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DUIN: ‘Narnia’ drifts from its vision

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2009

A year from now, "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" will be released in a theater near you. The filming for the third "Chronicles of Narnia" movie just wrapped up near Brisbane, Australia.

"Voyage," one of theologian C.S. Lewis' more entertaining tales about the adventures of a group of British children on a planet ruled by the godlike lion Aslan, was to be released in May 2009. Then, Walt Disney Pictures dumped the film in December 2008 and 20th Century Fox filled in as co-financier. The release date was moved back to May 2010, then to next December.

Considering some of the weird remarks uttered by directors and producers of the first two films: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in 2005 and "Prince Caspian" in 2008, one wonders whether the will and determination exist to finish the seven-part Narnia series.

Considering that "Chronicles" sold 100 million copies in 30 languages since their publication in the 1950s, there is a huge fan base for these epic tales. "The Lion, the Witch" grossed $745 million worldwide but "Prince Caspian," which veered substantially from the plot and downplayed the film's Christian message, grossed $420 million.

In a recent interview posted on NarniaWeb.com, Douglas Gresham, stepson to C.S. Lewis and the man who's supposed to be holding the line on what his stepfather would have wanted, said he was "ambivalent" on changes made in "Voyage." But, he was presented with a choice of either accepting those changes or not having a film.

And "Voyage" director Michael Apted, who has admitted to excising a lot of the religious connotations out of his 2007 film "Amazing Grace," sounds double-minded.

The Narnia films, he told Rhema FM, a New Zealand Christian radio station, "present a challenge, for me to put the material out there in an evenhanded and interesting way; and not to be, in a sense, narrow-minded about it, either narrow-minded in a faith way or narrow-minded in an agnostic way. I have to open my heart to what the stories are about."

"Narrow-minded in a faith way"? That's going to rev up Christians to see this movie.

Christian Web sites such as BullyPulpit.com have raised concerns about the filmmakers. For instance, executive producer Perry Moore is a gay activist and the author of "Hero," a 2007 book about the world's first gay teen superhero.

Now what if the executive producer of the gay-friendly film "Milk" had been a fundamentalist Christian? You'd hear plenty of questions about that.

Ted Baehr, publisher of Movie Guide and president of the Christian Film and TV Commission, read one of the earlier scripts for "The Lion, the Witch" and told me the movie would have veered in a bizarre direction had then-Disney President Dick Cook not "held the line."

As for "Voyage," Mr. Baehr is in touch with a script adviser who left the project a year ago.

"He said it was drifting from its Christian vision," Mr. Baehr said. "It was not expressing the intent of C.S. Lewis nor the true story of the Dawn Treader."

The makers of the Narnia movies can't afford any more "drift" if they wish to keep their religious fan base happy. There's plenty of evangelical Christian filmmakers and producers out there. Why couldn't Disney and now Fox hire them?

Julia Duin can be contacted at jduin@washingtontimes.com.