Wait a minute, you're not frodo. As a fan of the C.S. Lewis book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, in which fantasy and adventure are underlain with greater conflicts, I truly wanted to fall under the spell of the second installment of its film franchise, Prince Caspian. Ten minutes into it, when the four Pevensie children land back in Narnia-this time perched atop a stunning New Zealand beach-I thought the film might be spectacular in both setting and emotional scope. And although certain aspects of the film prove awe-inspiring, the piece as a whole does not leave me longing for a return voyage to Narnia.
Flying griffins, fearless mice, Narnian dwarves, and other mythical woodland creatures steal the show in Prince Caspian. This is due partly to the fact that the acting and the emotional depth of the human characters remain shallow. Lucy, Edward, Susan and Peter all return, but produce disappointingly wooden performances. Only Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) show some spunk, with Edmund occasionally able to convey subtlety imbued with a spark.
The four, rather dour, siblings are reinstalled in Narnia-as kings and queens-to once again ward off evil. This time they help restore the rightful heir to the throne of the Telamarines, which has been usurped by the Prince's conniving uncle, Miraz. Although more engaging than the Pevensie entourage in general, Prince Caspian (the dashingly handsome Ben Barnes), is upstaged by the chivalrous warrior mouse, Reepicheep (superbly voiced by Eddy Izzard), who, showing more wit and charm than any of the humans, becomes the most entertaining and likeable character in the movie. In contrast, the Prince is perilously close to appearing a little too pretty; and who picked his ruffle-festooned costume in the last scene? It seems like it's right out of Izzard's drag queen closet.
The make-up, set designs, and special effects do, however, dazzle. Filmed in New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Poland, the setting conveys an Old World feel, creating a mood that shifts between lightness and darkness. The Telamarine castle is at once both gorgeous and forbidding-like Sleeping Beauty's castle on steroids-nestled in a steeply mountainous region. The Telamarines represent a swarthy, Mediterranean-like tribe, their sharply clipped beards a nod to the Spanish Inquisition.
Moral conflicts abound. Lucy, the most spiritual of her siblings, withstands peer pressure; Peter wrestles with humility; Edmund, previously seduced by the White Queen's offer of Turkish Delight, resists temptation here. But most of these dilemmas are only touched upon. They never quite emotionally engage us in their outcomes. Part of the problem is that the main characters often seem cold and aloof, so we never become attached to them. The most prickly (and therefore most interesting) moral quandary unfolds within the ranks of the opposition; the General faces an internal struggle when forced to carry out the orders of his evil superior.
And where is Tilda Swinton? She appears as the White Queen only fleetingly, but her stony countenance expresses more emotion behind a wall of ice than most of the other actors are able to generate in the entire movie.
The battle scenes are epic, and the heroes come up with some clever means of averting almost certain slaughter. Although most of the combat avoids blood and guts, much of this PG film is steeped in violence; parents should be wary of taking small children. You might not be spell-bound by this trip to Narnia, but you could find yourself captivated by the film's scenery and special effects.
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian ★★✩✩
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes and Anna Popplewell. Directed by Andrew Adamson. Rated PG.