Set Visit: The Chronicles of Narnia (2/2)
Part 1 / Part 2
When I got the call from JoBlo, in late September, asking me if I’d be interested in flying to New Zealand to visit the set of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, I immediately cursed him out and promptly hung up! I’d made it very clear to him after we saw THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING in December of ’03 that I’d had my fill of hobbits, enough in fact, to last me a lifetime.
Truth be told, I like the LOTR films (the first and last one anyway), but those hobbits were beginning to haunt me in my dreams, and not the fun Jennifer Love Hewitt kind of “haunting” either. However, after I hung up, I did some research and discovered that C.S. Lewis’ seven books about the adventures in the land of Narnia are altogether different from J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbit trilogy. It was an honest mistake on my part, you see, instead of growing up reading Dr. Seuss and C.S. Lewis’ wonderful childhood tales, I was instead enjoying a steady diet of Mad magazine and Archie comic books (thanks for nothing mom & dad!). So I called JoBlo back to apologize, took his chastisement for about a half hour, went to the bookstore to buy some of Lewis’ books and then boarded a plane to the land right under the land down under…
THE WHITE WITCH’S GREAT HALL
The next soundstage we visited was the White Witch’s Great Hall, as they’ve come to call it. It was a colossal completely iced over ballroom-like locale which showcased at the far end her glorious and immense throne (naturally larger than normal as the witch is larger than humans, as mentioned in the book). Huge columns surrounded the room and a large green screen enveloped the entire background of the area as they intend to make the room even larger in scope and feel. A crewmember was walking around with a special video-recorder capturing every angle and dimension of the place, which was in turn being fed into a nearby computer. This would allow them free reign to manipulate the entire 3D range of the witch’s hall. All that to say it would look even more grandiose than it already was. Again, having just pictured this room a little earlier during my reading, I was happily surprised to see the vision they ended up with for this place. This is the room in which Edmund shows up about halfway through the book, without his siblings, much to the dismay and fury of the Witch. That scene, we were told, had already been shot.
THE GREAT ICE RIVER FLOW
Next, we were brought to a soundstage that can best be described as a frozen over waterfall or ‘The Great Ice Flow River” as they’ve come to dub it. It’s here where they shot the sequence in which the wolves are in pursuit of the children. This is one of the scenes that isn’t, word for word, from the book. The children will basically be cornered on a large chunk of ice on the river, surrounded by wolves at which point one of them will pull out the staff Father Christmas had given to him before, puncture the ice and break free into the river, away from the predators. Dean Wright, the movie’s visual effects supervisor expanded a little regarding this particular set:
“Also, the kids come upon a frozen waterfall and that’s going to be a huge sequence for us because we’re going to use a combination of miniatures and CG ice, CG water and all that stuff and as the kids run across the ice, the idea is it gets more and more precarious for them. We’ll have ice cracking and water gushing and all sorts of craziness will be going on around while they’re trying to make their way across the waterfalls.“
THE CAIR PARAVEL
Off to the side we spotted several intricate columns, which we were told are to be used in the castle of Cair Paravel, where the four youngsters are meant to rule as the first Kings and Queens of Narnia and where a huge party will be held in their honor. We dropped by that set in the Cair Paravel on a later day. It was an immense ballroom-type hall that the filmmakers plan to make even larger with CG. But as it was, it was the least complex of the sets we’d seen so far, just a large, royal looking reception hall.
THE STONE TABLE
The stone table set was, in a word, simple; and I’m glad for it. It’s high atop a little hill they’ve built in one of the soundstages, fourteen steps up, to be exact. There is also a large crack that runs right down the middle of the steps. It would have been a shame if they’d added a bunch of “bells and whistles” to what, as described in the book anyway, is a very straightforward looking stone table, lifted up by a few small stones in the middle of the forest. The table had some ancient symbols and writings on it and was surrounded by about 8 or 9 Stonehenge-like columns. I was tempted to rush up and lay upon it just so I could tell people I touched it for years to come, until I recognized how sad an that idea was. Besides, there were “KEEP OFF THE GRASS” signs all over the place. We re-visited this set later on to interview the director. In that instance, they had Aslan laying upon it…
THE NARNIAN WOODS - MR. and MRS. BEAVER’S LODGE
On our final day, we were driven down to a soundstage in the countryside, in Wainui, to what was easily the most realistic and cozy looking set I’d ever stood in. Picture a veritable winter wonderland as the recreation of the snowy wooded areas where Mr. and Mrs. Beaver’s lodge stands as well as where Mr. Tumnus makes his home. The soundstage, which is as big as the renowned Pinewood studios in England (where they shoot the Bond films), was packed with real trees (200+) all drenched in the most genuine looking snow I’d ever seen (and I’m from Canada). The authentic look was created with a combination of detergent-type materials, paper snow, insulated foam and Epson salts. The entire venture took them 10-12 weeks to build and 8 meters in the ground to dig into.
The enormity of the forest was a little overwhelming. All of us standing there, having come from outside, into another outside, into another world, well, damn it, it was almost as though we’d crossed through our own version of a magical wardrobe (yikes, did I just write that?). What my very bad analogy was trying to suggest is that the forest had all the romance and magic you’d imagine the Narnian woods would have, and then some. We all just stood there, silent for a few minutes taking it all in. From the detail of the acorns on the trees, to the Beaver’s little hut below us, it was truly a place and time plucked straight from the pages of C.S. Lewis’ book. The spell was broken when I spotted the two stuffed Mr. & Mrs. Beavers and Father Christmas passed out in the brush. Okay, Father Christmas wasn’t there but the beaver “stuffies” were and I did get a chuckle from seeing them. They’re just visual aids, of course…
Then they broke out the WOLVES for us. Okay, it was one wolf, but we did go and see the other nine, most of them siblings, later on. The wolves are actually half-huskies, half-wolves and have very crucial roles in the film. Not only is one of them the witch’s main henchwolf, Maugrim, but they also chase the kiddies across the perilous waterfalls and break into the Beaver’s abode for some investigating about halfway through the movie. We were told we could break out our cameras and snap a few pictures of the wolf. Behind it, you can see part of the Narnian woods that I just described.
THE FINAL BATTLE SCENE
During our 5-day visit, we were also brought to an office to view a sort of ‘animated storyboard’ or pre-visualization on one of their computers. The sequence was to be the final battle scene at the end of the film and it lasted about 8 to 10 minutes. Although it was computer animated, it was still interesting to see the vision they had for the extended conflict that precedes the ultimate finale of the book and movie. Seeing Peter in his armor and battle gear, sitting bravely on his horse, no longer a boy but a man leading his “troops” on the battlefield looked satisfying enough, but it was when both sides finally collided, with all the different species and creatures clashing, fighting for their lives, that was when I got a real idea of how momentous the filmmakers want to make this ultimate struggle between good and evil. Eagles dropping huge chunks of ice on the enemies from up above and seeing all the dwarves, good and bad, heading towards one another, battleaxes, arrows and all, were just a couple of the many highlights of the clip.
Bear in mind, this is only a preview of what they’re aiming at, but if the pre-vis is any indication of what’s to come, the battle will rival some of the best we’ve seen from recent movie epics.
[insert image of both sides clashing in battle]
When our five-day roller coaster ride in and around the world of Narnia came to a close, I was not only having horrific nightmares of being attacked by minotaurs every night, but I was also left with the feeling that, LWW has the potential of being to all those who are young at heart what LOTR was to players of Dungeons and Dragons worldwide – a truly special and memorable experience. I’d even venture to guess that someday, with a possible Narnian franchise on the horizon, the name Andrew Adamson might carry the same weight and importance as that of Peter Jackson’s. Time will tell, I suppose...
Uh, actually, the box office numbers in December of ‘05 will tell… I guess the previous line just sounded cooler.
I’d like to end this report with a special shout out to Jack and Clay (the Disney reps) and to the four super slick online film journalists that I traveled with; one very cool lady and 3 badass gents, who not only made this set visit twice as exciting and memorable as previous ones I’d been to, but also promised to stand by our edict of “Whatever happens in Aukland, stays in Aukland.” Let’s break out the vegemite and the meatpies, friends...
Stay tuned to JoBlo.com for Q&A’s we conducted with the cast and crew of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE in the coming weeks and months.