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Fox agrees to step in on next ‘Narnia’ movie

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Twentieth Century Fox has agreed to co-finance the third movie in the “Chronicles of Narnia” series, pending approval of the final script and shooting budget. If all goes as planned, Fox and Walden Media, which controls the movie rights to C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s books, hope to begin production on ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ by late summer so it will be ready for holiday 2010 release.

First, however, Fox and Walden have to hire a screenwriter to do another pass on the script that was last rewritten by Richard LaGravenese, whose credits include ‘Freedom Writers’ and ‘The Horse Whisperer.’ The movie companies are looking to make the film for about $140 million. Michael Apted, who made ‘Amazing Grace’ and the 1999 Bond flick ‘The World Is Not Enough,’ is on board to direct.

Fox is taking a financial gamble that Disney was unwilling to wage despite helping bankroll the first two films in the ‘Narnia’ family franchise. Walden, owned by entrepreneur Phil Anschutz, was forced to seek a new financial partner on “Dawn Treader” after Disney balked at the cost and opted out.

Fox was the most likely partner because the studio already markets and distributes Walden movies under its Fox Walden label.

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Over the last few weeks, Walden chief David Weil and “Narnia” producer Mark Johnson have held a series of meetings with top Fox executives, including movie chiefs Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos, to discuss script revisions and the movie’s cost.

While the targeted budget of “Dawn Treader” is much lower than that of the last Narnia movie, “Prince Caspian,” which cost $225 million to produce, it’s still a big gamble. Released by Disney last year, the sequel was much less popular than the first ‘Narnia’ movie, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” The sequel grossed $419 million worldwide compared with its 2005 predecessor, which generated $745 million in ticket sales.

Disney and Walden hope that DVD sales of ‘Prince Caspian’ will help pull the movie out of the red.

-- Claudia Eller


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