Third NARNIA Film Seeks to Regain Its Fantasy Spirit

Third NARNIA Film Back to Fantasy

Flying under the radar is tough in the 24-hour modern media universe we live and work in. Somehow, the third chapter in a billion-dollar movie franchise has managed to do that.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is due out December 10th, but you wouldn’t know it from trailers or most of the countless movie blogs. Few mentions of the film have been spotted in recent months, perhaps by design.

Now, 20th Century Fox (actually, one of its imprints, Fox 2000) is beginning the slow rollout of one of its big holiday releases.

It recently hosted a special presentation in New York of about 30 minutes of footage from ‘Dawn Treader’ to a select group of journalists (ironically, the event was held at the Paramount screening room in Midtown Manhattan) Fox President Elizabeth Gabler introduced director Michael Apted and producer Mark Johnson, while giving some back story on how the third Narnia film wound up on the Fox lot.

For those who don’t know, Disney released “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Prince Caspian”. But the latter movie’s relatively disappointing box office return in 2008 -- $419 million worldwide is good, except when compared to the first movie’s stellar $745  million take in 2005 -- led to Disney walking away from the franchise.  In stepped Fox, which, according to Gabler, had tried to secure rights to adapt C.S. Lewis’ books seven years earlier.

The theme of the evening, and it seems of the entire marketing campaign for ‘Dawn Treader,’ was a return to the Magic and Hope of Narnia. It’s right there on the teaser poster for the movie.  “It’s a great tale. It’s an adventure story,” said Johnson, while adding that it has the spiritual themes prevalent in the Narnia books. “Michael Apted has done an inspired job of capturing the magic of the story,” said the producer.

The director mentioned that he had read the Narnia books to his children.  He also admitted that the film was “a challenge to direct.” He said it took a couple of years to get the script into shape, to capture the proper scale and size of the story.

“It’s about spiritual life, it’s about something more than just daily life,” Apted said.

After watching close to 30 minutes of footage from the picture, it would appear Team Narnia is on the right path back to Fantasyland. While it’s obviously impossible to judge a film based on a handful of scenes, they did indicate that a picture aiming for that sweet spot of fantastical and coming-of-age storytelling, is at least moving in the right direction.

The first scene they showed is the beginning of the film and it gives a strong sense of the new movie’s ambition.  

England is in the midst of war, and Edmund is trying to enlist, despite being too young.  Back at the home of the family of their obnoxious cousin Eustace, Lucy and Edmund wonder about their place in the everyday world. They don’t feel comfortable here. They miss Narnia, where somehow, everything made more sense to them. All of a sudden, a painting on the wall of a ship at sea comes to life. The ocean waters start pouring in from the painting into the bedroom, filling the room, until Lucy, Edmund and somewhat reluctantly, Eustace, find themselves in the middle of a vast ocean. That’s where they come across the Dawn Treader and reunite with Prince Caspian.  We also meet the coolest nautical Minotaur EVER.

Caspian informs Lucy and Edmund he is searching for the 7 lost Lords of Narnia. There is also an entertaining duel between Eustace and Caspian’s right-hand mouse Reepicheep (voiced by Simon Pegg) as the skilled rodent puts the insufferable youngster in his place.

Other scenes show where invisible creatures kidnap Lucy, and when she finds the Book of Incantations. In another, the Magician Coriakin is issuing a stern warning about the White Witch. He tells them to stop the witch from spreading her evil, they have to gather all 7 swords of Narnia and lay them together at Aslan’s table. But it’s a journey about themselves as much as it is a fight against evil.

“To defeat the darkness out there, you must first defeat the darkness within yourself,” declares the Magician.

For those who haven’t read the books, watching footage out of context from a movie as steeped in mythology as the Narnia films makes it rather difficult to follow exactly what’s going on. The filmmakers no doubt know this; the scenes chosen for preview seem to have been chosen to represent the message they wanted to deliver – all together now – Return to Magic, Return to Hope.

Outside of the opening sequence of the movie, the standout clip was a snippet from the climactic battle between Caspian and his group and a massive Sea Serpent. Here is where Eustace, whose greedy nature has led to him being transformed into a dragon, steps up and proves his worth. The sequence was brief but dazzling. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the entire scene play out onscreen.

Another highlight was the final scene we saw. It takes place near the end of the movie. The children are rowing a boat through a sea of flowers. Eustace is the focus here, and the scene hints of the bond that will grow through the picture between the boy and Reepicheep. He apologizes for his earlier behavior – and also admits being a dragon wasn’t all bad. The group reaches a beach, where a giant, perpetually cresting tidal wave acts as a wall. Aslan walks up to them and tells them they have fulfilled their journey. The kids decide they want to return home.

The valiant rat however, makes a different decision. He chooses to see Aslan’s country, realizing that once he does this, there is no coming back. Reepicheep and Eustace say their goodbyes, two friends parting ways. Despite the fact that the CGI work on Reepicheep was incomplete, it was a very touching scene.

And that was where the presentation ended. I left feeling very impressed, having seen a healthy sampling of what the third Narnia adventure intends to offer, namely adventure, fantasy and moral dilemmas in a coming-of-age setting.

It should be noted that while “Dawn Treader” will be released in 3-D, the footage was screened in 2-D. And no, it wasn’t shot in 3-D. It’s in the finishing touches of what Apted called a ‘lengthy’ post-conversion process.

Judging by the visual brightness of most of the scenes and the style of the visual effects, the filmmakers really want to put substantial distance between this movie and the darker world of “Prince Caspian.” The film’s first trailer is all about spotlighting the many visual wonders that pop up in the movie. They want people to remember what it is that made “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” so popular.

Are you looking forward to “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”? Hit the boards and let us know!

Are you excited for the next Narnia film?

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