Set Visit: The Chronicles of Narnia (1/2)

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…


As I read both The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew on my flight there, I got a fairly good grasp of the mythology and history of the many characters, human and animal, that inhabit the land of Narnia. I read the latter only because it comes first chronologically and I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss anything. Well, I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t even necessary as far as following the storyline goes. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first to be published in 1950 (it comes second chronologically) and just as it didn’t do the Star Wars franchise any harm to start mid-stream (episodes 4, 5, 6), I seriously doubt feel it’ll hinder this franchise-to-be either.

I found both books to be engrossing and escapist enough for me to get my mind off of flying, which I dread. However, what struck me most is how I’d already begun to picture and embrace some of these larger-than-life characters, particularly Aslan the Lion, the White Witch Jadis and Mr. Tumnus, the faun. I’d also started to wonder how they’d create some of the impressive and significant locales in the book: mainly the White Witch’s Courtyard and the Stone Table sequences. In other words, I’d begun to already feel strangely close to the story, with its cozy, familiar feel and otherworldly inhabitants.

Had I become a mini-fanboy already? Could it happen that fast? I had suddenly become quite curious as to how the filmmakers planned to capture this magical tale with it’s mythological creatures and talking beasts on celluloid…convincingly and competently. That isn’t to say I was skeptical per se, but like any fanboy (okay, mini-fanboy), they would have to convince me that they’re going in all guns a blazin’ and they were willing to go to any and all lengths to make certain this doesn’t turn into a colossal misjudgment and/or contamination of a beloved, world-renowned childhood book (and yes, that was directly aimed at the people who adapted/violated the Dr. Seuss books).

The filmmakers would have their hands full in attempting to bring the evil, beautiful White Witch Jadis, the Great Lion Aslan, the four brave Pevensie children and a multitude of centaurs, giants, hags, dryads, satyrs, goblins, beavers, wolves, fauns, eagles, cheetahs, boggles, ogres, minobaurs, minotaurs, horses, foxes, dwarves, lions, mice, reindeer, unicorns, Father Christmas (!), and all the other magical creatures from the land of Narnia - to life. In fact, the only beast not mentioned in the novel is Courtney Love.

For LOTR fans that are suffering withdrawal symptoms due to the conclusion of their trilogy, all is not lost as there are many similarities with this movie.

  • Trees with minds of their own

  • Dwarves

  • Strange lands and worlds

  • Both author’s first names are initialed (okay, I’m stretching)

  • Massive battles between good & evil

  • Both directors are native New Zealanders and shot their movies on their home soil

It’s no surprise both Tolkien and Lewis were good friends. Fortunately the Narnia books are hobbit-free and even more fortunately...the movie will be Astin-free. Coincidentally, I spotted Rudy in the hotel lobby the next day, when we made the trip to visit the Armageddon Pulp Convention in Wellington. Before continuing on, please read our coverage of the panel for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, at that convention, here, as a lot of what you can expect in the movie was discussed at length there.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book and/or need a refresher course on the plot, here is a basic summary of the movie’s plotline straight from its production notes: 

Lewis’ timeless adventure follows the exploits of the four Pevensie siblings – Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter – in World War II England who enter the world of Narnia through a magical wardrobe while playing a game of ‘hide-and-seek’ in the rural country home of an elderly professor. Once there, the children discover a charming, peaceful land inhabited by talking beasts, dwarfs, fauns, centaurs and giants that has become a world cursed to eternal winter by the evil White Witch, Jadis. Under the guidance of a noble and mystical ruler, the lion Aslan, the children fight to overcome the White Witch’s powerful hold over Narnia in a spectacular battle that will free Narnia from Jadis’ icy spell forever.

So, let’s begin…

Things got started pretty quickly, as we (I was accompanied by four other web-journalists) were whisked off to the soundstages and production offices of the film soon after checking into our hotel rooms in the city of Aukland. Ernie Malik, the film’s location publicist was the one who showed us around for most of our 5-day tour and coordinated the cast & crew interviews that we did - we’ll be posting those in the coming weeks/months. As far as the sets go, we were asked not to take photographs so I’ll describe, as best I can, what I saw.


The White Witch’s Courtyard was the first one we were taken to and it was easily the one that impressed me most. We saw close to two dozen life-size creatures (meaning there weren’t any miniatures), frozen in statuesque form and in mid-animation; all very eerie, precise and realistic. 90+ creatures, we were told, had been constructed in this form. The other statues will be used in the lengthy final battle between good & evil at the tail end of the film. The gray and stony centaurs (male & female), hedgehogs, lions, boars, bears, rhinos and the rest all looked truly extraordinary but nothing was more awing and magnificent than Rumblebuffin the giant, frozen in space with his weapon raised above his head (in mid-battle) with that horrific, fierce look on his face. Close to three times my height, it was odd to see the giant that I had read about for the first time on the plane just a few hours ago, in front of me and among all the rest of Aslan’s virtuous “soldiers” – dead, for the time being.

One other “statue” that stood out for me and brought a smile to my face was one I spotted in a corner further away from the rest. It was of an extremely detailed dwarf couple, man and wife, holding one another and pointing upwards, presumably just as they got ‘zapped’ by the witch’s wand. It was the one time I was truly tempted to sneak my camera out, had I brought it along…

The courtyard itself is completely surrounded by ice, which will look even grander in scale when the CG-techies are done with it. There is a scattering of ghostly, leafless trees as well in the area. On another visit there we got to meet the director, Andrew Adamson (Shrek, Shrek 2), who kindly introduced himself to us and took a fiver away from behind the camera. A long, blond-haired hippie looking type (and that’s a good thing), he was pleased to see and hear our reactions about the majestic set. This was the first time I spotted Aslan’s head as well; it was probably there for lighting purposes. I’m not certain if it was attached to its body or not, as it was behind a lot of camera equipment, trees and statues but it stood out mainly because it was the only thing of color and life in the otherwise dank, colorless and graveyard-like surroundings. If this set, which comes into play at a key point in the movie, was any indication of the effort they’re putting into this film, then we were sure not to be disappointed with the rest…

Before leaving that set, we were escorted to a gigantic Mac computer that the director of photography, Don McAlpine, fiddles with. On it, we were shown movie stills from the opening 20 minutes of the film, from the children’s evacuation from war-torn London up to and including the famed magical wardrobe, which had a variety of trees encrusted on it; undoubtedly there to symbolize the Narnian apple tree it was built out of and which gave it its power. The period look of the Pevensie kids, rubble-riddled London, railway stations and the professor’s country house blew all of our minds. The thought and care put into every detail of the costumes and production design, was enough to rival any from a Merchant/Ivory picture. It was really that good…


Source: JoBlo.com



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