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THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars: Georgie Henley, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Peter Dinklage
Director: Andrew Adamson
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, French and Spanish Tracks and subtitles
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio:  Walt Disney Pictures
Features:  See Review
Length: 144 minutes plus extras, three discs
Release Date:  December 2, 2008

“You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.”

Film ****

It’s back to Narnia after more than a thousand years have passed and they have all but forgotten about our young human princes and princesses, these “Sons of Adam” and “Daughters of Eve” as C.S. Lewis called them.  Narnia reveres them as gods from the past, and while the actors have aged a bit viewers of all ages will still identify with them.  In the new Narnia, some of the animals talk but some are just normal animals, which is startling to everyone!  And Aslan is missing in action, so the children have to show their maturity in fighting and leadership. 

The first installment of the Narnia saga, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, introduced us to four young English children who quite by accident discover a hidden fantasy world of witches and talking animals.   While the movie was excellent, it was a bit vanilla and not quite up to par of other movies in the fantasy genre.  But this second installment is a more gripping story to begin with, and most of the production team returns and with a little experience under their belt and more time to work with, they raise the bar and will definitely keep the viewer on the edge of their seats.

The DVD video quality is even better this time around, the walking and talking animals were seamless before, but this time…well I don’t know how they could seem more real.  They are more interesting than the humans sometimes.  While the acting and line-reading is fine and believable, the humans seem to only move their bodies when they fight; otherwise they seem like stiff-armed dolls.  Their emotions are real but in my opinion they could be more animated.  I have the same complaint about the first two Harry Potter films.

It is pretty inevitable that The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia have been compared so often as literature that their movies would also be compared.  They were both written as fairy tales for older children or for adults, in English, and the stories combine medieval settings and warfare with legend and myth.  The former is one of the best movie franchises ever, and was based on the more serious and weighty series, while the latter is lighter and more accessible to younger readers and movie audiences.   

In this installment, the centaurs are especially lifelike, even better than the Harry Potter movies.  There are occasionally some poorly made masks, which are so obviously fake, but they are the exception.  And the climax of the movie is amazing, topping LOTR with some amazing water and tree effects which I won’t spoil for you here.

The problem with these films is that even if you know the books well you may be lost watching the movies.  There are many dead moments and camera angles that are very average.  It is easy to watch but no one will win awards for directing or acting here.  Having said that, any viewer will be moved by Georgie Henley’s performance as Lucy, always believing that Aslan was near.  She is the center of the cast and the story, and Peter and Susan go home to stay for now.

Video ****

Bright and lively, superior to the first installment and on par with any other production I have seen recently.  The CGI is completely seamless this time around.  The production team had their hands full since C.S. Lewis did not describe things in as great detail as J.R.R. Tolkien. He gave us just enough detail to prime our imaginations to fill in the rest.

Interestingly much of it was filmed in New Zealand as was Lord of the Rings, which as most viewers know was lush and wonderful partly because we barely recognized our planet in the background.  We really do feel like we are in another world.

Audio ****

Again, better than the first installment, perhaps owing to the experience of everyone involved.  The rear channels are used a bit more, with the train roaring and Aslan roaring and yet we can hear the lush soundtrack and every needle of dialogue.

Features ****

Far better this time around, including the usual audio commentary with director Andrew Adamson and cast, which is alright but not as interesting as the video features on Disc Two.  Here we find the usual deleted scenes and bloopers of Narnia but we also have wonderful Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns, Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes to Life (watch this one first), Big Movie Comes to a Small Town, Previsualizing Narnia, Talking Animals and Walking Trees: The Wonderful World of Narnia, Secrets of the Duel, Becoming Trumpkin, Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik, and there is a third disc which contains the digital copy of the film.  This allows the viewer to put the film on their iPod or other digital device, and the paperwork that comes with the DVD contains a unique activation code to prevent piracy.

Summary:

The second installment of the Narnia story was made a little more slowly and thoughtfully with better results, and the package and extras are also on the top tier now.  We look forward to the rest of the tales which will hopefully also be on this appropriately majestic scale.

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