About That Next ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ Movie …

— by CAM SMITH —

My relationship with the “Narnia” franchise has been a rocky and tumultuous one, alternately filled with moments of bitter resentment, fanciful amusement, weary dismissal and heartfelt admiration. Honestly, I can’t think of another major property that has been more disconcerting to determine my definitive stance on than the literary and cinematic adventures set in C.S. Lewis’ creature-filled fantasy-land.

For the record, I’ve never made it the entire way through a single one of the seven celebrated young adult novels. There was a meager attempt made, around the age of 11, to read “Prince Caspian,” but it was promptly aborted in favor of the Hardy Boys and “Tom Sawyer” (to be fair, I’ve never been a fan of fantasy literature, no matter how brilliant. Although I did later undertake and enjoy Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” “The Fellowship of the Ring” worked on me like a sleep-aid). Likewise, the stuffy weekly British television program “Chronicles of Narnia” — which aired on YTV here in Canada — was, alongside “M*A*S*H,” at the top of my childhood list of “Most Boring Shows EVER!!!”

I unconditionally adored the 1979 animated version of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I still fondly recall joyfully immersing myself in its delightful other-worldly narrative multiple times over the course of my impressionable years.

The recent film adaptations have been equally hit-or-miss. The first chapter, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” was one of the best post “Lord of the Rings” fantasy epics. It was a colorful and creative mixture of mythic storytelling and high-concept effects work, boasting some thrillingly well-staged battle scenes and an iconic villainess-for-the-ages in Tilda Swinton’s White Witch. It was an ideal family entertainment that, aside from the odd overly talky patch, provided exactly what it should for both wide-eyed young ‘uns and adults burnt out on middling kiddie-fare.

Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for “Prince Caspian,” a turgid, wooden mess which stripped away the first film’s countless charms and haphazardly replaced them with gaudy, expensive CG, soul-less violence and, worst of all, Ben Barnes. I abhorred the flick and didn’t hide that fact in my venomous review, which, to my complete astonishment, led to me being bombarded for days with heap-loads of vicious, insulting hate-mail from a considerable swarm of infuriated “Narnia” lovers. It was my first real experience of being on the receiving end of passionately negative reader-feedback and it was a doozy.

Yet, my grudge wasn’t against the franchise or its sizable fan-base, but rather the direction that the film series was taking. With director Andrew Adamson evidently not up to the major task of expanding the cinematic universe into anything suitably awe-inspiring, “The Chronicles of Narnia” movies appeared to be headed nowhere fast. Plus, with half of the four children not scheduled to appear in the planned “Caspian” follow-up “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” — and the bland presence of Barnes’ destined to grow — there was a considerable risk of audience interest waning.

However, these concerns suddenly seemed irrelevant when the final returns came in, with the $225 million-costing “Caspian” earning only $140 domestic and $278 international — not a complete train-wreck, but a seriously underwhelming 40 percent-ish less than the first installment — and suddenly the prospect of a third entry seemed somewhat improbable, despite the fact that pre-production was well under way with Michael Apted in the director’s chair.

Then, to add even more insult to injury, Disney announced that they were unceremoniously dropping the franchise like a hot, stinking potato. It was a dark day for the denizens of Narnia and their legions of loyal boosters.

Would another studio dare to step in and, Aslan the Jesus-lion-like, reincarnate the flat-lining series? Would the Pevensie children ever see their wondrous journey fulfilled? Would Ben Barnes ever get to deliver a performance on the level of — at the very least — Hayden Christensen? These burning questions remained hanging in the air as time stood exasperatingly still.

And then a savior stepped in. 20th Century Fox — the klutzy creators of the classic filmic works of fantasy “Eragon,” “The Seeker: The Dark is Rising,” “City of Ember” and “Jumper” — agreed to foot the tab on “Dawn Treader” and keep the series afloat. While this news pleased the distressed devotees, those more in-the-know knew well-and-good that this acquisition was unlikely to be the metaphorical positive kick-in-the-ass that the franchise so badly needed. Instead, it seemed likely that things were only fated to get worse considering the studio’s predilection for butchering geek niche properties beyond all recognition (ask any fanboy how they feel about Fox’s “Aliens Vs. Predator” series or their slate of Marvel films, which consists of “Daredevil,” the two “Fantastic Four” flicks and the “X-men” franchise, and you’re likely to get an earful of earth-scorching profanity).

On Nov. 25, three new “Dawn Treader” production photos popped up on the movie’s official Facebook page, showing Barnes’ Caspian, Georgie Henley’s Lucy and the awesomely named Skandar Keynes’ Edmund aboard the titular oceanic craft. The shots looked vivid and rich but were, frankly, kinda lame as far as sneak peek photos go.

Certainly, I have a modicum of trust that Michael Apted can pull some good performances from his cast. He’s a noted actor’s director — with a resume that includes “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Nell,” “Gorillas in the Mist” and “Class Action” — and will hopefully bring some dignity and majesty back to “Narnia.” Slightly troubling, though, is his lack of experience in terms of crafting big-budget, massive-scope spectacle, with his only real foray into Blockbuster-land being the decade-old James Bond vehicle “The World is Not Enough.” While it’s never smart to write-off a gifted auteur, I remain slightly dubious that Apted is the right man to save this barely-treading-water enterprise.

With a ginormous-sized story to tell, involving the two younger Pevensie kids, along with their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), reuniting with now-King Caspian to take part in an Aslan-ordered sea-based journey in search of the seven Lost Lords of Narnia, this next film will need to be both seriously massive-in-scale and intimately character-driven to help restore the luster of “Lion,” as well as capture the notice of a movie-going populace more interested in boy wizards and teenage vampire romances than the wholesome escapades of a vaguely Greek-sounding monarch, his youthful British buddies and an animated messiah Lion voiced by Liam Neeson.

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait almost exactly one year — until Dec. 10, 2010 — to find out whether “Narnia” can regain its magic mojo or have the book permanently closed on it. You can mark me down as skeptical but curious. I’d like nothing better than to be able to once again enjoy an excursion into that faraway land, with its cheerful fauns and throat-cutting field mice, and maybe, just maybe, an enchanted sea voyage — rife with new opportunities for exhilarating miraculous visuals and a less-frantic change of pace — is exactly what the movie doctor ordered.

Are there any “Narnia” fans in the house who’d care to share their views on the series? Did anyone else share my intense dislike for “Prince Caspian”? Were you partly responsible for sending me mean-spirited emails? Chime in on the comment section and make your heroic voices heard, my fellow sharp-eyed and pure-hearted cinephiles!

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18 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Josue #

    I totaly agree with your review! One thing though, I did not hate “Prince Caspian,” as a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed it! BUT!!! it was definitely like watching a different movie. It was in no way a sequel. Other than that point, amazing article Cam! You are a master writer.

  2. Janine #

    Prince Caspian was so terrible I spend most of my time laughing at the weird kids in the theatre. Anyone who enjoyed that movie needs their head examined.

  3. 3

    I know I saw both of the already released “Narnia” movies, but I’d be hard pressed to recall a single thing from either one. I remember James McAvoy being shirtless in the first one, but somehow I doubt that’s the image they were hoping would stick with the audience…

  4. Hannah #

    I thought Prince Caspian was alright. The first movie was, by far, much better, however.
    Haha, and you’re right about Skandar Keynes having a great name. XD
    I’m a bit skeptical too…Fox has a pretty bad rep in my book. I hope it turns out well. This movie determines what happens to the series.
    Good article!

  5. Cam Smith #

    You heard it here first: my first born son’s name? Skandar! He sounds like an intergalactic warlord!

  6. Mark #

    If you don’t like the books in the first place, how did you think the movies would be any better?

    Have a nice day anyway.

  7. Cam Smith #

    I don’t dislike the books, sir. I simply haven’t read them. Besides, my lack of affinity for the Harry Potter or Lord of Rings novels didn’t have any affect on my appreciation for the films.

  8. George Kaplan #

    I’m not so sure about this one, since the main thing drawing me to the series (Anna Popplewell) isn’t returning.

  9. Craig Downey #

    Although I enjoyed Caspian as a movie, it still felt totally different then the book. I think Disney made a huge blunder in casting Caspian as being that much older then the book shows him. Then they blundered again by adding scenes that weren’t in the book and changing the order of events.
    I hope the new company learns from Disneys mistakes and keeps Dawn Treader closer to the book.

  10. Kurroe #

    To tell you the truth, the only thing that keeps making me go back and watch the movies is either the Lion (Thank Jesus-lion for CGI) or just the amazing effects.

    The movies are just “meh”, haven’t read the books though. If the movies are any indication of quality in writing, I think I’m better off without reading them <3

    Awesome article.

    Enough with the ass kissing though, My breath smells like turd.

  11. Daniel #

    Cam Smith I completely agree with your review. The first movie was the best rendition of the books so far, but again it fell very short of the original book. The second is a disgrace( especially if you’ve read the book and found out how amazing it is).

    Kurroe do NOT give up on the books based upon the movies. None of the movies do the books justice. They are my favorite fantasy books(better than anything J.R.R. Tolkien ever wrote, in my opinion of course). The only reason that the books may not have been made into great movies is probably because “Chronicles” leaves so many things to your imagination. It will take a person with great vision to ever do them justice.

    I cannot recommend the books enough though. I love fantasy, I’ve read loads of it, and they still are my favorite. If you plan on reading them. Check them out and don’t read them in the chronological order, it ruins them. Read them in this order: LWW, PC, VODT, TSC, H&HS, MN, LB


  12. morgan #

    I think it will be a hit…it’s such a very magical tale…like most of the books…Prince Caspian was a bit of a dud…the movies can never approach the sheer wonder that the book offered me as an 8-9 year old boy. I read the series 7 times as a child…a rather shocking fact in retrospect…the stories were literally a narcotic to me as a child…

  13. Gohikeone #

    Daniel, excellent idea…especially since that’s how they were originally published and intended to be read by Lewis. I’m not sure what publishing company thought it would be a good idea to put them out in chronological order recently, but it truly destroys the magic and fun of all the stories falling together in the sixth book.

  14. Jolene #

    I really enjoyed Prince Caspian, however the studios removed a lot of minor and major details from the books. It was a bit of a disappointment, knowing they left things out or changed things. like the relationship between Peter and Caspian (in the books they were friends), Queen Prunaprismia is a red head not dark brown; there was never, ever a love thing between Caspian and Susan. Good Movie, however I really don’t think the producers or any of the big wigs ever read the books as a child!!!

  15. Janet Smith #

    I’m really glad they are making another one.

  16. Elaine #

    I just came across your article and enjoyed it for the most part. I have to agree with someone who left their comment that you do write beautifully. I do not totally agree with you on the Prince Caspian movie, though it wasn’t as good as the first Narnia movie, it wasn’t that bad either. I had not read the books until after seeing the first movie which I was dragged to kicking and screaming. I sure was glad after seeing it. I went out and bought all the books and read them and enjoyed them very much. I was 60 years old when I did this, so anyone at any age can fall in love with Narnia.

  17. 17

    I actually really liked the new Prince Caspian movie (and the actor who played him), mostly because I don’t remember that much of the book. I was more mad that they changed so many things in the first movie that would have been so easy to do right, like, the white witch should have had black hair, white skin and red lips, not hard to do; Lucy first entered Narnia at night, not in the daylight, again, easy to get right, but they didn’t care. Then there’s the classic dialogue that was totally missing. Oh well, reading the books will always be the best experience, seeing it in your mind.

  18. DJ Pete #

    Can’t wait to see this!

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