I don't know whether C. S. Lewis envisioned his Chronicles of Narnia as movies, but I doubt he would have wanted them translated in such a heavy-handed fashion as is currently being done. Lewis seemed to prefer subtlety in his writing, personal relationships and theological ruminations. Whereas the 2005 adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe had a few moments of Lewis-like subtlety, there is none to be found in the new Prince Caspian.
After a strangely abbreviated opening that re-introduces the Pevensie children one year after the events of the previous tale, we're whisked along with them back to Narnia. However, it is 1,300 years later according to Narnia time, and the land's magical former inhabitants have been all but exterminated by the Telmarines, a race of humorless and supernatural-abhorring humans.
Following this basic and fairly brief set-up, Prince Caspian's coveted audience of children and families are then assaulted for two-plus hours by an unrelenting series of swordfights, castle-stormings, battles and other violent skirmishes. Watching the film with a preview audience mostly comprised of children, I was initially surprised, increasingly uncomfortable with and finally horrified by the inappropriately PG-rated goings-on. The fact that some of the bloodletting in the film is done by its juvenile lead characters is downright disturbing.
If The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a kid-friendly re-framing of the Gospels of Jesus, then Prince Caspian is apparently an allegorical take on the Crusades. As Christians and Muslims battled over the Middle East approximately 1,300 years after the death and resurrection of Christ, so here the Narnians and Telmarines fight for control of their "holy land" 1,300 years after the death and resurrection of Aslan, a majestic lion who serves as Jesus' stand-in.
The evil Telmarines are depicted as bearded men with dark complexions, almost all of whom speak with Italian accents. Meanwhile, the good Narnians are generally light-skinned, fresh-faced and speak with British accents, even (oddly) American actor Peter Dinklage, who plays the heroic dwarf Trumpkin.
Newcomer Ben Barnes plays the title character, an exiled Telmarine prince who may be able to unite the Telmarines and Narnians. Barnes is good and uses his dark eyes to hypnotic effect, but his accent tends to waver between Italian, Irish and non-existent during the course of the movie. The best new character is Reepicheep, a fierce, sword-wielding mouse voiced by transvestite comedian Eddie Izzard.
Before this overlong, excessively violent adventure lumbers to a close, Aslan re-appears to work some miracles, validate the victors and remind viewers of all religious stripes that this is supposed to be a Christian story. However, it rings hollow, not unlike the historical Crusades, when we realize Christ condemned violence and encouraged his followers to put down their swords in favor of plowshares. Despite its being heavily marketed to church groups, there is little that is Christian about Prince Caspian.
UPDATE: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is now available on DVDfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.