Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Film Review - THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN: Close The Book, This Franchise Is Officially Dead!

I've been going to the movies for over twenty years now, and have seen the odd advance screening. Usually they are quiet affairs, with contest winners wandering confusedly into a film they have no real knowledge of. Tonight, however I had my first run-in with Walt Disney's group of hired movie-militants. After being corralled like Mad Cow-diseased bovine, we were slowly filtered into a crude interrogation section where purses were rummaged through and warnings were issued regarding bringing recording equipment into the theatre. Then the metal detectors and even-more-formal harsh warnings and threats of audience surveillance came into play...

It was among the most demeaning experiences of my life, at least it was up until and they blasted the trailer for Beverly Hills Chihuahua at us in deafening digital audio. As I sat there, confoundedly attempting to make some of sense of this cinematic catastrophe, and distracted by the "friendly" Disney SWAT team darting around the aisles looking for video-cameras, I was both amused and angered by the sheer insanity of it all. At the end of the day, we're just there to see a movie, not declare jihad on the downtown cineplex. It was an ugly look into the ruthless corporate entity that hides behind the Magic Kingdom. In retrospect though, I can see why they were desperately afraid that pre-release footage from Prince Caspian would get out. Because if anyone sees a few minutes of this turkey on-line in the next few days there's no way they'll be showing up at the theatres this weekend.

I reasonably enjoyed 2005's The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. It was nicely shot, with a deliciously evil and seductive villainess in Tilda Swinton's White Witch (Who shows up briefly in Caspian in a scene so awful it must be seen to be believed). She, and Liam Neeson's regal voicing of the Jesus-lion, Aslan, helped overcome some of the bumpy effects and often terrible acting from the four children at the heart of the story. It was like Lord Of The Rings-lite, engaging and amusing... And occasionally even terrific fun.

Alas, there is nothing good to say about the new follow-up, the agonizingly dull and lifeless Prince Caspian. This time around, the young heroes Peter (William Moseley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Susan (Anna Popplewell) find themselves transported back to Narnia, and in direct confrontation with the evil King Miraz (Sergio Castellitto - made to look exactly like Gerard Butler in 300), who aims to wipe the mystical inhabitants of the land off the map. To further aid his plan, he has driven the true heir to the kingdom, the titular Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) into exile. Soon the children must make an uneasy alliance with the Prince and, with the aid of the magical creatures of the forest, take back Narnia and restore it to its former glory.

While in brief synopsis form the storyline of Caspian is far from wretched, the execution is never anything less than woefully inept. Director Andrew Adamson, who helmed the previous film, as well as the first two Shrek outings, shows absolutely zero flair for the material. His shots are lifeless and devoid of energy. As well, Prince Caspian is among the cruddiest looking blockbusters in recent memory. There is a prolonged castle siege that is so muddy and foggy looking that one begins to wonder if someone spilled ink onto the print. Similarly, the sweeping fields and hills of Narnia have no splendour or majesty. They're point-and-shoot travelogue shots.

The battle scenes are particularly horrible. It's quite obvious that all of the stars are in desperate need of some extensive swordplay summer schooling, and thus every fight is a hack-and-slash edit job without grace or impact. There is a LOT of swash-buckling here, and not an iota of it looks even slightly competent. It's really pathetic when a major summer film like Narnia can't even provide a half-decent action scene.

This brings us to the acting... Or lack thereof. The young leads are hopeless, delivering all their lines in disbelieving monotones. There's no passion or drive, and they seem to care little about the apparently massive stakes of the story. Sadly though, they still manage to blow Ben Barnes right off the screen and back into central casting. I cannot recall a more bland performance by a lead actor in many a moon. This mannequin makes Hayden Christensen's prequel performances look like the work of Orson Welles. Looking like Timothy Olyphant's emo brother, and displaying limited facial mobility, Barnes mumbles his witless lines through a bizarre Greek-sounding accent that seems calculated to irritate. As well, special notice must go to the award-winningly bland villainous turn by Castellitto, who would probably have been better off as Ray Liotta's sword-boy in In The Name Of The King.

The script (HA!) for Prince Caspian, by director Adamson, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, makes sure to give each character only a single minor personality trait so as to prevent them all from congealing, in the viewer's mind, into a single mass of slithering blandness. I dare anyone to even attempt to care about a single character here! (The cute sword-slinging mouse not included). And therein lays the problem, for all the tortured (and often incomprehensible) revelations and twists in the plot, there is nothing to care about. Instead of watching a story unfold, we are subjected to simply counting off an endless amount of flat scenes until the underwhelming and plodding conclusion.

Honestly, I can't imagine there being a worse major film this summer than Prince Caspian. It is an epic blunder that kills any chance of me paying to see the next chapter, as well as any chance for an even half-decent trilogy. It's cynical audience-manipulating dreck without a single ounce of cleverness or wonder, and among the longest 2.5 hours I've ever spent in a theatre. There are going to be a lot of disappointed and bored families walking out of this clunker, and more than likely a massive number of complaints about the far-over-PG level of violence and scariness. At one point little Lucy declares "It feels like magic!" No, Lucy, Prince Caspian is where magic goes to die.

1 out of 5