The team behind the latest "Chronicles of Narnia" movie knows it has some persuading to do, and more than two months ahead of the release of the third installment in the C.S. Lewis fantasy series, the filmmakers are taking their sales pitch to the media -- and promising they will get the movie right.
In presentations this week in Los Angeles and New York, producer Mark Johnson, director Michael Apted and studio executive Elizabeth Gabler showed about 30 minutes of footage from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," hoping they can convince moviegoers that the second film was a creative (and financial) aberration.
The first film in the series, 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was a global blockbuster, an epic spectacle that grossed about $750 million worldwide. But the second installment, 2008's much darker and earthbound telling of "Prince Caspian," not only received poorer reviews but also fared much worse at the box office, slipping to $419 million worldwide. Given the film's performance and the high production costs (more than $200 million for the last movie), Disney walked away from the franchise, and rights holder Walden Media took the series to 20th Century Fox's Fox 2000, which Gabler runs.
Gabler and Johnson are hoping that "Dawn Treader," which opens in 3-D on Dec. 10, might be less Shakespearean than "Prince Caspian," and more fantastical than even "Harry Potter." The clips suggested that very little of the film takes place in wartime England, unfolding instead on the high seas and on magical islands, as the Pevensie kids (it's the last film for the two youngest siblings) search for some special swords and battle an aquatic serpent. The visual effects are everywhere: a spell-yielding book, a floating map, an indoor snowstorm, an invisible monster and a star that turns into a lovely maiden.
Andrew Adamson, the director of the first two films, has been replaced by Apted, a documentarian ("28 Up") whose only real experience on a complex effects movie was 1999's James Bond film "The World is Not Enough." The swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep has a new voice too; Eddie Izzard is out and Simon Pegg is in (after Apted tested Bill Nighy but rejected him as too old).
More than anything, though, the movie feels more playful, less moody and certainly more family friendly than the last "Narnia" film -- whimsical, in other words. Fox's trailer for the film calls "Dawn Treader" the movie event of the holidays, which might be news to Warner Bros. and its "Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows Part One."
"Dawn Treader" has some work to do if it's going to win its audience back, but it looks from the selected clips as if the film is headed in the right direction. If it gets all the way there, a fourth "Narnia" film could very well be possible.
-- John Horn
Photo: Poster for the "Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Credit: 20th Century Fox