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Middle-Earth Behind, Narnia Ahead

This year, no “Lord of the Rings” installment awaits moviegoers at the cinema. Next year, however, another literary behemoth will explode onto screens worldwide.

“The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” the first in C.S. Lewis’ beloved “The Chronicles of Narnia” series, is expected to unspool in December 2005.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
With Andrew Adamson (“Shrek”) at the helm of this live-action adaptation by screenwriter Ann Peacock, “Lion” is already kicking up lots of cyberdust. Production began in June and is expected to wrap shortly.
 
“Lion” tells the story of four youngsters sent to live in the country house of an old professor during <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />London’s air raids in World War II. While there, the children discover a magical wardrobe that transports them to the land of Narnia—a fantastical place but one stuck in perpetual winter on account of the White Witch. A great lion named Aslan, however, enters their lives and alters the course of Narnia.
 
“Lion,” originally published in 1950, is worth mentioning in the same breath as “Rings” for several reasons:
 
First, the upcoming “Narnia” films are being shot in New Zealand, where all three “Rings” installments were produced.
 
Second, New Zealand-based Weta Workshop is handling the special effects for “Lion.” That’s the same company that produced effects for “Rings.”
 
Third, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings,” was best friends with C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
 
“Lion” is being produced by Walden Media, which was founded to produce family-friendly fare, and it has done so (“Holes,” “I Am David”). The film will be distributed by Walt Disney Studios—a fact that has some people squirming, apparently afraid that Disney will “secularize” or otherwise ruin the Christian themes present in Lewis’ work.
 
That’s not likely to happen, as Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, is a co-producer of the film. Gresham has already expressed his commitment to making sure the films retain the themes so dear to Lewis.
 
The deal between Walden and Disney will apply to production and distribution of the other six novels in the “Narnia” series, which will likely happen if box-office receipts are solid.
 
While some of the actors in “Lion” are relative unknowns, others have long and distinguished careers. Tilda Swinton, whose credits include “Adaptation” and “Vanilla Sky” will be the White Witch, Rupert Everett (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”) will be the voice of the Fox, and Brian Cox (“The Bourne Identity,” “The Rookie”) has just been announced as the voice of Aslan.
 
Productions of this magnitude are often shrouded in secrecy, as the public’s demand for information is nearly insatiable. Even the movie’s official Web site, www.narnia.com, is skimpy on details.
 
But between now and this time next year, those needing a Narnia fix can log on to various fan sites, like www.narniaweb.com, where pictures, gossip, fact and excitement co-mingle.
 
And who knows—maybe the big item next Christmas season won’t be a video game or cell phone, but “one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
 
Useful links:
 
http://www.narnia.com/
 
http://www.narniaweb.com/
 
http://www.virtualnarnia.com/