Narnian eye candy. That's what The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian amounts to, for the most part.
That's not a bad thing. It's a lot less than Lewis fans might have wanted, but in some ways it's actually better than we might have expected.
Judged on its own merits, the filmmakers have made a better movie than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. They've also departed more from the source material — in some ways to the betterment of the film. Structurally, the book has issues, both as drama and as source material for a film. Some of the best bits in the film, especially the central set piece at Miraz's castle, aren't in the book, but are basically compatible with the book and help make for a better movie. Plotwise, character-wise, strategy-wise, it works — and it's great eye candy too.
My biggest complaints are twofold. First, Prince Caspian introduces two of Lewis's best characters — and the film gets them both wrong.
Peter Dinklage, a strong actor, is effective as Trumpkin, except he's not playing Trumpkin. He's playing some other, more soulful, less hearty dwarf. And Reepicheep — well. Let's just say I remember him as more dashing and less sarcastic.
Secondly, I don't mind a somewhat revisionistic approach to the story, as long as it honors the spirit of the book, as long as it honors the themes. Caspian gets the spirit of Lewis's plot, but eviscerates his themes. I've said in the past that LW&W got maybe two-thirds of Lewis's intended meaning; if so, Caspian might get a quarter — if it's lucky.
Here's the thesis of my review in this regard:
Thematically, Prince Caspian the book may be said to be about the triumph of mythic imagination over Enlightenment rationalism and skepticism. The movie almost entirely omits the skepticism, and greatly diminishes the triumph of mythic imagination.
Basically, to enjoy Prince Caspian, you have to put C. S. Lewis out of your head and enjoy an action-packed movie with gorgeous vistas and special effects, a dazzling central set piece, and a bizarrely annoying pop song in the last five minutes.
Even though it's more revisionistic, Caspian is less annoying to me than LW&W, in large part because LW&W is a more important story. I mean, the triumph of mythic imagination over Enlightenment rationalism and skepticism is all well and good, but it isn't exactly the passion and redemption, you know what I mean?
Still and all, I was hoping that Caspian might put the franchise on firmer footing for the third film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Now that is a story they must get right, especially if the franchise is to continue.
In that regard, I'm glad to see that a new creative team is coming on board: Andrew Adamson and his two-time screenwriting team are moving on, and director Michael Apted will be taking the helm for Dawn Treader with screenwriter Steven Knight, who previously collaborated with Apted on Amazing Grace (also for Walden).
I have no idea whether Apted and Knight are the right team for Dawn Treader. I just know for sure Adamson and company aren't. Let us just hope and pray that they rise to the occasion and sail the Dawn Treader straight and true.
Incidentally, wondering why, even with Lewis's stepson Doug Gresham producing, these films are so far from the mark? I've interviewed Gresham, and I haven't been particularly impressed with the perspicacity of his take on his stepfather's work.