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While The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe balanced darkness with a sense of wonder, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian moves further to the dark side. Based on the second book in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, the story tries to emphasize the importance of having faith and hope, even in the worst of times. But these themes often get lost in the grim world of the movie.

There are four DVD editions of Prince Caspian available. Those of us with standard DVD players can choose from a one-disc or three-disc edition. The three-disc edition has bonus features that exhaustively cover the making of the movie and includes a digital copy disc. For viewers who just want to watch the movie, the single-disc edition will suffice.

Through the Looking Glass

Prince Caspian is essentially a war movie
Prince Caspian is essentially a war movie

Hard times have again returned to Narnia. After the Narnian kings and queens (i.e., the Pevensie children) vanished at the end of the last installment, humans from the neighboring kingdom of Telmar invaded, forcing the fanciful creatures of Narnia into hiding for centuries. The heir to the human throne, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes), flees into Narnia, on the run from his uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellito), who covets the throne for himself. After being waylaid by two dwarves and a talking badger, Caspian blows an ancient horn....

Which takes us to London, one year after the children’s return from Narnia. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley) are having a hard time adjusting to their dreary old lives. Suddenly, the walls of the London Underground fall away and they find themselves on a beach. The excitement and wonder of passing into a different world is gone in this movie, replaced by confusion and loss. Their old castle is in ruins, and so is their kingdom.

At this point, Prince Caspian becomes a war movie. Caspian will rally the Narnians. The Pevensies will join in the fight, with many tribulations to follow. It wasn’t until more than halfway through, during a one-on-one sword fight, that I finally felt engaged in the movie. The filmmakers did a good job of shooting and staging the fight, without overediting it. The subsequent battle, between the Narnians and the Telmarines on an open field, was also fun to watch.

Prince Who?

With so much emphasis on action, the characters have been mostly subsumed by the plot. The first movie was similarly plot-oriented, but had little touches to differentiate the children. Here, Peter, Susan and Edmund grimly fight the bad guys, while Lucy waits hopefully for the divine Aslan. The young actors do their best, but they’re not given much to work with. Prince Caspian is an equally blank slate, though Ben Barnes injects charisma into the role.

Thank goodness for Reepicheep and Trumpkin. Reepicheep, an oversized swashbuckling mouse (voiced by Eddie Izzard) might have been an annoying presence in other movies, but here he provides some much-needed levity. Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), the sarcastic dwarf, was a more pivotal character in the book. Here, Dinklage scowls his way through the movie, earning as many laughs as Reepicheep.

Prince Caspian is easy to appreciate, but harder to enjoy. It’s a well-made movie with people at the helm who care about the book. There’s no rule that children’s fantasy stories must be all lightness and fluff. On the other hand, a sense of fun can turn a watchable movie into a very good movie. Prince Caspian tilts too far in the other direction.

DVD Extras

The only extra on disc one is a chatty commentary track with Barnes, Moseley, Popplewell, Keynes, Henley and director Andrew Adamson. They all get along well, and are eager to talk about their experiences on the set. Adamson has plenty to say about the choices he made deciding how to present the story. Ultimately, the commentary is probably only of interest to those who want to know about the making Prince Caspian.

And speaking of the making of the movie, the second disc has eight featurettes that look behind the scenes. Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns (34 minutes) covers the most ground. Other interesting ones are Previsualizing Narnia (10 minutes), which is about the rough computer-generated version of the movie that was made to help develop action sequences; and Secrets of the Duel (7 minutes), which explores the staging of the climatic fight between Peter and King Miraz. Other featurettes cover settings, locations and creatures.

There are also 10 deleted scenes with commentary from Adamson and a three-minute blooper reel. Disc two also has three Easter eggs.

The third disc is the DisneyFile Digital Copy. This allows you to copy the movie to either iTunes or Windows Media Player, and from there, you can load it onto your iPod or MP3 player.

Watching the all of the extras in one setting can be tedious, as some of the information is repeated in different features. While it’s interesting to see how much effort went into the film, after the fourth or fifth feature I realized that I preferred to simply watch the movie rather than see it as a collection of makeup, special effects and sets.

Picture and Sound

The movie is presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and the picture is excellent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is equally good. The DVD offers audio tracks and subtitles in French and Spanish.

How to Use this DVD

Watch the movie and save the bonus features for another time. Check out the commentary track and feel free to turn it off if you lose interest. If you have the three-disc set, watch Inside Narnia, to get the big picture and Secrets of the Duel to learn about what it takes to film a fight scene. To lighten things up, check out the bloopers and the Easter eggs (they’re not hard to find). If you have no interest in what went on behind the scenes, get the one-disc edition.