“Narnia may be a more savage place than you remember it.”
The second installment in Disney’s Chronicles of Narnia series brings the action something fierce and is significantly darker than its predecessor. Is there deep magic in this Blu-ray?
A year has passed since the Pensevie siblings helped defeat the White Witch and return the magical world of Narnia to its Better Home and Gardens décor. After living a lifetime as the kings and queens of the land, the kids were brought back to the real world, where they’ve been ever since. But Narnia’s timeline is different and hundreds of years have past and in that time, the raiding Telmarines have taken over the land and driven the magical creatures of the Narnia to near-extinction.
Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is next in line for the Telmarine throne and he’s a pretty decent guy, but his evil uncle is poised to seize the throne and totally eradicate the fauns and centaurs and talking woodland animals. Enter Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, summoned back to their old stomping grounds where they’ll help lead a full-blown counter-offensive to beat back the Telmarine threat. But in the end, they’ll most definitely need the help of alpha male lion and overt Christ-figure, Aslan (Liam Neeson).
I’ll blast right through this and get to the nuts and bolts of what is a remarkable Blu-ray release quickly enough. In short, I preferred this follow-up to the original. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had its moments and was a visual effects showcase of the higher order, but Andrew Adamson’s first stab at the mythology, while loyal to the source material, Christian allegory and all, lacked an intangible magic. A problem to be sure if you’re making a fantasy adventure. I ball-parked it a B/B+ effort, nifty here and there but kind of sterile overall.
Prince Caspian represents a clear uptick in Adamson’s directorial skills and the action material is big and often breathtaking. The fact that I found myself thrilled by scenes of small men with hooves swinging swords and an animated mouse wreaking havoc on a corpse-littered battlefield is no small sentiment. Essentially a PG-rated war movie, Caspian paces itself well. Maybe some might find the first half ponderous, but Adamson devotes this set-up time to establishing the characters and the circumstances, essentially showing us the stakes of the conflict, lending the actual battle scenes heavier dramatic weight. And when those scenes hit, beginning at the halfway point and charging forward pretty much unrelentingly until the final, charming scene, they hit hard and huge and are truly a sight to behold. A covert castle-raid in the dead of night, a surprisingly vicious one-on-one swordfight, a full-scale battle featuring catapults and griffins carrying little people archers and giants and minotaurs (the minotaurs are so great) and a massive visual effects sequence to cap things off — these are executed with top-shelf style and genuinely excite.
The Christian undertones aren’t as vivid as in the first film; in fact, unless you a) look hard for them, or b) happen to be a believer (as I am) and are tuned in enough to theology to uncover, I doubt you’ll be smacked in the face with the allegorical content.
Prince Caspian is loaded with one visual treat after another. If you were loving on the imagery in the theatre, wait until you see this stuff pop in high-def. The first film was a champ on Blu-ray, and the second installment is just as wonderful. Looking significantly clearer and punchier, the high-def 2.40:1 widescreen is a case study in clarity from start to finish. Though Caspian is a darker film tone-wise, the colors Andrew Adamson paints with are as lush and varied as the first film — thick foliage, roaring rivers, green fields, mountain ranges, it’s an expansive canvas that breathes in high definition. The production design was lovingly crafter and the details are brought forth with astonishing clarity. Even the CGI, which is often revealed to be wobbly in the boosted resolution in other films, benefits. The effects work is cutting-edge and looks great, from the flowing mane of Aslan to the digitally-enhanced battalions to the Narnians themselves (the centaurs and minotaurs are f-ing real, dude). I’m telling you, the Telmarine battle is reference-quality stuff.
Audio: a 7.1 DTS-HD Master audio track that will assault your living room. When Harry Gregson-Williams’s subdued but effective score isn’t filling the space, the aggressive sound effects work will put your surrounds to full-throated use. Again, the action sequences are the standouts; there is so much going on, and it’s all mapped well to the discrete channels, you’ll be enveloped.
Extras-wise, the three-disc set rolls out like this: disc one features a fun audio commentary with Adamson and the actors and a Blu-exclusive “circle-vision” interactive feature called “Creating the Castle Raid,” a ridiculously detailed breakdown of the sequence. BD-Live includes movie chat, movie mail, movie challenge and a live version of Disney Movie Rewards; disc two sports the rest of the bonuses, including bloopers, a handful of unremarkable deleted scenes and featurettes on the set design, behind-the-scenes, location shooting, previsualization, the talking trees and animals, the big sword duel centerpiece, the Trumpkin character (the righteous Peter Dinklage) and finally, the man, the myth, the legend — Warwick Davis! Every featurette is well-done and detailed, offering an in-depth look on all the aspects of the film. The “talking trees and animals” feature got a bit eco-preachy, though. Finally, disc three is your digital copy.
Not Guilty. Roarrrrrrrr.