'Narnia' Revamps Marketing Focus

 By Robert Marich
   Dec. 6 2010—The third Narnia fantasy film, which 20th Century Fox is scheduled to open Friday, aims to get the mystical family franchise back to profitability, after the second installment underperformed. The Narnia series, which its producers hope will keep going like the seven title Harry Potter film franchise at Warner Bros., is an example of how marketing considerations shape the film itself, and not just the ad campaign.
    The second Narnia installment was “engineered with intense battle sequences to appeal to teenage boys, (but) turned off the religious crowd and sold about $420 million at the global box office, a sharply disappointing result for a film that cost about $350 million to make and market,” notes a New York Times article by Brooks Barnes. The $420 million was far short of the $745 million that the first installment grossed at cinemas worldwide.
   The revamp of content emphasizing action was blamed. The first installment The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was released in 2005. The second film was titled The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian and hit theaters in 2008. The new one is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The films are based on the C.S. Lewis-book series about children on an adventure to free a fantasy world from evil. The producer Walden Media optioned seven Narnia books that can be made into at least that many movies.
   Wardrobe was a hit with faith-based audiences as Christmas release. Then, Caspian was slotted into the more competitive peak summer period thinking it would do even better and its rougher content was showcased with some advertising promising, “You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.”  It was assumed the faith-based audience was in the bag, but instead shied away. Now, Dawn Treader is back to a Christmas holiday release date, like the first.
   Another new wrinkle is Dawn Treader will screen in 3D in many cinemas. A Los Angeles Times article says the second edition cost a bloated $240 million to make while the new version came in at a more restrained $155 million. The second edition ended up a roughly break-even movie.
   “Fox and Walden will spend about $100 million to market Dawn Treader around the world,” says the Los Angeles Times article by Claudia Eller and John Horn. “That could be money well spent: Each of the previous Narnia movies generated more than 60% of their ticket sales overseas.”
   Variety reports that Fox created local music for Dawn Treader’s release in India. “It has commissioned Indian Idol (talent TV show) winner Sreeram Chandra to perform a song in the Hindi, Tamil and Telugu languages for the end of the dubbed versions...that will unspool in the country,” says the Variety article. “Indian films are usually packed with songs and producers release the musicvideos to TV channels. These clips then air in heavy rotation before a film's release, serving as a promotional tool, one normally denied to Hollywood where films rarely feature songs.”
    Walt Disney Studios released the first two instalments, but walked away from the franchise citing both financial and creative concerns. 20th Century Fox stepped up for Dawn Treader, partnering with Walden Media that is owned by oil and media tycoon Philip Anschutz, who took big profits after buying the giant Regal movie theater circuit out of bankruptcy years ago.

   Hollywood seems to do best with mindless fantasy such as the Transformers movies. It’ll be interesting to see if Fox and Walden can make the more earnest and pro-social Narnia a lasting franchise.

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