The lion wrestles the big ape

narnia aslan2In the movie King Kong, the giant ape takes out a slew of dinosaurs in dramatic fashion. Too bad he didn’t have a chance to tussle with the Lion!

The storyline in this box office battle is great fun when it comes to pitting the mighty death-defying lion with the seemingly invincible great ape, and it no doubt includes a bit of the culture wars. The Los Angeles Times‘ R. Kinsey Lowe pontificates:

The end of the year played out with a resurgent “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” taking in $32.8 million on its fourth weekend to conquer “King Kong,” which grossed an estimated $31.6 million over the four-day New Year’s weekend.

It does not come as news that Hollywood closed the year with box office down on the order of 5% and attendance off by about 7%, according to tracking service Exhibitor Relations Co. (See related story, E1). But the box office drop of nearly $400 million, to $8.8 billion, is one of the biggest decreases on record, according to rival tracking firm Nielsen EDI. Exhibitor Relations calculates the drop in revenue is even bigger, from $9.4 billion to $8.9 billion.

Disney’s bid to establish a bankable family movie franchise on the order of the “Harry Potter” series appears to have succeeded, as business for “The Chronicles of Narnia” increased enough to beat the newer “Kong,” which opened to much weaker numbers than anticipated.

“King Kong” surpassed “Narnia” over the four-day Christmas weekend with a Sunday-Monday boost, but the Disney movie directed by “Shrek” veteran Andrew Adamson outperformed Peter Jackson’s extravaganza on every day since then.

kongI’ve seen both films and enjoyed both immensely. I would say that a major reason people aren’t seeing Kong as much is due to its length. It’s arguably the better film cinematically, but Narnia appeals to a broader viewing audience and isn’t three hours long (no exaggeration).

Ross Douthat, a regular blogger at the American Scene blog, a reporter at the Atlantic magazine and a recent guest blogger for Andrew Sullivan, has an excellent roundup of the movie box office battles. Here are some of his thoughts on the future of the Narnia series on the big screen:

I’m a little surprised by this turn, in part because in spite of being smack in the middle of the target demographic for Philip Anschutz’s big project, I actually preferred Kong to Narnia (my complaints about the latter are here), though both were miles from perfect. (Steve Sailer has it right — there were two hours of a great movie in Kong, but unfortunately the film was three hours long.) But it’s still gratifying that Narnia’s doing well, if only because it means they’ll film the later books — and hopefully, as with the Harry Potter movies, the adaptations will get better as they go along.

Unfortunately, the one they’ve started on, Prince Caspian, is one of the weakest of the seven — and the one after that, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is pretty dull as well. (If there’s any Narnia book where the religious allegory gets in the way of the story, it’s Dawn Treader.) And it would be a shame if audience interest dries up before they get around to The Horse and His Boy, or The Magician’s Nephew, or my personal favorite, The Silver Chair. (I’m hoping for Jeremy Irons as Puddleglum . . .)

Can the Chronicles of Narnia adapted by Hollywood match the hype and the popularity of the Harry Potter movies? I wouldn’t be able to judge Potter because I haven’t read or scene any of the movies, but I’ll be looking for articles making that type of comparison.

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  • andy chamberlain

    In my family (there are four of us) all of us when to see the lion, but only two of us went to see the ape. So while mum and dad and the kids wanted to do Narnia, mum and younger child thought King Kong would be hard going and stayed at home.

    I doubt whether the number crunchers could work out whether this effect has happened on a large scale, but it would be interesting to know. So whilst KK might attract a broader spectrum of people, has it lost some from within family groups because of the content?

    I am not sure for us the length was an issue, we all trooped off to see each of the three LOTR epics.

    Also, my guess is that the Narnia series wont be as big as Potter in the end, and if I were at Walden Media, or Disney, I would resist the comparison. Narnia will still do well, better than anything Disney has done on it’s own for a while I suspect (Pixar gems excluded there) so even if each HP grosses $300m and each Narnia grosses $250m to $200m – neither studio has lost.

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  • tmatt

    I have decided not to see Kong, at this point, because my family does not want to see Andy Serkis’ head sucked off by a giant leach, or whatever. People are telling us that the effects are amazing, but a bit too much and that the story is hollow. So my wife has no interest in it.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, a Kong-like ape does beat up some lions in the original 1949 version of Mighty Joe Young (which was produced and directed by the same people who produced and directed the original 1933 version of King Kong). I can’t remember if that scene was replicated in the 1998 remake.

    Personally, I found both Narnia and Kong rather mediocre. I can’t say I have a preference. Though Kong does have moments of beauty that are sorely lacking from Narnia.

  • Molly

    Ironic that the code word for commenting on this post is “blow”.

    No, I don’t fix that word to the movie, but I was not “blown away” which is what the previews seemed to be promising.

    Any epic movie filmed for the next 60-70 years will suffer dreadfully in comparison to THE epic movie, The Lord of the Rings. Everything about those three movies flowed, fit, and fascinated.

    Lucy Pevensie (or the child who played her) was captivating but Susan was annoying, Edmund sulked far too effectively, and Peter wasn’t bad but didn’t set the screen on fire, either.

    Tilda Swinton was great as the White Witch, but I agree that her fear of Aslan was not palpable; in the book she was quaking in her boots because she knew she was in the presence of the true king. Her glee at Aslan’s sacrifice in the book was total; in teh movie she came across as blase.

    Taking the power out of Aslan was not a good idea – it has made what could have been a great movie an okay one that will bring in enough box office to get a sequel made, but not much beyond that. Too bad.

  • matt

    The Narnia movie could have been better. One of my my memories of the books from my reading when I was a child of 9 (almost 30 years ago) is of Aslan telling Peter to wipe the blood off of his sword. I missed that scene in the movie. What it told me as a boy was that sometimes killing was necessary, but never something to glory in.

    I saw the version of King Kong that came out in the 1970s. Why see it again? Is the story different? Also, I have a 3 year old who goes to movies with me. He is kind of like my filter. Would I want him to see the sensuality in KK? I remember the 1970′s version was very suggestive. I figure if my little boy shouldn’t see it, I probably shouldn’t either. So, my family saw Narnia, but probably won’t see KK.

  • Scott

    So is it okay matt for your three year old to see Narnia? I figure since it’s PG and there are a number of killings, people being turned to stone, etc. No sex, but violence and some blood.

  • Jeff the Baptist

    “Unfortunately, the one they’ve started on, Prince Caspian, is one of the weakest of the seven – and the one after that, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is pretty dull as well.”

    Caspian isn’t the strongest or most cinematic book. But Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a favorite among a lot of people and is very cinematic. It is a great adventure novel.

  • Ann Rodgers

    I haven’t seen Kong, but I’ve been to Narnia four times between a preview and taking various combinations of my seven children and step- children (ages 15-21). No, it’s not a perfect movie, but it’s captivating, the kids loved it, and it got the big stuff — and a lot of small stuff — right.
    Some changes had to be made because the Chronicles are very thin little books for children. It was precisely the opposite problem that the Lord of the Rings posed, where there was no way to pack all of the stuff in the books into the movies. Narnia needed padding, and it was done well.
    Personally, I thought that some of the children’s references to concerns back home were much more realistic than in the books. In Lion, you would never know World War II was going on past a brief reference on page 1. The movie keeps the children in context. Susan — who is supposed to be annoying, if you’ll recall the books — is making a very good point when she says that their mother sent them away to keep them out of a war, and counsels against getting into one in Narnia.
    I also thought that the scene of Edmund with Tumnus in prison was very effective, and showed ideas from the book that would have been impossible to portray as Lewis described them. Lewis’ description of the working of Turkish Delight on Edmund’s soul is a brillint essay on sin, but would never work cinematically. The prison scene was a brilliant wasy of depicting Edmund’s fall — complete with the witch’s reference to the candy.
    My worst disappointment was in the conversation that Peter and Susan had with Professor Kirk when they thought Lucy was losing her mind. In the book there is no hint that the professor has been to Narnia. But he uses reason to help the children consider the possibility of taking Lucy seriously. This was a nod by Lewis to one of his former professors, who had taught him how to think, and an illustration of his belief that the Christian faith was reasonable in the most literal sense of the word. I don’t object to the movie tipping us off that the professor knows about Narnia — because we learn that in the Magicians Nephew. But I was troubled that his statement about what children are taught in schools these days was removed from all context, and especially that his appeal was more to family togetherness and emotion than to pure reason. I thought that truly violated the spirit of Lewis.
    I was also a bit peeved that the cinematic beavers weren’t smart enough to get away as soon as they realized Edmund was gone — but movies need dramatic tension. And I very much liked the way the movie showed the valiant commitment of the animals to their faith, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves to fulfill the prophecy and serve Aslan. That was stronger than in the books.
    Narnia will never be The Lord of the Rings because it never was. It is what it is in its own right — a powerful children’s story with important lessons for adults. I loved it.

  • Dan Berger

    Matt, the Jessica Lange (’70s) version of KK is an abomination. If you’ve seen it, no wonder you don’t care to see another run at the story!

    Jackson has explicitly and publicly distanced himself from it, and has said that his movie is an homage to the 1933 version that includes “the most audacious cut in cinema history,” when you go from Kong lying on the beach to Kong headlining at the palace with no hint of how to get from point A to point B. Jackson, of course, reproduced that cut faithfully.

    Jackson (and Naomi Watts) do do an excellent job of generating chemistry between Beauty and the Beast, helped along by the fact that Kong was a digitally-modified live actor (Andy Serkis, who else?)

    Apparently not every reviewer pays attention to what directors say, because one Major Newspaper reviewer complained bitterly about that cut.

    Jackson’s movie is pretty good in the morals department, with little more than Hollywood kisses (Ann Darrow, in particular, is a “good girl” though the camera cuts away after she kisses the hero in his cabin), but the action is definitely far too intense for a three-year-old.

    My 12-year-old son loved it.

  • Dan Berger

    Oops. My second and third paragraphs should be reversed. Can’t we put a “preview” feather on this blog?

  • Dan Berger

    Third and fourth, actually. Whatever.

  • matt

    Scott, at age three I don’t mind if he plays soldier. (“No greater love…”) But I don’t want him playing doctor until there is a ring on his finger. :)

  • Phil Blackburn

    As an epic fantasy with religious overtones, and as the first in a potentially massively lucrative movie series, comparisons with Harry Potter and with Lord of the Rings are inevitable. These comparisons are not really like-for-like: Harry Potter is a modern children’s series where the books are a massive hit among children themselves, whereas the Narnia books are old-fashioned children’s books whose appeal, it seems to me, is more to adults remembering their own childhoods. Lord of the Rings, although roughly contemporary with Narnia, is an adult series with much more depth and detail.

    The LWW film is not just a fantasy epic like the other two though, it follows them in time – the LoR trilogy is completed, and has set an incredible standard, whilst the HP series is growing and maturing. LWW is effectively second generation and needed to be better than its predecessors. In my view it failed. Narnia’s special effects look weedy compared to LoR, whilst its excitement and sense of adventure are easily trumped by the first HP.

    Nevertheless LWW is making good money, and mending fences for Disney with conservative Christian groups, so sequels seem inevitable. Hopefully the sequels will see considerable improvements in direction (directing?) and script quality.

  • Eric Phillips

    Most people I know think Dawn Treader is the best of the lot, actually.

  • David

    I don’t know what the S#(! you are all complaining about with LWW. What a great movie, I loved it lots. come on, what story line is there with KK apart from love, if you could call it that. PJ version of LOTR is brilliant, however JRRT is a master, so PJ following in the shadow of JRRT to make LOTR a hit was a giver.So long story short. Don’t compare LOTR or LWW to KK.