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

Arriving on Disney
DVD & Blu-ray 12/2/08


Perhaps in an attempt to soothe our optimistic anxiety of the promises which were to greet us just outside the school doors before any given Fall, Winter, Spring, or Summer break, it became a tradition in my K-12 public school system for teachers to entertain us with movies. Renting those awkward and clunky TV/VCR combination carts from the Audio Visual Department that took our poor instructors twenty-five minutes to get working as their foreheads crinkled with each audible sigh and exasperated remark from the technologically savvy observations of my classmates who suggested plugging in the cord or changing the channel to "Video Three," we never knew just what would be screened for our viewing pleasure.

Of course-- anything being preferable to fractions and fill-in-the-bubble with a number two pencil tests-- we didn't much care if it was the inspiring sports films favored by gym teachers like Hoosiers, those from the child-friendly oeuvre of John Hughes or Steven Spielberg or the newest videotape from Walt Disney Home Studios Entertainment. However, there was one exception to the rule-- at least in the eye of this viewer, a budding critic who already received her name on the board (the one and only time) for expressing dismay at a particular classic in the second grade. Specifically, this was when without fail, every year we were force fed the old school version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Memories of the creepy White Witch, that smug little kid so easily manipulated and willing to gorge himself on a nasty diet of British delicacies like Turkish Delight (which still sounds like something you'd reject as a meal in the Coach section of any major airline) and the continual frustration of only being able to watch the beginning over and over and over again made me dread Narnia like the dentist. Never one for fantasy and someone who had trouble staying awake through the first Lord of the Rings-- it was only after a graduate level course focusing on Harry Potter that I began to appreciate the nuances of the genre and how much J.K. Rowling "borrowed from authors" of the past whether it was Tolkien, Lewis, Dahl and many, many others.

And likewise, once Disney and Walden Media got involved with the Lewis's Narnia-- trying to carve out a slice of the veritable science fiction/fantasy movie box office ATM that dished out so much money with LOTR and Potter, I became fascinated to try and get reacquainted with the storyline despite mixed reviews. And finally when I began hearing the raves about the thematically different and more action packed sequel Prince Caspian, I knew I needed to check it out.

While admittedly, the first film caused numerous yawns throughout despite a wickedly brilliant turn by Oscar winner Tilda Swinton as the White Witch, Prince Caspian simply astounds as one of those rare sequels that far surpasses the original. Yes, still annoyingly it's overly long in places as we're dished out a Disney-light take of Lewis's penchant for Christian dogma. However, the benefit of this particular version is that it ramped up the action and made the look of the film so much more international that instead of getting that claustrophobic, limited, and lily-white view of Aslan the lion and the White Witch, we're able to take the subtext of having faith as staying true to yourself or your imagination-- a very Disney principle of wishing on that famous star.

Although my interest was piqued by Caspian (which was definitely helped by posters of its frankly dishy twenty-something swashbuckling lead sporting Johnny Depp styled hair and model ready cheekbones), the one-two punch leveled by Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones knocked it off the block completely. Crashing and burning not quite as badly as Speed Racer which revved onto DVD and Blu-ray a mere four months after its initial release, the incredible DVD and Blu-ray marketers at Team Disney pulled out all the stops with a stunning variety of releases for Caspian.

While of course those who've already experienced their Blu-ray line know about the Disney BD-Live feature, DVD owners are in for quite a treat as well with this 3-Disc Collector's Edition, which includes the feature film transferred in its original widescreen aspect ratio on the first disc which also includes filmmaker commentary as well as a second overflowing special features disc but a third one which boasts viewers the option to download the film as a Disney File Digital Copy which allows you to travel along with Narnia on your iPod and other portable devices.

Serving up a much darker, action packed, and adventurous Arthurian Knights of the Round Table styled adventure, we're introduced to our hero the Prince Caspian (Stardust's Ben Barnes) who is set-up for assassination by his evil uncle (brilliant Italian actor Sergio Castellitto). When he makes his way to the wooded forest and sounds the call for help, the Pevensie foursome from the original are transported from London to Narnia once again, only to discover a world where the magic and its eccentric inhabitants have been subjugated by the Telmarines.

Offering Susan (Anna Popplewell) the chance to play a warrior like princess-- er, Queen-- the group initially explores the remarkably picturesque landscape only to answer the call from Royal Duty to kick-butt duty a bit too readily, stepping in to help the people of their land without blinking an eye. The first beneficiary of their assistance is the always welcome Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Find Me Guilty, Elf) as a Ben Folds-like "one angry dwarf" or as Queen Lucy (Georgie Henley) refers to him-- their new "dear little friend."

While unfortunately, Caspian seems to foreshadow that my two favorite Pevensie children-- Susan and High King Peter (William Moseley)-- both far less irksome than the whiny Edmond or pious Lucy will probably be relegated to the sidelines if the next sequel (Voyage of the Dawn Treader) is made, at least we're able to relish in their great turns in this film. Although, it does take nearly a full hour for the Pevensie quartet and Prince Caspian to cross paths.

Making up for the building plot with some tremendously astounding action sequences-- the storming of the castle at night is a particular highlight-- and are breathtaking landscapes-- the DVD's sound is phenomenal whether it's played via a receiver or on a stereo television as each and every hoofbeat and flap of a wing is heard. However, while the picture quality-- especially the mind-boggling CGI we learn more about in the Previsualization portion of a Disc 2 featurette-- is incredible, the film is best viewed on the largest screen you have access to and in the darkest room as it's predominantly dark gray, black, brown and night filled landscape and color scheme makes for some tricky viewing that would perhaps benefit from HD, Blu-ray, or from playing with your sharpness option on the remote.

Again offering a superlative number of extras on the second disc that displays the extraordinary amount of talent involved (the film's final credits-- featuring the beautiful closing song "The Call" by Regina Spektor and many other tracks-- runs over ten minutes), Disney delivers more than just run-of-the-mill promotional material.

Although its menu uses a font and text color that's incredibly faint and hard to read (light gray on a foggy, cloudy background), viewers are invited "Behind the Magic" for first-person accounts from cast-mates, the co-writer and director Andrew Adamson, the many members of the effects team, wardrobe, location scouts and more. Leading off the disc with a roughly thirty-five minute "Return to Adventure..." mini-documentary, the charismatic director and producers discuss the many, many obstacles of making the first movie along with essentially getting the same incredible band back together of those who'd stayed available to work on the sequel, as we witness the tremendously complicated shoot which involved eight to twelve hundred people on any given day with numerous departments working in tandem on different aspects. From nightly "tick checks" in risky locations and chronicling the globe, touring the sets with a relative of C.S. Lewis, and checking out the video game like Previsualtion and pre-editing of those amazing fight sequences, we're led into numerous creative enterprises as the movie began to take shape but one of the best featurettes by far, was "Big Movie Comes to a Small Town."

Clocking in at around twenty-three minutes-- yet filled with historical facts, poetic beauty and subtlety--Andrew Adamson introduces us to the residents of Bovec, Slovenia along with the emerald green river Soca, which he found to be the most spectacular river in the world. Filled with interviews with residents in subtitles, the filmmakers discuss the obstacles facing them in working in such a small historically significant town with the exceedingly well-protected water before going further back into history tying in some heartbreaking events from World War I and also managing to work in Hemingway's Farewell to Arms. A featurette of remarkable beauty and a highly welcome one that goes against the grain of required bloopers and interviews, it's these little touches that crop up surprisingly throughout the well-packed second disc that make it well worth exploring.

Although it was the winner of the Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award, I must admit that despite its bloodless battles, the incredibly audacious action sequences and emphasis on flying arrows and dueling swords make it a film richly deserving and even pushing its PG rating to the limit. Yet Prince Caspian is a remarkable fantasy picture, in lieu of its trying 149 running time, that would've benefited from more than twenty minutes of trimming. However, this being said, it works effectively even for those who-- like me were a bit Narnia shy given the yawn-inducing Lion, Witch and Wardrobe-- or for those unacquainted with the work of C.S. Lewis. Releasing just in time for the holidays and no doubt in time for teachers to begin trying to bring it in before winter break-- hopefully they've come a long way since the days of the squeaky cart and blinking clock so kids will get a chance to fully delve into the wonder of Narnia adventure and away from those pesky fractions.

Get Caught Up
(Watch Part 1: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe)