I warn you: I can’t be objective about this movie. I grew up reading and rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, so seeing my well-loved stories made real before my very eyes is a thrill. Here is the word made living, beautiful flesh. The thought gives me goosebumps.
But maybe I can manage some objectivity. After seeing earlier attempts to bring The Lord of the Rings to life – one odious cartoon version springs to mind – I said for years that I’d rather nobody ever tried it, than to have someone ruin it so badly. Yet I can say, about watching Prince Caspian, that I never felt the way I did when I watched that cartoon Lord of the Rings. There was no sensation that this story was ruined and should never have been attempted. So it was probably done right, or very close to right.
I still love the casting of the Pevensie children. All four actors are capable of expressing at one moment the youthful enthusiasms, naivete, or even peevishness of kids and teenagers, and a minute later, the nobility of young kings and queens of Narnia. William Moseley in particular carries off the complex emotions of Peter – the boy who was once High King, but now must pass the torch of leadership to another and attempt a new, harder task: becoming an adult in his own unmagical world.
The person to whom he passes that torch – Ben Barnes as Caspian – believably portrays a dashing, almost fairy tale prince, yet with enough vulnerabilities and flaws that he isn’t cloying. It was an interesting choice, giving him and other Telmarines a loosely Spanish accent and culture, but it made sense, given their ancestors’ origin in our world. For the most part, Barnes pulls it off, adding an exotic edge to his character. In a way, it even augments the tension between Peter and Caspian; the Telmarine prince must seem terribly “foreign” to this very British boy, making it harder to surrender control.
The surrounding characters are also portrayed with convincing, dramatic realism, from the sly, dangerous Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), to the grumpy dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), to the deliciously over-chivalrous mouse Reepicheep, voiced by Eddie Izzard.
And speaking of Reepicheep…the special effects clearly are not included just for the “coolness” factor. You never feel that the CGI creatures – centaurs, talking mice, minotaurs etc. – are there to make you look at them; rather, they’re there because the plot demands it. Though I confess…when the trees finally wake up, and the river spirit makes an appearance…it really is spectacularly cool. (Told you I couldn’t be objective.)
One thing people wonder, given Narnia author C.S. Lewis’s evangelistic leanings, is whether his allegorical elements might become overpowering. They’re still there, in Prince Caspian, but more subtly than in the first film. In this movie, we deal with losing faith when apparently abandoned by one’s ideal, yet finding courage to fight through doubt. The faith remains directed toward Lewis’s Christ-figure, but Aslan doesn’t even appear until the end. He stands more as a symbol of hope than as a specific religious figure.
The film is definitely darker and more action-packed than the first movie, but the original story was also darker. The battle scenes demonstrate that the Narnian folk seek something very much worth fighting for.
I can think of only two things I would change in this movie. I would add more wonder and mystery to the discovery that the ancient tales of magic in Narnia were true, and to the reawakening of the powers. Lucy’s dream about the tree spirits comes close, but otherwise there is little of the loss and yearning for those ancient wonders that was there in the book.
My other change is prosaic: we hardly hear the names of the “old Narnians.” They are rarely officially introduced, so we have to rely on someone addressing them in conversation so we know their names. I had to read the closing credits to be reminded that the head centaur was Glenstorm, and the squirrel was Patterwig. But that’s a minor complaint.
On the whole, I’m as delighted as I hoped to be by this film. It was wonderful to see the story that enchanted me when I was growing up become a living, breathing thing before my eyes.