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Prince Caspian 

By almost any standard, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is a slicker, more professional contraption than its megahit predecessor The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The effects are more polished, the battles more grand, there's more camera movement. All it's missing is charm.

The lack of fantasy-movie bombast was precisely what gave the first Narnia adventure its appeal. This time, working with more money, director Andrew Adamson tries moving into Lord of the Rings territory. The result is barely distinguishable from every self-important Lord of the Rings cash-in of the past five years.

The parts of Prince Caspian that come alive are of the same type that worked in Wardrobe. There's just less of them. They come when the kid heroes are on the brink of discovery, processing the experience of the fantastic world around them. It's why youngest sibling Lucy's altercation with a bear she'd assumed to be friendly packs a minor interest of growing pains, while the much longer climactic nighttime battle at a castle relates to nothing but how well it approximates the Battle at Helm's Deep in The Two Towers.

The debt to Peter Jackson never works in Prince Caspian's favour. The worst impact of the Lord of the Rings movies is how they've led studios to think that the way to compete in the fantasy/adventure market is through gargantuan scope and epic length. This led to series like Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and now Narnia becoming unwieldy and tedious. These movies haven't the precision of tone and theme of great modern adventures (The Temple of Doom, The Princess Bride, Back to the Future). They're an excess of scenes without lyricism. As a loudmouth kid several rows back put it, "There's that stupid castle again!"

This absence of magic is part of what the new film is about. The land of Narnia has been transformed into a darker, more sinister place. When it's explained that wind used to dance through the leaves, Adamson provides a shot of the leaves completely still. Yet the moment, like everything in the movie, has no emotional follow-through. We're denied a shot at the end where the leaves dance again. Every line reading takes twice as long as it needs to in Adamson's digging for epic quantity. He turns C.S. Lewis' children's classic into something jaded and routine.

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