Sunday, May 18, 2008

Movie Review: Prince Caspian

When the first Narnia film came out, comparisons were unavoidable. Depending on who you asked, it was either "Lord of the Rings" for children, "Passion of the Christ" for children, or "Harry Potter" for children. Well, Christian children.

What was less controversial was the quality of the movie: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe wasn't very good. Actually, the first half was very good, and the second half wasn't.

The sequel is somewhat more complicated. First of all, while the same old comparisons will no doubt be unearthed, and while there are certainly still similarities to those films, we were reminded of another type of film entirely.

Prince Caspian was Conan for kids. It was, you see, a blood bath.

Only without the blood.

The children from the last film return with a vengeance. The Narnia they knew and loved has fallen, overtaken by armies of human soldiers intent on cleansing the fairytale land of any surviving fairytale creatures.

Against such evil there can be no discussion. Fortunately, despite their size, the children are seasoned warriors. They use their skills and the weapons given to them thousands of years before by Santa Claus himself to slaughter their foes. Aided by an army of oppressed dwarves, centaurs, talking animals, and Prince Caspian, they decapitate, impale, and crush their enemies.

There are losses on both side, however. Many of their friends fall while the children watch on. In one particularly disturbing moment, Peter is forced to leave some of his forces behind to die, and watches on as they're butchered. Of course he later takes his revenge on the field of battle.

The only thing more brutal than the children is an adorable mouse named Reepicheep, who hamstrings his victims, bringing them screaming to the ground, where he slits their throats with ruthless efficiency.

All safely off camera, of course: this is a kid's film. But make no mistake: each of those soldiers has a family. By and large, they aren't even evil: for generations they've been fed lies about their world and its inhabitants.

Overall we enjoyed this movie, though it was far from perfect. There remained a disconnect between the dark, close scenes, which were highly impressive, and the bright sunny moments... which were, well, far too bright and sunny. In addition, the movie never felt completely right. It isn't entirely fair to blame the filmmakers, though: many of the problems originated in C.S. Lewis's book. The ending, in particular, is heavy handed and forced. The symbolism, which felt subtle and well used for most of the movie, became overt in the last fifteen minutes. The conclusion left much to be desired.

Don't go expecting Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potter: Narnia lacks the power of either these franchises. But if you're looking for a family action film, where young children travel to a magical kingdom, kill their enemies, and hear the lamentation of their women, you could do worse.

On a scale of one to five stars, where five is Conan: The Barbarian, Prince Caspian receives two and a half. If they'd left in the blood and gone for an "R" rating, we'd have been more generous.

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