Ah yes sorry Harry Potter but Narnia was my first love. Well the series was, but this particular book wasn’t. For some reason this film is almost universally despised by fans which is a little shocking to me. I understand a lot had to be changed to make it an actual entertaining film but calling it one of the worst movies ever made is a bit of an overreaction. And then apparently another group of people hate it because “It’s trying too hard to be Lord of the Rings”. It is kind of annoying that these days any fantasy film is either going to get compared to Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, even when there’s very little in common with them. I’ll admit Narnia does share some themes with LOTR but the authors of the two series were best friends in real life so what do you expect?
The story picks up exactly one year after the Pevensie children came back from Narnia to “our world”. They aren’t really coping that well since Susan is very anti-social and Peter is more than a little frustrated at living as a king for 15 years and then being thrust back into the body of a teenager. Then one day at the train station they find themselves summoned back to Narnia. Except it has actually been about 1300 years since they left and things have definitely changed. Narnia was invaded by a race called the Telmarines hundreds of years ago and the talking animals and magical creatures were forced into hiding. The Telmarine leader is Miraz, who is well a tyrant to put it bluntly. When the story starts, his wife has just given birth to a son, meaning his throne is secure and he wants to kill his nephew Caspian, the true heir to the throne. Caspian escapes and joins up with the Narnians to rise against Miraz and the Telmarines.
About half an hour into the film one of the characters says “you might find Narnia a more savage place than you remember” which is a bit of an understatement. The Narnia from the previous film seemed like such a magical and wonderful place but now it’s been turned into a darker place with a lot of the magic lost. This film does not have the same amount of magic and thrill as the last one, reflecting how things have changed in Narnia since the children left. The visual style seems to reflect that as well since there are a lot more subtle cool colours as opposed to the wide range of bold colours we saw in the first film.
The performances in this film are as impressive as they were in the previous film with all four young actors now having a bit more to work with in terms of character; William Moseley has to convey how frustrated Peter feels and his character growth is interesting to watch in this film. For the past few years he’s been used to being High King Peter who’s always right but he has to face the fact that not all his plans are going to work and also he needs to learn a pretty important lesson – how to ask for help. Susan as well has to go through some character development of her own with how anti-social she has been since going back to England. She is the first character to show annoyance at coming back to Narnia, saying “I’d just got used to the idea of being in England” and it shows her growing up a little with something of an attraction between her and Caspian (which wasn’t in the book – they were a lot younger). I think the character growth that Peter and Susan go through is pretty interesting to watch, especially at the end when you find out they won’t be coming back to Narnia. Both Georgie Henley and Skandar Keynes are good to watch as well, though Edmund is shunted aside a little since he really doesn’t have anything to learn this time around. Georgie Henley remains a fantastic little actress and perfect as Lucy, she even gets a small fight scene this time around. On our new cast we have Ben Barnes as the titular Prince – he does pretty well anyway in spite of his accent. The main villain Miraz is pretty fun to watch as well, being a nice cocky sarcastic asshole in a few scenes. Tilda Swinton also makes an appearance as the White Witch for one scene and Liam Neeson has a smaller role as Aslan than he did in the last film but is still brilliant.
In terms of adaptation, the filmmakers did indeed change a lot from the book. The way that starts is with the children arriving in Narnia, meeting Trumpkin who then tells the story of Caspian right up until he joins their army. It’s understandable why they changed things around, as the Pevensies would have vanished for half the story. They also added a raid on Miraz’s castle to act as the action scene for the film’s second act, the way the frozen waterfall sequence worked in the first film. It’s true a lot of fans were pissed about the changes and it is understandable, but I felt they still made a good film. Other changes include the White Witch scene, where she wasn’t actually summoned in the book they have them half-way succeeding in summoning her here.
They seemed to go less for a fantasy adventure story like the last film and more towards a big epic in the style of Lord of the Rings. It is indeed a pretty epic film and very exciting and dramatic as well. The best scenes are indeed the raid on Miraz’s castle that happens in the middle of the film; when was the last time anything like that had ever been done before? It’s a lot more dramatic than the big battle at the end of the first film with a lot more happening like Edmund signalling the troops and the others taking out the guards. It’s a pretty big shock to see the heroes lose the battle and have to retreat, really driving home the Telmarines as a formidable enemy. That last scene with Edmund flying over the bodies of their dead friends is truly one of the most dark and powerful shots in the film. Almost equally powerful is the scene where the White Witch is nearly resurrected – you almost see the perfect Peter hesitate to kill her as though he’s actually considering using her help. Then there’s Edmund’s immortal line “I know, you had it sorted”. Of course you can’t talk about action scenes in this film without talking about the big battle at the end which is truly a masterpiece. Not quite as fun as the other big battle scene but still amazing to watch, especially when it moves to the river and Lucy of all people is seen standing on the other side of the bridge and draws her dagger. The army can’t believe that a little girl is standing against them.
For the less action-oriented scenes the other more dramatic moments come in scenes with Lucy. She has a dream that the trees have woken up and she sees Aslan. Then she wakes up and starts walking through the woods, where she taps a tree trunk and says “wake up” so sadly. Then there’s another quite nice scene between her and Peter just before the battle. I also like the final scene with the children going home yet again and Regina Spektor’s “The Call” playing over it. It’s a very moving song and fits the scene very well.
In short, I’m a Narnia fan and a fan of this film which is quite a rare combination on the internet. I didn’t care much for the romance between Susan and Caspian but I had no other problems with this film. It managed to take one of the worst books in the series and turn it into a great film. I’m surprised it didn’t do as well as Disney had hoped at the box office but you can blame it on a bad decision to release it in May as well as a lack of effort in marketing it. I did see Voyage of the Dawn Treader and I enjoyed it (not enough to put it on the list though) and I hope the rest of the books get adapted too. Until next time, Narniacs. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.