Thursday, May 29, 2008
THE CHRONICLES OF BOREDOM
If you’ve placed your finger on the critical pulse in the past week or so, you have probably heard from someone—friend, critic, or other—who has seen The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. And odds are, if you’ve heard from them, you’ve heard that they didn’t like it. As you might expect, those who didn’t like the first film don’t much care for this one. And actually, a lot of other people are saying that this sequel just isn’t as good as the first film, 2005’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So, critics aren’t liking it, audiences aren’t liking it, those who hated the first film aren’t liking it, and those who liked the first film aren’t liking it. And they're all right.
Prince Caspian is long, dull, and unimaginative, the exact antithesis of its predecessor. Where the first film was surprising and engaging, this film is predictable and leaden. Where the first film was delightful in its whimsy, this one is purely action-oriented, without any attention to the film’s characters and mythology. And while the first film was a sleeper hit even for an epic fantasy, nearly raking in a leggy $300-million domestic gross, this film won’t even come close.
But Prince Caspian is not just a failure when compared to the first film—it is a dud in its own right, too. It is a film that packs its overlong first half with dour exposition that ultimately explains nothing and builds no real drama. It then forces nearly non-stop epic battle sequences into its also-overlong second half. These sometimes good-looking, sometimes sloppy FX sequences are soulless and empty, relentlessly boring when they are intended to be increasingly riveting.
The child actors also can’t match their own work on the first film, though I refuse to blame them for that (with the exception of newcomer Ben Barnes, whose performance as the titular character is half dull and half atrocious). True blame belongs to Prince Caspian’s screenplay, which is a complete mess—it can never decide if it wants to focus on Caspian or the four Pevensie kids, and that indecision makes us care about precisely none of them. Likewise, the script can never decide if it wants to focus on drama or action, without realizing that there is a delicate balance to be struck between those two important elements.
Three years ago, when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was released, I was surprisingly satisfied that relative newbie Andrew Adamson (who had only ever directed animation before) delivered a strong epic fantasy that could satisfy children and adults on completely different levels. After Prince Caspian, it’s clear he wants to keep edging closer and closer to the PG-13 line, and in so doing has lost not only the potential for kid viewers, but also the heart of his material. He obviously wants to be compared to The Lord of the Rings, but can now only be compared to The Mummy or The Golden Compass.