Monday, May 19, 2008

Reel To Reel: Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Get the point of the sword, already.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Sergio Castellitto, Peter Dinklage, Liam Neeson
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Ye Olde Battle Violence

I saw Prince Caspian after a day at the Prescott Highland Games, in full Jacobite Scottish Regalia, so my mind was already tuned in for historically-inspired fantasy. Trouble was, it also wanted to sleep a little more after an early morning drive of 300 miles.

So with that disclaimer, the new installment of the Narnia franchise suffers from one acute problem: tediousness. It has big battles. It has moments of magic and talking animals. But the film trudges along, even slowing down the swordfights, as if that's supposed to deepen their impact. I think not.

Prince Caspian takes place one year after the four young kings and queens of Narnia have fallen out of the wardrobe -- and out of the hidden world -- during a hunt. We can safely deduce life has been pretty drab for the Pevensie children, having to return to school instead of ruling over a mystical realm. I guess it's like Harry Potter's summers with the Dursleys, but much worse because they can't leave.

Then, while waiting for a London Underground train, their surroundings fall away and they're back in their royal realm, unknowingly summoned by Prince Caspian, who's on the run to escape his evil uncle, king of the Telmarines, who sound more like Spaniards than Marines. They've conquered Narnia, which is now a thousand years older than when the children left and devoid of its enchantment. The Pevensies soon discover the world they left behind is the fantasy equivalent of an old mining ghost town. Turns out, Prince Caspian has blown a horn to summon the old kings and queens back to Narnia, and now the Pevensies must find a way to liberate their old land and keep Caspian from being murdered by the king, who wants to short-circuit the line of succession.

Uh, where's Aslan?

I kept thinking this over throughout the film, which does feature the lovable, messianic lion, but in a vastly diminished and more allegorical role. I'll leave it to you to discover the message. With it comes a question many Christians ask themselves about God in this world, about divine versus human intervention, faith versus reality, and how much God expects for us to handle. It's a lot to think about and discuss with the kids.

But please, let's pick up the pace. Some battle scenes go on way longer than they should, including a mano y mano swordfight that includes breaks between rounds like a heavyweight fight at Ceasar's Palace. I half-expected a cutman and a trainer to step out from the side and hector the opponents about their jabbing.

We get some light-hearted moments from a swashbuckling mouse named Reepicheep, who sounds a little too much like Puss 'N Boots from the Shrek pictures. No doubt it was the idea of director Andrew Adamson, who also helmed the animated films.

What I miss the most though from the first Narnia picture to the second is the depth of its allegory. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was a thinly disguised parable. I think there's a parable in this one here somewhere... somewhere.

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