Directed by Michael Apted. Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour, 55 min.
The children’s entrance into C.S. Lewis’s parallel world of Narnia the third time is more traumatic than walking through a wardrobe: this time it is by means of an over-active painting of an ancient ship. The two younger Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), are left by their parents with their unpleasant aunt and uncle for the summer.
What the brother and sister dread most is putting up with their arrogant cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), who thinks their talk of Narnia is rubbish. He is in the room when Lucy and Edmund are admiring the painting hanging on the wall of the bedroom occupied by Lucy, one of them remarking that the ship is Narnia-like. They become wide-eyed as they notice the waves are billowing and the ship is moving toward them. Alarmed, Eustace grabs the picture off the wall, whereupon the water pours Niagara-like from the frame into the room, quickly flooding it and submerging the children. Suddenly they are at sea with the dragon-headed prow bearing down upon them. Having spotted them, a man aboard the ship dives in to rescue the children; a platform is lowered, and aided by the man, the three are lifted aboard.
The Prevensies are delighted to discover that their old friend Caspian, now “King Caspian,” is in command. He informs them that he is on a mission to the eastern seas to find the seven lords who had been sent out years before and never heard from since. Brother and sister are happy to be back in Narnia, but not Eustace, whose stomach cannot stand the motion of the ship. He demands to be sent back home and threatens reprimands once he sees a British consulate. The little mouse warrior Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) takes an immediate dislike to the boy, later the two even going at each other with swords.
The rest of the film plot diverges at numerous points from the book, especially in regard to time sequence. Sometimes the adventures are shortened, whereas at other times an addition is made that adds depth to the proceedings and the characters. Unseen foes attack the party on what Lewis called “The Island of Voices,” and eventually Lucy is sent to the mansion to search through a large book of incantations to find the spell that will make the invisible creatures visible. As she is searching through the huge book she comes across the page bearing a spell that will make one beautiful. Because her older sister, Susan, had always been considered the beauty of the family, Lucy casts the spell and sees her face as it will be when she is older. She is indeed beautiful. She sees herself emerging from the house, older and fashionably attired, to join a lawn party. Everyone turns toward her as the butler announces her arrival. She saunters amidst the admiring crowd, and enjoys lording it over Susan for once.
The above incident follows a warning from Aslan that on their voyage the children will encounter many temptations, which they must summon up the strength to resist. Edmund and Caspian also face temptations on the Island of Deathwater. Edmund wants to keep some of the objects that the cursed water had turned into gold, and the two boys almost come to blows over authority and power. Several times the spectral visage of the Snow Queen appears to Edmund, urging him that if he joins her, he will become more powerful.
Christian viewers will appreciate this emphasis on the temptation theme, as well as the filmmaker’s refusal to dilute the theological significance of Aslan (voiced by Liam Neeson). At the end, when everyone must part ways, Lucy says she wishes Aslan could be with them always. The Lion replies that he is with her in her world as well. He tells Lucy that she will have to learn the other name that he is known by in her world.
There are plenty of special effects–generated scenes to satisfy the thrill lover: the attack of the giant sea serpent, Eustace’s transformation into a dragon as a result of his greed, the figure of Aslan. A good deal of C.S. Lewis’s wit in his narrative is lost, though some of it remains in the dialogue. A conversation between Edmund and the transformed Eustace is quite touching. Edmund points out that he had once been far worse than Eustace—not just obnoxious but a traitor.
Director Michael Apted rushes through other scenes, instead of lingering long enough for us to get to know the characters. He pushes the young actor playing Eustache into “over the top” territory: had the boy villain been a man, he would be twirling his mustache and demanding that the others pay the mortgage or he will take their home. Nonetheless, if fans of the series can accept the changes made in the story, the film should please most viewers. The first Narnia film remains the best of the three, but this one is well worth seeing.
Judging by the box office receipts, the numbers of fans turning out are high. The film grossed $24.5 million opening weekend—about $7.5 million more than its closest competitor, The Tourist, a thriller with far bigger stars. If this support keeps up, we may expect to see the film version of the next Narnia book, The Silver Chair, in a year or two.
The film is available in 3-D, but those who balk at paying the outrageous extra charge will find that little is lost in the 2-D version. Save your money.