The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was the equivalent of an above average date you had with a beautiful looking girl once upon time, yet for some reason, as time went on you both went your separate ways. You had a blast at the time, sure. She was built fairly well, and you even felt a spark of magic from time to time. For some reason or another though, you seemed to forget her. She wasn't a waste of time, but she had some imperfections that you couldn't forget about at the time, and she seemed to be slightly immature. Gone now are the days you were young and nieve however, and you bump into her on the street. You hardly recognize her! You can't spot nearly as many imperfections as you were able to years ago, and she's even more appealing because of a newfound maturity that wasn't there before! This is essentially what happened with the Narnia franchise sequel, Prince Caspian.
Although I like the first film, I wasn't exactly in a big rush to go see Disney's second attempt at the series. The trailer looked spectacular, but you know how sequels usually are. So, Prince Caspian flew under my radar, and it couldn't have been any lower on the radar for me if I tried to put it so far down intentionally. It came and went, and now here it is on DVD, and I feel like a poor sap for not taking the opportunity to see this on the big screen, because it really was a very nice step up from the first go round. Your mileage may vary however, and I'll explain the major differences between the films in a bit, but first, a recap of the story for those of you who never became familiarized with the classic novels by C.S. Lewis.
The children who originally stumbled into Narnia via a mystical wardrobe, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy, spent a long time living in their fairytale world. They even stayed long enough to age, and rule as magnificent king and queens, forever to be remembered as the saviors of Narnia. They eventually retraced their steps to the entryway that led them into that fantastical world, and returned back to jolly ole' England, instantly reverting back to the young age they were.
A year later, they're living the lives that were meant for them, but with the history they've had in Narnia, all of them are finding it difficult to accept the lives they wandered back to. For example, Peter is no longer a High King, so he gets into fistfights with other guys his own age to prove his worth.
Although they're having a difficult time adjusting after only a year, hundreds of years have already passed in Narnia. A series of events are set in motion by an evil man named Miraz to try and claim the throne of Narnia, which includes having his henchmen attempt to murder the rightful heir to the throne, Prince Caspian. Caspian escapes, and finds himself in a sticky situation, so he blows on a horn he's been given hoping to draw the attention of some help.
What Caspian doesn't know, is that the horn he's used to call for help is magical, and summons the kings and queens of ole'. This sucks the kids that are still trying to adjust to life in England after being spoiled by Narnia, back into the fantastical land they couldn't stop thinking about.
Narnia changed a lot over the centuries they were gone. Large buildings lay in ruins, man rules the land with an iron fist, and the magical creatures, Narnians, are extremely thinned in number. It's up to the four kids to once again get involved in the fate of the Narnians before they get wiped out, and to restore the title of King to the rightful heir of the throne.
The first major difference you'll note this time around is the tone. Right from the beginning of the movie, you're slapped upside the head with a story that's presented with an overall darker look and feel, and the material is presented in a more sinister manner. The evil Miraz is a fearful tyrant, and in many ways ends up being more fearsome than the Ice Queen the children encountered during their first trip. He's not nearly as frightening as a man when think about it, I mean, the Ice Queen was a temptress that was wicked with evil powers. Yet somehow, at times, the threat of Miraz is even more menacing because of the way he's presented thanks to the darker film we have.
The tonal change is more than just a new artistic direction for the franchise, it's a necessity. Much like the Harry Potter franchise, the main characters are older and get their hands a lot dirtier than they ever have before. They ruled the land as kings and queens once, and they've all grown emotionally, and because of their time in Narnia, they're more than capable of defending themselves in a battle with swords and arrows. It's only appropriate the tone of film matured to match the growing maturity in the main characters, as well as the severity of what Narnia has turned into, because it's certainly a much darker place than it used to be.
What's even better, and the parents with young children who were fans of the first film will appreciate this especially, it's still appropriate for children! The movie is darker and the battles are a little more intense and risqué than they were the first time around, but I didn't really find anything material in this film that was inappropriate for the younger crowd. My little brother in law used to get scared of the darker progressions and events that occurred in the later Harry Potter films, but I don't think he would have ever had a hard time with this film at all.
The other change this time around that's not as obvious as the tone shift is that the storyline is much more linear than what was attempted in the first film. There was so much going on during the first journey we took as an audience, but this time everything is straight forward. You can practically write a list:
1 - Caspian is chased away so that someone else can be King.
2 - Caspian calls for help and the kids are whisked away to magic land.
3 - Kids help the Narnians and Caspian to reclaim their kingdom.
There's obviously more context throughout the film than that, but those are the major key points to the story.
I'm not trying to say this is a bad thing though, and in fact, I'm saying quite the opposite. Because the first film had so much to tackle, the pacing ended up suffering from time to time, making the film feel a bit longer than it actually was. The pacing in Prince Caspian is smooth with nary a hiccup, and I don't think there was a single minute where I was wishing things would pick up and move along a little faster. The first hour of the film takes its time, slowly building the plot and letting events take a very natural progression. From this point on, the film picks up its pace and continually builds until we get a very satisfying finale.
There are some pleasant surprises along the way, the characters we already know aren't hum drum and actually learn more about themselves, and more importantly, it makes sense, and our new hero Caspian ain't bad either. Definitely an impressive second effort, and if you like fantasy/adventure films, you should definitely check this one out, even if you had mixed feelings about the original. The only people I can really see having a hard time accepting this as the superior film, are those who are sticklers for wanting a story that's a bit more multi-layered, even if it causes the film to be executed with a little less quality.
All in all, this is a pretty impressive transfer. The image that's at an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is mostly free of any film specks, and the image retains its 'film' look as it keeps the grain intact as it should be. There are some pretty complicated things that happen in the film as far as things that might have wreaked havoc on the digital compression, but there doesn't seem to be any distracting macroblocking or edge enhancement. There are some extremely minor touching of edge enhancement that can be seen, but most of the time you'll never see it, and what I saw wasn't abnormal for a standard definition DVD, even a high profile one such as this. The only real complaint I have, is that once in a blue moon I was able to spot some tiny digital artifacts around small, detailed complex shapes, such as a bunch of leaves that are scattering across a tree line with nothing but a white sky behind them.
The color never really 'pops', but that's because this film was intended to look a little more drab than the first one did. Grass and trees are lush, and skin tones appear to come across accurately without any orange or overly warm tones creeping in. For the color that we do have in the darker palette of the film, it saturates nicely, and is further complimented by a nice contrast that's provided by some very nice black levels.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn't disappoint in some respects, but the mix itself is a bit bothersome unfortunately.
The music and sound effects are very impressive. They provide a great sense of directionality, and really make you feel at home in Narnia. The score is very boastful and majestic, and it constantly swells and fills the room and provides a sort of warm feeling inside of you when you hear it. OK, well, at least it did for me! In combination, these were mixed incredibly well and are presented in a way that's only describable by saying 'wow'. There's a very large range from the ultra quiet to the super loud and robust.
And that's where part of the problem lies. Sometimes the music is so loud and majestic and robust, and sometimes the sound effects are so enveloping, there are times where the dialogue can sort of be drowned out by everything else. Not only that, but if you're in an unsafe listening environment that won't tolerate the boastful track that's been provided, you're going to need to adjust the volume on your home theater quite often to ensure you hear the dialogue scenes whenever there isn't any action.
Also included are French and Spanish language tracks, as well as subtitles for English, French, and Spanish.
Audio Commentary With Director Andrew Adamson and Actors (The Five Young Stars) - It's not the best commentary I've ever heard, but it's certainly far from being boring. The Director lets the younger stars bounce off of each other, as well as himself, quite often. Everyone seems to be having a great time, there's plenty of laughter, and some humor thrown about from time to time as well. It's worth the listen, as long as you don't mind commentaries in general.
Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns - This feature runs at about 34 minutes, and is a pretty interesting behind the scenes featurette. It's not just plowing through a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo either. It gives us a lot of back story on some of the things the Director was thinking about before jumping into the project, too. There's also a lot of light hearted clips that are thrown in the feature to balance out all the behind the scenes stuff, just showing the kids having a great time during the production, and not necessarily on the set either.
Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes to Life - This is an additional 23 minute supplement to give us an even further look into how Narnia itself was created for the film specifically. There are a lot of screen grabs from the book, as well as some of the computer generated concept art to show us how they translated scenery from the book as it was described.
Big Movie Comes to a Small Town - Breaking down the aspect of location even more, this featurette focuses on working with the townspeople of Bovec to film part of the movie in, it's a touching featurette that's not the same type of feature we see all the time. Check this one out.
Previsualizing Narnia - Of course, Narnia couldn't exist without mapping out how you want everything to look when you mix up the locations you have filmed at, and then combine it with computer animation that's unfinished, but works to give you a general idea of how something may look after you film it. This is a shorter featurette at 10 minutes, and also worth taking a look at.
Talking Animals and Walking Trees: The Magical World of Narnia - This is an even shorter featurette, and details what it was like to animate the animals and trees for the second Narnia film.
Secrets of the Duel - A very short featurette that describes what it was like trying to pull together the tight choreography for one of the more intense scenes in the film.
Becoming Trumpkin/Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik - Even shorter featurettes, and these briefly show us what it was like to do some make-up for a couple of key characters in the film.
Also included are some deleted scenes, and some bloopers. The bloopers are entertaining, but I didn't really find the deleted scenes to be very special. Not a surprise though, considering I already thought the film overall was put together at a splendid pace. Last but not least, there's also a third disc that's included that provides a digital copy of the film for those of you who like to put stuff like this on your iPod.
The Chronicles of Narnia - Prince Caspian steps up its game in almost every way. It's darker, more mature, and a better paced film than the last outing, and to top it all off, it's still 100 percent suitable for your kids! This film shows us that an epic adventure film can be intense with its storytelling and big payoff scenes without turning it into a gore fest. There's actually very, very little blood to be seen at all! If you were like me and let this one pass you by because of a tiny amount of mixed emotions you had from the first film, then I suggest you pick this up regardless and give it a shot. The video quality is practically top notch, and although at times you're going to have to adjust the volume on your set, the audio track is going to provide for one heck of a ride! With the nice quality of special features that are on this set, despite the fact that some are short, none of them feel like they're there 'just because'. It's for these reasons that I don't hesitate to highly recommend this title to everyone, because it truly has a little something for everyone.