Finally went to Shibuya to see THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. It's the second film I went to the cinema for in Japan, and the first Hollywood film I saw here.
Summer had started for nearly a month in Hollywood and everyone around the world has managed to watch the high-profile summer films like IRON MAN and SPEED RACER (right, so it flopped, but I'm still curious though), while in Japan, aside from lots of local films, I get stuff like 10,000 B.C., or JOHN RAMBO and all kinds of other stuff I've seen in Malaysia many months ago.
It was hard to find anyone who could watch Prince Caspian with me. Hollywood films are beneath most people I've met here, and to think that I'm always the one tagged with the 'artsy fartsy' label. Hell, my desperation to watch NARNIA made me feel like some Brett Ratner-worshipping fratboy.
So in the end, just like I've done all these while, i went to the cinema in Shibuya myself. Quietly fearful that the film would be dubbed in Japanese (some Shiinjuku theaters are showing it in Japanese dub), and almost breathe a huge sigh of relief upon hearing the English dialogue during the first scene.
In my review of the first Narnia film, The Witch, The Lion and the Wardrobe, I said it was a pretty good film, but slightly underwhelmed by the bland middle sections. Since then, I've been treated to one bad fantasy film after another. For each consistently decent Harry Potter film, I get stinkers like ERAGON (read my Eragon review), STARDUST (read my Stardust review) and THE GOLDEN COMPASS (read my Golden Compass review). (I think Pan's Labyrinth is more magical realism that fantasy)
Those CG-heavy, but emotionally and intellectually empty films have tried hard to cash in on the monumental LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, but seldom have they succeeded. They are shallow and artificial films that were more like products of a factory than a meticulous work of passion, they are films that make hating Hollywood so justifiably 'cool' and 'hip'. No matter how impressive the special effects are, I live in an era where all these are already taken for granted, and I seek more in a fantasy film.
Returning to Narnia in PRINCE CASPIAN is almost a relief because the film, like its predecessor, while flawed, is much better than the appalling fantasy films I mentioned above. At least some solid filmmaking is involved, thanks to Andrew Adamson.
The sense of wonder the four Pevensie children felt for Narnia, along with the sorrow and guilt felt for indirectly allowing its destruction can be felt by audiences as well because instead of speeding through to one setpiece after another, and filling up the non-fighting parts with boring expository speeches, the filmmaker actually pauses and allows some moments to linger, thus heightening the emotion and atmosphere that are supposed to help with the storytelling.
And these moments are what separate this film from the lousy puke-inducing fantasy flops mentioned above. The transportation to Narnia from a train station, while it lacks the intimacy and mystery of using the wardrobe like the previous film, is still pretty visually appealing. Gusts of flower petals dancing in the air around Lucy, a midnight siege upon a castle, the costly defeat and sacrifices of comrades left behind in battle, an entertaining one-on-one swordsfight that reminds me of a boxing match, the summoning of a river god, the appearance of an old enemy and how she was vanquished, many of these were great moments and added immensely to the storytelling.
While the Pevensie children have some arcs of their own, their dynamics and interaction are lessen since there is also the title character sharing the spotlight. The actors playing the Pevensie children have aged well and grown more photogenic, but they are painted in broad strokes, like Prince Caspian, so even if I care enough for them in the film, they just don't feel vivid enough for me. Prince Caspian is meant to be some sort of a poignant and tragic character, but somehow, he feels a little bland. Definitely a far cry from what promotional campaigns and cool posters of him would want you to believe him as (although, I have to say that the little romantic subplot between him and Susan, which I don't remember reading in the book, does work at times, but lessening the impact of his character) It's not that I'm trying to compare the Narnia protagonists with the iconic characters of LORD OF THE RINGS. It's just that I actually find even the characters in the Harry Potter movies to stand out more. But then, this Narnia film does not have the luxury of stockpiling every single award-winning and highly-regarded actors like the Harry Potter film does. And it also has to do with the source material by C.S. Lewis.
That's why Peter Dinklage's performance as the grumpy Trumpkin stands out. His relationship with Lucy is one of those little things I gradually started remembering from the book as I was watching the film in the cinema, and it was really good. But it also has to do with Georgie Henley's performance, which I think is still the best among the four. (she's aided by how her character is written too) And I feel that Sergio Castellitto does bring a little complexity to his antagonistic King Miraz role, but his character suffers from being in the shadow of the White Witch. Tilda Swinton's performance in the previous film was memorable enough that seeking her appear again in this film almost made me feel excited.
I won't complain much about the rest of the film. I enjoyed it enough to find the ending affecting, and as I walked out of the cinema, I noticed that many Japanese women were wiping tears and all. For me, it's nice to revisit these stories that I read during my childhood (I think I was 12 when I went through all seven books), and also to see how the filmmakers try to emulate the joy and wonder I had when reading them then. I walked in with an open mind, like I usually do (you'll seldom hear me dissing a film that I haven't seen before, and then going to see it, and find all kinds of fault with it so that I can say that I DID hate the film just to prove my point) I guess perhaps if the LoTR films have never existed, and if I had never read so many fantasy books in my childhood and teenage years, seeing all these wonderful sight onscreen would've been a much bigger impact for me.
Nonetheless, I'm still looking forward to the next Narnia film. I think it's highly unlikely that Disney will adapt all seven Narnia books, especially THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW (which deals with the creation of Narnia) and THE BOY AND HIS HORSE (initially, I got PRINCE CASPIAN and THE BOY AND HIS HORSE all mixed up because I read the book in 'chronological order' and not 'publication order' where THE BOY AND HIS HORSE comes after THE WITCH, THE LION AND THE WARDROBE instead of PRINCE CASPIAN (read about the reading order of the Narnia books) So I think there will be at most three more Narnia films (the next one by Michael Apted, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is already in development and will have Caspian, Edmund, Lucy and the sword-wielding mouse again) before it all ends. More Ben Barnes for the girls, yay.
William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley, the four Pevensie children, talk about the film