Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Faith, Hamlet and Shtick

PG – 148mins – 2008
Screenplay by: Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on the novel by: C. S. Lewis
Directed by: Andrew Adamson
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Eddie Izzard, Sergio Castellitto, Peter Dinklage, Ken Stott, Warwick Davis, Liam Neeson, Tilda Swinton

Being granted the exclusive opportunity to see an advanced screening of Voyage of the Dawn Treader 24hours prior to its release this week (a minor perk of owning a Cineworld Unlimited Card; review to follow), I thought it only right that I should see the threequel in context by finally catching up with the second chronicle in the recently rekindled Narnia saga.

It has been five years since I was underwhelmed by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the cinema, but that has such an enduring story that – thanks to the BBC adaptation which I rewatched repeatedly as a child – it will stay with me forever. In contrast, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Prince Caspian, having ventured no further into either the novel series or BBC broadcasts, except that it took nowhere near enough money at the box office for Disney to desire to continue co-financing the remaining C. S. Lewis stories.

If the trivia section of IMDb is to believed, prior to the filming of this big budget follow up, there were worries from director Andrew Adamson and his co-writing cohorts Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that the story of Prince Caspian was too talky and lacking in adventurous splendour when compared to Aslan’s (Neeson) Bible-riffing sacrifice and the epic battle against the White Witch (Swinton) in the well-known series opener.

Thus, the resultant feature film may differ vastly from its slimline prose origins, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to blockbuster battle scenes, of which there are scores. Indeed, after a slow burn first half which sees the Pevensie siblings transported back to Narnia’s shore, Prince Caspian mounts towards a crescendo of titanic clashes for its final hour, with all manner of creatures showing their worth with a weapon as the submissive Narnian’s join forces with the eponymous Prince (Barnes) to reclaim their land from the invading Telmarine army.

There are definite shades of Shakespeare in the story of a young prince usurped by a jealous uncle who murdered the king to claim the throne (coughHamletcough). Furthermore, I’m not entirely sure why the Telmar’s are all Hispanic (even Brit Barnes adopts a Spanish accent which has apparently been dropped for film three), given that the fact they are humanoid already disassociates them adequately from Narnia’s animal populace, who have been thought extinct in the 1300 years since the royal Pevensie brood returned to war-time London through the wardrobe.
The immense passage of time is perhaps one reason why this return to Aslan’s domain feels entirely disparate to the preceding visit, despite the same cast and crew’s participation (even Tilda Swinton turns up for an ice-entombed cameo). Personally, I always favoured the snow-steeped eternal winter scenes in The Lion..., but the supernatural gloss of the ethereal white landscape all disappeared when the White Witch was defeated and summer returned to New Zealan- I mean, Middle Eart- NARNIA. Sorry, bad hobbi- HABIT!!

Aslan’s role is also far reduced in this sophomore entry, with the God-like lion nothing more than a fabled memory for the faithful to cling onto. Oh yes, Lewis’s “subtle” allegory of faith hasn’t been scarified in this twenty first century adap a la The Golden Compass, even in the midst of copious castle sieges and sword fights. But when you’ve got nearly two and a half hours to play with, you can squeeze a lot in, with numerous glances even alluding to a ludicrous underlying romance between elder sister Susan (Popplewell) and the Telmarine Prince!!

Sure, Mr. Tumnus and the Beaver’s may all have long since departed Narnia’s mortal plain, but the screen is now clear for a raft of new rabbiting mammals to provide some comic relief for the kiddies; in particular voice-of-reason Trufflehunter (Stott) the badger, and sword-wielding mouse Reepicheep (Izzard) whose persistently squeaky quips fire down many a derogatory comment aimed at his diminutive form. The dwarfs (one of which, naturally, is played by modest-for-hire Warwick Davis), meanwhile, still don’t exactly welcome trust, despite no longer being the White Witch’s minions…

I commend Adamson et al for their bravery and originality in expanding a treasured tome so indiscreetly. For this reason, Prince Caspian was always going to have its (purist) detractors. I was also pleasantly surprised by how little they pandered cringingly to their youngest demographic like the earliest Harry Potter films did – the Telmarine’s political backstabbing and warmongering, for instance, is likely to fly straight over the core audience's heads, but it is essential to setting up the civil war and Aslan’s noble return.

Yet for all the glossy effects, magical spectacle and humanizing themes there is still something about this updated series which doesn’t quite connect with me. Perhaps further depth to the characters and a more affectionate approach to the animal creations would invite viewers to bond more sincerely with the personal issues which affect the inhabitants of this world, instead of the overly cluttered approach which weighs down Caspian’s lengthy runtime and barely grants half of the cast more than a (snappy) line of dialogue.

In a CR@B Shell: Efficiently entertaining for its duration, but Prince Caspian’s appeal is as fleeting and shallow as the CGI effects which dominate Narnia’s bustling landscape. By no means an epic fail, but the warmth must be resurrected to stop The Dawn Treader from sinking.

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