Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2008

With a vengeance

The same old Narnia returns to the big screen, but with a bit more at stake this time

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Andrew Adamson
Screenplay: Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
Starring: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Ben Barnes, Peter Dinklage, Sergio Castellito, Eddie Izzard and Liam Neeson
Rated PG / 2 hours, 24 minutes
Opened May 16, 2008
(out of four)

It's difficult to argue with results - especially results like "$745 million worldwide gross." Numbers like that can be mighty powerful. If a studio's trying to follow up on results like that, what is it supposed to do - change the formula?

Of course not. Leaving well enough alone is just good business sense. Even if the budding franchise, box office receipts notwithstanding, could use a lot more help.

The more successful a movie is, the harder it is to improve upon it - and that's an especially tough pill to swallow if the first movie was extremely flawed to begin with. Such is the case with The Chronicles of Narnia. When the series kicked off in late 2005, I gave a reserved but complimentary three-star review to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

A week later, the year's next fantasy epic, King Kong, made Narnia look like pure dreck, and upon reflection, the glaring flaws of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe overshadowed its merits. In retrospect, I would dock the film to two-and-a-half stars - just enough to make the point that a lot could have been improved upon.

But back to those pesky box-office receipts: Clearly, in the studio's mind, that meant The People wanted more of the same. And so instead of striving for anything bigger or better, we're stuck with the same director, the same approach, the same style. And so, despite Prince Caspian being set 1,000 Narnian years after the first film, it's still pretty much the same old Narnia, with all its shortcomings fully intact.

That said, Prince Caspian somehow does enough to actually surpass the first film. There's a darker, more compelling edge to it, and the action sequences come to life in a way those in the original never did.

And fewer talking animals is always a good thing. Thankfully, that is the case this time around - which may mean that Prince Caspian is simply better-equipped for the screen than its predecessor was. Less of Aslan, less of the talking forest animals, more time spent on human conflict. In this case, everything revolves around the titular Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the heir to the Telmarine throne, who has to flee his would-be kingdom because his power-hungry Uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellito) - a formidable movie villain, though naturally not quite so formidable as the incomparable White Witch - is trying to have him killed.

As far as Caspian and the rest of the Telmarines are concerned, the Narnians are extinct, and have been for hundreds of years. He soon discovers this is not the case when he is rescued by a pair of dwarves and teams up with an army of centaurs, minotaurs and even humans to reclaim his destiny and put Narnia back on the map. He can only do this, of course, with the help of the Pevensie children, who return to Narnia for the first time in a year . . . just as they were all starting to believe it had all been a dream after all.

As was probably the case with my above plot description, the expository details can be a chore to sit through. Much of the exposition is shoddy and the dialogue trite. Barnes' performance as Caspian is an absolute tragedy. And it seems the only way the filmmakers know how to introduce information is for one character to rush in and tell everyone else, "You'd better come see this!"

But Prince Caspian is also impressive in ways I would not have expected. The text mines darker and more potent territory than did the easy-to-read allegory of the first film. More seems to be at stake not only for the future of Narnia, but for the souls of the Pevensie children themselves. Despite what they may have gone through in the first film, they always seemed like static characters. That isn't necessarily the case this time.

In this second film of the series, the danger seems more palpable, and the characters' morality seems more important, and more clearly at stake. This is brought to life surprisingly well during the film's action sequences (not the strong suit of The Lion, the Witch . . .) - including an intense and drawn-out combat scene between Peter (William Moseley) and Miraz, and a tremendous climactic battle sequence that follows.

Prince Caspian may not make as much money as did The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it's the better film. The problem with both is there isn't any overriding artistic vision commanding our attention. It's by-the-book fantasy-epic filmmaking, technically sound and well-executed but lacking in the areas that, say, Peter Jackson's recent films have succeeded.

The artistic choices were by and large better this time around, but we've still yet to see anything legitimately special in this series. Often all it takes is someone new taking the reins. That was certainly the case with the Harry Potter series, which were finally allowed to breathe once the wildly untalented Chris Columbus stepped down and let Alfonso Cuaron take over.

Adamson will not return for the third Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The talented but erratic British filmmaker Michael Apted takes over. Come May of 2010, we'll see if anything's changed in Narnia.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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