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Duplicate Prince

Caspian   walks the lion
By PETER KEOUGH  |  May 14, 2008
2.5 2.5 Stars


VIDEO: The trailer for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian | Directed by Andrew Adamson | Written by Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen Mcfeeley based on the novel by C.S. Lewis | With Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Peter Dinklage, Sergio Castellitto, Eddie Izzard, Liam Neeson, and Tilda Swinton | Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures | 144 minutes
“Things never happen the same way twice,” says the messianic lion Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson) near the end of Prince Caspian. Not so in sequels to blockbusters, which try to repeat the magic that grossed $750 million worldwide. The details may change (some borrowed from other movies), but the pattern remains the same. So once again four siblings are whisked from war-torn London to mythical Narnia just in time to save it from some tyrannical evil. We get all the expected hardships and maturings, temptations and resolutions, failures and redemptions, plus the CGI-intensive climactic battle. And, of course, Aslan pops up now and then with the requisite Christian-lite platitudes.

As in his adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Andrew Adamson (Shrek) gets the formula down pat. He re-creates the topography and bestiary of Narnia with literal accuracy — so much for the viewer’s imagination. He repeats the winning formula of the first film, more or less, though the Lewis-like levity has been replaced by portentousness posing as profundity. The action scenes are unusually vivid and dynamic. But most of C.S. Lewis’s peculiar magic is lost.

Otherwise, Adamson sticks to the original text, with significant omissions. The film opens not with a surreal transition from the everyday to the extraordinary, as the four Pevensie children pass from a sleepy country railroad platform to an enchanted sea, but with the familiar medias res of a chase scene. Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is fleeing the troops of his usurper uncle King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). Desperate, he sounds Queen Susan’s horn (nice match cut here), summoning Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley), who in this version are crowded into a Harry Potter–like Underground station. They enter a Narnia in ruins, hundreds of years after their own departure (one of many mind-boggling concepts never given proper attention) in the previous film, with Aslan and the talking creatures and the other Narnian chimeræ — in short an entire billion-dollar movie industry — seemingly extinct, relegated by Telmarine conquerors to forbidden fairy tales.

It’s a world taken over by soulless secular humanists with Spanish accents who look like extras on King Philip’s side in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. To counter them, Peter, in a grudging alliance with Caspian, musters a grouchy army of Dwarfs (Peter Dinklage outstanding as the rare comic relief), Minotaurs, Fauns, talking mice, and lapsed Catholics. Things go well for both him and Adamson until they decide that there is not nearly enough fighting in the film and mount a daring night raid on Miraz’s castle that segues disastrously into a bizarre variation on Hamlet.

Well, you’ve got to give the people what they want, which I presume includes swooping Griffins, broadsword-swinging Centaurs, crossbow-shooting soldiers, and superhero teens duking it out on monumental palace grounds. Not that Lewis’s Bacchic revels and creepy Maenads, Naiads, and Draiads would have been much better. Likewise, it’s to Lewis we owe that inescapable bore Aslan, who’s always on hand to scold and lecture but never quite explain the mystery of evil. “All things have their time,” he says. For the next installment, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, that time is May 7, 2010.

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