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There's a moment in Prince Caspian towards the end of the first act when Lucy, the youngest Pevensie sibling, dreams she's walking through Narnia as it once was -- lush and green, with dancing trees and bright flower petals that swirl in humanoid shapes. She sees Aslan, the heroic lion, and asks why he doesn't swoop in and save Narnia once more from the darkness it's fallen under. "Nothing ever happens the same way twice," he tells her. It's arguably the most beautiful scene in the whole film, and also a fitting description for this, the second chapter in The Chronicles of Narnia series.
Prince Caspian opens as ominously as the first film -- instead of the Blitz bombing of London, however, we're given the birth of a child. He is the son of Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), the sinister brother of the late King. Having dispatched his sibling and created an heir, Miraz is ready to seize the throne -- but for his nephew Caspian. If you're thinking this sounds suspiciously like a certain Shakespearean tragedy, you wouldn't be alone. In any event, Narnia is not the place it once was: 1,300 years have passed, and a vicious race of man known as the Telmarines have taken over. They believe the land's history of magical talking animals and mythical creatures mere folklore. But Caspian's flight from certain execution reawakens the forest, and recalls the Pevensies from London -- for whom only a year has passed -- to once again defend the land.
Yes, The Chronicles of Narnia has aged and matured with its stars -- Caspian is darker, with a richer plot and more nuanced performances from the fledgling actors. But the maturation is relative. Instead of a children's story like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, this chapter is unmistakably aimed at Tweens. Almost no time is wasted on subtleties like plausible exposition -- How do we know these are the ruins of the castle Cair Paravel? Well look, here, resting pristinely on the ground, is a piece from my chess set that has managed not to tarnish or bury in over a millennium. Instead the film focuses primarily on hormone-driven eye candy: Caspian (Ben Barnes) and a wholly improbable romance between him and Susan (Anna Popplewell). Puh-leaze.
Director Andrew Adamson told AMCtv.com that for his second go-round at Narnia, he wanted to play up the series' epic qualities. And in some ways he succeeded: The use of landscape in the camera-work, for instance, lends the film a much larger scope than the original. But this scope only serves as a reminder that Caspian has all of the trappings of an epic without any of the gravitas. Lines are delivered with the utmost weight and come off contrived and unbelievable. Adamson's use of music, which was charmingly contemporary in the first film, has devolved into typical orchestral background fare that too often informs the audience how it should be feeling.
That's not to say Abramson didn't do a few things well. As far as the CG is concerned, there's a marked improvement in the talking animals from the first film. In particular, the rapier-wielding mouse Reepicheep -- voiced by the talented Eddie Izzard and bearing a remarkable resemblance to Shrek 2's Puss In Boots (Adamson directed both films) -- is a brilliantly-clever caricature who makes for the movie's best and funniest moments. The battle scenes too are much improved from the original, with a showdown between Peter Pevensie (William Moseley) and Miraz that outperforms what you might expect from a PG rating.
But these minor marvels do little to enhance what is ultimately a flat-footed film, lacking in the magic that made the first a spectacle, and the consequence that would make this attempt epic. Indeed, nothing ever happens the same way twice. But for all of the departures that Prince Caspian makes, you might be left wondering if same might have been better.