This ‘Prince’ is a pauper

 

Perhaps my review may be dismissed automatically by the fact that I have not revisited Narnia myself since reading them as a child, and even then, the C. S. Lewis books had none of the mental shelf life of “The Lord of the Rings” tomes or Jack London’s excursions into the wild.

I approached “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” from a merely cinematic perspective. And, despite its battles and bluster, it’s rather a bore. That’s not to say it does not try to get medieval on your a** — various armor-clanging clashes punctuate the numerous slow spots of exposition in the picture, vying for credibility in the rather noisy summer blockbuster period.

In this installment, the Pevensie siblings – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – have busied themselves in the U.K. for a year since their last Narnian vacation, and a return trip to the kingdom reveals a few hundred years have passed in the mystical land.

The kingdom is in ruin, under the tyrannical thumb of a group called the Telmarines (they are easily discernable for they all have a certain “ethnic” look to them, shall we say).

The exiled Narnians’ one hope, the eponymous prince (played with regal blandness by Ben Barnes) has been banished by the dictatorial Mirza (played by Sergio Castellitto), who wants his newborn son to take the crown and follow in his bootsteps.

The rest of the film is essentially a protracted battle sequence (as the Pevensie kids hack, slash and spear their way through thongs of their enemies like some pre-teen version of “Gladiator”) that is filmed like countless other recent cinematic battle sequences. This means there must be the prerequisite shots that sweep over the oceans of bad buys readying to attack our rag-tag heroes (a la “Braveheart”), the high-definition climactic battle where we witness every fleck of dirt kicked up by participants ( thank you, “Gladiator”), and acrobatic maneuvers performed by our leads even while wearing about one hundred pounds of armor (“Troy,” “300,” I’m looking at your for that one).

There is one diverting exception here, though. As the Narnians are an army of woodland sprites and mythical beasts, it is not uncommon to see a random goat, puma warthog or badger engaged in combat beside their human counterparts, give it a wacky, surrealistic edge.

The film is not helped by its milquetoast leads, who possess no discernable range in or out of battle. I would love to see those Hogwart wizards fly in and rap each one of them with their Quidditch sticks.

Aslan, the Jesus Lion of the books, again makes an appearance at just the right time to save the day, prompting one of my screening partners to ask upon the film’s conclusion: “So we waited all this time for something the lion could do all by himself anyway?”

I realize that the children all had to apparently learn valuable life lessons or something, but director Andrew Adamson never really makes those lessons clear. One thing I can assure you they do not grow to value is human life, as they leave behind a Rambo-sized body count on the battlefield.

The film’s attempt at levity – a sword-wielding animated mouse voiced by Eddie Izzard – seems like a reject from the “Shrek” franchise, of which Adamson also served as director.

The allegorical elements are present, but serve in a much more awkward dues-ex-machina-kind-of way (gee, I wonder who the man in the tidal wave is supposed to resemble?), which drains the film of much-needed suspense.

There are three books left in the “Narnia” series, so there is ample room left for the franchise to grow (and the young leads to enroll in further acting lessons) for future installments.

But—and this cannot be emphasized enough – for parents seeking a family-friendly alternative to the PG-13 antics of Iron Man and Indiana Jones, Caspian is not the answer. It was suggested to me by my friend that the PG rating was reached because there was no blood being spilled during battle sequences.

Unfortunately, there is also none that pumps through the heart of this film, either.

~ by usesoapfilm on May 19, 2008.

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