One of the biggest hits of 2005, "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" offered viewers an enjoyable adventure, with mostly satisfactory performances (although a supporting effort by Tilda Swinton stole the show) and fine visuals (including some good effects work.) The film could have been more tightly paced, but it was otherwise a pretty good show.
The second film in the series is a darker effort, and the change in tone is a welcome one: the sequel opens with a richer, more mysterious feel than the original and the feeling of dread and tension starts in not long after the opening scene. The second film deals with Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), the rightful ruler of Narnia who has been denied by his uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). The Penvensie siblings from the first film: Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are all called back to Narnia (and head back in a spectacular sequence in a subway station) to help.
While it has only been a year for the kids since they had last visited Narnia, 1300 years have passed in Narnia, and things are not well: Narnia has been ravaged - although the kids splash about in the water, they soon spot ruins - something they clearly don't remember seeing in Narnia's landscape during their past visit. After meeting with Caspian, the kids gather the remaining creatures that have survived and attempt to overthrow Miraz.
I thought the second film was an improvement in some regards, but it still suffers from some problems, the biggest of which are the teen actors who play the children. While certainly not terrible, I thought they were somewhat bland and forgettable in the first film and while they do show some improvement here they still don't make the kind of impression they need to. Unfortunately, along the same lines is Barnes, who doesn't have the power and intensity required for Caspian. Castellitto offers a rather good performance as the evil Miraz, but it's hard to shake the feeling that he doesn't top Tilda Swinton's memorable performance as the White Witch (who does make a brief cameo) from the first film.
However, there is still a good deal to like about the sequel. While it's difficult to care too much about Caspian due to the performance by Barnes, the darker, more dramatic story does give the film a greater sense of urgency and tension throughout. The film also has a greater feeling of size and scope, which the first film didn't always provide. The action sequences - which take up much of the last hour - are also expertly staged and - while not on the level of what was seen in the "Lord of the Rings" films - exciting. The visuals also appear to have gotten an upgrade this time around, too: the effects appear more detailed and sleek than they did in the first film.
Although there are some considerable issues that the movie can't get past (the performance by Barnes, for example), "Prince Caspian" is otherwise a mostly entertaining fantasy/adventure tale.
VIDEO: "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen on this presentation. Image quality is not outstanding, but remains above-average throughout much of the running time. Sharpness and detail often looked good or very good, but the picture never looked crystal clear and could occasionally appear a little on the soft side. A handful of scenes showed some light edge enhancement and traces of pixelation, but the print appeared pristine, with no specks, marks or other faults. Colors usually looked a touch on the subdued side (by intent), but warmer colors were seen at times and appeared rich and vibrant. Flesh tones looked accurate.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was quite the fierce presentation at times, with surrounds aggressively put into play to offer up all manner of sound effects and ambiance, as well as reinforcement of the score. The more intense battle sequences were often thunderous, but even film's more subtle moments used the rear speakers to create an enjoyably immersive audio experience. Audio quality was superb, as effects sounded well-recorded and dynamic, while dialogue remained clear.
EXTRAS: Director Andrew Adamson and actors Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes and Georgie Henley offer a commentary on the first disc. The second disc opens with "Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns", a 35-minute documentary that gives an overview of the production, from the decision to go forward with another film to story, filming (challenging location shoots in locations that were not easily accessible), visual and cast issues. This documentary does feel a little fluffy at times, but it does provide a pretty good view of how difficult it is trying to keep a massive production moving and on-track.
"Sets of Narnia" is a 23-minute piece that follows the construction and design of the film's sets. While this also feels a touch dry at times, it's mostly interesting to see the crew take on the enormous task of finding locations and building massive, expensive sets. "Big Movie Comes to a Small Town" is a 23-minute look at how the production - which had a small army's worth of people - were able to move into a small town in Slovenia to film a key scene in the movie. "Pre-visualizing Narnia" is a 10-minute featurette that provides an insightful look at Adamson's use of pre-vis to plan out the movie.
The second disc also offers a few short pieces: "Talking Animals and Walking Trees: The Magical World of Narnia", "Secrets of the Duel", "Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik" and "Becoming Trumpkin." Also found on the second disc are a series of amusing bloopers and a set of moderately interesting deleted scenes. While not clips I think were worth putting back in the film, I do think they're worth watching.
Finally, the third disc offers a digital copy of the film for download.
Final Thoughts: Although there are some considerable issues that the movie can't get past (the performance by Barnes, for example), "Prince Caspian" is otherwise a mostly entertaining fantasy/adventure tale. The DVD edition boasts fine video quality, solid audio quality and an enjoyable selection of supplemental features. Recommended.
The Film B