The trajectory of The Chronicles of Narnia seemed as clear as it was tragic:
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005): $745 million in ticket salesworldwide, 76 percent fresh.
Extrapolate that data out and you're staring at a third film that cost $200 million to make, earns back only $100 million, and ends up being liked by around 58 percent of critics (or "rotten"). Which is precisely why Walt Disney said "No, thanks" when the option of actually making a third Narnia was presented to them. This was a franchise on the wane.
But today brings a renewed sense of hope for the Narnia franchise, and from our friends at 20th Century Fox, no less. We recently screened 30 minutes of footage from Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader and can report that the film looks, at the very least, to be an improvement on the first two -- quite a feat. When's the last time the third film was the best in a series? Police Academy?
*Note: If you don't want spoilers, stop now, safe in the knowledge that we enjoyed what we saw of the new film. It looks to be part Harry Potter, part Lord of the Rings, part Stardust, a movie finally befitting the lofty status of the source material.
Here's a look at the scenes we screened:
Edmund Pevensie desperately wants to sign up for active military duty in World War II, but alas, he's too young. Lucy and Edmund head home, Edmund dejected because he's led armies back in Narnia. The siblings are living in England, separated from Peter and Susan, who reside in America. Their annoying younger cousin Eustace comes in to berate Lucy and Edmund for even believing in Narnia when an oceanic painting starts to come alive, launching the trio onto Prince Caspian's ship, the Dawn Treader.
Sword fight on the boat
Eustace steals / hoards an orange and Reepicheep calls him on it, challenging him to a duel on board the Dawn Treader. The chief mouse teaches him to fight while avoiding every parry, alternating the pummeling of Eustace with witty banter.
Planning the adventure
It's explained to Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace that they must gather seven swords together to fight off a great evil. This scene takes place in a room with a living map, and as the adventure is explained the map moves to show the group where they are headed, and the danger they can expect.
Lucy finds a "Book of Incantations," where she wishes she was as beautiful as Susan. It should be noted at this point that Peter and Susan don't appear to be in this film for anything more than cameo visual appearances.
A star come to life
The group starts finding the swords when they come across a group of ancient (and frozen) kings. A star comes down from the sky to counsel them, and both Caspian and Edmund are captivated by her.
Turned into a dragon
A central character is turned into a dragon, and Reepicheep is forced to regale with a story to keep the dragon's spirits up.
The water battle
A massive battle between a sea monster, the Dawn Treader, and the dragon. No more than a minute of this climactic scene was shown.
The trio meets Aslan the Lion on a beach, right at the entrance to his homeland. A central character makes a difficult choice.
I really liked the look of the effects, much better this time around, and director Michael Apted seems to have finally nailed some of the pacing and tonal issues that plagued the series. Plus, who doesn't want to see a dragon in a movie?
Fans of the series will be pleased, and I think the movie has a legitimate chance to improve on what we've seen from the first two films. That said, I only saw 30 minutes, and not in the 3-D format the film will be presented in. So we'll all have to just sit tight until December 10, 2010, for the final verdict, but I'm cautiously optimistic about the final product.