Thursday, May 29, 2008


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.


Stella said...

Glad I read this post. I read the books.

It's hard for me to see movies made out of books I dearly love. I Even found Lord of the Rings difficult to watch at times because Peter Jackson would add or subtract events from the book that I loved and remembered.

Few movies ever translate well from books. It's good to get an informed opinion.

DB Cooper said...

Was it John Updike who said,

“Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.”


Stella said...

Hi J & K:

Sorry to use your blog comments area as email, but it's the best I can do to communicate with both of you.

I swear I'm not some weirdo, but I keep finding articles about Clinton and the antipathy between the "two camps." I reposted an article from Huffpo that I hope you, K, will like regarding a private meeting between Clinton and Obama.

I love the positive spin of the author who writes about "the hope that hatred will not win, that all the disparaging, gratuitous, despicable speech might dissipate."

When is "Ikonoclast" going to be ready, K? I can't wait to see your posts.

Best to you both.

Vigilante said...

Why don't you review something substantial like RENDITION, for a change? Instead of this light fluffy stuff?

K McKiernan said...

Oh, Vigil, Rendition stunk. I was so disappointed in it. To me, the best war movie in the last few years was In the Valley of Elah, hands down. It, frankly, ruined all other ones for me...

Rendition fell so flat. It was an enthralling concept... same with Stop Loss, but the movies just failed to deliver.

J McKiernan said...

Oh my goodness, you are harsh even when talking about movies, Vigilante! Sorry to say, but this is the Summer Movie Season, when "light and fluffy" rules the roost. I didn't make the rules...I just review the movies. I would also submit that "Iron Man" is as substantial as "light and fluffy" can get, and that "Speed Racer" is not even close to such an easily dismissible categorization. Nonetheless, I intend this site to be a source for high quality criticism of *CURRENT* films and film-related subjects. Films from last fall, good as many of them were, are not up-to-date. Conversely, many of the current films are popcorn fare, being as this is the summer season. It's not necessarily my choice to review the popcorn movies (though they can be a lot of fun for what they are)...I just view it as my job to report on what is out there in theaters right this minute. (I have thought about and still thinking about a video picks and pans post, so maybe then I could highlight some really great films that you may have missed.)

By the way, if "Rendition" is your idea of substantial, then we might have a problem. I'm not sure how many times we have to go over this...just because a movie tackles an important political subject doesn't mean it is a great piece of cinema. Matter of fact, such important subject matter takes much MORE care in order to be pulled off with subtlety and intelligence. "Rendition" always seemed like it was circling around greatness, but instead settled for out-of-context grandstanding.

However, as fate would have it, I did write a mini-review of the film after it was released, and I will post it just for you, Dear Vig. Maybe that will hold you over while you wait on a few reviews of very substantial films that will be posted shortly, including "The Visitor," "The Life Before Her Eyes," "Funny Games," and the film that made me recoil in a fit of tragic deja vu, "Recount."

Enjoy my forthcoming "Rendition" post, and stay tuned for those other very interesting old elitist, you...... ;)

Vigilante said...

I'm gratified that you posted your "Rendition" review. I saw the film this weekend. I felt a need to write some thoughts down and could not get started. Thanks to your grist, I have now a few more angles. When I post, I will reference your review!

Vigilante said...

BTW, on the subject of elite vs elistism, I left you a target here. And I also agreed with you about Dick-the prick-Morris on Mad Mikes. So, try to catch up, will you?

Vigilante said...

And D.B. Cooper (wherever you are) you make a good point. But tell us where your books can be found?

J McKiernan said...

Interesting that you bring up DB Cooper's comment. I'm sure there are a million different angles to approach any form of art criticism, from film to literature to painting to music. But to completely disparage the role of criticism is, to me, to not fully understand or appreciate art.

More is coming on that front. I am formulating a piece entitled "What is Criticism?" It will by no means be the definitive work on art criticism, and I'm sure it will do nothing to dissuade those who think criticism is useless, but at least I will respond in full to these kinds of jabs.