Prince Caspian, the second chapter in C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series, is a little bit of a cinematic enigma. It cost a ton to get made, and it did finish 2008 just outside the top 10 grossing films this year, making a little over $140 million in the U.S., but it made almost twice that internationally, and will have made more money than Hellboy II, Saw V or some other sequels out there. So based on box office alone, it's kind of in a position similar to Golden Compass, both films made a bunch of money overseas, while the money in the U.S. could be considered disappointing. Yet it wouldn't surprise me if we saw sequels to either in our futures.
Nevertheless, the Pevensies are still in London, and while they've barely aged, the time that's passed in Narnia has been expansive, over a millennia as it happens. The Pevensies, Aslan and the rest have been long forgotten, and a King named Miraz (Sergio Castellitto, Paris Je T'Aime) has ousted Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes, Stardust), and Narnia isn't quite as it was when Peter, Lucy, Edmund and Susan were there before. The animals, which did not hesitate to speak their minds even when The White Witch was around, have long gone and in a sense were forced underground, and before they return to Narnia, the Pevensies seem to be in slightly different ways, as Peter apparently picks fights with many people at school, and in going back to Narnia, seems to be a bit of an arrogant arse. In fact, the only one among the four who seems to not drifted into cynicism and hostility is Lucy, who actively wonders why the trees don't speak anymore, or the animals don't come out and talk. And since it's been 1,300 years, Mr. Tumnus from the first film has been replaced by Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage, Elf), who the kids rescue from drowning by what appear to be Miraz' men. The Pevensies, Caspian and several others join forces to try and overthrow Miraz and return Narnia to Caspian.
The prevailing opinion of many when watching Prince Caspian is that the film was darker in tone and feel than The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and they were right. There's no cheery companion, as Trumpkin walks around looking rather sad-sacked for the whole film. The animals want to kill rather than chat, the antagonist of the film is a helluva more nasty than the last one, who was really more a scheming figure than anything else, and the kids in general have lost the bloom on the rose, so you don't get the same sense of wonder that you got from them the first film. But in another sense, that's good, because the kids seem to realize a little more than before that these battles do have ramifications, and they're not pretty at all. Peter seems to be more geared for this than others, but when they're leaving to return to London, they know that some things have changed in them, and they look at the world a little differently than they did before. This growing up of sorts is admirable and something I kind of liked in the film, but it was a little tough to spot at first, because it was executed somewhat poorly.
That's through no fault of the kids, director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) seems to still want to try and get the regaling of the viewer done by external shots (which admittedly are quite good) and the occasional computer generated character. But some of this is excessive, and other times it's just done in a paint by numbers fashion. Aslan and The White Witch return in brief scenes, but that's really nothing more than to remind you that they're still around somewhere, and even the introduction of Nikabrik (Warwick Davis, yes!) doesn't help give you much faith in the film. Besides, you can barely recognize him! At the end of the day, I hardly got the epic feel or the sense of adventure that the first film gave me, and I was kind of glad to be rid of Prince Caspian. But now that at least I see a third Narnia film in pre-production (at least according to the interwebs), we'll get to try out the theory of a film that did a lot of foreign business having a sequel. Will it be any good? That's another question.
The 2.40:1 AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer for Prince Caspian is phenomenal. Blacks are spot on and deep throughout the film, and Adamson uses a wide variety of colors in the film, all of which get a chance to shine. A scene with Caspian and Nikabrik in the forest is not only full of lush, vibrant greens, but also has a tremendous amount of detail and composition, that this (and a few other scenes) looked remarkably three-dimensional and fabulous. Flesh tones are reproduced clearly and accurately, other detail like engraving on weapons and chain mail can be spotted with ease, colors aren't oversaturated, and film grain is present without being distracting, all of which is great. There were a couple of moments through the film were it suffers from a bit of softness, but otherwise this is as good as you're going to get.
I might be in the minority on this one, but I felt that the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless track was a little bit on the lacking side, particularly on the opening scenes of dialogue. I thought the levels on those were very soft (even if they were focused in the center channel) and you had to almost had to strain to listen to them. I tried it on both Blu-ray players that I have and found the same thing. The film picked up from there and this issue diminished as the film went on, but I found this slightly problematic, especially when you're exposed to a scene like when the wardrobe is raided. Otherwise the film sounds as good as everyone's been saying; speaker panning and directional activity are much more frequent than I was expecting, subwoofer engagement is another presence through the film, anything that hits the ground with any force is going to get some love from the low end.
Looking at all three discs of Prince Caspian and understanding that the third disc houses the now-legendary digital copy, the extras aren't too horrible. There's also something called "Circle Vision Interactive," which allows you to view the castle raid sequence through a wide variety of prisms, from cast and crew commentaries, to stills galleries, to additional footage shot on set. I'm not doing it enough justice; it's kind of a cool feature that was shot with a 360 degree field and capturing high definition resolution imagery, so it looks good too. But along with that is a commentary track that includes the actors who played the Pevensies, along with Adamson. Adamson brought a lot of information to the table on the last commentary if I recall, and he does it again here, so if you liked the film, the commentary should also be right up your alley. You've also got previews for Earth, Pinocchio and the various Disney titles that have arrived or will be arriving on BD soon on this disc to wrap up this BD-Live enabled media.
Disc two contains some smaller featurettes, all of which look at various production-related aspects. "The Adventure Returns" (34:38) has participation from a wide swath of cast and crew, such as Adamson's desire to make the film a bit more personal than the last one, and what the kids thought about coming back, and how easy the cast and crew work with one another, and how new cast members found that experience of familiarity and being welcomed in. The cast is a multinational one and is covered rather quickly, while everyone shares their thoughts on Adamson as a director. That leaves just enough time to cover the visual effects, like the creation of and interaction with. "A Classic Comes to Life" (23:35) shows off the location scouting and set design, along with a bunch of conceptual galleries and previsualization footage, while production designer Roger Ford talks about the intent of the sets, while the cast discusses their thoughts of said sets. "A Big Movie comes to a Small Town" (23:13) is a rather unique look at the production's arrival to the Slovenian town of Bovec, Locals discuss how the town prepared for it, while the crew talked about how busy they made the sleepy mountain town, what worked and didn't for the production, and how the town was impacted by the presence of the crew (to give you an idea, the town of roughly 1,200 had to accommodate approximately 800 in the crew). It was an interesting look at the social impact of a film crew coming to town, that's for sure. 10 deleted scenes (11:17) with audio introduction by Adamson are next, but all of the scenes are redundant and thusly forgettable. "The Man Behind Nikabrik" (11:11) is a look at a day in the life of Davis as he spends roughly 14 hours on set getting made up, eating, waiting around and oh yeah, acting here and there, along with interview footage with him. A standalone section on the film's previsualization is shown (10:03), as you see a ton of footage, while Adamson talks about how he uses the footage, and what the crew's role in putting it together is. "Secrets of the Duel" (6:41) covers the battle between Peter and Miraz, from concept to rehearsal to shooting, and includes looks at the wardrobe and shooting the vital battle sequence. "Becoming Trumpkin" (4:46) looks at Dinklage's participation in the film, what he thought about taking the film on and how he got made up for the film, while the cast discuss their thoughts of him. "Talking Animals, Walking Trees" (4:43) looks at the animals in the film and their role in the story, while the cast discusses their favorites. The blooper reel (3:04), which isn't all that funny, rounds the disc out.
I seem a little bit down on The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, but that's only because the film wasn't really mind-blowing or wonderous to me one way or the other. The performances were decent and to see the characters (and actors that play them) grow up and evolve is certainly interesting to see, and a third film would be intriguing I believe. Technically, the film's audio is underwhelming, even if the video is near-flawless, but the extras feel a little bit light and fluffy for my taste. If you've read the books (or bought the first film on Blu-ray), you'll love the film and it's a worthwhile complement to the saga, but watching this without the first film will leave you fidgeting after the first hour or so.