Film Review: Prince Caspian

27/06/08 | Posted by MattPage

The publicity machine for Prince Caspian has been going full throttle for the past month promising a visually stunning action film for all the family. And, as one would hope for a film with a £200 million budget and no big stars to pay, the visuals are fairly stunning. Whilst never hugely original, the camera swoops and pans, captures the nice scenery and gets right in the thick of the action. The CGI is fairly impressive too. I can only recall two films that feature trees coming to life and taking part in a battle and Caspian's trees blow those from Lord of the Rings clean out of the water. Furthermore, the animals are animated far more smoothly than they were in the first Narnia movie. Reepicheep and Trufflehunter are portrayed so believably that all memories of Warwick Davis' awful mouse costume from the BBC version of this story were forgotten, at least for a moment.

image
 Prince Caspian

Sadly, the good work with the visuals are sorely undermined by terrible scripting and acting. Quite why anyone would take a work of literature, written by a English professor at one of the world’s leading universities, and replacing his finely crafted prose with the kind of trite, greeting card sentiment we have here is utterly beyond me. True, the film is marginally funnier than the book (although when I saw it, most of the laughs from the audience we’re not at the parts   the filmmakers intended) but it inserts so many crass or banal lines that one has to wonder what on earth possessed them to do such violence to such a beloved text. “If you were any braver, you’d be a lioness” Aslan purrs to Lucy whilst his soldiers are getting hacked to pieces.

None of this is helped by the fact that the four children who seemed reasonably capable in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe seem to have lost their ability to act. At 13 Georgie Henley is still a child which perhaps lets her off the hook. But William Moseley and Anna Popplewell are both adults and Ben Barnes is 27. Perhaps it’s director Andrew Adamson who should take the blame. Whatever magic he worked on his child stars certainly seems to have fallen into decay and getting all of the Telemarines to speeak with a ludricrous Span-eesh accent was a grave error. It wouldn’t have been a huge surprise if Manuel from Fawlty Towers had popped into the council chamber with a round of drinks. There are some notable exceptions to all of this. Tilda Swinton is mesmerising in her brief cameo as the spirit of the White Witch; Peter Dinklage has some good moments as Trumpkin - particularly at the end; and Eddie Izzard manages to rein himself enough to give Reepicheep some nobility amidst the humour.

image
 Caspian and the Pevensies

The other major problem with the script is it’s handling of the book. The book was always going to be difficult to adapt, and the screenwriters’ task of telling a non-linear narrative in a more conventional fashion was always going to be a challenge. But in the process, the book’s spirituality and profundity has gone. There’s no discovery of the old Narnia and it’s values; no parable of following Jesus when his presence is less tangible, or when others choose a different   path. These things are quickly passed over in the rush to get to the next impressive fight scene.

On top of all this the link between Aslan and Jesus has grown weaker from the first film. Admittedly the parallels are subtler in the book, but here he is reduced to simply waking up the tree people and the river-god at the last minute. There’s no sense of Aslan being gradually re-discovered, and orchestrating what follows; he’s a tardy saviour whose late arrival means many Narnians die.

So whilst the battle scenes are impressive, and the earlier action scenes are tense and exciting, the film falls well short of what could have been achieved. The dialogue is so woeful it eventually causes you to cringe every time someone opens their mouth. And that, for a film based on a book which is all about the dialogue, is enough to make any true Narnian lose hope.

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