When The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, based on the extremely popular fantasy series by author C.S. Lewis, hit theaters in 2005 it was an instant smash and made $745 million worldwide. It's popularity inevitably led to the making of a sequel, 2008's The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. But when that film failed to have the financial success of its predecessor, it's distributor Walt Disney Pictures opted not to be involved in any further films, leaving the series' producer, Walden Media, to find a new company to partner with. Enter 20th Century Fox, who announced a joint venture with the studio in 2006. After Disney's exiting from the series, Fox decided to pick up the distribution rights for the third film of the series, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of The Dawn Treader, which is scheduled to hit theaters in 3D on December 10th.
Earlier this week, we were lucky enough to get invited to the Fox lot in Los Angeles to be amongst the first people to see a sneak peak of some of the amazing, yet unfinished, footage from the upcoming film. On hand was director Michael Apted, who, in addition to being the former president of the Director's Guild of America, is an accomplished filmmaker in his own right with such classic films as Coal Miner's Daughter, Gorky Park, Gorillas in the Mist, Class Action, Thunderheart, The World Is Not Enough and Amazing Grace under his belt.
Before we screened the footage from the film, which was almost thirty minutes of the upcoming movie, Apted spoke about making the film. "It's a beautiful book and I have been asked often if I read the book while I was growing up to which I say, no ... the books weren't written yet when I was growing up," the director laughed. "They are typically books that you can read to your children every night, one chapter a night. It doesn't quite have that dramatic thrust to it that it needs for a film and it took us a long time to really nail that. The tone of the book is quite different than the one before it, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. The pressure was on us to go back to Narnia, the color of it all, the magic of it all and in a sense recreate what Andrew (Adamson) had done with the first one so we had to go back and sort of revise that," he explained.
"From a directing point of view the story is rather difficult to keep consistent," Apted continued. "These are real children, on a real adventure and often in real danger with a real evolution in the end. But the places they go and the people they meet are incredibly fantastic, so you have to keep a level of realism to it and engage the audience." The director spoke further about the difficulty of making this sequel. "Another of the big challenges was to really honor the book because the book has a spiritual quality to it that I feel is important. Hopefully it is a spiritual thing that is accessible to everyone. It's about another world and I think in this day and age it is not a bad message to be giving to people who are growing up. The growing up part of it is very important for me because I think it is a universal story," he explained. "It's a story that has English roots but its relatable to every child on the planet because its about growing up, finding yourself, coming to terms with yourself and knowing what your values are, that is really the heart of this film. Those were the two things really that we had to be careful of and I had to be very watchful of honoring the book." Apted, who is known more as an "actors director" and for making smaller dramatic films also discussed the personal challenges for him as a director making this movie. "We shot the film in Australia and London and for me it was a monumental challenge because I had never done anything like this. I did a "Bond" film but this was much more complicated than that and I think if I hadn't done the "Bond" film I couldn't have done this," the director admitted.
With no more further ado, Apted introduced the material. "So that in a way is an introduction to the film. The first thing we are going to see is the first ten minutes of the movie and if I need to introduce that then I'm in trouble," he joked. The film begins by reintroducing us to the youngest of Pevensie children, Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), who now are back in London and living with their bratty cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), who does not believe in Narnia and his cousins fantastic stories. Edmund and Lucy desperately miss Narnia and before too long notice a painting of a ship, which looks like it is moving.
Through a series of events, the water from the painting overflows and all three children find themselves swimming in the ocean back in Narnia. The ship from the picture of course is The Dawn Treader, which belongs to the now King Caspian and the Pevensie children are delighted to be reunited with their friends. Eustace on the other hand is not used to these strange surroundings and just wants to go home, especially as he begins to have a conflict with Reepicheep, a brave talking mouse who was first introduced in the previous film and his voiced by comedian Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz). The children eventually agree to help Caspian on his journey to save Narnia from evil by retrieving the swords of the seven lords, good men that his evil uncle Miraz banished when he took over the throne.
While we don't want to spoil too much of the rest of the film for you we did have a chance to watch a few more wonderful scenes which included a duel between Eustace and Reepicheep, Lucy's discovery of a magic book, a magnificent Dragon, the film's dramatic conclusion and of course, the return of Aslan, the series' signature Lion who is once again voiced by Liam Neeson (Taken). The footage that we were shown, while not in 3D and with some final effects work still needed before its release was none the less very impressive and showed many signs of hope for the struggling franchise.
In fact, if the final product is anything like what we saw, fans of the first film as well as the series of books will be delighted to know that the magic that made the original movie so popular is back intact in this one. One of the best parts of the footage that we saw, besides the incredibly real looking dragon, was the relationship between the unlikable Eustace and Reepicheep. While Eustace is completely unlikable at the beginning, through his relationship with Reepicheep the character is redeemed and Poulter perfectly plays both sides of that coin. In fact, the last scene we watched involved Eustace saying goodbye to his new best friend, Reepicheep, and when you finally see the movie I dare you to keep a dry eye as that relationship is the emotional core of the film.