath but actually David vs. King Saul.