Pros: Great costumes, well acted
Cons: Dated special effects, low budget shows through in some parts
I'm a big fan of C.S. Lewis' books. I've read all the Chronicles of Narnia books more than once and several of his other books such as Out of the Silent Planet as well. I think his "Space Trilogy" of which Out of the Silent Planet is one would make excellent movies too. He actually wrote dozens of books but the Chronicles of Narnia are his best known.
I am glad to see that Prince Caspian is being made into new movie as it's my second-most favourite of the books. My favourite is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which I hope they will do next. It has all kinds of great adventures with dragons and has settings that could look fantastic with today's effect technology.
Before Andrew Adamson and Disney even thought of making modern-day movies of the Narnia books, another series of movies was made about them. They were done as a TV series by the BBC in the early 90's. They were later shown in America on PBS as part of the Wonderworks TV series which showed all kinds of kid-friendly movies and TV shows. Then Home Vision Entertainment released DVD versions of the BBC series in 2005. With the Disney versions now coming to theaters, reprints of HVE's releases are showing up in stores.
While the BBC versions were filmed on a TV studio budget and with dated special effects, they are still well acted and do a good job of bringing C.S. Lewis' books to life. They did The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, Voyage of the Dawn Treader and the Silver Chair. To my knowledge, no one has done The Horse and His Boy, The Magicians Nephew (which actually takes place first in the chronology of the stories) nor The Last Battle.
There are both good and not so good points about the BBC version of Prince Caspian. One of the bright spots of the film is the costuming. The costumes of the human characters look fantastic. There is a good deal of detail in each one of them. Those who have seen the Disney version of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe will see some differences between the BBC version's interpretation of the clothing, weapons and armour and the Disney version though the essential details are the same. Really, Lewis didn't describe a lot of the look of the characters in very much detail so a lot is left to the imagination. In the BBC version there is a nice blend of historical Medieval era and fantasy elements to the costumes.
Another good aspect of the film is the close adherance to the dialog of the book. Though they cut out a few scenes to keep the show under two hours long, the scenes they do show are faithfully lifted from the book. I was rather plesantly surprised how faithful the Disney version of Lion Witch and the Wardrobe was and I hope their version of Prince Caspian is too. Disney has a rather spotty history of totally revamping the stories it turns into movies. Those who thought The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe was a bit lacking in action may like Prince Caspian better. There is a lot more action and battle in this story.
A not-so-good aspect of the film is the dated special effects. The talking animals are either puppets, people in stuffed costumes, or in some cases, rotoscoped animations. You have to use your imagination a bit to keep the suspension of disbelief going when these creatures are on the screen. Thanks to modern CGI technology, the Disney version creatures look almost as real as the people in the first movie they did.
While the outdoor scenes and exterior sets look great, the interiors are obviously studio shots. The lighting isn't all that great in the indoor scenes which is something TV series have always had a problem with, especially back in the 90's and earlier. Since they did so many of the stories and on a TV series rather than blockbuster movie budget, there are times when you can tell that something is fake or that maybe they rushed a scene rather than film it a few more takes.
Despite it's lack of polish compared to today's big budget movies, the BBC version of Prince Caspian is certainly worth watching. If for no other reason than to compare it to the new movie coming out and to the original book, it is worth at least a rental.
I also highly recommend reading the original C.S. Lewis books. All of them are written with children in mind so the words aren't too tough and they are fast reads. I can read one of them in my spare time in two or three days. They are not cutesy or kiddish though. There is plenty of action, suspense, scary parts and even a bit of bloodshed in them. Lewis wrote these books back in the 1940's after WWII, so you won't find the political correctness and sugar coating that you see in kids' books today.
While much is made by the Christian community about the paralells between the Chronicles of Narnia and the Bible, people of all faiths or of no faith at all can still read and enjoy them. They are not preachy and you won't find any obvious church doctrine in them. They are fables of courage, honesty, freedom, companionship, loyalty and to some readers, commentary on the horrors of war and imperialism. The basic outline of some of the stories does bear a little resembleance to some stories in the Bible, but then those stories are so old and so well written that they have influenced most of the books and movies made in Western Civilization in one way or another since it's beginning.