Saturday, May 17, 2008

Review: The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian

I had the opportunity today to see the latest installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, "Prince Caspian". I wasn't too thrilled with the first film, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe", so I approached this with the dubious enthusiasm of someone who managed to talk his seven-year-old out of watching "Speed Racer" so that anything would be good by comparison.

I must say, though, that I genuinely enjoyed this film. I thought it was a substantial improvement over the first in a variety of ways. Definitely one of the better fantasy films I've seen in years.

I found the plotting of this film to be much tighter than in the first. The villains are given clear motivations (rather than the nebulous "I want it to be cold all the time" motive in the first film), and there were enough plot twists to keep me interested in what was happening. The acting was, in my opinion, superior this time around, perhaps because there were more non-CGI characters and the starring kids were better as well.

The special effects have definitely moved up a notch, although the CGI on Aslan was notably lacking. There were no instances of "greenscreen outline" as there were in the first film. The kids were also, by dint of this being a sequel, much more comfortable with the whole Narnian world, so we were not forced to sit through an interminable "wow, isn't this so cool?" sequence. I liked the fact that this Narnia was grittier, "more savage" in the words of one of the characters. It definitely felt like the "Empire" to the original movie's "Star Wars" in terms of tone.

A few things I didn't like, however. It was too long. The end could have come about 20 minutes sooner and I don't think I would have felt cheated. The badger didn't get enough time, and the mouse a tad too much (although my daughter loved the mouse, and I must say the scene with the cat was brilliant). The Christian allegory was a bit more heavy-handed in this film compared to the first ("Why doesn't Aslan just prove his existence to us?" "Perhaps we are supposed to prove ourselves to him." Ugh.) But on the whole none of that interfered with my overall enjoyment of this film.

Give it three and a half stars out of five.

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