Thursday, May 15, 2008

No rightful heir [Prince Caspian]

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian [PG, but should be PG-13]
Grade: D

The second film installment of C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory The Chronicles of Narnia commits a few deadly sins, gluttony being the foremost among them.

A sequel always risks the “bigger, better” approach that spares no dime and no bad idea in the effort to top the original. Often in its blindness, the money blanket suffocates what worked in the original. Such is the case with the CGI childhood adventure Prince Caspian, no rightful heir to the crown.

The charm of the first Narnia movie – 2005’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – was its warm family dynamic. The Pevensie children were perfect examples of Disney’s knack for finding sugary children who genuinely seem like they’ve been hitting each other in the back seat for ages. But as the film moved into its ponderous Christian allegory, it lost narrative momentum. Allegories should allow their consumers a multi-level reading, and the first Narnia failed in this way.

The Christian elements are more subdued in Caspian, which helps the story grow organically. It is easier to enjoy the adventure without needing to decode its Christian mythology. But Caspian only sporadically recaptures the family intimacy that sweetened the original. In the first film, the children moved from their own war-torn world into an empowering fantasy, in which their own goodness could make a better world around them. The camaraderie and self-discovery are missing here, and the film is weaker for it.

Caspian runs on epic overdrive, entirely overconfident in its own magnificence. It tries to achieve epic status by masquerading every scene as a moment of immensity. It doesn’t pick and choose its moments. Every time the children wander onto a new set of storybook ruins, the string section swells. You suspect an overture would be called if they ever stopped to tie their shoes.

Now, when the film does find moments that match its grandiosity, it flies beautifully. Such is the case with the major action sequence, a great storming-the-castle sequence that expertly balances action in six or seven different places. There is also a well-cut sword challenge between the eldest Pevensie, Peter, and an evil king. Had the film ended there, it would have provided a uniquely intimate counterpoint that could have served as a moral center. But in the end, you’ve got to use your budget, right?

Prince Caspian takes place a few hundred Narnian years after the events of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but only a couple of earth years afterward. Aslan, the lion king, appears to have disappeared from the forest. The talking forest animals have gone in hiding after a war with the ruling Telmarines. Now a powerful Telmarine lord wants to kill the prince in order to rise to the throne. As Prince Caspian escapes to the forest, he blows a magic horn that calls the Pevensie children back to Narnia. They will help Caspian to try to regain his kingdom.

That is the plot. But while watching armies of talking forest animals face armies of pikemen wearing iron-plated armored faces, the main thing I ask is, what was C.S. Lewis on? Was he sharing it with William Blake? Is it wrong, even for a square like myself, to wonder what a Christian family film might be like to watch on acid? Narnia is the 2001 of Christian childhood fantasies.

1 comment:

patrick said...

the makers of Prince Caspian kept to the original story better than i would have expected... i had heard they were going to make it into a silly pure-action flick, but thankfully this was not so much the case