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One of the most highly anticipated film of the holiday season, The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader is about to be released. The Chronicles of Narnia is one of the most popular and praised children books and has spore a number of adaptations, so it is time for a retrospective and look into the future.
There are seven books in the Narnia series, all written by C.S. Lewis from 1949 to 1954. Lewis was one of the most renowned scholars of his generation, teaching at the University of Cambridge and Magdalene College, Oxford and a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien. Influenced by his experience with children during the evaluation during the Second World War and his academic background, he wanted to make a Christian allegory in a fantasy setting. The novels' popularity has endured to this day, loved by children and adults.
Before the Disney adaptations, The Chronicles of Narnia had been adapted three times. The first was an ABC TV series of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which was made up of ten episodes that ran for 30 minutes each. But only two episodes have survived and there is no DVD release. The second adaptation was also a solo attempt of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, an animated version by Bill Melendez, director of the Peanuts series in 1979. This adaptation won Emmys but time has been cruel, with its animation unable to complete with classic animated film.
The biggest adaptation was the BBC TV series in the late '80s/early '90s. This series was the first attempt to adapt more than The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. They adapted four of the books. The effects were crude and it was ridiculous having actors dressed as animals, but Barbara Kellerman, who was in all series, was excellent as the White Witch and the costume for Aslan was good considering its limitations. The BBC series lacked an epic feel.
The Disney Films
In the early part of this century, high fantasy become a profitable genre with Lord of the Rings and “Harry Potter” making studio heads very happy. The genre was treated seriously and did not suffer from camp clichés. Disney wanted in on the action and found the perfect source material in The Chronicles of Narnia. It was popular, it has big action and there were seven books, meaning they could see seven money-making films. An added bonus was the strong Christian message, resulting in a massive potential Christian audience. But C.S. Lewis was against a film adaptation, believing a film would never capture the magic of books and give the creatures a realistic look. Lewis’ grandson produced the films.
New Zealand-born director Andrew Adamson understood how to make fun fantasy after making the first two Shrek films. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the most popular and well known out of all the books, so an obvious place to start. Adamson made a light-hearted, fun adventure with humour, action, epic battles and grand set designs. A young cast of unknowns was recruited with Liam Neeson and Tilda Swanson adding experience in a project that did not need big stars. The Christian parallels were obvious to even people who did not know Christianity that well. Its successful run was proven with a $745 million box-office total and a solid critical reception.
The second film Prince Caspian had a bigger budget but made less money, $419 million and the critical reception was 67% on Rotten Tomatoes. Adamson made this film darker, with gloomy themes of murder, oppression and a genocide, a gamble that sadly did not pay off. But it was still an enjoyable film.
When Prince Caspian disappointed at the box-office Disney dropped the series thinking it was not viable in the long-term. Walden Media was alone, but it had a new marriage proposal from 20th Century Fox. The budget was slashed to $140 million and the production moved to Queensland, Australia (a nice part of the world). Adamson has stepped back and director Michael Apted has taken over. Apted is know for making low-key character dramas like Gorillas in the Mist, Engima and Amazing Grace, but is not stranger to action, making The World is Not Enough (a very underrated Bond film). His appointment reminds me of when “Harry Potter” recruited Mike Newell, a seasoned and respected director given the charge to play with a massive budget.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has been retrofitted into 3D as one would expect these days. We have to wait and see if it was a wise move or just cashing on a fad: I personally believe the latter.
This adventure see two of the Pevensie children leaving the series but Lucy and Edmund will be joined with their cousin, Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter). The story goes away from the borders of Narnia and takes to the seas to find a new land, expanding on the view of the world. The trailer shows that the new film should be more light hearted then Prince Caspian and be a little like “Harry Potter”.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has yet to reach our theaters, but the sequel, The Silver Chair, is of course a possibility. On IMDB it still has a 2011 release, which would be impossible at this time. All obviously depends on the success of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and if it does not deliver the series may be rested for a while. Apted could return or the producers may see fit to find another director and bring a different style to the series.
After The Silver Chair there is the potential two further films and a prequel, though The Last Battle has been accused of being anti-Catholic (it worked for The Da Vinci Code).