Fun on today's Pop Culture America includes:
-- A look at the National Recording Registry inductees for 2007 (announced Wednesday).
-- News from the International Museum of Cartoon Art merger with the massive Ohio State Comic Art collection.
-- The Beginning of the End: TV season (and some series) finales).
-- Record Round-Up: Featuring a look at the latest from the one and only Elvis Costello.
-- Weekly Summer Tentpole Film review, which, coincidentally, will feature none other than ...
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (d. Andrew Adamson)
Having introduced his savior character's death and resurrection in the first Narnia book (and film), C. S. Lewis turned his attention to more modern issues of faith with the follow-up novel, Prince Caspian. And appropriately enough, the film is a fairly faithful translation of the books basic plot, which is both a positive and a negative.
Plotting was never really Lewis's strong point. The Narnia novels read like "Boy's Own" adventures (with a few girls thrown in, for good measure), the kind of things that would have been right at home in the pages of Astounding Tales or Cap'n Billy's Whiz-Bang. As a fantasy-adventure franchise, Narnia will always run a pale third behind the truly epic sweep of Tolkien's Rings and Rowling's slyly mature Harry Potter, the two series it wants so desperately to ape.
This time around, the personality-challenged Pevensie children are whisked back to Narnia a year after their last adventure (2 1/2 years later in our time) and discover that 1300 years have passed in that (quasi) magical land. Narnia's talking critters have been beaten down in that time by the Telmarines, a militaristic crowd of swarthy Mediterranean types who are in the midst of a Hamlet-esque royal drama: a usurper has killed his brother, the rightful king, and banished the titular true heir from his kingdom. Fans of The Lion King may recognize the scheme.
In come Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy and with a rather sublime absence of motivation, they start saving dwarves and forging alliances and diving headlong into a war they can't possibly have any comprehension of. It doesn't really matter; as in the first book and film, they are merely cardboard prop-ups with no other purpose than to get mixed up in whatever is going on at the time.
At least this time, they're all a lot more violent. Especially Susan who cheerfully spends the whole movie drilling all and sundry with decorative red-fletched arrows. One can see why the warlike dunderhead Caspian takes a shine to her.
Even Lucy who was given a bottle of stuff that heals wounds and saves lives in the previous story stands around on a battlefield at one point surrounded by the dead and the dying and bothers to help only a dwarf and a mouse. And she's supposed to be the adorable one.
The dwarf is played by Peter Dinklage, a terrific actor who must have chomped down hard on a bullet to cash the paycheck for this role. Not even Gimli in the Lord of the Rings was saddled with so many short jokes.
The other major new addition to the cast is Prince Caspian himself, played by relative newcomer Ben Barnes (he had a small role in last year's underseen Stardust). The producers, maybe after watching Tilda Swinton blow the kids off the screen in the first film, have wisely decided not to bring in a co-star who will challenge the kids. Barnes has lovely cheekbones, and not much else. He is the Pevensie's match in blandness.
Director Andrew Adamson, the man behind a large chunk of the Shrek films, once again handles the animated content with aplomb; any given cartoon badger or wolf in this movie has more character than all four Pevensies combined. But he can't overcome the source material's lack of interest in a coherent story. Lewis wrote these books to grind a philosophical axe and preach to the kiddie-winks. His stories aren't terribly interested in the story and that comes through on screen. Adamson isn't enough of a director to overcome that flaw.
It's interesting (to me anyway) that the film takes Lewis's invaders, the Telmarines, who in the book were clearly supposed to be of the Muslim world (the Caspian Sea area) and transforms them into a vague, possibly Hispanic lot. I have no idea what this means, if anything. But the rest of the film is fairly true to Lewis's vision, which makes the change sit oddly on the screen.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian features some skillful, genuinely exciting battle sequences, but the story that gets us there jumps about jarringly an the young cast continues to underachieve. Better luck next time.