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The Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
"The Chronicles of Narnia II: Prince Caspian"
In this film version of C.S. Lewis's second of seven books chronicling the ancient land of Narnia, the Pevensie family of royal youngsters have grown, in form and intelligence, into 1940s London students, smartly dressed in grey and dark blue school uniforms. The masterful combining of 20th century youngsters and a fabled allegorical fantasy world begins by means of a summons from the past and a massive speeding train in the London tube, through which the four royals are transported back some 1300 years to Telmarine castle, where they were born and spent their early childhood (a journey which was once made through a "wardrobe").
In that ancient time, Prince Caspian's Uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) struts around the magnificent Telmarine castle like a royal wanna-be. In command of the army, this megalomaniac sees in the birth of a son an opportunity to claim the throne. All he has to do is get rid of his nephew, the rightful heir. No problem. The tyrant orders second-in-command General Glozelle (Pierfrancesco Favino) to have Prince Caspian killed in his bed forthwith.
Soon thereafter, Caspian rounds up the primary Narnian leaders to devise a defense, with the Pevensies, Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Susan (19-year old Anna Popplewell) and High King of Narnia Peter (21-year old William Moseley), lending their vital support. Bearded dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), a pessimistic, trash-talking cynic, takes a special liking to and deep respect for little Lucy, which tempers his aggressive tendencies. This effect reveals the qualities of this youngest Pevensie who also has the closest affinity with Aslan, the Lion who has been missing for one thousand years (voiced by Liam Neeson). The rest of the Narnians are made up of a zoo-full of critters, both recognizable and mythical (like the Centaurs).
Queen Susan, just about a full fledged woman, and Caspian, a young man with hormonal interests as well as political, immediately have eyes for one another--a relationship that, unfortunately, has a war obstructing any verbal expression. Kings Edmund and Peter acquit themselves valiantly throughout, with some rivalry springing up between Peter and Caspian as war grows imminent. The White Witch (Tilda Swinton) shows up in a slab of ice to lure our boy kings into her wickedness, a frosty reminder of the first installment.
After many a sortie, during which we're introduced to all manner of Narnian character (the mice that tie up a castle cat), the day arrives when the castle troops face off against the vulnerable Narnian stronghold. It's not likely to withstand the armored force and the oversize slingshot (the Abrams tank of its day) that rains boulders on them. Fearless Peter, however, manages an audience with Miraz, bringing a diplomatic offer. If Miraz will
face King Edmund in a swordfight, the question of dominance may be decided without the loss of Miraz's troops or the Narnians. Self-aggrandizing Miraz accepts and the two combatants have it out in full armor with the two sides rapt, awaiting the outcome, which will have a few surprising twists of fate.
The fantasy has its delights, laughs, and harrowing moments, keeping you reminded, despite the physical realism of solid production values, that it's an extensive work of the imagination. It's well paced and moves along with a flow of good ideas and inspired moments, making the 2 hour and 27 minutes seem like no more than two hours and ten. (Yes, it's epic length). The ultimate appearance of Aslan comes with a welcoming sigh for the righteousness he represents, complete with the basso profundo of his voice and the exquisiteness of his mien and mane.
Photography, award-level wardrobe (department), art direction and makeup are outstanding, and there isn't anything wrong with the direction by Andrew Adamson who co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely either. The de-emphasis on battle footage makes it, when it does occur, all the more threatening. By the time it's waged, we're fully fearful for "our" royals and the good Narnians in the clashes of sword and shield. People are slashed and die but eviscerations and blood is studiously avoided. The soundtrack by Harry Gregson-Williams is quite well balanced as it prods the modalities of mystery and action without calling undue attention to itself (see link below).
It's hard not to compare both "Chronicles of Narnia" to the Harry Potter series because of the rough similarity in the ages of the primary good-guy characters, as well as the all-British casting of both films. Unfortunately, this comparison accrues to the detriment of the latter. If the two male roles of "Potter" had been cast with actors who had the vitality and inner toughness of Keynes and Mosely, "Potter" would have doubled its artistic success. The all around impressive talent found here, on the other hand, speaks of no compromise for a "look." And, 12-year old Georgie Henley... well, it's more than spunk and the adorability of the costume she wears. The instincts and confidence of this pre-teen actress are things to behold.
In all, an eventful, colorful and fun trip through C.S. Lewis time, with a wider scope in characters, settings, 1600 seamless CGI effects and dramatic complexity than its predecessor. Would that it enjoys as much success in the global marketplace.
~~ Jules Brenner