April 22, 2014

“Chronicles of Narnia” cast dishes on special effects, lion’s heads, and possible sequels


By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Sitting on a bus as we returned to our hotel following the world premiere of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” a handful of journalists enjoyed an enlightening and refreshingly pure conversation with an elite group of people we don’t always have access to: die-hard, unapologetic, non-cynical film fans.

A mother and her teenage daughters had flown to London from the States to attend the premiere. Mom won the trip by entering a “Narnia” contest. As part of their prize, they were able to attend the premiere with Queen Elizabeth II and the “Narnia” cast, which included director Michael Apted and Liam Neeson.

The teen girls could care less about Neeson, and even less about the Queen (no offense to either). Their passionate conversation revolved around “Narnia” hunks Ben Barnes and Skandar Keynes. They rated their current favorite film franchises, debating whether “Narnia” ranked higher than the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” films. And they argued over which “Narnia” film was best.

“She likes ‘Prince Caspian,’” one girl said, pointing at her companion. “But she’s a violent girl. She likes the battle scenes!”

“I do,” the other girl replied with a giggle. “But that’s why I liked this one. I loved the battle scenes. And Ben!”

This sent them into hysterics. They clearly were having a blast revisiting “Narnia” for a third time, and their enthusiasm was contagious. So when I sat down with the “Narnia” cast the next day, I asked them which films they eagerly anticipated as teenagers, because I wanted to know which films would set them off on such joyous highs as the teenage girls on our bus.

“Anything that advanced the medium,” said Keynes, who returns a pensive Edmund Pevensie for a third “Narnia” adventure. “I’m interested in anything that pushes the envelope in terms of storytelling and special effects.

Then he’s definitely going to support “Dawn Treader.” Under the direction of Apted, this installment rediscovers the mystical heft of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” while also raising the bar when it comes to action. While large chunks of “Dawn Treader” are set on the boat of the title, Apted uses that as an excuse to stage thrilling battles with treacherous sea serpents and monstrous aerial fights with fire-breathing dragons.

But at the heart of “Dawn Treader” lies the relationship between young Lucy Pevensie (Georgie Henley) and Aslan, the lion king of Narnia who is voiced by Neeson. I aksed Henley, now a mature young woman, about the continuing challenge of acting alongside a special effect, and she acknowledged that it remained difficult but that her crew was extremely accommodating.

“Instead of a tennis ball, I’d be delivering my heartfelt lines to a man holding a lion head, or wearing a lion on his chest,” Henley said with a laugh. “It helped.”

It didn’t help Neeson, who told me he deeply regretted the fact that his work was done in a recording booth, off the set and away from the children. “I did want to be in the field. I wanted to be on location, working with the movie crew. I wanted to be with the kids,” Neeson said. “I regret that. I wish I had met them instead of at the premiere, which is what happens nowadays.”

Perhaps he’ll get another shot. “The Dawn Treader” clearly sets up a fourth installment, and seems prepared to pass the torch to newcomer Will Poulter, who plays initially annoying but eventually heroic cousin Eustace Scrubb. When I asked Poulter, who stole scenes in the fantastic “Son of Rambow,” if he was prepared to carry the “Narnia” franchise in a fourth adventure, he let a little spark twinkle in his eye before towing the company line. “We’ll have to just wait and see how this one does now, won’t we?” he said.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is in theaters now.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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