The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (3-Disc Collector's Edition)

Prince Caspian is the follow-up to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the Disney/Walden telling of C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s series, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” It was described regularly upon its theatrical release as a Lord of the Rings for kids. After watching the DVD, I can’t say that’s a totally unfair comparison. It’s still a pretty good movie, though. Prince Caspian misses certain qualities that infused its predecessor, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s a bit darker and the sense of wonder isn’t present. It does have better special effects, solid performances at every level, and a lot of pretty cool battles. It works more as a good adventure film in the hands of pros than as a magical fairy tale.

While introducing a whole slew of new characters, Prince Caspian brings back Narnia’s first family. The Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Lucy (Georgie Henley), are called back to the magical world of Narnia from a London tube station after Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) blows a horn to summon the “kings and queens of old.” Although only a year or so has passed in England, nearly 1,300 years have ticked away since the Pevensie’s ruled and as one character notes, Narnia is “a much more savage place than you remember.” Aslan the Lion (Liam Neeson) hasn’t been seen in a thousand years and the magical creatures have faded and are thought extinct by Telmarines like Caspian. The Telmarines are ruled by Caspian’s uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), who is brutal and power hungry, as is often the case in stories like this.

Of course, the magical creatures aren’t quite all gone and the Pevensies and Caspian team up with the remaining minotaurs, centaurs, fawns, talking bears, mice, and the like to take on Miraz and his armies. There’s a bit of rivalry between Peter and Caspian and a bit of goo goo eyes between Susan and Caspian as well. This leads to big battles and raids and sword fights that pump up the action quotient to 11. Since this is for kids, though, there is no blood and I haven’t seen so many slashings, stabbings, and one (I think) beheading without any bodily fluids in sight.

Returning director and co-writer Andrew Adamson deserves kudos for turning himself into a creditable action director. His battles are somewhat epic but have a good sense of pacing and thrills. The special effects and creatures are excellent and meld seamlessly into the action. He also deserves kudos for putting a good actor like Peter Dinklage in the key role of Trumpkin, a brave dwarf, rather than just grabbing anyone to fill a role with those specific size requirements. His script, with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, is pretty funny. It’s full of little quips and witty remarks without devolving into silliness. It’s a nice balancing act.

The only real problem, other than the almost total disappearance of Edmund as a character and Peter’s somewhat unexplained attitude for the first two-thirds of the film, is the molasses slow pace and overblown length. At almost two and a half hours, the movie could easily do with a 30 minute (or more) trim. In fact, during my second run-through of the film while listening to the commentary, I mentally excised scenes or parts of scenes that did nothing but drag the film’s pacing down.

Prince Caspian doesn’t quite measure up to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but it’s a good action picture and the humor makes it enjoyable for a family to watch together. It’s a good way to introduce younger children to action without worrying about traumatizing them and there is a decent moral message buried in all the sword fights. Taking a trip back to Narnia is worth the time, even if the stay lasts a little too long. The 3-Disc Collector’s Edition of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian didn’t amaze me or blow me away, but, much lack the movie itself, it did just about everything I’d expect it do and did it very well. It doesn’t lack for any type of extra, bell, whistle, or do-dad and the one’s it does contain are at the height of professionalism. No fan of the series will be disappointed and casual fans will find plenty to like.

The picture is excellent and the 2.40 to 1 aspect ratio will look great in widescreen. Adamson does put together some very beautiful shots and the crispness makes this a visually enjoyable experience. The sound is also first rate.

The only extra on the first disc with the film is a commentary with Adamson, Henley, Keynes, Moseley, Popplewell, and Barnes. It’s a fun commentary and the group of young actors gets along well and makes interesting and insightful comments rather than just saying “oh, there’s Steve, I love Steve.” Henley talks way too much but she doesn’t blather so it’s not bad and Popplewell and Keynes are less heard from. Adamson gives a lot of the “filmmaker” information. I watched it with the subtitles on since they identify the speaker. That’s not critical, but with six commentators it does help to know who is talking. They also talk over each other a bit and the subtitles help sort it out.

The second disc contains ten featurettes of various lengths on the menu and three (at least) “hidden” features. Taken together they last about two hours and hit all of the high points. There is a 34 minute “making-of” called “Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns.” It includes the usual interviews and what not. Most of the participants talk about how this movie is bigger and how bigger is clearly better. It really shows the mentality that went into the movie; that they had to do “more, more, bigger, more.” It’s not bad at all and I actually appreciated seeing the scope of the filming that you might not get when you watch the movie and it looks like it was all shot in one general area.

The main featurette is supported by two lengthy but more specialized featurettes. “Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes to Life” and “Big Movie Comes to a Small Town” both run about 24 minutes. The set’s extra is hosted by C.S. Lewis’ step-son Douglas Gresham who provides a stilted and unneeded narration. It takes scenes in the book and shows how the sets were built to create those areas. The small town mentioned is call Bovec and is where they filmed the river scenes. Located in Slovenia, the film brought in a huge army of cast and crew and that whole logistical challenge is discussed. Both featurettes give more “this is what you have to do to make a big movie” information that might bore younger kids but older kids and adults will enjoy.

The other featurettes include one each on the two main dwarves, Trumpkin and Naikabrik. For some reason, Warwick Davis’ feature lasts 10 minutes while Peter Dinklage only gets four. Both of them include people saying how great the actors are and show them getting into make-up. There is a 10 minute “Previsualizing Narnia” which covers…uh…previsualizing Narnia. About half the time explains what previsualizing is and the other half talks about specific scenes in the movie where previsualizing was key in setting up the sequences. Another ten minute extra goes into the hand to hand duel between Peter and Miraz.

The most interesting (and not in a good way) extra for me was called “Talking Animals and Walking Trees: The Magical World of Narnia.” It starts out as just an overview of some of the creatures that are featured in the movie and then abruptly turns into environmental propaganda. Lewis’ books are recast as environmental messages of warning. It’s pretty ham handed and the fact that they don’t talk about the Christian influence in the story makes it seem like a personal project of the filmmakers rather than an exploration of whatever Lewis may have intended.

The final two extras are short selection of deleted scenes and a blooper reel. The bloopers run about three minutes and are pretty funny, with the usual slips and funny faces. Fortunately they resist the temptation of showing someone blowing the same line over and over and over again. There are 10 deleted scenes and they only take 11 minutes, so you can see most are fairly short. Nothing key was taken out and Adamson provides a audio introduction to each clip. The only real interesting thing in watching is seeing how the visual effects aren’t done. That means you get green screen, creatures with blue tights on rather than horse legs, or previsualization creatures rather than the final product.

I was able to find three hidden extras, there may be more. They are accessed by either clicking the lion symbol at the top a menu or a small symbol at the bottom of each menu. Two of the extras last a minute and include an argument among the young actors of who actually saves Trumpkin from the water and shows camera shots from inside one of the creature actor’s costumes during a battle scene. Nothing particularly exciting, but the third extra is a real treat. Self-described “suit actor” Shane Rangi is featured for about seven minutes and he’s a really funny, quick-witted, personable guy who also happens to run around in a minotaur costume for much of the film. They were right to give the guy his own extra as no one can touch him for personality without being annoyingly weird. It’s one of the highlights of the disc.

The third disc is a digital copy of the film for your computer or digital medial player. While nothing on the discs stand out as exceptional, the volume of extras, their scope and quality, and the strength of the film make this an excellent set for fans of either Disney movies, adventure, or Narnia in general.