The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Andrew Adamson, 2008)
Perhaps I've misjudged Andrew Adamson as a mere craftsman of empty-headed spectacles. Thus, it is quite surprising that his adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (his second time an adaptation of a Narnia book) is quite an enjoyable treat. Sure, Adamson still relishes in showing off his adeptness in creating eye-popping visuals (the Peter Jackson-esque battles with computer-generated tree roots wreaking havoc and pixelated river gods drowning legions of baddies) but there's something more to the movie than the artificially crafted extravagance, which I thought was the major downfall of his cinematic reimagining of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005). That movie was far too glossy, far too blockbuster-oriented that it conveniently skirted on what made C. S. Lewis' Narnia books special in the first place. In the end, it became a lose-lose situation for Adamson and his team: ordinary moviegoers found the movie too Christian, and fans of the novels found the movie too commercial.
While Prince Caspian still adheres to more commercial sensibilities, especially with its unfettered reliance on epic battles, sword fights, and spectacular scenery, the movie manages to have a near-authentic air of melancholy amidst the pageantry of digitized vistas and mythical creatures. The Pevensie siblings return to Narnia after a year, not knowing that an Earth year is equivalent to a thousand or so Narnian years. Thus, they discover Narnia as a totally different place, ruled over by Telmarines, migratory men and women who conquered the Narnians shortly after the Pevensies returned to Earth. The Telmarines are themselves in a bit of trouble, with Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) trying to take over Narnia by attempting to assassinate the king-to-be Caspian (Ben Barnes) the night his wife gave birth to a son. Caspian escapes, rallies the Narnians (basically different kinds of creatures ranging from minotaurs to knightly mice) and teams up with the Pevensies to restore peace to the land.
The biggest problem with this adaptation is that Caspian is portrayed as dashing and swoony man-boy, complete with the requisite Mediterranean accent and flowing black hair yet ultimately lacking in personality and character. In short, Caspian has all the appearance of romance book hero yet none of the libido, a mere Fabio-in-waiting. Adamson sneaks in romantic hints between Caspian and Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell), culminating with the two teen heroes locking lips at one point in the film. Of course, it's all for kid-friendly titillation; something that will ultimately please the juvenile market, the same market that voraciously feeds on Disney's fads. The decision to transform Caspian into an action hero is a mistake. In the book, he appears brave and wise beyond his years, a deserving king of Narnia. As a heavily accented soap opera star, he ends up the spineless standard-bearer who inherits a throne out of sheer destiny.
If Caspian seems to be a dull crowd pleaser, at least the Pevensies are given enough time and room to distinguish themselves from each other. From the moment Susan coyly avoids conversation from an admirer from a neighboring school, Peter (William Moseley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) are pulled out from a brawl, and Lucy (Georgie Henley) never gets the attention she deserves because of her youth, we are aware that the Pevensies have both changed and are changing. In the end, Susan erupts from her shell, Peter learns self-restraint, Edmund and Lucy both flounder and flourish on their faith. Prince Caspian, beyond the battles and the creatures, is a coming-of-age story for the Pevensies.
Adamson, although this is quite hard to admit on my part since I've never liked any of his films (both Shrek and Shrek 2 are animated spoofs, while The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a mystifying bore), was able to craft something genuinely intriguing, probably not in the way Lewis imagined his beloved characters would be, but in a more conventional, traditional, yet very familiar way. There's a palpable depth when any of the siblings risk life or limb for Narnia. They've graduated from being cardboard cut-outs to actual characters that feel and grow. The storming of Miraz's castle for example (although a deviation from the book), is both an exhilarating action sequence and a showcase that these characters Adamson has nestled since The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are living, breathing, and feeling entities, with a genuine concern (worth thousands of years) for the citizenry of Narnia. If only for the well-drawn personalities of the Pevensies, I would give Prince Caspian a hesitant thumbs up. Of course, there's so much to nitpick on, but I'll save that for next time.