The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Blu-ray Review (with D-BOX)

A lot has changed in Narnia over the past 1300 years since The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe saw the Pevensie siblings return Narnia to its rightful rulers. The once proud kingdom has been conquered by the eco-unfriendly Telmarines; humans content to pilfer the land of its natural resources rather than sustain it. They have pushed the Narnians so far into a forested exile that Aslan, the great lion ruler and his people are thought extinct. Once great structures and scenic overlooks are reduced to ruins resembling those found in Fable 2 on Xbox 360.

When the slightly aged Penvensie quartet is whisked back into this much darker Narnian future after only a year has passed in “their world,” not much has changed for the filmmakers who struggled to etch out a unique identity for The Chronicles of Narnia saga in the first film. The Penvensie’s, while able to better establish unique personalities and presence in their second go-around as leads, are still a shadow of the oft-compared Harry Potter kids. The direction is no different than any previous fantasy film save for a handful of standout scenes like a brief one-on-one brawl between Peter Penvensie and evil Telmarine King Miraz with an engaging mix of slow and fast-motion photography. And the effects, while technically sound and impressive, lose any justifiable appreciation because we have seen strikingly similar scenes and in The Lord of the Rings trilogy already.

The addition of young Prince Caspian to the cast gives the Penvensie’s someone similar to themselves, young but strong, to play against. Plaguing the good Prince and rightful heir to Narnia’s throne’s presence is he is severely underwritten, lacks emotion and presents himself as anything but royalty when his time comes to fulfill his destiny. Though he is the key to the story and the one who reawakens the exiled Narnians and calls the Penvensie’s back into action, he’s more remembered for flirting with Susan whenever the opportunity arises.

Curiously absent and damaging the plot is any explanation for why Aslan, the great Lion ruler, has hung out deep in the woods for 1300 years while his people are dieing. There are ample opportunities for Aslan to rise to glory like he did in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Yet, it takes a special partially unseen summoning to bring him out from presumably hiding under a rock. Why could not or did not want to come out earlier while his people seemingly could whenever they wanted is never answered.

Prince Caspian is by no means a bad film despites its flaws and inability to stand out from its fantasy peers. It succeeds in surpassing The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in every conceivable way. Fans of the series will love the on-screen evolution of Peter into a stronger King, Susan into a young woman with a sex drive, Edmund into an unselfish life savoir and Lucy into Narnia’s last hope for survival. When the foursome is once again sent back to their “normal lives,” it is inevitable to ponder when, how and under what circumstances they might return as the kings and queens of Narnia.

Disney Home Entertainment has packaged The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian in two and three-disc sets. The only different between the two is the three-disc set includes a standard definition digital copy on the third disc. The contents of the first two discs are entirely identical.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a near reference quality Blu-ray Disc release and, unexpectedly, Prince Caspian follows suit. The widescreen 2.4:1 AVC MPEG-4 transfer is only a hair shy of perfection. Colors are rich and deep, further brought to life by intensely sharp detail that renders everything from specs of grime and dirt to the slightest knick on a suit of armor with astounding clarity. Overhead shots of a prominently featured river look real enough to go for a swim in. Black levels are equally impressive with levels reaching the darkest end of the spectrum you’d ever expect to find on a Blu-ray Disc. Shadow detail is also strong, only giving in slightly to a trace of crush under fire-lit scenes set underground. The other 99.9% of the scenes are, in a word, flawless.

Disney does not mess around when they foot the extra coin for a 7.1 surround mix. Expectations for excellence are high and they are met and subsequently exceeded numerous times. The DTS-HD 7.1 48kHz/24-bit mix is everything you’d want from an audio track: surrounds buzz with activity, bass digs for the deepest lows and the finest details are never lost. All of these criteria are driven home in the opening minutes with a hair-raising appearance of a magical train through an underground station that serves as the kids portal from their world to Narnia. The balance of screeches, thuds and crackling of tiles ripping off from the station’s walls is evenly dispersed between all 7 channels of the mix. I paid special attention to the side surrounds to ensure Disney took advantage of them and they most certainly did.

Two other scenes that stand out as exemplary examples of lossless audio at its best are a scene of the Telmarine soldiers marching on their way to battle which resonate with thudding bass, and Aslan’s first entrance which snaps a tree branch in the right surround channel that actually made me look to by right. There is no conceivable way this film could sound any better than it does.

D-BOX Motion Code
Rounding out Prince Caspian’s superb high definition presentation is a D-BOX Motion Code track which will be available by download only when this Blu-ray Disc arrives in stores (i.e. it is not embedded on the disc). A film full of galloping horses, whizzing arrows and large scale fights is ripe for D-BOX and the engineers made sure to take advantage of every opportunity to inject motion into the experience.

Speaking of galloping horses and airborne arrows, either of those two elements appearing in a scene are a perfect example of subtle D-BOX use. The horses, in particular, have been coded based on distance from the horse on-screen and more impressively the number of horses galloping at once. The Telmarine army on horses is a completely different D-BOX experience than the Narnians on their horses. The movement is more pronounced and deeper with the more aggressive Telmarines, almost as if moving as one, while the Narnian galloping movement is more individualized and distinct.

Two big battles are obvious marks for D-BOX motion, though one noticeably outperforms the other. The final battle between the Telmarines and Narnias benefits from flying boulders that continuously slam into a temple ruin, the ground tearing apart and a giant Water Narnian rising from the river as waves crash all around him. Any of these scenes are great for impacting D-BOX movement, more so than the battle at the Telmarine castle which suffers a bit from a pulled-back camera that lessens the impact of the chair’s movement.

While the big climatic finale is great for D-BOX, the best moments are more intimate in design. A slow motion scene of Susan picking Telmarine’s off horses with arrows offers great extended side-to-side motion worth revisiting. Better yet, and the highlight of the film, is the hand-to-hand combat fight between Peter and King Miraz. The extensive use of slow motion coupled with violent blows provide the most jarring D-BOX moments. Any time King Miraz shoves his shield into Peter the chair moves sharply enough to make you grab the armrest. D-BOX owners will not want to miss downloading this track.

All bonus features are presented in full 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoded high definition and spread across the first and second discs with optional subtitles. There are no theatrical trailers or TV spots inluded, both odd exclusions given an entire second disc dedicated towards supplemental material.

Disc One

Circle-Vision Interactive: Creating the Castle Raid (Blu-ray Exclusive) – Director Andrew Adamson prefaces this interactive feature by walking through creating the castle assault sets, filming the fight sequences and creating the digital effects simultaneously. Once he’s done, a menu allows for 10 viewing options of the Castle Raid sequence: Telmarine Casualty; Audio Commentary by Costume Designer Isis Mussenden; Audio Commentary by Producer Mark Johnson; Audio Commentary by Stunt & Fight Coordinator Allan Poppleton; On The Scaffolds; Audio Commentary by Visual Effects Supervisor Dean Wright; Gateway Alley; Audio Commentary by Special Makeup & Creatures Howard Berger; Courtyard Nightshift; Audio Commentary by Director Andrew Adamson.

The audio commentaries are spoken over the entire Castle Raid sequence and provide six unique takes on what it took to make the scene come together. The other four selections provide a unique full 360-degree horizontal view of the set as filmed by the HDRI cameras for the film. You can rotate through 25 percent of the set at once and make selections including behind-the-scenes footage and fun facts on each segment of the set. For example, the Telmarine Casuality 360-degree view has dead soldiers littered all over the ground.

There is also an index page that spells out all 35 clickable links in Circle-Vision, any of which are directly accessible from the index page. What’s great about this page is it tracks which links you’ve already visited by turning their fonts from white to brown, the same way a website might tracked a visited link. Visited links can be reset with the press of a button at any time.

Circle-Vision is a unique and refreshing way of accessing otherwise standard home video supplemental feature material that loads relatively quickly. What it lacks is the ability to manually move the point-of-view around the set and zoom in and out. The camera moves within with the feature are pre-scripted and limited to right and left, removing the potential for full interactivity the feature’s title suggests.

Commentary by Director Andrew Adamson and Actors Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell – Adamson takes the lead and narrates what’s going on in the film with random tidbits while the five kids chime in with their own take on scenes and filmmaking experiences. This commentary might have been more fun if Adamson stepped aside and let the kids run the show. While Adamson isn’t afraid to be humorous at times, his dryness and presence as “the boss” subdues the kids’ participation.

BD-Live (Blu-ray Exclusive) – Narnia’s BD-Live access is turned off at the time of this review, but the option to access BD-Live is clear on the main menu.

Disc Two

The supplemental features on disc two are all presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital audio. Surround use is mostly relegated to the score playing underneath dialogue.

Inside Narnia: The Adventure Returns (34:45) – This feature pays tribute to Prince Caspian’s crew, the majority of whom worked on The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. They came in as an established family from the first Narnia film and were able to use that camaraderie to move swiftly and efficiently through a complex shoot. Most of the footage is behind-the-scenes as opposed to film clips which makes this a necessary stop for Narnia fans.

Sets of Narnia: A Classic Comes to Life (23:44) – It was a challenge for the filmmakers to design the sets due to the lack of description in the books. Sets of Narnia explores the locations chosen for the shoot and explains why they were a perfect fit to bring the book to life.

Big Movie Comes to a Small Town (23:19) – The tiny town of Bovec, Slovania was chosen as of the on-location sets. Various residents of Bovec, known for its intact nature, talk about the film crew coming to town and whey they believe their town was chosen. It then moves into the logistical challenges of moving a large crew into a small isolated space for shooting, very similar to the challenges the crew of Pirates of the Caribbean faced shooting in exotic locations as presented on those Blu-ray Discs.

Pre-visualizing Narnia (10:09) – A film with this many effects requires a lot of pre-viz by Adamson which is explained and demonstrated for beginners.

Talking Animals and Walking Trees: The Magical World of Narnia (4:51) – A brief featurette where cast and crew talk of their favorite animal creatures from the first and second Narnia films and the ecological statement the film makes.

Deleted Scenes w/Optional Director Audio Intro (11:15) – Ten total deleted scenes total just over 11 minutes. Nothing in the scenes affects the story though there is a clichéd “let me show you how to shoot the weapon” flirting sequence between Lucy and Caspian thankfully axed. Seeing the rudimentary effects, especially for the Centaurs, is more intriguing than any of the new material.

The Bloopers of Narnia (3:06) – These would have worked a lot better without the cheery background score.

Secrets of the Duel (6:46) – Breaking down the choreography of the duel between Peter and King Miraz. The “ring” where the combatants square off was re-designed from the book’s description to provide a design better suited for filming. Cool to see how the suits are broken down over the course of the fight as designed by the wardrobe crew.

Becoming Trumpkin (4:48) – Veteran little people actor Peter Dinklage cracks one straightforward joke after another discussing his role as Trumpkin.

Warwick Davis: The Man Behind Nikabrik (11:08) – You can’t feature Peter without featuring Warwick, the man who played Wicket the Ewok, as well. He’s in and out of the make-up chair a lot and gets more dialogue opportunities for his feature than Peter did.

Disc Three

The third disc includes a standard definition digital copy of the film. This is the only difference between the two and three-disc editions. Everything else is identical.

I tempered my expectations for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian after being frankly bored with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Prince Caspian certainly has more to offer, but I do not have the urge to revisit it like I might Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. In fact, had Prince Caspian been released before either of those series I might have had a completely different reaction to it.

Disney, and D-BOX, have bestowed Prince Caspian with an absolutely amazing high definition presentation. It fires to near perfection on all cylinders making either the two or three-disc set must-see media whether a fan of the series or not.

– Dan Bradley

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