Monday, June 30, 2008


The not unattractive Ben Barnes pouts for NarniaIt's hard for me to separate my critique of the NARNIA films from my dissatisfaction with the source material. I am an avid fan of Tolkien precisely because he eschews easy allegory and pays such close attention to the consistency of his fantasy world. Tolkien would never have put fauns and Father Christmas in the same imaginary space and he would never have used a device as obvious as Aslan. All of this I would overlook if the resulting films were well-made and captivating qua cinema. However, the first movie, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, failed on this count. The technical aspects - shooting style, lighting, costumes - seemed amateurish and clunky.

PRINCE CASPIAN is far more satisfying than the first movie, but it's still far from perfect. The special effects, make-up, costumes and shooting style have improved, although key set-pieces still feel like weak versions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Take, for example, the scene where Aslan summons up a river storm to wash away the enemies of the Narnians. It is typical of the clunky imagery employed in PRINCE CASPIAN that the river takes the form of God as depicted in one of those Biblical Epics - an old white man with a beard. Compare this with the visual beauty and simplicity of Tolkien/Jackson's charging horses.

As for the plot, what we have here is basically one long battle. The four Pevensie children return to Narnia 1300 years after their original visit, to find their land over-run by Spanish-sounding men and Aslan a myth. They unite with their enemy's nephew, Prince Caspian, to reclaim his throne and an independent Narnia. Of course, they are only successful when they fight in the name of Aslan, rather than for themselves.

The battle scenes are fine, although I couldn't help wondering whether younger kids might get bored and/or frightened - especially by the first night-time raid in which half of the Narnian army is massacred. By far the bigger problem with the film is the emotional content. Peter has a clash of egos with Prince Caspian in which they both come off as whiny and there's a tremendously embarassing teen crush story-line between Caspian and Susan. Not sure if that's bad direction, script-writing or acting. Either way, it sorely undermines the serious dramatic content surrounding the children's loss of faith in Aslan and their temptation by the White Witch. It's rather hard to be swept up in a story about religious faith when the director keeps pulling you into Sweet Valley High.

PRINCE CASPIAN is already on release in Indonesia, Russia, India, Mexico, the USA, Japan, Singapore, Brazil, Poland, Egypt, the Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Argentina, Estonia, Iceland and Venezuela. It opens this weekend in France, Hungary and the UK. It opens on July 2nd in Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden. It opens on July 11th in Turkey; on July 17th in Portugal; on July 31st in Germany and on August 20th in Italy.

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