It's not much of a shock that Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe popped up in such close proximity to the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I mean, people's appetites for the grand, computer-generated fantasy spectacle had been lit by Christmas after Christmas of J.R.R. Tolkien's massive opus. It also didn't hurt that a children's series of books, the Harry Potter flicks, seemed to also find their niche both during and after Peter Jackson's box office and Academy-award reign. People wanted more, and what better to give them than the world-famous tale of four children who traveled in, around, and through time to a magical realm -- all the while carrying religious over and under tones. Bam -- there's the Rings demographic, the Potter demographic, and maybe a few extra. It's just a shame that Lion, With, and Wardrobe's mediocre, overly-haughty tone sent some into a spiral of sleepiness.
Andrew Adamson aimed to play a bit of Yahtzee with the elements that both did and didn't work with this second installment, Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. It seemed like an easy fix: Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe wasn't dark enough, scenic enough, and epic enough, so he's got to shake it all together and roll the dice to see how these slight modifications play for the tone. And true, Prince Caspian is darker, more aptly shot, and grander in scale; however, it shares its own little swatch of problems, including one backwashed from the first Narnia film -- overdrawn pacing that, in the words of Bilbo Baggins from the first Lord of the Rings film, feels like butter scraped over too much bread.
Prince Caspian follows C.S. Lewis' Pevensie children as they return to Narnia, only this trip to the fantasy world sent them forward many hundreds of years to a point when Narnian folk -- talking animals, hybrid creatures like centaurs, and the sagely warrior lion Aslan -- have become "extinct" following a shift in power that established the dominance of the Telemarine society. Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Poppelwell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) wouldn't even be back in Narnia, a year later in their time, if it weren't for the hornblow from the exiled, fleeting Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) of the Telemarines on a magical horn that called for their help. With the help of the Kings and Queens of Old, he and the Narnians will fight the good fight to re-establish the peaceful kingdom pieced together at the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe -- all but rotted away by King Miraz (Sergio Castellito).
Since his first excursion to Narnia, Adamson has developed a stronger eye for building within the amiable epic genre. From the second we see the Pevensie kids frolicking on the Narnian beach at their return, it's clear that he's gained some perspective on photographing establishing shots. He carries this competence throughout, matched with stalwart editing that piece together a highly attractive picture. Along with that sentiment, he's also learned a few slicker tricks regarding computer-animated creatures -- well, actually, it's more of a "what to show, what not to show" dynamic. Overdrawn expanses of talking beavers and glitzy animation are altered a bit into somewhat intelligent placement of these elements, offering tastes instead of overbearing the audience. When all these points are considered, it's a much more realized and grounded vision that carriages the fantasy-based content far better than the first.
However, this is a Narnia film, and Narnia's big on the fanciful. When you dodge and parry with these whimsical elements, it's got to be backed up by a sturdy punch to deliver after all the dancing around. Prince Caspian's big "human" tricks come in a power struggle between Peter and Caspian, Lucy and her hallucinogenic search for Aslan, and the Telemarine conspiracies and bickering that originally got the film started -- all of which counterbalance the tone of Prince Caspian oddly. Due to all that mess, the introductory first act of Prince Caspian absolutely drags. All the actors that play the Pevensie children, especially William Moseley and Georgie Henley, have sharpened their skills since their last outing, but the quartet still can't provide the kind of tangible dramatic bravado that the film needs to carry the more whimsical, human elements that Prince Caspian needs to keep the initial establishing acts gripping. Instead, they drift out of the limelight quite a bit to allow for the "real" hero to take the throne.
Ben Barnes' short turn in Stardust led off that phenomenal fantasy film with a pitch-perfect start, setting up perfectly for Charlie Cox to knock it out of the park as the lead protagonist, Tristan; in that, it's difficult to see Barnes fumble his charisma here as Prince Caspian. He looks the part and has the talent to fuel it, but the combination of all his flair and character quirk simply doesn't gel. There's something about his character that makes it really, really hard to invest in his demeanor, which is a really bad thing when the four core protagonists are stepping to the side to allow him to feed off the spotlight. Eventually, character dynamics become a minor quibble in all these theatrics, which sort of cancels out the need for both the Pevensie children and Caspian to offer much in the way of compelling entities and become more set pieces than anything.
Once it reaches the top of the second act and ditches the efforts at hammering home any kind of emotional potency, Prince Caspian unloads an onslaught of fantasy battle sequences that'll dazzle and delight with the best of 'em. After an hour of slopping through some murky filmmaking to get there, it begins to pay off with a grand, full throttle blur of well-orchestrated, highly-active action. Its two primary battles, one near the gooey center and the other capping the last third, become the reasons to venture back into Narnia. Make no mistake, nothing here screams originality; borrowed elements like costume design and slow shutter-speed filming from Troy, Gladiator, 300, and the other aforementioned spectacle films can be spotted from miles away. Even the knight-on-knight battle in the film, which is actually one of the better-choreographed costume fights of the past few years, reeks of influence from its predecessors. I was surprised at how violent Prince Caspian can be, which echoes the book's brutality; considering all the bloodshed, all the sacrifices, and all the happenstance brutality, this is definitely something geared for the teen and over crowd.
It'll all come down to personal preference, whether a solid hour-and-a-half of well-crafted "been there, done that" epic action makes the trip through garbled dramatic interaction worth the time. The big question is: how direly are you in need of a fantasy fix? Prince Caspian will satisfy the itch. But no matter how attractive it looks and how it might temporarily fill that void, there's something missing from the full experience. Soaking in both Narnia films becomes a lot more like watching a joust at a renaissance fair -- they're both fun to watch and full of the slights and sounds that'd accompany the experience, but all the glitzy surface-level attractiveness here cannot cover up the lack of a deeper connection to the narrative. Andrew Adamson's second foray into Narnia becomes darker and louder, but seems to smack against a very sturdy wall when it tries to stretch its emotional arms out to C.S. Lewis' readers and genre fans alike.
Disney Home Entertainment has sent over the Three-Disc Collector's Edition of Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian for our evaluation. It comes with a sturdy cardboard slipcover with each character raised up a bit to give the cover a nice three-dimensional feel. The blue coloring in the image also has a pearlescent sheen that Disney has been using on a lot of their current releases. When you open the package up, however, it's not as impressive. Situated in a three-disc Scanavo case, the two central discs for the film and the supplements sit stacked on top of each other, while the digital copy disc gets its own space on the left wall. In a rare occasion from Disney, they've opted to give the film and supplement disc no art on the discs, instead just sticking with a silver top with the Prince Caspian writing.
Boy, when you pop the disc in, you'll forget about the color of the top it pretty quick. Presented in its theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen image enhanced for 16x9 television, Prince Caspian looks outstanding in just about every sense. The level of clarity present in textures and facial features pops right before your eyes, only sporting very, very mildly enhanced edges that can only be seen with severe scrutiny. Taking place at night, the first battle sequence shows off the disc's ability to handle fluctuating black levels -- which came as quite a shock that they look this good. Considering that Prince Caspian clocks in at nearly two and a half hours and fights with three audio tracks and a commentary on this disc, it really lays on the quality thick. By far, it's one of the better blockbuster transfers to come out on the home video format this year.
It had its work cut out for it to match such a fluid video transfer, but the English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack keeps the digital quality rolling with a thunderous mix packed with plenty of awe-inspiring qualities. The lower-frequency and surround channels get quite a workout here, as they steal plenty of attention from the front speakers. It's a distinctly three-dimensional track, keeping the effects and resonant score pumping along gracefully. Atop excellent vocal clarity and little-to-no top shelf distortion, this track makes certain to satisfy those disappointed that a DTS option wasn't made available like the original release. Both French and Spanish 5.1 language tracks are available, as are subtitles for all three languages.
For reference, all the supplemental materials are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles -- and, with the exception of only one or two, are all presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Audio Commentary with Director Adamson, the Pevensie Actors, and Ben Barnes:
All six, Adamson and his main five cast members, sit down for a playful yet informative commentary. For an ensemble track with a collection of young filmmakers, this was quite an enjoyable listen. They're very knowledgable and reminiscent of specific things that happened during the shoots, such as Susan's reaction time with a horse and discussions on effects prep for the petal imagery with Lucy. Foremost, you can hear how much fun they had shooting this rather demanding film, which helps to fuel Adamson's more deeply-rooted insights.
On Disc 2:
Inside Narnia (34:43):
Acting as the general intro featurette, there's a lot of material discussed here about Adamson's exhaustive experience with the first film -- and how it almost cancelled him out for a second one. As per Disney, the editing for this featurette is outstanding as it blends behind-the-scenes material, interviews, blue/green screen work, and others with footage from the film. It focuses on everything from shooting locations to costume work, with some nice added dashes of backslapping for good measure.
Sets of Narnia (23:42):
Part of Prince Caspian's charm comes in its marvelous aesthetic design, which comes into concentration in this featurette. There's plentyof material here about C.S. Lew's lack of emphasis on concrete details on environment, which concludes to the fact that his book would be difficult to concentualize on film. Douglas Greshem, co-producer for the film and close friend to C.S. Lewis, even gets a bit of time talking about the set design's "authenticity" and such.
Big Movie Comes to a Small Town (23:16):
Here, the small town of Bovec comes into the spotlight. It's the shooting location for one of the film's big closing moments, as it has a beautiful river that Adamson wanted to film at. There's interview time aplenty here, including some material with the oldest woman living in the small town. Just to film in this location took six to nine (6-9) months of diligence to earn the permission for shooting in this heavily protected area.
Pre-Visualizing Narnia (10:08):
The best parts of this featurette is seeing the full range of scenes that utilized pre-visualization sequences. IT starts out with an explanation of what a pre-viz department does, much like every featurette on the topic. Adamson talks a bit about how this film utilized the department more because of the complexity of the battle sequences and such, but most of the featurette is general speech to accompany the spans of rough material available for us to see.
Talking Animals (4:51):
Lots of general talk about Narnia's capacity for talking creatures is highlighted here, mainly accompanied by interview time to emphasize the content. It then turns into a environmental / ecological message piece, pushing a wee bit hard with its statement.
Also available are eleven (11) minutes of Deleted Scenes, three minutes of follies in the Blooper Reel, a general descriptive featurette on the Secrets of the Duel, and two nice featurettes on the make-up and acting work for both Peter Dinklage as Trumpkin and Warwick Davis (Willow) as Nikabrik.
There's a minute long blurb on Prince Caspian's code name "Toastie", a minute-long "Monster Cam" featurette, and finally, there's a fairly lengthy eastern egg on Shane Rangi (7:45), the professional "suit actor" who gave life to several of the charactes from both Narnia films. Each one can be accessed by crown symbols at the very bottom of the menu options on each page.
Disc 3 is, as to be expected, the Digital Copy for the film. Interesting, it's the only one of the discs that actually has art on the top.
If the thirst for costume fantasy action is tugging at your cinematic coattails, you can do a lot worse than Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. It's a suitable, dark adaptation of C.S. Lewis' more difficult work to adapt, packed with enough sword slinging, chattering animals, and whimsical hoopla to satisfy fans of the previous entry and of the classic books. More importantly, Disney's digital presentation of Prince Caspian is top shelf, sporting killer audio and video qualities. Since the film itself offers up bold, enjoyable magical action in a market with limited options, this package loaded with a plethora of moderate-depth supplements comes firmly Recommended.