Chronicals of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe returns to a much rougher Narnia, and stomps on Eddie Izzard mice...
One year after leaving a lifetime of rule over the land of Narnia, the Penvensie children have unexpectedly returned to their former home, thousands of years after humans have taken over. Their arrival coincides with the escape of Prince Caspian, a human co-fated to retake the lands of Narnia with them.
With the exception of the second book of the Bible (at least most of it), it seems that every epic sequel apparently must be ‘darker’ than its predecessor. That assumption was what kept me interested in a sequel to the bland beauty of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I assumed that director Andrew Adamson and his company would follow the precedent, and I’d get a more mature film out of Prince Caspian. It turns out my needs may not have been in the series’ best interests.
Adamson has learned from the previous film, and Prince Caspian features a much broader scope and more variety in look. Unfortunately the storyline of this second film doesn’t allow for many of the visual elements that separated Wardrobe from Lord of the Rings. The Pevensie-less Narnia is much closer to the real world, and the fantastic elements are the exception rather than the rule, much like the land of Middle Earth. For me this was a frustrating trade off, because I appreciate the more mature and grounded storytelling, but miss the otherworldliness of the first film (even if talking animals aren’t exactly the most imaginative fantasy element).
Tonally Caspian is easily superior to Wardrobe simply because it’s more mature, and because Adamson is willing to let his story cook a little longer now that the universe has already been introduced, but the sacrifice might have been too much in favour of all those things I assumed I wanted. The darkness factor overtakes the family friendly nature of the series in many cases, and frankly I’m surprised the MPAA awarded Caspian a PG rather than a PG-13. With three dark and dangerous Lord of the Rings films still less than ten years old, and a Harry Potter series winding its way down a increasingly violent path, I’m not sure if there’s room or necessity for the tone I originally thought I wanted.
The book was written in response to C.S. Lewis’ interest in Biblical themes, and the horrors of two World Wars, but in proving that history repeats itself, the allegory works well for modern problems. Prince Caspian’s Christian allegories are pretty heavy, heavy enough for a non-Christian like myself to feel a bit preached too, but we don’t have to use too much of our imagination to re-evaluate matters to include modern war atrocity and class war. Though obviously inspired on some level by The Chronicles of Narnia, I prefer the complicated treatment of fantastical cultural genocide presented in Hellboy 2, even if Caspian has a healthy dose of old-world class and a cool last act temptation element. Apparently we are left to remember there is only one true God, and he is a taking lion, not an androgynous ice witch.
I vaguely remember hating the original book as a kid, enough that I stopped reading the series and never picked it up again. If the movie is true to the text (which I believe it is not, entirely), than it’s very likely that all the maturity and tonal subtlety went sailing over my head. I certainly don’t remember any rousing action beats. Adamson’s improvements as a filmmaker are most potent during the initial castle infiltration sequence, where the Narnia army breaks in and does their bloody business under the cover of night. The later large scale battle scenes are well produced, and show off the awesome budget, but I’m becoming a little bored with rousing scenes of charging armies and rock launching tibucettes.
More interesting, ultimately, than the film is the film’s business, which was a relative disappointment overall for Disney and Walden Media. Many insiders had Prince Caspian tapped to be one of the bigger hits of the year, but at last glance it’s behind nine other films (including Mama Mia). Worldwide the film managed to turn a profit, but domestically it didn’t make back its $200 million (plus?) price tag. Since the end of Lord of the Rings in 2003, most big budget studio endeavours have flopped at the box office, with the exception of the Harry Potter series, and the first Narnia film. Potter will continue to prosper, regardless of box office turns, but the relative failure of Prince Caspian, coupled with the domestic flopping of The Golden Compass and Eragon, likely marks the end of studio interest in epic fantasy. Well, you know, except for those Hobbit movies they’re making.
There are no surprises in this 1080p transfer in terms of clarity, cleanliness, or colour quality. Vast sections of the film take place in the dead of night, under very subtle lighting schemes. The contrast levels are dulled, which does lead to some image loss. On the DVD release this is a pretty big problem, to the point where it’s almost impossible to tell whets going on during the first attempt at taking the castle. But even with the super clarity to hi-def, which brings out much of the most diminutive highlighting, these darkest scenes are a little confusing visually. One wonders if perhaps Adamson hasn’t taken this whole ‘darker sequel’ thing all a bit too literally.
The rest of the film is pretty overcast (remember, Narnia is sad this time around, boohoo), so those looking for the same brand of daylight crystalline imagery will have to stick their Wardrobe Blu-ray back in the player. Though Adamson has opted for a much more monochromatic pallet throughout, the richness of his colours do not suffer, nor does their crisp nature. The contrasting elements are richly opposed, but some of the black does absorb a bit of the surrounding hues especially the blues. The high detail levels don’t give away the digital effects as often this time around, which is saying something from the effects themselves, rather than the disc’s abilities.
It seems Disney has started abandoning PCM tracks, which will disappoint some viewers, as there aren’t any other studios currently supporting the format that I know of. On my particular system (which we’ve constantly established is not state of the art) even a downgraded DTS-HD track usually sounds more powerful than a PCM track, so I welcome the change. I can’t get the full effects of all 7.1 channels on this particular track, but the overall effect is still quite stunning. I’m most impressed with the LFE, which is large without warbling, or over-vibrating as to lose punch. With this LFE backing everything up, the entire track has real impact in all its most important assets. The sound designers and mixers do a fine job of keeping the track from becoming too messy with screaming warriors and clanging swords. Most of the time mournful, and at times genuinely rousing, the score is given the benefit of the doubt on the track. I also finally figured out what the main ‘hero theme’ from Narnia reminds me of—it’s very much like the non-frenetic sections of the Deep Blue Sea ‘hero theme’, written by Trevor Rabin.
Disc one’s extras begin with an audio commentary, featuring Andrew Adamson, and his child actors—Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell (no Eddie Izzard unfortunately). The kids have grown up quite a bit since their previous commentary, and are thus a little less fun, but more thoughtful. Adamson is pretty direct in his factoids, but is affected nicely by the kids, who really end up running the track. Not surprisingly, the Christian themes are mostly avoided.
Disc one also features ‘Circle-Vision Interactive’, an interactive look at the production of the castle raid sequence (the best sequence in the movie). This is similar to the ‘Enter the Maelstrom’ extra that adorned Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Blu-ray, and features ten different behind the scenes options with commentary, including some which break apart into even more featurettes, totalling several minutes each. Disc one also houses a plethora of Disney previews.
The disc two extras are not unlike those of the original Wardrobe two-disc release, starting with ‘Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns’, a thirty-five minute behind-the-scenes look and introduction to the rest of the extras. This featurette is mostly a personal look at the film from mostly director Andrew Adamson’s point of view, though every other major player gets at least a bit of interviewing. Those bored by the ginormous making-of documentaries will enjoy the featurette’s breakneck pace, which was a little too frenetic for me personally, but it covers almost everything (location scouting, settling into surroundings, production design and inspiration, casting, on-set footage, make-up, etc) at least a little bit.
Then things are broken down a little bit for those of us that like to savour our behind-the-scenes extras a bit more, starting with ‘Sets of Narnia’, a twenty-four minute, closer look at the film’s locations and sets. This featurette opens with a lot of actors and crewmembers talking about the sparse visual descriptions in the original books, which is a really good point I hadn’t really stopped to think about. The featurette directly compares the descriptive text, as read by C.S. Lewis’ son, to the sets as they are seen in the film, and includes quite a bit of raw on-set footage.
Next is a twenty-three minute look at the effects of a $200 million dollar production on the small Slovenian town of Bolvic. The production set up shop in the tiny town, and brought twelve hundred cast and crewmembers with them to film the film’s climatic river crossing sequence. The featurette is told mostly through the eyes of the natives and ‘little people’, though the big wigs get a few words. As an environmentalist I was happy with the trouble the production was given over environmental conservation, though I still don’t understand why the production couldn’t find a river in New Zealand and save themselves a couple million dollars. Seems a wasteful indulgence to me.
The remaining featurettes are much shorter. ‘Previsualizing Narnia’ is a ten minute look at the elaborate pre-viz work put into the film’s most logistically complicated sequences. It’s funny looking at the evolution of the pre-viz process over the years. At this point these simplistic moving storyboards are looking like movies themselves. ‘Talking Animals and Walking Trees’ is a five-minute glance at the cast and crew’s favourite special effects creatures. ‘Secrets of the Duel’ takes six minutes to break down climax starting sword duel, from set design, to the staging, Weta’s amour and sword design, and choreography. ‘Becoming Trumpkin’ is a five minute look at Peter Dinklage’s hiring and make-up process (I honestly had no idea it was even him), and ‘Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik’ is an eleven minute day in the life of the other famous dwarf actor. Apparently seniority gets you a few more minutes of behind the scenes time these days.
The extras are finished out with ten deleted scenes, with optional introduction by Adamson, totalling about eleven minutes, and a blooper reel. As per the usual story, the deleted scenes were all almost exclusively cut for pacing. They are the only extra presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but all the extras are presented in high definition video.
Director Andrew Adamson has improved his skills enormously. Prince Caspian is a more consistent storytelling endeavour than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the action is both clearer, and more interesting. The film’s tone is much different, much darker, and unfortunately much more similar to The Lord of the Rings, which is the fault of the text over the filmmakers, who really did do their best to overcome Peter Jackson’s strangle hold on the genre (though they did have twice his budget). Based on expectation the film isn’t a disappointment, but it doesn’t go above and beyond either. Likely worth seeing at least once for even passing series fans, though.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 1st January 1995
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Extras: Director/Cast Commentary, ‘Circle-Vision Interactive’, BD-Live, ‘Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns’, ‘Sets of Narnia’, ‘Big Movie Comes to a Small Town’, ‘Previsualizing Narnia’, ‘Talking Animals and Walking Trees’,Deleted Scenes, Digital Copy.
Easter Egg: No
Director: Andrew Adamson
Cast: Simon Andreu, John Bach, David Bowles, Warwick Davis, Liam Neeson
Genre: Action and Adventure
Length: 149 minutes
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