Voyage of discovery
Acclaimed director Michael Apted sits down on set in Queensland with ELAINE LIPWORTH to share his insights about making the third film based on the classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Pevensie children are already familiar to fans of the C.S. Lewis classic Narnia novels. The books tell the stories of their journeys to the enchanted world of Narnia that they initially discovered at the back of a wardrobe in the first book in the series, THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. That novel and its sequel PRINCE CASPIAN were adapted to create highly successful films.
In THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, the story centers not on Susan and Peter Pevensie but on their younger siblings Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), who undertake the voyage of a lifetime. The adventure begins in Cambridge, England, during World War II when the children are staying at the home of their unbearably irritating cousin Eustace Clarence Scrubb. All three are swallowed into a painting of a beautiful ship out at sea.
The children find themselves under the ocean and emerge above water to see the majestic Dawn Treader in front of them. They are hauled up on deck, where all except Eustace (who hates adventure and wants to go right back home) are thrilled to be on board, together again with their great friend Caspian (Ben Barnes), who is now King Caspian. Other familiar faces from Narnia include their friend Reepicheep, the brave warrior mouse.
These time-traveling children (and their obnoxious cousin) have once again entered a wondrous and fascinating world full of danger as well as magical adventure. They are whisked away on a mysterious journey to the Lone Islands and other strange lands. Caspian’s mission is to discover the fate of the seven noble Narnian Lords of Telmar who were sent into exile by his evil uncle.
On this bewitching voyage they confront magical Dufflepuds, sinister slave traders, dragons and enchanted merfolk. The future of Narnia itself is at stake.
This is also a transformational journey for all aboard the Dawn Treader. Initially at odds with each other, this ad hoc crew gradually discovers a deep sense of family and friendship.
The set in Australia, at a studio in Oxenford on the country’s beautiful Gold Coast in Queensland, is breathtaking. But the focal point of the action is the Dawn Treader itself, a stunning 140 foot ‘dragon’ boat with a dragon’s head on the bow and a tail on the end. Lovingly crafted from Oregon pine, this magnificent vessel weighs 125 tons. Created by an expert team under production designer Barry Robison, it looks completely authentic and majestic—today raised and suspended on a steel gimbal, 7 feet above ground in a sound stage.
Just walking around the Mediterranean-inspired set is like stepping back into history, or into a unique fantasy world. Today director Michael Apted is orchestrating a pivotal scene, a thrilling fight sequence. The adventurers have disembarked from the Dawn Treader and are in the picturesque town of Narrowhaven in Doorn, one of the Lone Islands. Taken prisoner by slave traders, they have to find a way to break free. Caspian’s crew has distracted the slave traders to facilitate the escape. High up on the balcony of one of the buildings, there is a dramatic action scene.
‘The Voyage of The Dawn Treader’ and C.S. Lewis’ other books in ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia’ were published between 1950 and 1956 and are widely regarded as classics.
The director of the first two films, Andrew Adamson returns as a producer, along with Mark Johnson and Philip Steuer. The executive producers are Perry Moore and C.S. Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham.
Michael Apted’s brilliant career spans four decades. He is one of the industry’s most respected documentarians. Early on, he began his formidable work in television with a groundbreaking film called SEVEN UP in 1964, focusing on fourteen 7-year-olds. It was to be the first in what has become an ongoing, award-winning series that examines the British class system in seven-year increments.
As a seasoned television director, Apted supervised a wide variety of projects including TV concerts by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He went on to become an award-winning television director in the UK.
His early films include AGATHA in 1979. His first international hit film was the acclaimed COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER in 1980. Apted‘s many diverse films over the past 25 years include GORILLAS IN THE MIST, CIVIL ACTION, THE NATIVE, THUNDERHEART, BLINK, NELL, EXTREME MEASURES, ENIGMA, ENOUGH, AMAZING GRACE and the James Bond drama, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.
In television, he directed several episodes of HBOʼs Emmy-winning series ROME (for which Apted himself won the DGA Award), and the drama ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED. Apted has continued to make documentaries such as INCIDENT AT OGLALA, BRING ON THE NIGHT and THE LONG WAY HOME. He has also continued directing and producing his SEVEN UP series, with six additional segments since its inception. The next installment, 56 UP, is scheduled for 2012. He produced American and Russian versions of the series.
The director sat down for the following interview on the set of THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER in Australia.
Q: What was the appeal of this movie for you?
A: “I was in the mood to do another big movie. I had done two smaller movies after the Bond film (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH) and some documentaries. Doing small movies is fun and you have a lot of independence, but it is hard to get people to go and see them. So I wanted to do something bigger and I liked the potential of the subject matter. Also I understood the potential, which always helps. They wanted to graft some serious emotional power into the story and not do another action-oriented film.”
Q: How familiar were you with ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’?
A: ”I wasn’t familiar with them. People ask me ‘did you read them when you were growing up?’ Well they weren’t written when I was growing up. C.S. Lewis didn’t write them until the 50s and I was born in the Second World War, in 1941, so the time when I would’ve been reading them they were still in his mind. I read them with my children, but I really had to read them all again to remember what they were all about; they were not a big feature of my parenting process.”
Q: When you did read them again, what is it that you found so interesting?
A: “From my point of view as someone coming into film three, what was interesting was how varied they are. You weren’t coming into a machine as it were. I am not denigrating HARRY POTTER or JAMES BOND or anything, but with those films there is already a superstructure built for you and you go into it and leave your fingerprints if you can. With this it seemed like a whole different world from the first two Narnia movies. So that gave me a chance to start from the ground up. It was a challenge. I did a Bond film and with that you are coming into an oiled machine and that is still fun, but with this one what was unique was that it was a whole different story from what had gone on previously. I think the overall feeling of the film is that it’s a magical adventure and a film filled with emotion, which is what interested me about it. I’ve got a big canvas but I’m telling a small emotional story and I like that challenge.”