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Fox to 'Narnia' fans: Please come back

September 29, 2010 |  3:57 pm

1 Trust us.

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Andrew Adamson, the director of the first two films, has been replaced by  Apted, a documentarian ("28 Up") whose only real experience on a complex effects movie was 1999's James Bond film "The World is Not Enough."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

Comments () | Archives (16)

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Well, the third book was one of the highpoints of the series. Better material for a movie.

That's "Deathly Hallows"... not "Deadly"... "Deathly"

Harry Potter Fail.

And Reepicheep NOT voiced by Eddie Izzard?

Color me not going.

Dawn Treader? Yucky name.

This Narnia fan isn't coming back. If they can't get the blasted titles right, what hope is there for the rest of the production? If the Mouse walks, there's usually a good reason for it. I'm goin' for a stroll with Mickey and Minnie.

Hey, I liked "Caspian," even though it deviated from the book. I am very much looking forward to "Voyage of the Dawn Treader." I think it's the best book of the series, with the character arc of Eustace being the most-compelling in the Narnia books.

From the first film I felt the special effects were flat and unimpressive, and the story wasn't really very compelling. I know they keep trying to compare various things to Harry Potter, but you simply can't. I know this is supposed to be a "classic" - if so, it doesn't translate well to film and they certainly ruined what audience they gained in the first movie with the crappy second installment.

If I watch at all, it'll be on netflix.

I wholeheartedly approve of switching from Eddie Izzard to Simon Pegg for Reepicheep. Who's playing Eustace????

I hope hope HOPE they follow the book as closely as possible.

Dawn Treader was my favorite book of the series, and arguably a stronger entry than Prince Caspian. So hopefully they'll get it right this time. Not that I disliked the Caspian film, it just wasn't as good as it should have been.

The kid who is Eustace was in a british movie called Son of Rambow that is really good and he has real good acting chops for a kid... he was a bit of a punk in that movie, so it will be a good choice, as Eustace is a huge brat throughout most of the story( until he is turned into a dragon!).

Um, a few comments here... first of all, anyone who says "I hear this is supposed to be 'classic' literature" (in scare quotes) "but not comparable to Harry Potter" is not well versed in literature or English... at all. That's the reason the Narnia films are doing so poorly -- most people have not read any classic books written over 10 years ago, much less to their kids. Most people in the target audience are --not even aware that the Narnia series is a franchise, or which order the books came out in-- and probably assumes the author is still alive and writing the books as copies of HP or LOTR or something. Harry Potter is highly derivative compared to the Narnia series, but Narnia faces a serious "I saw that on the Simpsons years before I read the book" illiteracy problem.

Second comment: The author of this piece fails to justify exactly what is wrong with Caspian. It was the better of the two films, for starters, even if the author of this piece is only going on what he's been told. A substantial portion of the hate-dom for this series comes from people who mistakenly assume that it's some kind of right-wing fundamentalist propaganda, a la Left Behind. Yet the very same people who will attack this movie for being "light and fluffy" attacked Caspian for being "too dark". The fact is, they hate anything with religious undertones, didn't go see any of them and want the series to die sight unseen, period.

Third comment: Sounds like this movie is messed up already, since the author (who has probably not read any of these books) casually refers to some sort of quest to reclaim some magic swords to save Narnia or something. Now, I haven't read the books since I was a kid, but there certainly was no such thing, so this is pretty much a franchise-ending plot screwup that will alienate all the diehard fans of the best book in the series.

I do like the series and respect the books for their literary and artistic power lacking in books like HP, even if the plots are way simpler and more childish looking at first sight. The stories are just more alive and powerful in themselves than the Potter derivative soaps and mysteries. The first movie wasn't perfect, the second got some things right but the result was poorer mostly due to a loose grip from the filmmakers of the whole as a movie. A lot of the charm and magic that were still alive in the first one is gone for a story that seems to go on without anything strong really holding it together. The main reason for its failure though, I would say was a terrible mismanagement from Disney. The movie didn't need to be better or a masterpiece to be successful, and many other franchises have proved it, but this movie, considering what it was and had been, was handled as a minor summer movie for some reason and the impression the promotion then gave you was of just that, a smaller movie coming out. That spring you couldn't find Caspian as one of the upcoming blockbusters and that is not because the media didn't think it could be, its because the studios, including Disney, were busy pushing other movies. In the end, as it seems to work, it's a lot more about that than quality. This wasn't an exemplary quality movie, but was more than a decent summer kids flick that had the already established power from the first one to at least bring in good numbers, but which Disney wasn't interested in backing completely. Maybe it was getting problematic for them given the religious undertones.

The lack of response to this post suggests what I fear most: that this film will get swallowed up by all of the "bigger" films that are getting hyped around it. Too bad, too -- "Dawn Treader" was certainly the most cinematic of all the Narnia books, with its visual scenes and Odyssey structure. I want to see it very very badly, but am afraid I'll be alone in the theater. . .

The second film failed artistically not least because the second book is just harder to film. The non-linear structure with constant shifts between present and extended flashback did not lend itself to the language of film. Also, they lost touch with the spirit of the book. They tried to graft a blockbuster onto it. I really hope they don't do the same with this one. The story of Dawn Treader is much more adaptable, more linear, with plenty of places where spectacular special effects would be appropriate.

Prince Caspian - the book - is not one of the stronger stories in the Narnian series, so it's not altogether surprising the film was not successful. The addition of the battle sequence at Miraz's castle really did nothing to help the tone of the film either.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a much better story, so the possibility is there to make a more successful film.

It's simple.... follow the source material as close as possible and you will keep your core fanbase happy. The reason HP has been so successful is just that.... The Goblet of Fire is the least liked among HP fans and it's a good thing they changed directors after that movie or the franchise would have gotten worse and lost it's momentum permanently.


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