What exactly when wrong between Walden Media and Walt Disney Studios during and after the release of “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is still unclear, but it lead to one of the more puzzling breakups over the past decade. The union between the family friendly brand and the inspirational thinking production entity should have been a match made in heaven and for one film it was.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” stunned skeptics and pulled in $745 million worldwide including an impressive $291 million domestically. The film proved “Shrek” director Andrew Adamson was a true talent and a potential new literary movie franchise was born. A little over two years later, the studio decided to move “Prince Caspian” to a more competitive May marketplace because the second tale was darker and had more action — perfect for the boys of summer. Instead, “Iron Man” kicked Aslan’s butt and “Caspian” found only $419 million globally and an eyebrow raising $141 million. At that point, Walden decided to take C.S. Lewis’ series to 20th Century Fox who was waiting with open arms. Now, the companies have collaborated on what is universally seen as a much more commercial prospect, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” Fox invited select members of the press to view almost 30 minutes of footage on Tuesday night and fans can breathe a sigh of relief because, as promised, the “magic” has returned to “Narnia.”
Director Michael Apted has had a storied career having helmed everything from “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to “Gorky Park” to “Gorilla’s in the Mist” to the underrated “Thunderheart” to “The World is Not Enough” to “Amazing Grace,” but he’s best known for his groundbreaking documentary series “7 Plus”/”21.” Speaking before the first 10 minutes were shown, Apted humbly admitted he had never embarked on anything this massive before and if he hadn’t done “World is Not” he’d never had made it through. However, there was much on display to demonstrate Apted had a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish.
The picture begins in London, where Lucy (a very grown up Georgie Henley) and Edmund (the continually one note Skandar Keynes) are living with an Uncle as WWII rages. Their siblings Peter and Susan are in America and the duo are antsy while trying to avoid their annoying cousin Eustace (“Son of Rambo’s” Will Poulter). One magic painting later and the trio thrown back into Narnia where they are plopped down in front of Capsian (no longer the center of attention Ben Barnes) and his serpent designed ship The Dawn Treader. Caspian is on a mission to find the seven swords of men who stood by his father and can use the former King and Queen of Narnia’s help. Along the way, the encounter an evil island under the influence of the White Witch (yep, she’s back, sort of) and eventually journey to find Aslan’s land (ie, Heaven).
As promised by both Apted and Fox 2000 head Elizabeth Gabler, this “Narnia” is not as “earth bound” as “Caspian” and embraces the fantastical at every turn possibl. And, as holiday entertainment, it no doubt will be a diverting two hours or so. The effects — including one character’s incarnation as a dragon — were very strong and for the most part Peter and Susan are hardly missed. What will probably work better in the context of the entire film is Apted’s use of hand held camera for most of the non-CG scenes. In short bits it was somewhat jarring, but in the long run it “should” work. Another oddity was some scenes looked like they were absolutely shot on a digital camera. This pundit couldn’t find any clarification that a RED camera was used, but there were moments where the lighting didn’t help whatever the format is. If it was actually shot on film than as an audience we were watching a clearly unfinished transfer.
Apted also noted “Treader” is five weeks away from finishing it’s 3-D conversion. While that should help ticket sales, judging from the eye candy displayed on the Fox lot, it probably isn’t that necessary. Overall? “Narnia” looks like a return to the solid success of “Wardrobe.” And even if it only comes close, Walden will be very, very happy.
“The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” opens nationwide and in 3-D on Dec. 10.