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The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

By John McCarthy
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- "You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember," the dwarf Trumpkin warns the four Pevensie children on their return to the magical realm in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (Disney). He speaks the truth.

As exciting and well-crafted, if less emotionally absorbing, as 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the follow-up is more reliant on martial action. This is in keeping with the bellicose second volume in C.S. Lewis' seven-part series, which has a thinner plot and affords less opportunity for character and thematic development.

The increase in the violence quotient is modest enough not to prevent "Prince Caspian" from qualifying as salubrious entertainment. However, it does edge the franchise closer to "Harry Potter" and other more secular films.

One year after the events of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (but 1,300 years in Narnian time), the Pevensie siblings (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley) are summoned back to Narnia by the title character (Ben Barnes).

This time, their portal is not an armoire but a World War II-era London Underground station through which they're transported to an idyllic Narnian beach. Prince Caspian's uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), rules the kingdom following the invasion by his people, the Telmarines, who have forced Narnia's residents into hiding.

In the opening sequence, Caspian, rightful heir to the Telmarine throne, flees the castle when Miraz's wife gives birth to a son. Now dispensable, Caspian enters the forest where he encounters the suspicious dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage) and decides to summon the "Kings and Queens of Old" using the magic horn. The Pevensies quickly join forces with Caspian, who pledges to lead a revolt against Miraz.

The special effects and scenery are again top-flight, but the first hour feels choppy and slightly perfunctory. As the movie bides its time to the climactic battle, there's a spooky sequence involving the White Witch (Tilda Swinton) and a blood sacrifice.

Returning director and co-writer Andrew Adamson injects intermittently successful humor. The mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Eddie Izzard) is a clone of Puss in Boots from the "Shrek" movies, two of which Adamson directed. The attempt to spark a romance between Caspian and Susan, the eldest of the Pevensie siblings, feels obligatory. Their kiss, backed by a jarring pop song, seems patently artificial.

The continuation of the religious allegory revolves around whether Aslan, the messianic lion voiced by Liam Neeson, will return. Has he abandoned Narnia? Will he play the role of "deus ex machina"? Ardent believer Lucy claims to see Aslan, but Peter wants proof and grouchy Trumpkin is especially skeptical.

Caspian never upstages the Pevensie brood, a further indication that the saga's deeper import has not been lost, only temporarily eclipsed. In the one-dimensional role of heartthrob foil, Barnes is hampered by a faintly ridiculous accent that underscores Lewis' decision to make the Telmarines hotheaded descendants of swarthy pirates whose most noble hero isn't as reliable as the sensibly faithful Anglo-Saxons.

These ethnic and cultural overtones are minor compared to the movie's general attitude toward war, which some might find problematic. Courageous individual and communal sacrifice in the service of peace is the ultimate theme, and the costs of war are emphasized. But depicting armed conflict, no matter how honorable, as a feasible -- let alone morally justifiable -- solution is another matter.

This doubt is enforced by the movie's bloodless yet fairly graphic fighting, including two close-quarter stabbings, a decapitation and Susan's prolific use of her bow and arrow.

Nature plays a key role in vanquishing the enemy and is clearly on the side of the righteous and faithful, imparting a green message which serves to temper the film's more sanguine aspects.

The film contains much battlefield violence and deadly hand-to-hand combat, a decapitation, a brawl involving schoolchildren, some intense scenes of child peril and several frightening sequences. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

- - -

McCarthy is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

END


Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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